by Jennifer O'Brien

A new ‘dynamic’: University of Canberra gets closer to students

Jun 08, 2017

The University of Canberra (UC) is on a mission to forge stronger relationships with students and has scooped up Microsoft Dynamics CRM technology in a bid to make it a reality.

UC deputy director of projects and innovation, Rebecca Armstrong, said the university wants to better engage with students throughout their university experience, and deployed Microsoft Dynamics in order to gain deep insights to better support students and help them finish their degrees.

“Engaging with students throughout their university experience is critical for any tertiary institution,” Armstrong said.

Rebecca Armstrong

“We need to help new students as they embark on their degrees, often providing relatively simple responses to queries such as ‘how do I enrol?’ and ‘where do I find my timetable?’, but also, over the course of their university journey we need to provide the much deeper insights and valued support that will sustain them and help them succeed.”

The University of Canberra has around 13,500 students at any given time – and 1,200 administrative and academic staff.

In addition to its Canberra campus, the university has relationships with institutions in Sydney, Brisbane and in Melbourne where students can be taught – and Armstrong said she needed to ensure a “streamlined and consistent relationship” between students and the university.

“This is a relationship that can last many years. It’s not like an online retailer who would seek to engage the consumer just as long as it takes to buy a pair of shoes – we need to maintain an authentic and supportive relationship with a student over their undergraduate, postgraduate, and alumni years,” she explained.

Campus smarts

She said the university decided to implement Microsoft Dynamics in a bid to get enhanced intelligence. This means when a student calls or goes online for a chat session, university teams (including student advisors, welfare, international student support services, study skills, fees office and international compliance), have timely information available to respond to a student.

Essentially, the university can capture all interactions including inquiries, phone calls, emails and chat sessions, giving it access to a great level of detail and insight. The technology is also integrated with the Callista student management system, enabling the university to get greater visibility and intelligence across student records.

“We needed a system that was intelligent enough to know that if a student asks ‘where’s my exam held?’, and they are studying at TAFE Queensland in Brisbane, they’ll be given the relevant location.

“We can see their records and know that they are on track, or whether they may need to take an extra unit over our Winter term. If they did require another unit they might be flagged in the system as an Elite Athlete, then we can talk to them about flexibility for attendance over the term.”

Looking ahead, she said the university is considering extending the system so it supports new students, school leavers, international students, and alumni.

“We’re creating a platform for intelligent engagement with all our stakeholders, a way to create a strong and sustainable community,” she said.

Additionally, the university is using SharePoint Online as a collaboration platform, and has developed a system called InterFace, which is a dashboard for students that uses .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio Data Services.

“Students and staff can use the dashboard to assess their progress and performance, then tap into the underpinning analytics to see what they could do to improve their results.In the future, information from InterFace could be fed into Dynamics to give us near real-time understanding of what students are looking for. That sort of insight can really make a difference to a student’s engagement and retention,” Armstrong said.

Apps to turbo-charge

Meanwhile, UC CIO and director, ITM, David Formica, said the university has built .NET apps to turbo-charge engagement with students and analyse the data collected to fuel innovation.

David Formica

“The temptation to build an app for everything should be resisted; no organisation has limitless reserves or skills. But where there is a genuine opportunity to innovate and competitively differentiate, home-grown apps can prove a game changer,” Formica said.

As such, the university has developed the Express Application, a .NET app which is accessible from any device, allowing prospective students, in as few steps as possible, to apply to study.

“If the student ticks the box on the application saying they don’t have work experience, the app excludes any work experience questions, taking the student directly to the next set of required answers,” he explained.

“It’s less frustrating for the student, and we can run analytics over the app to allow us to identify where students tend to stumble when completing their application. Armed with that insight we can examine if a question is too hard or ambiguous and go back and fix that.”

Formica said the app, which took four months to develop, has already cut the time taken to complete an application, and has been used almost 9,000 times – which is significant for a University with 12,000 students.

In addition, he said he development of the Interface student dashboard sets the university apart in the market.

“Developed using .NET and Microsoft Visual Data Studio, it has been designed to really encourage students to engage. The graphics are strong, with Interface also using Microsoft tools for the analytical examination of the student, enabling timely support, and helping lecturers improve the success of their class.”

He said the university also built a researcher dashboard that shows all research outputs.

“If we tried to licence a system for this it wouldn’t be cost efficient, but we were able to take our development frameworks and build both a research and student dashboard app that are delivering great benefits.”