Jim Dahlberg – Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College
Several years ago, spurred by growing student demand, the faculty and students of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) were invited to The Next Generation of Learning Town Hall to give feedback on how to bolster the school’s technology capabilities. One by one, attendees wrote their wish lists and concerns on pieces of paper, sticking each beneath a corresponding poster board at the front of the room.
It doesn’t get more low-tech than a box of pens and stacks of Post-it Notes. And yet, these old-school supplies proved instrumental in helping WITC usher in a new age of campus innovation.
“Because we’re a two-year technical college, people assumed we were a cutting-edge environment,” recalls Jim Dahlberg, the school’s senior director of information technology. “What we realized is we had some catching up to do, and needed to focus on the next generation of learning.”
At the time, WITC was one of few colleges within the 16-school Wisconsin Technical College System that hadn’t made all of its credits available through a learning management system (LMS—)a software program that allows both faculty and students to access and track courses remotely.
Initially, the reaction to incorporating a Blackboard LMS was lukewarm, with many students wondering why a curriculum built on things like safety management and industrial systems—hands-on trades if ever there were any—would need an online component.
Dahlberg’s rejoinder was a simple one: What if you’re out sick for a string of classes? Worse still, what if a family emergency keeps you off campus for a week? Wouldn’t it be nice to have all those lectures and lessons available at the click of a mouse?
“When we couched it in those terms, the student perception changed pretty quickly,” Dahlberg recalls. “Just because these tools are available, doesn’t make it an online class. It’s a way to augment student engagement and improve performance.”
In fact, implementing a LMS served as a catalyst for other, more dynamic initiatives. Thanks to a grant awarded by Interfacing Manufacturing Process and Connecting Technologies (IMPACT), WITC is able to offer on-demand training for broadband installation and service, one of its most hands-on courses, via Blackboard to broadband businesses throughout the country.
Building on the success of its broadband academy, WITC redoubled its efforts to improve classroom design, creating what Dahlberg calls a more polysynchronous environment. By combining ITV with BlueJeans, a web-conferencing application, WITC plans to make many of its courses available on demand, giving remote learners—a growing segment of WITC’s student body—the option of taking the class at their convenience.
To start, WITC will develop standardized collaborative classrooms throughout the college, each equipped with video, audio, presentation and recording equipment.
What’s more, private companies are using the on-demand training as part of their own broadband certification programs, increasing WITC’s exposure while bringing in additional revenue.
Behind the curtain
Improving backend functionality has also been crucial.
Years before WITC’s technology town hall, there was a growing demand for a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Rather than jump the gun on an ill-fitting fix, Dahlberg took time to understand the needs of the various departments. After four years of compiling feedback, WITC put out a request for proposal (RFP).
According to Dahlberg, the resulting Salesforce platform focuses on two areas: industry training and prospect management. For instance, WITC needed a better way of tracking dozens of individual training and continuing education programs it had created in partnership with businesses throughout the region. From the resulting contract to training completion, Salesforce assures that WITC’s private-sector partnerships remain productive.
More importantly, the CRM allows the school to keep tabs on prospective students, an imperative that the school’s president, Dr. John Will, instilled early and often.
“We’re lucky to have a president that’s driven by the data,” Dahlberg says. “What we noticed was that we were getting a lot of knocks on the door. But then we’d lose track of them.”
Through the new CRM, WITC can track prospective students from the first moment of engagement—typically through the school’s website (more on that in a bit)—all the way through graduation, if they attend the college. That includes everything from student retention and attendance to alumni donations and continuing education.
Outreach can start as early as eighth grade, through events like school career days. If a student expresses interest in a particular program, say computer science, WITC will send him or her occasional emails and other materials with information on cutting-edge technologies, programs and so on.
Of course, piquing that interest is a whole lot easier when the first thing prospective students see is state-of-the-art.
Home sweet homepage
Launched in late 2017, WITC’s website is the epitome of addition by subtraction. Gone are the thousands upon thousands of individual pages, the product of an outdated content management system. In its place: a stylish, mobile-friendly portal that’s intuitive and information rich.
“Our goal was to drive prospects to the right content in two or three clicks,” Dahlberg explains. “We achieved that by removing a lot of clutter—internal stuff we just migrated over to our campus-specific intranet for staff, and our MyCampus portal for students.”
Specifically, the school built a better and more accurate class search engine, complete with filters for subject, number of credits and style of learning, the last of which includes no fewer than nine distinct methods (in-person, computer conferencing and so on). Meanwhile, streamlined application and registration forms make it easier than ever for students to apply, enroll and register.
For Dahlberg, the refurbished website is the tie that binds WITC’s threefold approach: a website to market to prospects, complete with a portal designed to give students one-click access to services; a CRM to track their progress; and the next-generation learning protocol capable of delivering on their demands.
At that campus forum three years ago, Jim Dahlberg saw the potential for a true IT transformation. And while the tools have changed—with pen and paper replaced by world-class wares—a sense of synergy remains.
“We’re removing the brick and mortar and opening the technology door as wide as we can,” Dahlberg says. “There’s a sense that everyone has a stake in these improvements, and that can have an energizing effect on the whole institution.”
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