By Alison Spencer. By 2020, the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) hopes to send 10,000 students on study abroad each year. To achieve this ambitious 82% increase in participation, UCEAP is trying to improve and simplify its processes, making it a lot easier for students to study abroad.
With that goal in mind, UCEAP’s IT and marketing and communications teams are working together to redesign its website and student information system (SIS). Marketing Director Myla Edmond and IT Director Thomas Bunnell recognized that to be successful they needed open communication between their respective teams. “We started a conversation on how to rebuild both systems in a way that made sense, rethinking everything,” said Edmond.
For the SIS redesign, the IT team decided to migrate to Drupal, an open source framework popular in higher education and that facilitates easier collaboration between IT and marketing. “We can put program information and course catalogs in the SIS and syndicate this back to the website. Because we’re all using Drupal, the marketing team can easily extend program descriptions to include the embellishments users expect, such as pictures and blog posts,” said Bunnell.
In October 2016, UCEAP partnered with VisionPoint Marketing to survey students at four UC campuses, present them with website mockups, and get their feedback on overall layout. “We make so many decisions about site design and if we don’t go back and think about why each decision was made, things can get off track,” said Edmond.
The marketing team then developed nine broad categories of study abroad options to simplify program selection for students. “For students who don’t know where they want to go, categories are helpful for them to understand the options,” said Edmond. For example, if students select the category, “choose from prepackaged courses,” they will find program options where they can choose classes from a short, custom menu. Another category is “customize your coursework,” for programs where students have freedom to pick their own schedule at a partner university.
According to the surveys, many students begin exploring UCEAP on their phones. This inspired the UCEAP IT team to pursue a mobile first strategy. “We’re building out the website and SIS,” Bunnell said, “so that students will be able to go through the entire application process on their smartphones.”
UCEAP is also working to help campuses get more data on study abroad participants. “We’re going to provide campuses with a data warehouse of where their students have gone,” said Bunnell. Using Tableau data visualization software, campus coordinators will be able to quickly generate maps, pie charts, and other helpful visual representations of their students’ study abroad choices. “Tableau offers incredible flexibility and will help campuses make more strategic decisions about what types of programs to offer,” said Bunnell.
As Edmond and Bunnell reflect on the SIS and website redesign, scheduled for completion in July 2018, the magnitude of UCEAP’s goals stands out. “I’ve worked in higher education for over ten years, and I’ve never been a part of an organization rebuilding their student information system and website at the same time,” said Edmond. Bunnell agreed, “With the sheer complexity of what we’re doing and the variety of stakeholders, there is bound to be conflict. But we negotiate and are driven to satisfy students, campuses, and our staff abroad,” he said.