Accelerating Student Adoption
John Brown University
Arkansas’ Top Ranked Regional University
Paul Nast, CIO
Anna Messerly, Director, Client Services
Why Pathify Portal
Choosing a new portal
John Brown University (JBU) students were accustomed to the old portal. Users more or less knew where to find stuff, but when pushed, they admitted that it wasn’t mobile-friendly, looked “old” and didn’t have an effective search mechanism. When JBU began looking for a new portal provider, they didn’t want to replicate their old portal. They wanted to create a better way for students to connect with faculty, staff and other students.
We were impressed with the cadence in which the team was putting out new features, and we were impressed with their responsiveness to our feedback
– Paul Nast, CIO
JBU knew their portal’s old infrastructure wouldn’t hold up to future demands. Another large factor driving the acquisition of a new portal was time-consuming content management.
“The effort for the average department needed to edit pages, create pages, and maintain them was a little too much. And I don’t say that in any way to demean the functional areas that we work with. It was too much for us as well, even in IT,” said Paul.
When JBU decided to make the change, they looked at it as an opportunity for positive change.
“We realized that this was a great opportunity to connect our various constituencies—students, faculty, and staff. A key part of our mission as an IT organization is not just to be operationally good—not just to make sure that the utilities are working and the lights are on—but to foster positive experiences. We aim to create delightful experiences.”
In order to delight students, JBU’s requirements for a new portal included:
As Paul said, “There’s nothing less delightful than seeing content that has nothing to do with who you are as a person at the institution. It makes you feel less connected.”
When Paul was asked what sold them on Pathify (formerly Campus) versus other systems, he said, “I think it was the prospect of a great partnership. We liked the tool a lot. Being a younger tool in the overall portfolio of tools like this out there, it may be felt a little less mature than some of the others. But we were impressed with the cadence in which the team was putting out new features, and we were impressed with their responsiveness to our feedback. That made us feel like they were going to be a great partner for JBU over the long term. We felt like we could trust them, we felt like they were going last as a company, and that they were going to support us well.”
Making the Switch
The prep for making a big splash
One of the first steps JBU took before even reviewing vendors was to issue a survey. As Director of Client Services, Anna played a significant role in ensuring people felt included throughout the process, giving JBU opportunities to get user feedback on their new portal’s design. It also inspired some great ideas for generating excitement about the portal while helping educate users about new functionality (more on that in a bit).
Thinking through what all might be possible helped the implementation team form a vision for their new portal.
I want us to effectively use the social interactivity and communication tools to make a better experience at JBU, especially for our students. There are students in situations where they don’t feel like they have a place. My hope is that they can find a place either through a group that they find on Pathify where they wouldn’t normally have been able to connect. I also hope that we can create an environment where students feel like they have a voice.
– Anna Messerly, Director, Client Services
This goal to create a space for students to connect with others, get the vital information they need, and have a voice in the community kept the project moving forward even after COVID-19 hit.
Paul said, “The implementation was not a daunting thing. We didn’t have to devote resources full time to this effort. We met regularly. Pathify was great in terms of their project management to help shepherd us along in that process. In fact, they were almost too great. We were meeting so often, I almost had to put the brakes on and say, ‘Hey, thanks for all your help, but I think we can slow this down in terms of how often that we’re meeting.’ I say that affectionately because it speaks well of them and their desire to make sure the implementation is successful.”
Tips for a strong launch
Because people did feel comfortable with the old portal and were already overwhelmed with all of the changes 2020 threw at them, JBU knew they had to proceed cautiously. Switching things over all at once and without plenty of notice wasn’t in the cards. They also knew that people had to be involved throughout the implementation and beyond.
01 Involve Multiple Teams
Paul said, “It’s so important not to make a student portal implementation an IT project, but to involve other functional groups. In our case, marketing and communications joined our implementation team. They helped with promotional videos and created a splash. But more importantly, they advocated for the end-users and ran the project from that audience’s perspective.”
02 Communicate With Internal Stakeholders
The longer people had been with the university, the more likely they were to resist the move to a new portal. Knowing that staff and faculty were likely to be frustrated by change, JBU developed a communication strategy for that audience.
“We presented and introduced the Pathify platform at faculty and staff meetings, which were done via Zoom, and gave a brief overview of what they would see and what to expect,” said Anna. “We also sent out some emails explaining again what people could expect. We didn’t want them to be surprised by the change.”
03 Collect Feedback Throughout the Process
With Anna’s guidance, JBU collected feedback from end users before, during, and after the initial launch. The feedback helped form user requirements, inform design, and validate the project was moving in the right direction.
Anna said, “I was happy to see one person’s feedback because they admitted they have a hard time with change. They found the new portal easy to navigate. They were happy they didn’t have to blindly search through a website anymore. A student then told us that they’re excited for students and faculty to have more access to what they’re looking for and believe that this new software will help incoming students who are looking for new groups to join. It’s exciting to see that students are thinking about new ways to become a part of the JBU community through the technology.”
04 Create an Early Adopter Group
Before the launch, Anna’s team created an early ambassador group for people interested in test-driving the new portal. A group of 25 students, faculty, and staff volunteered to participate and use the portal to provide feedback through a Group comment feed and through surveys.
“One thing that I was passionate about throughout this project was that we needed to get people involved so they feel like the new portal is not just something that’s forced on them. It needed to be a change that they were a part of and could experience and have a say in,” said Anna.
05 Leverage Social Media
JBU is clearly very creative. As part of the “splash” for the new portal, Anna’s team at JBU helped create a video for social media.
06 Training Can Be Fun
Anna’s team also had the brilliant idea of creating a scavenger hunt that created a fun way for people to learn about the new portal’s key features.
“The day of the soft launch in October, an email was sent out about the scavenger hunt. I set up a series of links that take them through a set of instructions. So this first set says, ‘Welcome to the scavenger hunt. The first thing you’re going to do is go to the old Eaglenet, click on the new logo, and then search for the scavenger hunt group once you get to Eaglenet 2021. Once they joined the group, they posted something they’re excited about for the new Eaglenet. Once they posted, they received an email that welcomed them to the group, and then that email gave them the next part of the instructions.”
Each leg of the hunt taught them something new about the platform, such as adding favorite tools or finding pages. At the end of the scavenger hunt, they filled out a form to receive a free t-shirt and stickers for participating.
What an engaging way to launch a new portal!
Utilizing surveys or a student focus group to get feedback is a great way to ensure your communications aren’t driving students to ignore your communications. Analytics are also helpful, but subjective feedback directly from end users is good to have.