The Art of Possible: Beyond a Student Portal
10,000+ enrolled students
2020 NASPA Award Winner
Joe Mancini, Executive Director, IT
Joe Mancini, Executive Director of Information Technology at Montgomery County Community College, shares the strategy that led to a NASPA Award for Exemplary Student Support Services and how Campus played a part in that vision.
A Big Vision For Their Future Portal
When Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) began working with Campus two years ago, they had a big vision for their future portal: They not only wanted a central hub for the college; they wanted a platform that proactively served support prompts to everyone at the college.
“I think the biggest shame would be that we have a resource to offer a student to help them succeed, and the student doesn’t know about it and ends up dropping out.”
– Joe Mancino, Chief Information Officer
To reach this visionary goal, MCCC included students every step of the way, worked with a vendor who would consider building new functionality and leveraged as many means of communicating as possible.
Student involvement began with the tool selection process and continued throughout the project. Knowing that technology and how younger people interact with technology have changed tremendously throughout the years, their goal was to understand how students wanted to communicate today.
“Angela, our Director of Digital Usability, manages a group of about a dozen students each semester that is diversely selected across the student body. They provide us input on many things (this group has become very well known throughout the college). Our executive team uses the team regularly, but we primarily leverage them for technical insight, communication preferences, and things of that nature. During our implementation of Campus, they told us every step of the way that we were going in the right direction.”
Joe is glad they involved students throughout the process because a lot of their feedback was unexpected.
“Whenever we thought we were going to go left, students told us that we needed to go right.”
With the amount of thought and care that went into the project, it’s no wonder they were awarded the NASPA Award for Exemplary Student Support Services out of over 100 schools that applied. “We took on this portal platform implementation to strengthen communications, specifically around available support systems.”
The original plan was to go live in July of 2020, and even though the information technology team spent much of their time scrambling to get everyone up and running remotely, they stuck to their timeline.
“It was extremely difficult to do a high-effort project such as this during the pandemic. But we knew that it would help students remain engaged in a remote fashion. So we stuck with it.”
2020 NASPA Virtual Innovation Award for Exemplary Student Support Services
MCCC introduced “Montco Connect”, a new web portal with a companion mobile app, during the midst of the Covid pandemic in July 2020. Unlike traditional portals, Montco Connect is built on the Campus.app platform and is foremost a private social media experience.
Making the Most of Campus Communication Tools
MCCC structured Campus with the central theme of nudges. For example, Joe wanted students who needed tutoring to get proactive alerts about those services. The team wanted anything that could help students be more successful and persist in their education to be front and center. This meant working with students to understand how they prefer to communicate about various facets of their education.
“I likened it recently to the horse whisperer. It’s an art to learn how to speak to students and know when to use what mode of communication.”
MCCC is investing the funds received from the NASPA Award into Campus technology called “Groups.” Groups enable students, faculty, and staff who fit specific profiles to interact on a dedicated page. Another Campus customer, Tallahassee Community College, has successfully leveraged Groups for student peer support. They have structured Groups where a student can ask a question about information technology or a class and receive support from another student if staff aren’t available at that given moment.
The keys to successful Groups are keeping the community engaged with semi-frequent updates and quickly responding when there is an issue. Employees must be available to keep the group on topic and make sure problems are resolved if a peer hasn’t already jumped in and provided a correct answer.
“I call Campus the ‘fridge door’ in our community. If a note is left on a fridge door, it’s apt to be seen because someone’s going there for another purpose.
– Joe Mancino, Chief Information Officer
You can’t get to the learning management system or anything else at Montgomery without first logging into the portal, and you’re hopefully already engaging with content there that you’re interested in. At Montgomery, we have over 120 student clubs or groups on the platform. Then hopefully, you see these communications about a resource that we have.
“Currently, a lot of these nudges are broadcast. We have a group where all students are members, and we have a calendar of communications that our team puts out. We continue to meet with the implementation team, which is largely made up of people in our marketing communications department, in student enrollment, and student services areas. Those folks have a calendar of communications. They know when different resources are most useful throughout the calendar year.”
While they are broadcasting a lot of messages now, their goal is to personalize those messages and make them very specific to a given student. They want to enable alerts prompting students to seek a tutoring center if their grades are floundering or send a message that they should see their advisor if they haven’t scheduled. “Our vision is to be able to leverage Campus in a very personalized way to communicate those resources.”
Currently, there are 15 email addresses at MCCC that generate a help ticket. They want to consolidate that into a single system and simplify getting help for the end user. “We’re envisioning what I call the ‘big red button.’ The ‘I need help button’ one place to ask for help. It first tries artificial intelligence. If that isn’t helpful, you can transition to live chat. And if that’s not helpful, then you can transition to the ticketing system.”
MCCC’s Partnership with Campus
MCCC also found that feeds are an effective means of communicating. People don’t tend to click through emails or follow links on a screen. It’s challenging to get people to interact with linked resources. If a message is sent in a feed, they see a preview of the resource and a large amount of information directly on the interface, and they’re incentivized to keep scrolling to catch other updates.
At other times, getting creative means asking for functionality that doesn’t currently exist. -> Sometimes, getting creative means asking for functionality that doesn’t currently exist.
“We worked with Campus to develop what we call the Academic Profile. Students don’t remember what program they’re assigned to, believe it or not. They don’t know which campus they’re assigned to. They don’t remember the contact information for their advisor. They don’t remember their GPA. Campus helped us put it in a little profile.”
– Joe Mancino, Chief Information Officer
Eventually, they want to build the widget out to show the student’s progress on their learning journey and may even go so far as to push the information on their feed so they don’t need to click on a small widget that may mean nothing to them as an end-user.
Joe was instrumental in Campus’ development of Tasks. They came about as a desire to have everything related to required student actions located in one, central spot.
“We want Tasks to be something that we can tell students, ‘Look, we might email you. We might text message you. But if the college needs you to take action, go look here. We will keep whatever it is we’re needing in the Tasks area.’ That’s our end goal. Onboarding is one easy example, where the student must, in some cases, complete 12 tasks before they’re able to even register for a class, testing, transfers, and whatnot. We want to deliver those as tasks in a sequence.
“We also want to integrate these tasks so that it’s dynamic. As a student completes tasks in Campus, these tasks are updated in our other systems, so we’re not telling them to do something they just did an hour or two ago. We’re trying to get as close as possible to the point where it’s not only personalized but dynamic.”
Joe’s team is integrating many systems to generate tasks (SIS, LMS, ERP, etc.), but they want to go a step further.
“We’re going to create tools specific to every major function that a student would need and take you right there from within Campus. They won’t need to learn about navigating their menus or their web interface. We want them to add a class, pay a bill, or what have you from Campus itself.” We’re making a concerted effort to make Campus the one place to simplify the user experience.”