Neff describes a two-month software trial
at Kirkwood as "a great way to ease into
Several years ago, Walters State ran pilot versions
of two Wi-Fi systems simultaneously, sending IT staff
members into classrooms during classes and other
campus locales, before selecting one that continues to
provide 100-percent coverage on all its campuses.
At Delta, technology pilot tests last at least one
academic year and can stretch to two years.
"Sometimes it takes a while to work the kinks
out," Webb says. In general, she says, "We don't like
to be an early adopter. We like to wait until things
have been debugged a little bit."
Given the frequency of product revisions, Webb
says Delta's project plans stipulate whether the college
will adopt the upgraded product or the tested version.
Whatever the duration of a pilot test, Webb
recommends setting explicit evaluation parameters before tests begin. Delta leaders have learned
from experience that introducing an innovation,
technological or otherwise as an open-ended pilot
test to gain grassroots support is counterproductive,
according to Webb.
"Before you start a pilot, declare how the pilot
is going to be evaluated. What are the goals and
objectives, and outcomes you are hoping to achieve
through the pilot? And set a timeline for evaluation
either for termination or to be converted into a
permanent, ongoing initiative," Webb says.
TECHNOLOGY IS LIKE A RIVER
Although challenging, the tasks involved in learning about new technologies and keeping products
up-to-date are manageable thanks to research by
firms like Gartner Inc., vendors' materials and
professional organizations like the Instructional
Technology Council, an affiliate council of the
American Association of Community Colleges.
What is idiosyncratic and variable depending
on the day and time is how new technologies will
change a college's environment.
"BEFORE YOU START A PILOT,
DECLARE HOW THE PILOT IS GOING
TO BE EVALUATED. WHAT ARE
THE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES, AND
OUTCOMES YOU ARE HOPING TO
ACHIEVE THROUGH THE PILOT?"
BARBARA R. WEBB, director of business services, Delta College
KIRKWOOD ADDRESSES FINANCIAL
AID ISSUES WITH CHECKLIST
Kirkwood Community College's IT staff members are
proud of the algorithms they crafted for an online financial aid checklist. The checklist has resolved hurdles for
students and staff, and seems to have contributed to
Before the checklist was implemented six years ago,
student services and financial aid staff members knew
first-generation college students were struggling with
financial aid applications. But, the college's traditional
method for dealing with financial aid applicants did not
readily identify who needed help with the process. So
everyone was stacked up waiting to speak with staff
members even for basic inquiries like whether students
could access their financial aid to buy books.
For some first-generation college students and
others daunted by the financial aid process, this was the
last straw; they gave up, says Jon Neff, vice president of
information technologies at Kirkwood.
By working together, IT and financial aid personnel
combined a process change with innovative technology to come up with the Financial Aid Checklist. The
algorithms are so effective that the IT staffers who
developed them made a presentation at a national tech
conference and the software company modified its
product to include them.
Items on Kirkwood's 10-point checklist—such as FAFSA
submitted, Stafford loan approved, promissory note
signed—change from red to green as they are done.
Aside from providing a very visual and straightforward method for students to keep track of what they
need to do, Neff says it has been "a great tool" for
financial aid advisors when they answer students' questions in-person or on the phone. The checklist also helps
identify which students need help to complete their
applications on time.
"That definitely was one [IT innovation] that was super
high valuable for the students, in their ability to come here,
and feel comfortable and confident," Neff says.