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Higher Education Innovation In Action

  • Project Management for Registrars

    by Natalie Spooner, Sales Consultant | Apr 26, 2017

     
    Earlier this month I wrote a blog post about building strong collegial relationships, which are key to your success as a registrar. This is especially true when you’re looking to rally support for your projects – effective teamwork is just as critical to project management as day-to-day implementation.

    Although each project is unique, they all share some basic requirements, like clear objectives and a solid plan. With that in mind, this post will present a high-level overview of project management in the registrar’s office along with practical tips you can use in your own work. 

    Stakeholder Buy-In

    Back when I was a registrar, I led an 18-month document imaging project from concept to completion. It cut across several departments, including the registrar’s office, IT, the admissions office, facilities, and records management.

    Multiple departments meant multiple stakeholders, which brings me to the first consideration in any project plan: Involve stakeholders in the decision-making process as early as possible to avoid roadblocks. 

    In addition to registrar staff, the stakeholders for an imaging project might include:

    • IT department
    • Admissions director
    • Facilities (i.e., paper disposal)
    • VP of Enrollment (or whatever division your office reports to)
    • Grant writers
    • Records managers from each department
    • An academic VP representative for guidance on record access    

    Project Planning

    Once you’ve established your stakeholders and their roles, schedule a kick-off meeting to discuss the project’s scope and vision. Share your mission statement with the entire team, for example: “The mission of the XYZ imaging implementation is to provide a secure, accurate, environmentally friendly, and efficient recordkeeping solution for ABC University.”

    Next, create and distribute a communication plan with instructions on:

    • Who receives reports and how often
    • Resolution of issues and challenges
    • Accessing project data/information
    • Email distribution lists and communication schedules

    Prior to grant submission, which also happens during the initial planning stages, develop a project wish list with each department that you can use to write your proposal. The grant submission and approval process is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that after you’re awarded the grant, the real work begins. 

    You should also meet with stakeholders individually to plot out development timelines, and remember that even the best laid plans can go awry. Be flexible and willing to take a different path to get to the end without compromising results.

    Implementation

    Depending on a project’s size and scope, the implementation phase may need to be split up into several parts. In an imaging project, you’ll need to consider the following tasks and when and how they will be implemented:

    • Behind-the-scenes programming and security profiles
    • Imaging procedures for archived documents
    • Imaging procedures for new incoming paper records
    • Removing paper files from storage cabinets
    • Repurposing filing rooms once they’re vacated

    It’s sometimes easy to lose continuity during the project lifecycle because each subcommittee is focused on individual tasks. To keep things running smoothly, analyze your project goals at each stage and be sure to plan goal achievement celebrations that include the entire team. This allows the team members to interact a few times throughout the project.

    Completion

    After the project is complete, schedule a debriefing with your team to discuss what went well and what needed improvement. For example, you may have experienced project delays due to miscommunication or unforeseen circumstances. At the same time, you may have also benefitted from exceptional commitment among team leaders who kept project delays from becoming too costly.

    Use the debrief to discuss any outstanding tasks, and also consider developing an ongoing evaluation plan to track outcomes. When budget season rolls around, you can point to your project successes to support future proposals.

    Finally, plan a gathering to celebrate your team and its accomplishments. This can be as simple as having a lunch together to socialize and honor everyone’s hard work – with no shop talk.

    Registrars, if you have any project management advice to share, please leave a comment below.

  • It’s All about Relationships – Relationships 101: Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

    by Natalie Spooner, Sales Consultant | Apr 11, 2017

     
    As a registrar, building strong relationships in and out of your department is critical to your success. While technical skills are an absolute necessity, “hard skills” alone won’t cut it. Leaders need to possess “soft skills” too. Soft skills, also known as “people skills,” are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others, which in turn leads to stronger relationships.

    In my experience, having solid, trustworthy relationships with your colleagues is essential to moving forward on initiatives, getting cooperation and participation, meeting deadlines, and most importantly earning respect. Soft skills are generally learned through everyday life experiences, but you can enhance any skill with effort and practice. Review these short lessons and training exercises, then think about how well you work with others. Are you up for the challenge of improving your people skills?

    Lesson One: Observe Yourself

    Being self-aware is critical to your success, so pay attention to your thoughts, words, and actions. When you practice self-observation, you can quickly recognize whether or not your actions are in alignment with your goals and values so that you can adjust accordingly.

