Tom Pagano – Johnson County Community College
You’d have to strap on a Fitbit to know exactly the number of steps it takes to traverse the grassy green campus of Johnson County Community College (JCCC). But what about knowing the steps for getting a degree at the Kansas institution, where your studies are measured, traditionally, in course credits?
For that, you might have a conversation with Tom Pagano, the school’s CIO, who envisions another way of tracking student progress.
This past January, Pagano and his IT team launched one of the most ambitious initiatives in JCCC’s 49-year history. Known as AccuCampus, the technology allows the school to track a student’s educational journey by gauging how, and how often, they utilize JCCC resources.
The hope is, that by combining the resulting, course-related input with other data—student loans, publicly available social-media information—the college can generate insight that can help with graduation rates and overall student success.
“We want to be better at identifying which students need help, so we can address it in a way that makes sense,” Pagano says. “Conversely, if things are going well, we want to be able to encourage that. It’s all about using data to do the right thing.”
Teaching the teachers
In reality, AccuCampus is as much an idea as a tool—a way for administrators to understand and help their students.
The foundation is a platform—accessible to both teachers and administrators, though not students. It uses both quantitative data (like test scores) and qualitative data (like classroom participation) to provide an accurate snapshot of the individual’s experience.
For instance, if a student is found not to be showing up to class, or suddenly having lower grades for a semester, AccuCampus might recommend the teacher schedule an appointment with a guidance counselor or pair the student with a tutor.
More importantly, Pagano says the software will encourage students to make more informed choices about their education. The more they “swipe in and out” of the various departments—take a class, complete a test, even check a book out of the library—the more accurate that predictive capacity becomes.
The system also hinges on data generated through Canvas, a learning management system that allows both faculty and administrators to monitor student performance—everything from test scores to attendance to final grades—in real time.
Implemented late in 2017, and housing everything from grades to teacher feedback to financial aid, Pagano says it was chosen following a lengthy research campaign that included scouring user reviews and conducting an internal survey.
“What Canvas allows us to do is get to a place where we can measure real utilization,” Pagano explains. “We’re not trying to add a lot of new bells and whistles right off the bat. It’s more about implementing something that both students and faculty can effectively engage with.”
Current students aren’t the only ones on Pagano’s radar, however. By outfitting an improved website with software from Act-On, a company specializing in solutions for marketing automation, JCCC is reimagining how it engages prospective enrollees, eschewing traditional mailers for snappy email campaigns capable of mining useful data.
The IT department even developed a mobile app that lets users tour JCCC in virtual reality, from the football field to the Student Success Center to individual classrooms.
Student first approach
Pagano says the faculty is enthusiastic about AccuCampus and the new CRM.
In a way, their support reflects the community college environment, which, in contrast to universities, does not have the “publish or perish” paradigm that straps teachers for time and keeps them from focusing on students, Pagano says. It’s all about the students, he says.
“We want the classroom to go beyond our walls through the effective use of digital pedagogy strategy,” Pagano says. “Wherever a student is, whether it’s on campus or off, they have the tools to persist and learn. We need to meet them where they are.”
Indeed, if there’s a mantra that defines Pagano’s approach to IT management, “meeting them where they are” might well be it.
In an effort to promote transparency and foster dialogue, Pagano, who came to SCCC in 2015, presents daily operational reports to the school’s administration. Covering topics including cybersecurity and project development, the memos cast the department’s many functions in a straightforward light.
The right background
Owing to years of experience in both the health care and finance sectors, Pagano understands how communication can help or hinder a particular cause, likening the process to delivering a 10-minute TED Talk.
“If you’re at a board meeting talking about a pressing issue or project, you need to tell an effective story,” Pagano explains. “A short, simple education around why it’s important, in terms everyone in the room can get their arms around. If that message is successful, you can continue to build on that.”
When the messaging involves a recalibration of the IT infrastructure—as it did early in 2017, when Pagano recommended moving access control into the information security department—that storytelling becomes even more important.
In touting the merits of AccuCampus, Pagano drew on his experience in the often contentious world of health care, where passing big-ticket initiatives meant passing muster with both the clinical and political aspects of the institution.
“In education, you can’t say if we don’t do X, then the patient is going to suffer,” Pagano explains. “The stakes aren’t as immediate. But you can say that doing something will improve student well-being, and as long as that story is authentic, the case is easier to make.”
For Pagano, the goal is making the student journey—from application to matriculation—about stepping into the future.
“We’re being defined as we’re creating it,” he says. “No one knows what the college will look like in five or 10 years. But we do have a plan we feel serves our mission and vision.”
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