NWACC uses technology to serve its ‘customers’ better

Recognizing that “customer” satisfaction is a key factor in recruiting and retaining students, NWACC has made it easy for stakeholders to access resources through mobile devices—and this attention to service has paid off.

Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) is a public two-year college located in Bentonville, Ark. NWACC opened its doors to 1,200 students in August 1990 and now has more than 7,000 students, making it one of the largest and fastest growing two-year college in Arkansas. It serves another 7,000 students throughout the region with non-credit courses.

Recognizing that “customer” satisfaction is a key factor in recruiting and retaining students, NWACC has made it easy for stakeholders to access computer systems and resources through mobile devices, and this attention to service has paid off: In a recent survey, a majority of students said they were happy with the school’s technology services.

NWACC also has used technology to reduce costs and improve decision making, and it is a state leader in campus technology use. For these reasons and more, we’ve chosen NWACC as our “eCampus of the Month” for November/December.

Here, Paige Francis, associate vice president of information technology and chief information officer for NWACC, describes the school’s ed-tech accomplishments and the keys to its success. (Editor’s note: To nominate your college or university for this award, and to read about past award winners, go to http://ecampusnews.eschoolmedia.com/ecampus-of-the-month.)

How does your campus use technology to advance student learning?

We support all mobile devices, including mobile access to the Blackboard LMS for all classes. We use the PaperCut printing solution to track and manage printing (including wireless printing across campus), SmartEvals for online course evaluations, Ellucian Banner for our enterprise data, the myCampus web content management system for our web portal, and SunGard’s DegreeWorks (a web-based academic advising tool) to help students review their progress.

We offer mobile device charging stations for students to use throughout campus, Google indoor mapping of our campus, and we have redundant (real-time) disaster backup for all our systems. Our latest endeavor is implementing the open-source Bedework enterprise calendaring solution to create a comprehensive marketing/institutional calendar. It’s an amazing product!

Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation? If so, how?

Yes. Mobile access to our systems is up 149 percent, and calls to our student help desk are up 800 from summer 2011 to summer 2012—not because of problems or issues, but because we’re offering so much more online now, and people are calling just to get a quick walk-through of everything. In a recent third-party survey about our student technology services, a majority of students responded, “Don’t change a thing—technology is perfect at NWACC.”

How do you use technology to streamline administration and aid in decision-making? How has this helped? 

We use Argos Report Writer to help determine needs, and we’ve participated in the National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology (conducted by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research). We create dashboards using Argos, and all our college data are housed in our ERP system, Ellucian Banner, making for easy reporting. We use quick surveys to poll our students, faculty, and staff ad hoc within our myCampus portal, we use Workflow in Banner to eliminate paper, and we store everything in our document imaging solution (Xtender). We’ve turned our class evaluations over to SmartEvals, eliminating the massive cost and time spent on doing these manually (no more Scantrons!). We switched our printing software to PaperCut because it costs less, shows efficiency, and offers a complete web interface.

As a result of these initiatives, we’re able to make data-driven decisions and see what’s working—quickly—and what’s not. By focusing on current processes, we’ve made massive improvements to prepare to be proactive instead of reactive. That, in turn, gives us more time to focus on projects and improvements, instead of endless data entry and cleanup.

What ed-tech project are you most proud of, and why?

Northwest Arkansas Community College has created two first-time initiatives in the state within the past year: (1) a higher-ed technology message board, Arkansas Technology in Higher Ed, and (2) a technology track at an established annual conference for two-year schools in Arkansas. Both projects are in their infancy stages, but both have supported and nurtured a collaborative spirit in higher-education technology throughout the state.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges, and how have you overcome these?

Teaching faculty how to use the technology, and making it seem less frightening and complicated, have been our biggest challenges. We thought about who would be the best trainer on the equipment for faculty. After a few discussions, we realized our media librarian would offer the most insight on the equipment, with the least amount of stress. Training needs to be individualized and in layman’s terms.

What’s your best or most useful ed-tech advice for colleagues?

Especially during economic and enrollment downturns, base your technology needs for students, faculty, and staff on feedback from students, faculty, and staff. Don’t pretend to know the needs of your “customers” based on what you’re reading in print and online. Focus on getting to know your stakeholders, and use data and metrics.

It’s been a great year for us, and based on metrics, we need to continue to focus on mobile access. Our numbers are down, our budgets are down, and yet we are moving onward and upward with projects. How? By creating funding and using open-source software in many areas.

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eCampus News Staff

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