    Training Exercise:

    Sit in a quiet room alone with a pen and paper. Brainstorm a list of ten words or phrases you’d want a colleague to use when describing you, such as “patient,” “approachable,” and “consensus builder.” Next, write examples of how your actions support those words and phrases. Are some of them more difficult to support than others? If so, those are likely areas that need improvement. Make a conscious effort to improve your behavior, then repeat this exercise a few months later to track improvement. 

    Lesson Two: Think Before You Speak

    Choosing your words wisely is fundamental to successful relationships. What you say is just as important as how you say it, so be mindful of your tone of voice. Knowing your audience is also key; presenting an idea to a provost will likely require a different tone than an informal office meeting. No matter the audience, follow these rules: allow others to speak, actively listen, and don’t interrupt.

    When it is your turn to communicate, take time to think about your response. Office conflicts can arise from time to time, so remain calm, listen attentively, and restate the problem to ensure that everyone is in agreement with the issue at hand. Work together to reach a compromise with a focus on the end goal, not on who is right or wrong.   

    Training Exercise:

    There are many variations of this exercise. I’ll call mine “Sticks and Stones…” As the leader, take a piece of paper and write your city’s name on it. Instruct each member of your group to each say negative things about your city, one at a time.  With each negative statement, crumple up the paper little by little until it is a crumpled ball. Now do the opposite: instruct participants to say nice things about the city. With each positive comment, un-crumple the paper. When the paper is completely open again, reveal to the group that even though kind words unfurled the paper, the evidence of hurtful words remains. Follow up this exercise with a short discussion reiterating that negative remarks and insults, even those said in haste, can have a long-lasting impact.

    Lesson Three: Pay Attention to Body Language

    Body language speaks volumes without anyone saying a word. It generally falls into two categories: positive and negative. Ideally, you should use as much positive body language as possible, which is especially true when you’re involved in a contentious discussion.  It can be just as challenging to control non-verbal reactions as it is to choose the best words and tone, so stay focused.  Furthermore, it is just as important to recognize the signals you are receiving from other people’s body language. As much as possible, be sure to react to negative body language in a positive way.   

    Training Exercise: 

    Visual cues are unmistakable! Practice using some of the positive and negative cues shown below with colleagues, friends, or family and make it a game. Deliver a neutral message with all negative body language and then ask your “team” how they perceived and accepted the message. Then try it with only positive body cues. Now what was the reaction?

    Positive Body Language

    Negative Body Language

    Visual Cue

    Nonverbal Message

    Visual Cue

    Nonverbal Message

    Smiling

    Friendly & engaged

    Crossed arms

    Defensive/cold

    Nodding

    Attentive & alert

    Fidgeting hand/tapping foot

    Nervous/bored

    Maintaining eye contact

    Curious & focused

    Lack of eye contact

    Untrustworthy

    Leaning forward

    Interested

    Leaning back

    Discomfort

     

    Lesson Four: Practice Empathy

    When you look at the world through other people’s eyes, you acknowledge and validate their feelings and opinions. Some people think that acknowledging an opinion is the same as agreeing with it. Not true! Acknowledgement not only reinforces respect, it encourages constructive discussion. This in turn creates an empathetic workforce and promotes increased productivity, better morale, and loyalty.

    Training Exercise:

    You’ve probably heard of the “yard stick” exercise, or some other variation of it. Have your team gather in a circle. Pick an unbiased topic of discussion (for example, how to approach a new initiative). Ask for a volunteer, then give the yard stick to her and have her present her thoughts, ideas, and opinions on the topic.  All others are instructed to listen without commenting. As each participant completes a turn, they should pass the yard stick to the person on the left, who can choose to speak or simply say “pass.” Continue this process until everyone has had a chance to contribute. If the conversation is still alive, allow more turns. This exercise helps everyone to present ideas without interruption or judgement.

    Lesson Five: Express Appreciation

    Expressing honest appreciation has many advantages: it makes others feel valued and gives them a sense of belonging, conveys respect and gratitude, creates a sense contentment within ourselves, and encourages others to demonstrate the same acts of appreciation. It is contagious.

    Practice looking for the good in others and focus on positive acts or contributions rather than negative encounters you may have had in the past. Avoid empty flattery. Giving compliments to others should be about them, not you.

    Training Exercise:

    Sincere appreciation goes a long way, but it doesn’t require a special occasion. Make an effort to genuinely say “thank you” and practice often!

    Here’s a simple idea to practice expressing appreciation. I like to call it “King/Queen for a Day!” Place a crown on the office chair of a colleague who recently did something special for a student, staff, or member of the public. Send an email to the entire staff explaining the special act of service and why it was appreciated. The “King” or “Queen” then has the responsibility to observe coworkers for the next month and “crown” the next recipient. 

