Leadership, Governance and Policy

Western Carolina University

To better support academic technology on campus, WCU created a data-focused faculty resource center that crosses the boundaries of IT and academic affairs.

Five years ago, Western Carolina University (NC) administrators made a conscious decision to break down the barriers between information technology and academic support.

“We didn’t want faculty to be trained separately on technology and pedagogy,” explains Professor Anna McFadden. “And if they came in for technical support, we wanted to be able to ask them how the technology they were interested in was related to what they were doing in the classroom.”

McFadden is director of the Coulter Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. The revamped Center merges the university’s academic technology support services with traditional teaching and learning services, creating a one-stop resource with the mission of aiding faculty in their professional development as teachers, scholars, and learners.

McFadden admits that blending the two support groups was challenging at first. The academic side did not understand how IT people work, and there was some suspicion on the IT side about how this new arrangement would impact their operations, she says. But they gradually learned how to work together in settings such as the “faculty sandbox,” where faculty members come to play with computers, software, and video production equipment. “In the sandbox, our IT and academic staff come together and address faculty from both sides at once,” she says. “We want people not just learning how to create a podcast, but also thinking about the appropriate use for it in the classroom.”

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Interestingly, in the development of the Coulter Faculty Center, the IT group’s practice of tracking employees’ workflow rubbed off on the academic specialists. Administrators worked with Cherwell Software, the developer of the IT ticketing system in use by the university’s help desk, to customize its software, in order to track the categories of academic services offered by the Center. For example, staffers routinely perform small group analyses in which they elicit feedback from students about how a faculty member is doing—so a ticketing category was set up for that service.

All staff members have an Apple iPod Touch and an iCherwell app to allow them to update the ticketing system when they are away from their desks. Staff evaluations now draw on data from the ticketing system.

“The system helps us to see clearly all the types of services we offer and which ones are used most often,” McFadden notes. “For instance, 86 percent of our time is spent on services, while only 14 percent is spent fixing things that are broken. That was an eye-opener for a lot of people.”

The Center also uses the Customer Satisfaction Index from the Help Desk Institute to measure faculty satisfaction with both IT and academic services. Every time a staffer closes a support ticket, the system sends out a five-question survey for faculty to rate the service. Any highly negative response automatically generates an e-mail to McFadden.

Last year, the center received the following scores from users (on the HDI Index’s five-point scale): Courtesy: 4.85; Knowledge: 4.82; Timeliness: 4.75; Quality: 4.5; Overall: 4.84. “Those indexes of satisfaction are another way we measure our progress,” says McFadden, “and they become selling points for the Center.” Thanks to that emphasis on data collection, she notes, the Center has been able to present hard evidence of its value to campus administrators—which saved it from a proposed 20 percent legislative budget cut in 2009.

She also credits university CIO Craig Fowler with helping the Center develop more of a business focus. “He came from the corporate world and helped us see different ways of looking at data,” she adds, “such as doing root cause analyses, so we aren’t just putting Band-Aids on recurring problems.”

Tracking data tied directly to student learning is crucial, McFadden stresses. “This year, 78 percent of faculty members said they have changed a teaching practice as a result of the Center,” she says. “That is a significant impact.”

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