Finding a true partner
Colorado Christian University (CCU) needed to make a change. Their old portal was painful to use, bloated with outdated content and had limited filtering capabilities — making finding anything difficult. Because CCU has multiple audiences with very different needs, they knew they had to find a solution that was easy enough to use to delegate some administrative responsibilities and could filter content according to a user’s assigned role.
A key, if not THE key, deciding factor in going with Path is their desire and ability to truly partner with us. A lot of vendors talk about partnership. I think Path really epitomizes that word in working with us.
– Chris Franz , AVP of Communications
CCU decided to move forward with a student portal implementation in March of 2020. Many of us would cringe at the thought of tackling such a major project with the score of IT activities necessary to adapt to a pandemic. CCU viewed it as a chance to improve their ability to communicate with students and retain a sense of community despite the nation’s move to remote learning.
Rachel is CCU’s Systems Trainer. As a trainer exposed to constant input from end users, she knows better than most when something is difficult to use.
“My job before we moved to Path [then Campus] was to try to train people how to use our old intranet site. It was painful and broken, and we were very thankful to move to something new.”
Chris added, “Not only were people not using our old portal, but they were also creating their own websites with unauthorized content meant for internal populations. It was nearly impossible to find anything because information was housed in so many locations.”
Considering all of the challenges students faced when searching for important information, CCU decided to dedicate resources to the project to go live with their new Path portal by August 2020.
Making the Switch
Getting buy-in from faculty
To ensure CCU chose a solution that people were eager to use, the implementation team decided to include departments representing the three different student audiences at CCU. This was also a brilliant move, positioning CCU to deliver the best user experience possible.
Undergraduate, Adult+Graduate, and a new Dual Enrollment program for high school students presented the challenge of needing to disperse similar but different content for each of their college audiences. For example, each of these programs’ financial aid looks very different, but a student from each audience would think of the content as “Financial Aid.”
The portal CCU chose had to integrate with their systems in order to automate profiles and use those profiles to limit the kind of information the end user could see.
Twenty-five people from the university assessed the implementation team’s final three choices for the new portal before the group decided to move forward with Path.
I think the teams were eager to participate and improve student communications. We had the added incentive of so much needing to be online during the pandemic. People were chomping at the bit to have an effective online solution.
– Chris Franz, AVP Communications
Once they decided on Path, Chris said, “We pretty much unanimously agreed that CCU Connect was our new portal name because we really did see it as a place for all of our constituents in our internal community to connect.”
After some internal debate, the implementation team decided to “rip off the band-aid” and discontinue the old portal as the new portal went live. Student Life was one of the first groups to go cold turkey and use Connect exclusively with new students. Both incoming freshmen and transfer students were onboarded almost entirely in CCU’s instance of Path.
Tips to supercharge your community
CCU had a massive amount of content existing in many different locations. The need to divide the content by audiences (both internal and external) prompted creative problem-solving from the outset. Here are some of the innovative approaches CCU made with the help of the Path team.
01 Identify Departments Key for Student (& Internal) Adoption
CCU recognized that people care more about some things than others. For example, internal staff and faculty want access to human resources information (open enrollment, benefits questions, etc.), and students care about housing, dining, financial aid, and the like.
They knew that to get students and faculty/staff to adopt the new portal, they needed high-value content (that was easy to find) the day they went live.
“We identified three key departments that we knew needed to have all their content ready to go from day one. Student Life for our traditional campus, human resources for faculty and staff, and Service Central at the university, which oversees the registrar function, financial aid, and manage commencement,” said Chris.
“I think HR has done an amazing job of doing so many of their communications directly through CCU Connect (CCU’s instance of Path). They used Connect for open enrollment for benefits. Our annual employee survey, they used Connect. It has been really good to see key departments within the university rely on Path as such an effective communication tool.”
02 Don’t Rebuild Your Old Portal
The CCU implementation team leaned into finding a better, more intuitive way to present content. They leveraged groups, pages, labels, categories, profiles, and other mechanisms to dynamically deliver content instead of defaulting to the traditional folder structure they were accustomed to.
They also found that leveraging public pages on their traditional website allowed delegated administration of key elements. CCU gave the example of their chapel hours and events, which are constantly changing.
03 Combine Content with Community
Each department was given at least one group and allowed a single landing page for each group. They could have many supplemental pages, but the main landing page acted as an index linking to those additional resources. The groups were then used to link essential resources, notify people when updates are made, or add new additions.
“The LDC, which is our advising center, has a group called Life Direction Center that they use to communicate. They’ll remind people to make their advising appointments and link to pages in the group so people can learn more about who their advisors are and how to make an appointment.”
04 Embrace Mobile
“The departments that work with students—traditional students—found that students never read their emails. And the more emails they sent, the less that they read them. Our students are a lot more connected and engaged when they have a mobile app,” said Rachel.
“Fewer people are using our email blast system, and they’re just posting things on CCU Connect. Which is amazing!”
Rachel also emphasized that one of the most important elements when training new Path page editors is to drive home that mobile configuration should come first. “We tell people to always look at the mobile view before you publish your work.”
05 Don’t Fear Two-Way Communication
“Some departments were concerned about the two-way communication available in groups,” said Chris. “We noticed at the beginning of a hectic school year (with so many of our students online because of the pandemic), people were using groups to ask questions. Before we could get to it the next day, another student answered that question. That was fun to see, and the good news is they typically answered the questions accurately. The students know better than we sometimes do.”
06 Create Internal Facing Groups
CCU created a group for page editors so people could have their questions answered and easily access a library of images. Rachel noted that people needed very little training. IT monitors published pages and reaches out to offer training when someone deviates from CCU communication guidelines.
Chris added that creating internal groups was a great way for faculty and staff to blow off steam. The group is private to that team and a place to give one another kudos, post non-work-related stuff, and find a type of replacement for the lost ability to stop by someone’s office. “It was a great way to acknowledge that we’re all having this experience together.”
07 Just DO IT
Rachel mentioned that in previous “Better Together” sessions, she heard someone say that they had to push back on Path’s aggressive timeline. She challenges institutions to resist the urge.
“If you want to get your transition from your old system to Path done, you need to just have those weekly meetings with your support person at Path and just get it done. We talked about delaying our timeline internally, but those meetings kept us on track and helped us meet our goal. I think Path knew we were not going to meet our goal unless they scheduled a meeting with us every week and gave us tasks to do.”