    Mastering relationships can be challenging. Working on your soft skills is one step in the right direction. Stay positive, observe yourself, self-correct, and practice the lessons presented here. The simplest of rules: treat others the same way you expect to be treated in all areas of your life, work included. You will be amazed at how your collegiate relationships grow and make your workplace happier and more productive.
     
    Relationships 102: Trust & Respect
    Relationships 201: Cohesive Words & Actions

  • Password Best Practices: Tips for at Work and Home

    by Mark Bonges, Vice President, Application Development | Mar 29, 2017

     
    The average person maintains anywhere from dozens to hundreds of passwords. That seems like a lot until you add up the number of social media sites and discussion forums you visit, along with bank and credit card sites, airline and hotel accounts, media streaming services, web-based email… not to mention the different devices you need to secure, like wireless routers and smartphones.

    Managing so many login credentials takes effort, so everyone cuts corners from time to time – whether they use passwords that are easy to remember or the same password across multiple sites.

    And that’s where the problems begin.

    How cyberthieves use your login credentials

    As the number of online accounts grows, so do cyberattacks. But cyberthieves don’t simply steal hundreds of millions of passwords and go on a hacking spree. The overall process is more methodical than that, and it can take years before a login is fully exploited.

    With an almost endless supply of stolen passwords to choose from, hackers tend to go for the “low-hanging fruit,” the commonly used passwords that are easy to crack.

    The takeaway? While there’s nothing you can do to prevent massive online data breaches and theft of your login credentials, you can still minimize your risk after a breach occurs by following a few recommended security practices.

    Make passwords complex and long

    The strongest passwords contain some combination of complexity and length. “Complexity” has evolved over the years and is defined differently by different websites, but essentially it means a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

    An increasingly common practice is to string several words together to create a passphrase, but be sure to avoid pop song lyrics or famous quotes. Passphrases should be meaningful to you so that you can remember them, but difficult for someone else to guess.

    Use caution when managing your passwords

    Password management services or “vaults” offer an easy way to store all of your passwords in one place and help you avoid the security risk of using the same password for multiple sites. There are many to choose from, like 1Password and LastPass, and are recommended by security experts.

    If you decide to use this type of service, consider leaving out the passwords that protect your most sensitive data, like your primary email address and bank account. Also note that a centralized set of passwords creates a single point of failure for your digital life. If a hacker breaches your password vault, they’ll have access to all passwords in the vault.

    Set up multi-factor authentication

    Beyond passwords, one of the strongest forms of login security available today is multi-factor authentication (also sometimes known as “two-step verification”). It adds an extra layer of protection by requiring a separate login credential, over and above your username and password. This credential can be anything from a PIN to a temporary numeric code that is generated on a separate device, like a smartphone. So, even if a hacker has your username and password, they would still need access to your PIN or smartphone to be able to break in.

    Many websites offer multi-factor authentication as an option, and it’s a good idea to set this up wherever you can, especially for your email and financial accounts.

    Think about what you’re trying to protect

    Finally, whenever you go to create a password, think about what you’re trying to protect and what you’re protecting yourself from. Don’t skimp on security when it comes to your most sensitive data. Ensure that your critical passwords are unique and difficult to break, omit them from your password vault if you use one, take advantage of multi-factor authentication, and set calendar reminders to regularly change your passwords.

    Cybercrime is constantly evolving as the Internet evolves, and no form of security is ever 100% bulletproof. Strong passwords should be only one part of a multifaceted and ongoing security plan. Keep an eye on the trends and be proactive – it’s your best line of defense.

  • Survey Results: What Brought You to Higher Ed?

    by Mindy Starcher, Vice President | Mar 22, 2017

     
    Last month we posted a survey on our blog and newsletter asking Registrars what brought them to a position in higher ed. The results are in! Some of our respondents fell into the role by accident, while others started on the ground floor and worked their way up over a lifetime. No matter where they came from, we noticed some common threads: Registrars have a lot of staying power, and they seem to genuinely enjoy what they do. Following are a few of the responses we received:

    “A university employee recommended that I apply as a limited term employee (LTE), which is a part-time, contract employee. I was hired to work on a project; when that project ended, I was asked to stay on as an LTE. Seven years later, I was hired as a permanent employee, and 16 years later, I'm still here.”

