Simplifying Curriculum and Catalog Processes with University of Northern Colorado
Colorado’s State Normal School was founded in 1889 to train qualified teachers for the state’s public schools; it became the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) in 1970. Today, the university is a comprehensive baccalaureate and specialized graduate research university striving to promote effective teaching, lifelong learning, the advancement of knowledge, research and a commitment to service, with more than 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
UNCO simplified catalog production by digitizing their processes using SmartCatalog by Watermark in 2012, but curriculum changes, additions, and deletions were still being handled by circulating PDFs across campus, coupled with an Excel sheet to track updates and approvals. UNCO currently processes more than 200 programs, 500 courses, and 200 narrative faculty changes, additions, or deletions each curriculum cycle, so the paper process was difficult to manage.
“We have kind of a lengthy approval process at our university. [It] is very onerous for academic units to complete these forms. Then they have to send them to the next level of approval and then the next level of approval,” said Michelle Heiny, assistant registrar at UNCO.
Because curriculum forms didn’t auto-populate with information from the SIS, any change to a single aspect of a course required filling in all of the information fields on the form, rather than just the change needed. “There are so many people doing this that we often receive incomplete information,” Heiny said. “They’ll just leave fields blank, or they’ll guess, say, the contact ratio because they don’t always know—is it one-to-one if a lecture or is it set up as a lab course?” As a result, “we spent a lot of time going back and forth via email to make sure that the submission appears in the catalog the exact way that the department would like it,” Heiny said.
Finally, each change requires approvals by numerous stakeholders, which meant administrative staff in departments and colleges spent substantial time tracking down signatures to keep the process moving forward.
Heiny’s team recognized the need to digitize curriculum management and say goodbye to the inefficiency and inconsistency of paper-based processes. They turned to Watermark to expand their relationship and implement the curriculum tools within SmartCatalog.
They began by digitizing the forms and workflows of their curriculum review process. They also embarked on an initiative to validate the existing course data stored in Banner, UNCO’s student information system (SIS), and imported a limited set of data into SmartCatalog, beginning with the course subject, course number, course description, and credit hours.
Digitizing the curriculum process has made tasks easier and more efficient for the team in the registrar’s office as well as participants across campus. Benefits include:
Easier, more accurate forms. UNCO’s curriculum change forms are now housed in SmartCatalog, which auto-populates them with course information from the SIS, as well as the SmartCatalog course catalog database. “This is really important to us to help eliminate errors,” Heiny said.
It also eases the process for faculty and others who use the curriculum change forms. “If the department says, I think it has a prerequisite of XXX, they can actually see what is programmed in the system,” Heiny said. “They can look at that information for accuracy and they can determine whether or not they want to change it.”
Transparent digital approval processes. Workflows within the system manage approval processes online. Approvals happen within the system rather than by passing paper forms to the next participant. Email notifications to participants keep approvals moving forward.
In addition, processes are transparent to stakeholders. “There is a curriculum dashboard, and as an administrator, you can view where the submission is in the workflow and which user has done what,” Heiny said. Easy sorting by parameters including college, type of change, user, date, and workflow status ensure stakeholders can track progress on individual curriculum changes, as well as those of a specific department or unit.
Streamlined catalog production. “Once we have the final approval on a curriculum change, that information flows back into SmartCatalog and then it will go to the final catalog,” Heiny said. In addition, UNCO is implementing the SmartCatalog API to send the updated information back into Banner.
Reduced data entry. In the paper-based process, curriculum changes were entered into both SmartCatalog and Banner, plus the spreadsheet the registrar’s office used to track curriculum changes. “It took us quite a bit of time to enter all of that information,” Heiny said. Now, data moves directly between the SIS and SmartCatalog, which tracks changes and retains a record of them. “This is going to save us some time and help us actually take the time to do other things to make our catalog and curriculum process better,” Heiny said.
In addition to curriculum changes, UNCO uses SmartCatalog for program changes, as well as handbooks and policy documents. Looking ahead, UNCO plans to provide its four-year planning tool for students through SmartCatalog. “Currently, our four-year plans are housed separately on the registrar’s website,” Heiny explained. “With SmartCatalog, four-year plans will be housed within the catalog. It will allow students to say, ‘okay, I like that major. Here are the courses I have to take each year.’ They will actually see their workload over four years, all in one location.”