When the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) purchased Activity Insight, its steering committee didn’t have a clear vision on how best to use it. Staff changes on the committee postponed those decisions until Mark Smith, Associate Dean, and Mike Hofmann, Software Applications Trainer and Activity Insight administrator, became the project owners in 2016 with an ambitious mandate: a plan to use Activity Insight for the university’s entire evaluation process within four years. Here, Smith shares UNC’s path to success, which included a project plan, weekly calls with Stacy Becker, Senior Engagement Consultant, and a pivotal visit to User Group.
Colorado’s State Normal School was founded in 1889 to train qualified teachers for the state’s public schools; it became the University of Northern Colorado in 1970. Today, the university is a comprehensive baccalaureate and specialized graduate research university striving to promote effective teaching, lifelong learning, the advancement of knowledge, research and a commitment to service, with more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Digital Measures: What happened in 2016 to kick your implementation into high gear
Smith: Given how our steering committee was structured, by summer 2016 we were only three-quarters done with our first CV report. Then our committee underwent a restructuring. We developed a stronger relationship with IT, and then our coordinator stepped out and I became the chair. The provost also required us to use the system, so it was a general tipping point.
DM: How did you approach this challenge?
Smith: We developed a four-year plan to use Activity Insight for the entire evaluation process, including annual, biannual, pre-tenure and comprehensive promotion and tenure. We got our proposal together then reached out to Stacy and began asking questions. She pushed to see our project charter and suggested regular meetings, as well as attending User Group.
DM: Was User Group helpful?
Smith: Part of our proposal was for Mike and I to attend User Group. In reality it was one of the big starting points for us. We met with Stacy and were still trying to figure out how to do our plan. We took the Activity Insight Administrator Certification, which has proven very worthwhile, and made connections with peers, especially Michael Ibrahim from West Virginia University. We came back knowing we can do this, others are doing it, let’s get it done.
DM: What helped you get traction on your project?
Smith: Stacy convinced us to have weekly project meetings. At first, we didn’t see the need, but it helped us meet deadlines and goals. Mike and I coordinate the project, but it’s not our “day job.” Checking in kept us motivated and problems could be solved quickly. With Stacy’s help, we learned best practices and got better at creating work requests for our customizations. As we were implementing there were never any emergencies because we had a plan and regular, scheduled contact in place.
DM: What advice would you give to other universities planning to implement faculty activity reporting software?
Smith: Draft a strategic plan and a proposal document outlining your reporting goals, individual and group responsibilities, and timelines. Then, communicate and/or present your proposal to all stakeholders at appropriate levels. Explain to the provost why this plan is beneficial and will work. Make sure deans are onboard and supportive. Make sure you reach out to faculty. They’ll have to use the system, so share the plan, why it will work, why it benefits them to put all this information in, and provide training. And train your help desk to assist faculty.
DM: What makes a strong project team?
Smith: With Mike coming from the IT side, he could deal with things like Banner integration, security roles and reporting. As an associate dean in an academic college, my job includes overseeing faculty evaluation As a former faculty member, I could show them how to use the system with my own data. It’s important to have a solid team, and the weekly meetings helped us roll out seamlessly to faculty—you can be paddling as hard as you can under water, but it needs to appear as calm and tranquil as possible to faculty above the waterline.
DM: Has Activity Insight Administrator Certification helped you?
Smith: Mike and I both went through the training, and it’s been extremely helpful. I can change things, I know how to change user roles, set them up, work with reports. It’s very helpful from the academic side for me to do it. When a director calls and can’t get access, I can log in and fix it. User problems get solved quickly. It helped us learn the system so we can train others.
DM: How has having a dedicated engagement consultant contributed to your success?
Smith: Stacy has always been there if we had a question, and she’s never reacted as if we should know things. Dumb questions aren’t dumb with her. She says, “okay, I can help. This is how we can do it.” She’s very responsive. In reality her dedication has really helped us keep the implementation on track.
DM: Can you share some benchmarks of success?
Smith: We, the College of Natural and Health Sciences, had seven of eight units using Activity Insight for annual reviews within 6 months. The College of Education, the second biggest on campus, had 80 percent of its units using Activity Insight, and several other colleges and the library on campus are already using it for evaluation. Above all, our provost is excited about it, and is considering requiring all of the university to use it for annual and biannual reporting beginning next year.
Have a FAR success story to share? Let’s connect—we’d love to interview you for an upcoming post.