Louisiana State University (LSU), the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) are among the universities who began using Workflow for Activity Insight when it became available in July. LSU’s rollout began with sabbatical requests. UTA is rolling out Workflow to its School of Business, which already uses Activity Insight, ahead of a campus-wide rollout of Activity Insight and Workflow. UNCO, which had used Activity Insight on campus for several years, dove straight into tenure and promotion. Each shared stories of early Workflow success in a panel discussion at our recent User Group.
Here are excerpts of the conversation between Joslyn Krismer, Director of Academic Operations at UTA; Nikki McNamara, Assistant Director of Human Resources Information Systems at LSU, and Mark Smith, Associate Dean, College of Natural & Health Sciences at UNCO, moderated by Kate Kaczmarczik, Digital Measures Product Marketing Manager.
Q. What issue drove you to start using Workflow on your campus?
McNamara: I work in the area of academic policy at LSU, and part of my role has been to coordinate faculty processes like tenure and promotion, sabbaticals, annual reviews and anything else touching faculty.
Previously, we had outdated, paper-based processes where I had to collect large numbers of big paper packets and deliver them to department chairs and deans. I literally loaded them onto a dolly and trekked them from one building to another. If it rained, I sometimes couldn’t deliver them on time!
From the day Workflow launched, I jumped right in and started building templates in the beta environment. The video tutorials are very helpful.
Now we’re halfway through our sabbatical request period, and it’s going well so far.
Krismer: We’re in the process of implementing Activity Insight campus-wide right now. We started with the College of Business, and will roll out to the College of Engineering next. We had a legacy system for collecting faculty information, but it wasn’t used very often. There were a lot of holes in the data, so it was very spotty, and faculty didn’t like it.
So we realized before we began implementing Activity Insight that we needed a reason for faculty to keep this information updated. So we decided to evaluate faculty for tenure and promotion and annual reviews using reporting from Activity Insight.
Workflow is a really critical piece of that. We want to make sure this is all streamlined and it’s easy for faculty in that it’s all contained in one system. That’s why we’re getting started with Workflow right off the bat. Faculty won’t know any differently—it’s just part of Activity Insight for them.
Smith: Our story is very similar. We’ve had Activity Insight for many years and didn’t use it that well, to be honest. In the last couple of years, we made a big push for faculty to enter information in the system. Last year, we pilot tested annual and biannual evaluations, reviewing with reports from Activity Insight.
We had ridiculous success with faculty buy-in. They don’t have to search for a binder, and they could do it elsewhere—they didn’t have to be on campus. They enjoyed the process. When Workflow was introduced at User Group 2016, we immediately went back to campus to sell the idea to university administration.
When Workflow came out, we jumped in with both feet. Currently, Biology, which is one of biggest schools in my college, is halfway through the tenure and promotion process. That wasn’t our original plan for a first step, but we got courageous and went for it. Since they’re putting the information in, we wanted faculty to use it all in one place and see the value.
Smith: Buy-in started first with our renewed commitment to Activity Insight over the last year. That helped with buy-in for Workflow. The Biology team didn’t even see the launch screens before agreeing to give it a try. They didn’t have a clue what they were agreeing to, but there was buy-in to a good product we already use on campus, and Workflow is an extension of where we’ve been successful on campus. They trusted the process and the software.
We have done a lot of walking around campus, going to meetings and offices of deans and the provost, taking every opportunity you can to say “have you heard of this?” and then doing the work and doing it well. I attribute much of our success to promoting the system.
McNamara: After I built the first template for sabbatical leave, I scheduled a meeting with the provost’s office. I was so excited to show them how much easier it would be for faculty to submit their materials to be approved for sabbatical leave. At the meeting, I showed them through the process, how faculty enter their information, click submit and it routes directly to department chair.
What was happening before is faculty had to provide their CV as a Word document, answer nine questions related to the leave, attach letters of invitation from other universities, etc. I showed them how the system runs the CV report automatically for faculty and how they can click on it and review it. It’s all right there.
I’m doing the same thing with the annual review process right now—building templates and showing to them deans at their leadership meetings.
Krismer: Our College of Business was already familiar with Activity Insight, and had been using it successfully for Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation. They’d had a very positive experience already, so they were confident in the system and ready to go with Workflow. They’re easy to work with and early adopters.
For the rest of the campus, where Activity Insight is new, we’re working to overcome the natural resistance that faculty, chairs and deans have to implementing any new product. We’ve used Workflow as one of the selling points of the Activity Insight system.
