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Improving Agility in the Digital Age at Berkeley College

By July 23, 2019 August 6th, 2019 No Comments

Delivering Solutions to Support the Education Community

Across the education community, many schools are searching for ways to make their institutions more agile and appealing in an ever-changing world. Both the industry and student body continue to evolve and schools are challenged with finding ways to respond to these shifts and the technology demands of a digital age. In looking at information technology in particular, institutions must be strategic, not only in how they deliver solutions, but also in the selection of solutions. “Creating a strategy, is a multi-step process including research, evaluation and selection of the desired products, solutions, and even technology partners,” says Leonard De Botton, Chief Information Officer at Berkeley College. “With technology, an institution must consider how to select the right solutions, implement those solutions and how solutions will subsequently transform the college community.”

De Botton has worked at Berkeley College for 28 years. He serves on the Board of Trustees of NJEdge and is a Board member of The Leadership Board for CIOs, an independent higher education organization. He says a large part of having an agile Information Systems (IS) department is the people. “I’m lucky to have a dedicated group of staff who love what they do, are passionate about IT, and have been with me for years,” shares De Botton. “When I started, our Information Systems department consisted of three people. Now, we’re a department of over fifty experienced professionals in eight physical locations.” Through the years, Berkeley College’s IS department has not only expanded in personnel, but has advanced by leveraging new technology, collaborating with teams across the college and developing strategies that allow the department to remain dexterous in a rapidly evolving environment.

Internal Training and Teamwork

Creating an agile IS department that delivers effective solutions to support students, faculty and staff requires ongoing internal training to keep the team on top of technology trends and requirements. We implemented IS Stars, which is an internal IS training program that uses Pluralsight’s online training content, and our own experienced IS staff,” De Botton says. “Being committed to our staff’s education and training helps each individual and our team to be successful.”

Teamwork across all departments is essential to meeting initiatives and supporting the overall success of an institution. “At Berkeley, our IS department partners with faculty and the college community to form and participate in committees,” De Botton explains. “We also have top decision-makers at our administrative and academic technology committee meetings. Quite often, you’ll find me and other senior leadership such as the Provost, attending these key meetings. Taking this approach enables decisions to be made quickly and, oftentimes, action items are completed in the room. We leave with decisions made so that we can take advantage of business opportunities that come from this collaboration with the institutional partners.” Additionally, the team is not only privy to new contracts and fellow departmental objectives, but IS can become involved from day one and play a key role in project development.

Central IS Department

Berkeley College is unique in that the College has a central IS department, where all information technology is filtered through one place. “We do not have multiple systems performing the same function,” says De Botton. “Centralizing IT decision-making and functions virtually eliminates shadow IT systems, which reduces wasted time spent monitoring duplicate systems and frees us to work on more strategic initiatives rather than operational functions for the College.” Keeping data centralized has helped the college speed processes, eliminate unnecessary touchpoints and reduce inefficiencies.

Investing in Technology

Well known for investing in technology, IS embraces the role the department plays in meeting the mission of the institution, but the team is well aware that technology is only one part of the bigger picture. “At the end of the day, Berkeley College’s success is not just about technology,” De Botton says. “We are committed to meeting the business needs and helping our students. A division within the IS department called Business Success, works with us hand-in-hand when any new request comes in. We ensure the project ties into the overall strategic plan of the college and helps meet our long-term goals.”

Advancing in the Digital Age

Today’s students continue to become more connected through technology and rely on a variety of software and services to provide personal and educational experiences. Berkeley College acknowledges the importance of adapting to the digital age and being a part of their students’ world. “Our institution needs to know what’s coming next. We visit consumer electronic shows knowing that this new technology will show up in the hands of our students first,” De Botton explains. “Students are bringing more and more devices on campus. We need to make sure our institution’s infrastructure is growing and can appropriately support the arrival of emerging technologies and devices. This strategy is what we call ‘future-proofing.’”

Enhancing the Student Experience

Technology allows the education community to be responsive to students’ needs and help improve engagement and success. “We gravitate toward technology that will benefit the student experience,” De Botton says. “We do this by giving students the information they need and by making sure the technology works in their world, which increasingly revolves around their mobile devices.

With this initiative in mind, Berkeley College recently launched a new student persona-based portal which gives individuals access to all student services and information needed for day-to-day activities. Through the portal, students can easily sign-in to Canvas, the school’s learning management system (LMS), which is the gateway to classes, college email, school events and IS help desk and allows students to quickly connect with their classmates and academic advisor. To further expand the college experience for each student and understand their individual needs, Berkeley College incorporated predictive analytics into their IS world in 2016. Using such technology has enabled the school to take a proactive approach to working with students and providing advisement when students need assistance the most.

Advantages of Predictive Analytics

Colleges are using predictive analytics to inform decision-making and to better understand the student experience. “Predictive analytics help us decipher the dynamics that impact student outcomes,” says Diane Recinos, Ed.D., Senior Vice President, Student Success at Berkeley College. “With this information we can prioritize action steps, manage academic advisement caseloads and develop strategic initiatives centered on the most emergent student needs.”

An advantage to utilizing predictive analytics is identifying trends that are not so obvious, such as the timeframe with which students complete their course schedules. Those students who submit their schedules earlier are more likely to persist to the next term, says Recinos.

Predictive analytics provide a data-driven landscape for institutions to work smarter and maximize resources. “It is not enough to have the data. It is how you use the data that matters,” Recinos adds.

