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Student Centered Software for Higher Education


How can we enable students of all ages, affinities, capabilities and experiences to better engage with administrative and academic functions online and foster their success? I know, as I have grown older and hopefully wiser in years, that navigating the hundreds of apps on my Smartphone is nothing like navigating user interfaces found on college and university websites. One of the benefits of the Smartphone design is how the apps must embrace the standard of design enforced by the App store. Enterprise and web software have never followed similar “dumbing down” principals given the openness and freedom the internet offers. Many do follow branding and interface guidelines, but vary when the user has to drill deeper into a process – such as filling in a request form for instance.

A five-year-old can navigate the user interface of my Smartphone easily, but I don’t think they could follow the path offered on institutional websites. Many users with their individual capacities, capabilities and experiences, who are not avid computer users struggle with institutional websites and processes. We have no idea how many shy away. Many have a disdain with ecommerce, identity stores, and even social networking not being able to distinguish directions or realize the connection of steps enabled by assumptions and inferences they lack.

Let’s start by emphasizing an overarching philosophy: putting the user (learner) at the center of all administrative and academic functions. Much like the Smartphone, if we would look at software systems from the perspective of the user, we would prioritize and augment how things are accomplished within the limits we seek. This changes the perspective of how systems are designed, built and deployed from the ground up. How can we put the learner at the center of functions when so many span multiple institutions and their practices – intersecting with the complexity of variations?

At AcademyOne, we build systems for institutions to share for faculty, administrators, and of course learners. The sharing is an important element of our design. Many institutions operate enterprise systems as standalone, isolated, and disconnected from other institutions they may work with, or from a distance have familiarity with, even though they may be sharing the same SaaS platform. Because of the limited design, the institutions can’t bridge to foster better workflows and experiences given the system boundaries and assumptions they support.

AcademyOne is designing and building systems differently from the onset. We are bridging institutional data, workflows, practices, and governance by leveraging cloud infrastructures and re-engineering processes to serve both the learner and institutions with role-based interactions and shared technology.

The central tenant of our vision, supporting multi-institutional software systems, is crucial to addressing how learners span institutions through what we call our Student Passport or Learner Center. The Student Passport and Learner Center is a one stop shop, portfolio, storage center, and workflow engine. The user navigates the dashboard and functions, as they all look and feel the same, regardless of what they do.

Much like how apps support social networking, no one person or organization is controlling the platforms we build, deploy, and support. The experience is as unified and seamless as possible. From a college transfer perspective, the transition from one school or program to another should not mean the user interface changes. How we do that, is difficult and demanding. Across higher education, many functions are decentralized, separated and abstracted, from the learner’s progress. This reflects the complex organizations universities have grown to become. Like managing a city and all the services of government, a university or college attempts to service their students with good experiences. Yet, they often design systems and processes by what they need to accomplish working with the learner independent of other functions.

For example, the learner must apply to enroll. There are separate steps for the application, the aid, and the recognition of prior learning. The learner, up front knows they have prior learning such as courses they want to be considered for advanced standing. Or, they want to incorporate study abroad or other forms of learning gained from life experiences. Yet many institutions address these as separate processes requiring the learning to bridge online forms, timelines, information gathering, and the rationale separately. Multiple user interfaces complicate everyone’s experiences when they diverge from the standards of practice governing navigation and interaction.

Administrative and academic information can be brought together with user centric principals that govern how the systems, processes, and engagement work together to foster a unified experience rather than the disjointed set of steps that often feels more like a scavenger hunt spanning boundaries and policies never considering the unintended impact.