Q. Which features attract the most positive responses on your campus?
McNamara: One of the responses I’ve had so far from administrators is something I think our faculty will love too: you can see where something is in the process now. We used to get calls even in my office from faculty and department chairs asking, “where is this in the review process?” Being able to track things through the process is something people have really liked when I show them demos.
And being able to submit things online from one place to the other, that’s new at LSU, and it’s been very well received.
Krismer: Our College of Business especially liked that the required report is embedded in the process. So instead of having to download a report, attach it and send it somewhere, it’s just all built in and very streamlined. We’ve had a lot of positive response to that.
Smith: We’ve pushed faculty hard to make Activity Insight productive, putting in four to five years of back data. So now they’re saying, “Oh, this is why—that makes sense! Now I don’t have to go back and pull these articles.” We have live links as evidence in our university CV, so we don’t have to go back and pull articles—the links are built into the CV. Same with the teaching evaluations: they’re in the system, so it’s all in one place.
Reviewers like that they don’t have to be on campus. They also like the clickable links right below the APA citation. There’s no hunting for the article in a binder.\
Q. Have you had skeptical feedback or overcome challenges around buy-in?
McNamara: Our challenges, which are corrected now, were with features that weren’t available when we launched. But those are in place now, so it should make the process even better going forward.
Krismer: Our challenges were also around capabilities that weren’t yet available when we got started, like more granular selection capabilities and sending things back a step when there’s been a mistake.
Smith: Being an early adopter of a system that’s evolving is a fantastic process. If everything were already there, it would be harder to sell.
At UNCO, it’s actually been deans and administrators who have been more difficult to convince. It’s a new process, and with tenure and promotion, you’re evaluating career faculty five to six years into their time at UNCO. Faculty have more courage, they’re moving readily into the process because they’ve done a lot online. Administrators aren’t as comfortable online. They’re the ones saying, “we need to slow down.” But I say, no we need to speed up! Faculty are enjoying the system and we have momentum, so we need to keep up.
The other challenge at universities in general is turnover in IT systems. Today, it’s a new version of Banner, tomorrow a learning software change or a different ticketing system. And some rollouts of those systems haven’t gone so well. So people are skeptical when they hear, “but this one will be better.” Selling the administrators on doing things online was the most challenging.
Krismer: Anytime you change your process, there’s going to be resistance to that change, especially going from paper-based to online in the kind of environment we work in. But the good thing about it is the workflow is super easy. When faculty test it, they love it. The hardest part is getting past the first hurdle of getting everyone to try it.
Q. How have you accommodated unit variations in review processes on your campus?
McNamara: The great thing about Workflow and building templates is we have the ability as administrators to customize our forms ourselves. We have a lot of variation on the types of data collected for the annual review process. I’m able to use the existing fields that collect the data for the reports we already have in Activity Insight as a guide when creating customized screens. It’s really easy to do. You can build whole forms within minutes.
Krismer: We’re pretty early in our Activity Insight implementation so we haven’t expanded to include all of our colleges yet. From what I can tell in Workflow, you have customizable reports, so that gives you one place where everyone can be a little different. You also have customizable templates and schedules. All the tools in Workflow really give you the opportunity to put together a process that’s going to work for each individual college.
And really, I think it would be up to the administrators or the project director to decide how many of those templates you’re going to do. There could be an infinite combination. Right now we’re trying to limit to one per college if we can, but we realize that in some cases there are things we’ll have to build in to accommodate needs, and the tools are there to do that.
Smith: The biggest challenge we’ve had is that we aren’t a typical university structure—our colleges have departments, schools and programs. In addition to comprehensive review, we also have annual and biannual review. So we use some of the features that save time for faculty, like reports generating automatically and the interactive vita I mentioned. Then we have multiple templates and multiple schedules plus departments that have multiple chairs. So it’s all there, it’s just a matter of sharing and learning how other schools have done it.
One of the biggest thing for us as an early adopter is being able to work with Stacy [Becker, Digital Measures Client Success Manager]. She’s been amazing to work with. We ask her if we can launch something that’s not out of beta yet, and she says, yeah, we’ll figure it out. You just say, “okay, I trust Stacy, Stacy trusts the production group, faculty trust me,” and here we are.
If you’re interested in how Workflow for Activity Insight aligns with your university’s processes, contact us here for a process alignment consultation.