Software-as-a-Service

Many institutions, including Berkeley College, are leveraging the cloud in new and exciting ways to further advance their pace in a world of growing technology and support a software-as-a-service approach. Berkeley College is one hundred percent virtualized and leverages the cloud to provide seamless, on-the-go access to their students, faculty and staff. “We adopted a hybrid cloud approach,” shares De Botton. “Our key systems are distributed across the country and we utilize state of the art systems from Rubrik that drastically simplifies our entire backup landscape, and also syncs to Microsoft’s Azure cloud. We also use Online Virtual Hosting (OVH) to sync our VMware systems into a cloud-based backup data center for primary systems. Selecting technologies that reduce administration tasks have given my team more time to spend on critical projects, shifting our focus from the operation to the strategic.” Choosing products that do not require software downloads or use of college servers helps IS optimize costs and outsource most of the responsibilities typically required for troubleshooting and maintaining the variety of software.

Distance Learning Programs

Berkeley College has received awards and recognition across the institution, including being ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Best Colleges for Online Bachelor’s Programs for six consecutive years. Berkeley College Online® offers programs leading to Certificates, Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees and an M.B.A. in Management and provides the same level of quality education as onsite programs. Distance learning attracts a diverse student body, including working parents, professionals, grandparents, service members and veterans who are looking for enhanced access and flexibility.

The distance learning committee at Berkeley College meets on a monthly basis. This frequent schedule keeps the school on top of all projects and potential issues. Online students can experience campus life and student engagement opportunities from afar, while benefiting from wellness services, workshops, online clubs, and leadership opportunities. “The College is committed to choosing the best technology, recruiting top quality staff, investing in continued faculty training, and working with key academic and administrative leadership,” says De Botton.

Riding the wave of technology can be both a difficult and exciting challenge for the education community. In this digital age, new opportunities will arise and if institutions are receptive to change and possibility, they can remain on the thriving side of modern innovation. One example is the use of predictive analytics.

Supporting Student Success

As noted previously, Berkeley College started using predictive analytics in 2016. Diane Recinos, Ed.D., Senior Vice President, Student Success, was part of the implementation team. The school partnered with Civitas Learning, who provides a suite of products, including but not limited to: Illume®, Inspire® and Impact®. The software allows for filtering of various student subpopulations and demographic and financial information. The Illume technology uses an institution’s data to develop personalized predictions that are relevant and timely. Illume also pinpoints at-risk students, develops coordinated student success initiatives and deploys targeted email interventions, all from one place. “The information from Illume is fed into another program called Inspire,” Recinos says. “This is the cohort tracking system that our academic advisors use. If a student has a downward shift of persistence probability, then the program informs the academic advisor that this student may need additional attention.” Inspire allows an institution to be proactive instead of reactive by bringing together actionable analytics and advising case management tools.

To further understand the diverse student body, Berkeley College uses the technology of Impact. “When you implement an initiative and you want to see what the statistical impact was or if there is an increase or decline of persistence, then you feed your initiatives through Impact,” Recinos explains. “This piece of the software will tell you how impactful that initiative was and give you a better understanding of what is working.”

While such a predictive tool can be extremely useful, the technology does come with potential issues. “One of the biggest challenges is how to avoid making assumptions before understanding the data that is at your fingertips,” Recinos explains. “Predictive analytics allows you to do more of a deep dive into the data, so the technique is more statistical driven than making an average assumption. For example, one small filter can produce different results than a filter on multiple variables — you will likely see something completely different.”

Techniques of Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of statistical techniques including data mining, predictive modelling, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to analyze current data. Using software from Civitas and built-in algorithms, Berkeley College was able to build a statistical model that can provide probabilities of student persistence. “With predictive analytics, the data is added to the model, and then the model is recalibrated to provide updated outcomes,” Recinos explains. “The beauty of the model is the technology is built to constantly retrain as updates to the data are applied. This method means the statistical significance of the change is viewable. These techniques are important to ensure that the predictive persistence for students is accurate based on variables changing from term to term.” With the software constantly updating the data, Berkeley College can track important trends, especially trends that may be less obvious.

Key Takeaways

Since the implementation of predictive analytics at Berkeley College, the team has gathered key information about their students and how to improve their experience. For instance, student behaviors have been found to have a direct impact on persistence the following term. “We would look at the number of times a student accessed his or her coursework through Canvas, our LMS, versus the average number of times their classmates logged into the system,” Recinos says. “If a student does not log-in to the LMS at the rate of the average student in the class, then they may be less likely to persist to the following semester. In this instance, an indicator would prompt one of our academic advisors to inquire about what is happening and offer assistance.” Since the software’s algorithm is constantly updating, the technology identifies any student’s persistence to the next term. Any changes in student behavior provide an academic advisor with a shift in the persistence probability.

Guiding the Future

Berkeley College was able to uncover relationships and patterns within its data and use that information to help shape institutional strategies on student retention. Particularly, the school observed trends in persistence among new online students and new on-site students. With this insight, Berkeley College developed an outreach campaign where an academic advisor would touch base with their new online students every week to answer questions and provide additional support. “Having the comparison between online and onsite students allowed us to create a proactive approach,” Recinos shares. “With this initiative, we were able to see a significant increase in new online student retention from the prior semester.” Overall, predictive analytics has allowed Berkeley College to tailor their advising services, further personalize learning and support the overarching goal of helping students stay on track to graduation.

To connect with Leonard De Botton or Diane Recinos regarding Berkeley College’s numerous, ongoing advancements in technology, email len@berkeleycollege.edu or dr@berkeleycollege.edu.