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Models of Efficiency

Models of Efficiency honoree update

A look at three institutions that continue to expand and integrate their award-winning efficiency initiatives
University Business, November 2014
Expanded use of technology is at the core of most winning Models of Efficiency initiatives.
Expanded use of technology is at the core of most winning Models of Efficiency initiatives.

Models of Efficiency recognizes institutions exhibiting best practices in their efforts to increase efficiency, improve productivity and leverage existing resources.

Implementation of new technology or expanded use of technology already in use is at the core of most winning initiatives. At many colleges and universities, there is a domino effect across campus, heightening interest in expanding those programs. The following three institutions continue to expand and integrate their award-winning initiatives.

To read more efficiency stories, visit www.universitybusiness.com/moe.

In-depth inspections

Environmental Health and Safety, Texas A&M Health Science Center

Originally honored: Winter 2012

Until 2012, a facility safety inspection at Texas A&M Health Science Center took three staff members four days, followed by 32 hours of data entry.

Consider the vast manpower required to assess facilities and determine what types of environmental health and safety training was needed across eight campuses statewide. In addition to the time required, there was the challenge of consistency and follow-up. Director of Operations Clay Hanks and his team knew there had to be a more efficient way.

Hanks and John Fellers, the director of environmental health and safety, armed each inspector with an iPad loaded with inspection forms developed using Zerion Software’s iFormBuilder. Hanks and Fellers also ensured that everyone followed the same protocol. Being able to upload findings to the server and have reports automatically generated also cut inspection time and training expenses in half.

Initially, the environmental health and safety team focused solely on fire and laboratory safety. However, in the past two years, 10 additional inspections have been added to the list, including a chemical disposal log, the Clery Act inspection, a fire evacuation drill report, a fire extinguisher inventory, and radioactive material package acceptance practices.

Because “we’ve been able to automate things we used to do by hand,” that inspection list expanded without any manpower being added, Fellers says.

A bigger statewide footprint

Recognizing the efficiencies the Health Science Center gained by automating inspections, 12 other colleges and universities within the Texas A&M University System have adopted the process.

This was made possible through a deal Texas A&M negotiated to let all 12 programs use iFormBuilder for $5,000 a year—an expense the university system offered to pay. The software had cost the Health Science Center $1,000 to $2,000 a year, meaning the total tab for all departments could have reached $24,000.

As familiarity with the inspection process and the software grows, Health Science Center staffers are getting even faster, says Fellers. “The biggest time savings has come on the back end, with the automated report generation from the data. Not having to manually type in inspection findings has shaved weeks of work off the inspection process.”

Erich Fruchtnicht, radiological safety officer, and Leslie Lutz, emergency management/business continuity coordinator, have now moved on to the next efficiency project: development of software to automate risk assessment.

Relocation spurs digitization

Information Technology, Walsh College

Originally honored: August 2013

Board meetings at Walsh College in Michigan used to be extremely paper-intensive. The 30 annual board and committee meetings required up to 40 binders each (nearly 1,000 in all) filled with reference material to inform meeting participants. Preparation and printing of the so-called “board books” used to cost the college an estimated $35,000.

The IT team’s more sustainable solution, BoardVantage, allows documents to be digitized using a secure app and loaded on iPads. “Using BoardVantage has proven extremely productive for us,” says Jacob Klein, executive director of the Office of Information Technology.

Since rolling out the process, the college has deployed the iDoc management system to expand document scanning campuswide. So far 24,000 pages have been scanned using the program, Klein says.

The increased emphasis on document digitization was driven in part by the relocation of the administrative offices, which moved from the campus in Troy to a building three miles away. Close to 100 staff members will be housed off-campus for 15 to 18 months while the old building is renovated. That move prompted college leaders to look at which papers really needed to go with them, and which could be scanned and stored to save time and space.

Another benefit of digitizing documents has been improved communication between staff members. “Everyone can now access documents online, without faxing or using interoffice mail,” Klein says. Digitization is a stepping stone to going paperless.

“In the new building, we will be reliant on digitized documents,” Klein says. “We’re going to an open-concept office, where there aren’t a lot of filing cabinets. It’s changing the way we do business.”

Student service

It’s also changing how students do business with the college. Pushing more documents online has already helped pare back the number of financial aid letters that have to be printed and mailed.

Previously, up to four letters were mailed to students during the year. Three of those have been digitized in the past year and there are plans to convert the last letter in the near future. Students now receive emails with links to documents they can complete entirely online.

Although the process is an adjustment for staff, “students have been pushing us for more online transactions,” says Klein. And they are quickly getting their wish.

Online assessment a norm

College of Pharmacy, University of Rhode Island

Originally honored: December 2013

Paper and pencil tests are passé at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy. What began as a quasi-experiment in online assessments for five electives in 2012 has grown to include more than 90 percent of the college’s courses. Now, says Jayne Pawasauskas, a clinical associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, only a handful of classes aren’t using them.

Although the benefits of electronic exams were immediately apparent, the college rolled out its transition to the ExamSoft product gradually, she says. Adoption grew slowly as faculty recognized that while transferring tests and quizzes from paper to a computer may take an initial time investment, subsequent sessions are a breeze.

“It simplifies the workload and saves tremendous time in the future,” she says.

Yet the goal isn’t to have online assessments for all courses. Some courses simply aren’t suited to ExamSoft, Pawasauskas explains. Those that use projects as assessments, for example, are not a match, and that’s OK. Nor does the college require that faculty convert their paper tests to electronic. So far, all those who are using ExamSoft are doing so voluntarily.

Most students are fans of online assessments. Students like them because they can get almost-immediate feedback. “They know right away how they did,” says Pawasauskas. ExamSoft can be used to determine where students are struggling, as well.

ExamSoft also helps the College of Pharmacy assess how well it is meeting learning objectives, which plays into accreditation standards.

Greater adoption

Thanks to the success the College of Pharmacy has had, other colleges on campus are now adopting ExamSoft. The College of Nursing was the first to jump on board.

Additionally, other colleges of pharmacy are now using the program, and Pawasauskas hopes that more collaboration and information-sharing will occur going forward. “If more schools used it, we could share exam questions as a means of validation,” she says. In fact, URI officials are already in talks with a school in New York to do just that.

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