Enhancing the Advising Experience at UTSA: A Collaborative Journey

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Providing information to students when and where they need it has been the key component of UTSA's Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant.

Enhancing the Advising Experience at UTSA: A Collaborative Journey
Credit: Dragon Images / Shutterstock © 2018

More than ever, students seek mobile resources to get the answers they require, highlighting the need for well-crafted, technology-supported strategies and marketing campaigns. Providing information to students when and where they need it, as well as increasing student empowerment through awareness of these tools, has been the key component of the University of Texas at San Antonio's Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant [http://www.utsa.edu/oit/ipass], which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The iPASS grant is a collaboration between the provost's office, Academic Advising, and the Office of Information Technology (OIT), as well as student, faculty, and staff stakeholders.

Moving to a centralized advising system laid the foundation for improving the culture of UTSA Academic Advising to ensure students receive accurate and consistent advising. With the change to the advising structure, the Academic Advising department was able to partner with OIT to introduce simplified advising tools including Ellucian DegreeWorks and the Education Advisory Board (EAB) Student Success Collaborative Campus.

After the integration and adoption of these advising tools, the iPASS grant team was able to identify other areas to support the advising experience for students at UTSA by enhancing the way information is delivered to students. From the increased use of campaigns that encourage students to see their advisors to expanding the mobile resources available for students, student success has been a major focus for UTSA. This led to the identification of the Academic Advising website as a key component to support student success.

The advising website is a resource that is accessed by not only current students but also future and returning students and parents. From the launch of the project, the objective of UTSA Academic Advising was to provide more than just a quick facelift to its website. A dynamic website would build on the collaborative work done for the iPASS grant and improve advising resources for students.

Members from Academic Advising collaborated with staff from University Communications and Marketing and OIT's Customer Relations, Communications, and Training team on the website redesign project over the course of the fall 2017 semester.

UTSA Assistant Vice Provost for IT and iPASS grant Principal Investigator Vanessa Hammler Kenon said, "This was an amazing adventure and journey to get the advising site built from the ground up as a part of our Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant. Working with multiple talents across campus, we were able to complete this project internally and save UTSA thousands of dollars in the process."

This collaboration provided the project with diverse perspectives on website terminology, graphics, and information placement. The website was reviewed item by item to ensure information was relevant, accurate, and necessary.

After the website updates were completed, the advising team held focus groups with advising staff, administration, and UTSA students (see figure 1). This was extremely beneficial as it provided insights to better serve students. Initial feedback from the advising website focus group indicated that students found the redesign more inviting and user friendly, and students appreciated being able to see all the advisor pictures.

Group of people sitting around a conference table
Figure 1. Student Government Association OIT Focus Group during a discussion on student success and the UTSA Mobile App improvements

"Having our advising and technology staff come together with our student focus group was an incredible collaboration!" said Brandy Barksdale, senior academic program advisor. "The fresh perspectives provided by everyone were welcomed and highly valued. The vision of all those involved created an inviting and interactive website. We look forward to this new site assisting our students on their academic journey."

When the spring 2017 semester began, visitors to the UTSA Academic Advising website were welcomed by a fresh new site, which had been soft-launched in December 2017 (see figure 2). The modernized UTSA advising website provides a more dynamic experience for visitors as soon as they arrive on the landing page. Although the previous site contained much of the same content, it was not presented in a visually appealing way to engage visitors.

Side by side views of the same web page. The left side is all text with one button in the middle. The right image has a hero image and a series of buttons.
Figure 2. Screenshots of the UTSA advising website, before and after redesign

The new, interactive, and user-friendly design empowers students to easily find academic and nonacademic resources. Information on their advisor with a photo provides a more personalized experience, and the layout has continuity with the main UTSA website (redesigned in academic year 2016–17). Adding social media to the main page, having a responsive design, and using a vibrant layout have significantly transformed the advising website and, most importantly, the user experience.

Our website is another piece in the larger puzzle of student success that the iPASS team will collaborate to complete. Student success continues to be a key focus for the university with the launch of the UTSA President's Initiative on Student Success and the Student Success taskforce (see figure 3).

Group image with people holding awards
Figure 3. OIT iPASS team members among those recognized by the associate vice provost for student success as Advising Champions

Rosalind Ong serves as IT project coordinator at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

© 2018 Rosalind Ong. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.