    “Higher ed found me. In 2005, a corporate recruiter set me up with an interview to be an Executive Assistant to a Director of Admissions. I was hired shortly thereafter and, during the final two weeks at the job I was leaving, the person for whom I was going to work moved to a different campus location. I worked for a few weeks as the Executive Assistant to the empty office until they found a job for me as an Admissions Coordinator. When that role was eliminated from all the school's campuses, I was recruited to a similar role at a sister school and then moved up to Campus Registrar.”

    “I started as a student worker in my University's Admissions Office. Upon graduation, I moved to data entry within that office. After a few years, I moved to my current city and began work in the Registrar's Office with incoming college transcript evaluation. Since then, I've held several positions within my office, landing most recently as the Associate Registrar.”

    “Started as a work study student in the Registrar's Office at 18 years old.”

    “By accident. I started in Housing thinking I would take a couple of years to earn a master’s and move into the private sector. I worked my way up to the Assistant Director and really liked working at a college but in order to advance further, I would need to leave the institution I was at. I had developed a very good working relationship with the Vice President for Student Affairs and successfully completed a couple of specialized projects for her. She knew that I was looking to move on or out of housing and offered me a comparable position in the Registrar's Office. Since there was room for advancement, I took the transfer. That happened in 1992. In 1996, I was promoted to Associate Registrar and in 2000 became Registrar. After 16 years, I still enjoy helping students and solving problems.”

    “I loved my college experience and the college environment. I value lifelong learning.”

    “I was taking classes towards my master's degree and was offered a part-time position in Academic Records to supplement the staff while the Registrar was on maternity leave. Two years, later I was offered the position as registrar.”

    Thank you to all who participated!

  • Higher Ed News Roundup

    by Kate Heider, Technical Writer | Mar 09, 2017
      

    From improving the academic experience for all students to the latest developments in campus connectivity and cybersecurity, here are a few of the Higher Ed topics we’re following right now.

    Report: What’s Driving Higher Ed Innovation in 2017?

    In a blog post for Inside Higher Ed, professor Steven Mintz discusses the New Media Consortium’s report on new pedagogies, credentialing, emerging roles for educators, proactive support systems, and many other trends that are shaping the future of higher education. “Undergirding this report,” Mintz writes, “is the sense that every facet of the academic experience needs to be rethought as higher education becomes more personalized and data driven.”

    Reimagining the Academic Experience

    How ‘Knowing Your Coworkers’ Can Help Stop Cybercrime

    Email scams have evolved well beyond “foreign diplomats” asking you to wire money to an offshore account. Today’s cyber attackers rely on stealthier and more subtle methods. This Computerworld article tells the story of an alert executive who was able to recognize a forged email based on one simple word – “kindly” – and his quick thinking prevented a $20,000 loss. The takeaway? “Nuanced phrasing and other small details can flag a potential imposter.”

    A Better Security Strategy than ‘Know Your Enemy’: Know Your Coworkers

    Can Predictive Analytics Reduce Dropout Rates?

    The New York Times takes a look at how institutions across the country are using big data to predict student success or failure within a given major. The goal? To help students avoid the kinds of critical mistakes, early in their academic careers, that typically lead to dropping out. “Algorithm is not destiny,” says Martin Kurzweil, program director for an education research organization, “but I think the people in predictive analytics are mostly white hats, and they’re doing it because they really believe they’re helping students.”

    Will You Graduate? Ask Big Data

    Mentoring Programs Key to ‘First Gen’ Student Success

    Approximately 1.5 million undergrads in the U.S. are the first in their families to attend college. Although their backgrounds cut across socioeconomic lines, many of these students struggle with routine aspects of campus life that – if left unchecked – can cast a shadow over an otherwise bright academic career. In response, schools around the nation have developed first-gen student support systems that focus on academic counseling, financial aid, and social integration. The Columbus Post-Dispatch reports on the recent successes of one such program. 

    First-generation College Students Find Success with Help of New Programs

    Smart Device Breakthrough Bolsters Campus Connectivity

    Before the start of each new school year, your institution’s IT department works hard to shore up network infrastructure and boost campus connectivity to meet the demand for “always on” access. According to a recent article in EdTech Magazine, a smart device breakthrough may help support those efforts. “Today, learning requires a computer to be available 24/7,” says assistant professor Pedro Ferreira. “Very quickly, it will also require [Internet of Things] devices to stay on 24/7, and those who are unable to get access to better battery technology may be left out of the revolution that IoT is likely to bring to higher education.” 

    Advanced Batteries Poised to Power Up Higher Education IoT

    What higher ed or technology trends are you seeing so far this year? Please share with us in the comments.