What It Takes to Meet the Self-Service Expectations of Today’s StudentsNancy Rubin | Dean of Continuing Education and Distance Education, Northwestern Health Sciences University
Students expect easy access to university services from wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.
Whether it is the university website, registration information, the course catalog or looking up grades, today’s students, regardless of their generation, want to access these services online, without logging in to multiple systems.
Universities have to provide students online access to more than just course content in a learning management system. Students need to be able to access administrative systems to choose classes, register and pay for them, lookup their grades, and order their transcripts.
Building a system that interfaces with all the necessary systems to access all of that information is not always easy. There are access issues, identity management concerns, and disparate systems that all have to be pulled together into some a portal you design for your end users.
Analytics are also starting to play a role in self-service systems, too. Presenting a personalized user experience based on information the system knows about the user and their viewing habits is something people are familiar with from sites like Amazon. People are beginning to expect the same type of experience from all of the sites they interact with online.
Meeting Self-Service Expectations at the CVN
Columbia Video Network (CVN) has been offering fully online programs since 1998 and has always had online systems for remote students to use to access important information and university systems.
We always look for ways to provide the best online experience for our users. We pride ourselves on being a very customer-centric organization, paying a lot of attention to the level of service we provide to students and faculty.
When we redesigned our website recently, we took the opportunity to update all of the content. Our Frequently Asked Questions pages—statistically the most visited pages on our site—are very important because they contain answers to commonly asked questions. Updating and making those pages easy to access on the website has decreased the number of calls we get from people asking the same questions.
We are also building an online help desk system that will allow users to track requests they submit. Tracking questions and help desk tickets gives us insight into problems and provides opportunities for us to improve our documentation and communication.
The changes we made to our website were received positively by prospective students and by our existing users. We made sure that the information existing users needed to access was easy to find and we improved the look and functionality for new visitors.
Communication plays an important role in the success of technology projects. We try to be proactive communicating changes and we hold online information sessions that we record and post for people to review at their own convenience. The way you market and communicate change to your users can have a real impact on the success of a project and the time it takes for people to make the changes you want them to make.
We spend a lot of time evaluating existing processes as a group internally, discussing the best ways to make improvements. I am a big proponent of well-documented systems, and as we make changes, we create documentation that can be distributed and create training materials, too.
Reflecting Back: Overcoming Some of the Challenges of Adapting Processes
Self-service systems require the coordination of information from different departments on campus. Coordinating what is needed from each area and finding ways to get data in a format that is useable can be tricky but application programming interfaces (APIs) and standards like Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) are making it a lot easier.
Communication, training and support pose significant challenges when changing or upgrading your systems. You can build the most efficient system with all the features you know people will want. If people can’t use it, or it doesn’t work the way they think it should, you will wind up with dissatisfied users.
Getting regular feedback from users through surveys is a good way to understand if you are meeting their needs. If you design a survey well, people are usually willing to give you their honest opinion, then the rest is up to you. You have to be willing to listen to the feedback you get and integrate it into your plans.
Success here truly hinges on good, effective communication with all stakeholders. If you are clear about the changes being made and you provide training and support for your users, you will have a much more successful rollout and better adoption of your systems.
Author Perspective: Administrator