Going Paperless: How to Effectively Manage Curriculum from Home with Changing Technology and a Changing World
Curriculum building is a hands-on, labor-intensive process that can seemingly take forever, even with a sizeable team working together. By having the proper procedures in place to ensure things run smoothly and communicating with various teams, both schools and students will see the benefit.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do you balance the need to be thorough but still efficient when you’re managing a curriculum cycle?
Rob Spohr (RS): The biggest issue we have is that every year, we’re asked to do more with less. I work at a small rural community college. Faculty really run the curriculum, and the curriculum cycle runs during the fall and the spring semesters, when faculty are busy. They’re teaching anywhere from 15 to 30 credit hours at a community college each semester.
Being able to run the cycle and make sure that we can get everything done quickly is really important. When proposals come to the Curriculum Committee (CC), they must be approved in a timely manner. 20% of our courses and programs go through the cycle every year to make sure they are up to date, and this doesn’t include changes faculty make to the curriculum. Even though we have fall and spring, all updates and changes must be approved by the first CC meeting in the spring to hit the new catalog by June.
We really end up with a five-month period to get all updates and changes to the old catalog approved during our busiest times of the year. Curriculog and Acalog have taken what we do and improved it tremendously. Not only does everything get approved but we also have a detailed record of the process and all changes made.
Evo: I’m curious about how the integration went for you. Did you bring it all on at one time, and how has it affected the students?
RS: I don’t think students know how it impacted them, honestly. We got Acalog first, which made sense. And I think it’s funny because we were going through a cycle where we were looking for technology to make us more efficient because we’re constantly losing people and consequently losing money, like state and federal funding. What we really loved about Acalog was that it made us go through a training program before they gave us the keys. That made implementation very smooth for everyone involved. Students suddenly had access to their catalog of record whenever they wanted it. As a former community college student, I cannot stress how big of a benefit that is.
It did exactly what it was supposed to, which blew us away. We had too many experiences with companies that said their software would meet all our needs, only to find out later that it either didn’t or that it would cost more money for the software to do so. The folks at DIGARC made sure it met our needs before we began using it.
Then we started hearing about Curriculog. Even though we had Acalog, we still didn’t have a good process to track everything that went through CC. Updates and changes would get lost, forgotten or, even worse, we may not remember exactly why the change was made. Curriculog solved all our process problems.
Evo: Once everybody learned all the systems, did they start using it in maybe unexpected or even more comprehensive ways than what you initially purchased it for?
RS: There were times when we would ask the people at DIGARC, “Could we do this with it?” And they’d go, “You could. We’re not going to tell you it does that, but you could probably make it.” It was refreshing to work with a company that actually downplayed some of the ways their product could be used instead of overselling it.
What Curriculog is really good at is creating a procedure and making sure it goes step by step. It’ll accommodate anything that needs a tracked procedure and makes sure it’s signed off on. For example, we used it to communicate between our communications department and our CoCurricular Committee (CCC). The committee wouldn’t get all the information that communications needed, and communications didn’t promote the event as CCC expected. We now use Curriculog to manage the process because it allows for two-way asynchronous communications. With a click of a button or two, everyone involved can see the stage of the process for all events. Although unintended benefits are nice, everyone on campus knows that when we get a product from DIGARC, it works. That is the most important benefit.
After Acalog and Curriculog we purchased Section. With Section, we can create the credit schedule, and it shows any conflicts between rooms or instructors.
It made the scheduling process unbelievably fast. It literally takes a few days to complete an entire schedule. We roll a previous semester’s schedule into Section, faculty department chairs make requested changes to it, then it comes to the scheduling group for final changes and approval.
Evo: Did you find that you were able to solve problems that you didn’t know you had before?
RS: One thing it solved for us is keeping us up to date. The front section of our catalog includes policies and procedures that apply to students. It basically acts as our student handbook, and it didn’t get updated on a regular basis. Now, because of these products, this section gets looked at during every single catalog cycle. Acalog also allows us to have an in-process catalog, so we can make changes as we go, instead of saving all changes to a later date. Our folks in the communications and marketing department can do unprecedented things with the catalog, like make it pretty and functional. We have learned quite a bit over the years, and we have become much better at creating a good interface that works for students. Now, instead of combing through a PDF, students can use menus with popular options to search the catalogs and find what they are looking for.
Evo: Have you been able to quantify your ROI, regarding time, resources and staffing? And how have they been maximized?
RS: No, but anyone who works at the college, who understands what we’re doing with it, would tell you they were some of the best investments we ever made. Even if we can’t show ROI, the ease with which students can find information in the catalog and our ability to make sure all changes are applied are well worth the cost.
For our team members who manage our curriculum cycles and catalog, manual effort has gone from being a huge part of the job to just a small part. I remember setting months aside on different people’s calendars to allow them to just work on the catalog. Now, nothing is blocked off. After the last CC meeting, the communications team does one final read before the catalog goes live. Best of all, if we did miss something, we can go back and change it. Our old joke was that the catalog was wrong as soon as it went out, which is not true anymore.
I am not exaggerating—the tools do everything to maintain our institutional style standards (except proofreading)! Historically, it would take a month and a half to produce the catalog. Now, our staff members get that month and a half back to work on other things.
Evo: How did Curriculog and Acalog help simplify curriculum and catalog management processes when everything went remote?
RS: If we had been on our old paper process when we were gone, nothing would have happened with the curriculum. But we shifted to online, and we still had our meetings. While everything else became a little more difficult (or much more difficult), the curriculum process was already remote. So, it went on without a hiccup.
I had not thought about this until you asked, but if we had been on our old paper cycle, it would have been a disaster. We may have ended up slapping new dates on the old catalog and calling it good. I don’t even want to think about it.
Evo: How important are Curriculog and Acalog to supporting the college’s ability to develop and deliver programming aligned with a fast-changing labor market?
As a small rural comprehensive community college, many of our students are here for transfer, but almost half our students are there on behalf of companies. We have a lot of apprentices with local companies. And we’re doing very high-tech training in robotics, automation and IT.
As an example of how things have changed, we built a new building on our Greenville campus eight years ago. In seven years, we remodeled it four times. First, it was mostly classrooms with a few labs for industrial programs. Within two years, industrial training needs changed so much that we needed to make half of the building specifically industrial. Two years later, the entire building became industrial. And two years after that, we had to expand the welding lab because we had too many welders and not enough room. Now, we’ve reached the point where we don’t have enough power, so we have to upgrade the power to keep expanding.
Every time we do something, we have to change the curriculum. Every time we meet with our advisory committees, they say, “We need something different,” which means we need to change the curriculum. All changes must go through the curriculum approval processes to meet accreditation and quality assurance standards. This approach also allows us to show advisory committees the changes as they go through. We can bring them up during a meeting and show them, “This is what it’s going to look like when it passes the curriculum committee.” And they can say, “Yes, that’s what we want.” It helps show our local employers that higher education can be nimble and meet the needs of a changing labor-market. That is invaluable.
Author Perspective: Administrator
Author Perspective: Community College