Why campus IT systems are moving to human-centered design

CE students are primarily adult learners who might enroll in the middle of a quarter or even for a single day, as happens with CE’s eight-hour notary public class. While CE did manage to shoehorn its courses into PeopleSoft, it proved very difficult for students to find and then register for them online.

At the beginning of the process, for example, students were asked whether they were enrolling in a graduate or undergraduate program. “Notary public doesn’t really fit into any of those categories, but you had to select one to move onto the next step,” said Bellone.

Even if CE students succeeded in navigating their way through the labyrinth, they still couldn’t register and pay until PeopleSoft generated an ID for them—two days later. “You want to take this program, you’ve got your wallet out, and we’re telling you to come back in two days to register,” said Bellone.

Payment created a whole new set of issues. Like a lot of universities nationwide, CSUEB uses CASHNet, a third-party payment system that requires the university to hand students off to its site. Unfortunately, under the old system, almost no information was conveyed to CASHNet.

“Your course information didn’t follow you, so you were basically presented with a blank field,” said Bellone. “Hopefully, you had written down the price of the course. And if you were paying by credit card, we relied on you to do the calculation of the 2.9 percent fee. We were making it really hard for students to register for class.”

Not surprisingly, a lot of students were unprepared to jump through the hoops. “We saw a drastic drop in registration when we moved to PeopleSoft,” noted Bellone. “It was really clear to the higher-ups that this created a big problem and we needed to fix it.”

Not just a ‘some students’ issue

At the same time, Bellone realized that the problems with PeopleSoft and CASHNet were part of a much broader loss of customer focus across the division.

To understand the scope of the problem, CE and Story+Structure first conducted a discovery phase. “We spent a lot of time looking at the organization top down,” noted Bellone, who believes this was the most important step in the whole process. “We spent a lot of time talking to staff. We also surveyed our current students, we surveyed past students, we surveyed prospective students. We got a sense of who we were, who we wanted to be, where we wanted to go, and we used that discovery document to really launch this whole project.”

Once Bellone and Story+Structure understood the full scope of the issues they faced, they were in a position to consider possible solutions. Starting from scratch was out of the question, though.

“We were told, ‘You can’t get rid of PeopleSoft and we have a payment gateway that we can’t change,'” recalled Story+Structure’s Rutirasiri, citing some of the key takeaways that his team learned during the discovery phase. “That’s fine, but you also don’t want to show the messiness of the sausage-making to the student. Instead, let’s use API calls that bury everything—all the back-office stuff—under a really great UI, and float the student on top of that.”

(Next page: Designing a beautiful face)