Today more than ever, higher education institutions are exploring digital tools for key campus processes, and for very good reason. If you’ve ever tried to reconcile data from two different spreadsheets, sort through stacks of student assignments, or schedule an appointment to sit in a carrel and evaluate a tenure review binder, you know the downsides of manual processes. Digital tools have important advantages for making processes more consistent, secure, efficient, and effective. As institutions support staff and students across a broader range of geographies with a broader set of needs, the case for digital solutions only grows. Here are five advantages of the use of digital technology to support key learning and improvement efforts.
1. Centralized, definitive data
Digital tools offer two important advantages over every flavor of manual process when it comes to data:
- A data structure that ensures you’re capturing information consistently across all contributors
- A shared repository that makes hunting through binders, file cabinets, thumb drives, and individual spreadsheets a relic of the past
These factors allow your institution to capture and retain data that’s essential to key processes, and report on that data over time.
2. A collaboration space
When you login to a digital solution, you enter a shared workspace where multiple participants can contribute to a common process or project. All work is captured in a purpose-built system that can also guide participants through the process. The shared workspace shapes the work to support the desired outcome, whether that’s learning outcomes assessment or an accreditation self-study. Consider a few examples:
- A student and faculty member using an ePortfolio to share, reflect on, and evaluate a capstone project
- Committee members and administration stakeholders using a tool specifically designed for approving curriculum changes
- The team responsible for gathering evidence for accreditation and collaborating on components of the self-study narrative
Digital solutions ensure that location and time of day are no longer barriers to participants’ ability to contribute their work to key processes. Now, participants only need a connected device and login credentials to contribute from different locations, at times that accommodate their other commitments. Consider some real-world scenarios made possible by using digital solutions:
- A student completes a course evaluation at the laundromat from their mobile phone
- Faculty members participating in an assessment day evaluate student artifacts based on shared rubrics, applying them consistently across programs, and logging those measures from a meeting room in the student union
- A departmental committee member reviews a digital faculty dossier from their home office
- A dean can review and approve a proposed curriculum change during the commute home on the train
- During a snowstorm or other emergency, faculty are able to continue delivering quality instruction, and students can submit assignments to ePortfolios from their dorm rooms
4. A dedicated communication hub
A central repository and shared workspace ensure that processes can move forward in real time, whenever a contributor has an opportunity to advance the project. Participants gain role-appropriate insight on what’s done, the work that remains, and can use the system to facilitate discussion or advance the process to the next step or stakeholder.
Digital solutions can also provide prompts and reminders that minimize the need to make calls or send emails to check on progress or reinforce deadlines. This ensures that key milestones and dependencies are met so the work of other contributors can move forward.
5. Consistency and transparency
Digital solutions can also ensure that processes such as curriculum review, outcomes assessment, course evaluations, and faculty reviews are conducted consistently and according to your institution’s established practice. Consistency minimizes risk for high-stakes processes like faculty reviews, and ensures assessment cycles that span several years provide the data needed to inform continuous improvement efforts as well as provide high-quality evidence to support accreditation self-study. When your shared digital dataset and workspace resides within a solution with process management tools, participants also gain role-appropriate insight into progress of the initiative in question. That gives peace of mind to a faculty member under review and a view of progress to the process leader.
Given the important downsides of manual processes, the importance of digital tools is clear. What are the digital tools that can make the biggest impact at your institution? To find out, identify a reputable vendor partner, follow a proven process for evaluating solutions, and learn about the implementation process for the solutions you consider. If you’d like to discuss Watermark solutions, contact us today.
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