Marita Mahoney and Diana Quijano led the development of myCOE in partnership with other leaders from the College of Education and the Information Technology Services department.
Dr. Marita Mahoney, Director of Assessment and Research at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), had become increasingly frustrated with attempting to make various archaic and obsolete database systems work for the needs of staff, faculty, program coordinators, and students within the CSUSB College of Education (COE). After half a decade of what she described as “frustration...rabbit holes and dead ends” with pre-packaged systems including FileMaker Pro and TaskStream, Mahoney declared there would be a change. She recalled, “I remember I just put my foot down one day and said, ‘We need to be able to have a [database] system on campus. There needs to be an in-house system. I’m done with these third party vendors.’ ” In fall 2016, Mahoney set out to create a homegrown solution to their data management problems. She sought to create a data system that would 1) improve communication between staff, faculty, program coordinators, and students; and 2) provide staff, faculty, and program coordinators with a comprehensive snapshot of candidates’ experiences before, during, and after their matriculation through the COE. This snapshot would include access to student transcripts, applications to COE programs, field placements, and more. The goal was to develop an alternative to the “piecemeal” of software tools campuses often cobble together from various third party vendors due to the lack of a comprehensive vendor solutions, which limit communication and the ability to link data from different points in the candidate experience.This was the beginning of what would become the myCOE data system.
Mahoney began by recruiting Diana Quijano, Resource Specialist from COE, to be part of the core team to build myCOE. They found a crucial partner in Dr. Samuel Sudhakar, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Information Technology Services (ITS) on campus. Dr. Sudhakar had recently initiated a project to integrate the various campus data systems and build a campus-wide data warehouse for CSUSB, and saw a partnership with the COE as a natural extension of that work. “We saw this project as an opportunity for digital transformation of obsolete and inefficient processes at COE and to create a better user experience for students, faculty and staff,” says Sudhakar. He and Lenora Rodgers, the Director Administrative Computing & Business Intelligence, supported Mahoney by assigning Tiffany Chiang, PeopleSoft Solutions Technical Lead of the ITS department, to assist with this project. The core team initially met once, sometimes twice a week, for the first eight months in order to create, test, and refine a new and comprehensive way to store, view, and share data within COE. As the work progressed, they met once a week for the next three years, returning to more frequent meetings during the various deployment and testing phases of the project. During this time, Chiang met with individual staff and faculty members in order to understand their current work processes and better understand user needs. At the same time, a graduate assistant collected information from each program on their internal communication and data processes, and worked to standardize these across the COE. Other concentrated efforts included monthly meetings with staff, faculty, and program coordinators to gather input and provide updates, as well as office hours once a week where Mahoney and Quijano were available for training on how to use the new database and to answer any questions. The focus of these meetings was to determine the best way to meet the data needs of all stakeholders. The meetings often revolved around “showing them [the database system], demonstrating it, getting their feedback, getting their input” to ensure buy-in to the new database system. They also created a ‘how-to’ guide and made it accessible to all COE stakeholders to ease the process of navigating the new database system and obtaining information. Overall, Mahoney recalled the value of working iteratively to collaborate with stakeholders to understand user needs, receive feedback on ideas, and beta test aspects of the database system—taking a “roll out approach, one section at a time” to implement myCOE. Despite some initial hesitancy among COE staff and leadership, who feared that myCOE would be yet another solution that doesn’t meet their needs, the implementation has been extremely successful. Mahoney recalls the positive surprise and satisfaction of one staff member who, during the rollout, exclaimed, “Oh, this is real; it really can do what you promised us it would do!” Staff, faculty, and program coordinators are now better able to track student progress and coordinate their internal communication. The COE has also been able to standardize and streamline the way different colleges and programs communicate with students.Despite the tremendous amount of success myCOE has achieved thus far, all stakeholders understand that the data system is still a work in progress. The core team continues to meet regularly with staff, faculty, and program coordinators to receive their feedback about improving the data system.
Mahoney posits the need to have a committed project lead to oversee and coordinate a complex project such as this that impacts students and COE personnel in multiple programs. It is especially important, Mahoney emphasizes, that the project lead be someone who “not only understands college of education and credentials, but [is also able ] to ‘speak IT.’ ” While Mahoney was driven to improve the COE database system, and received administrative support for her endeavors, she acknowledges that it was difficult and time-consuming work. “There would be days where this was all I worked on,” she recalls.
Overall, Mahoney cautions to not underestimate how long it will take to understand the nuanced details of the various programs within a college of education, the roles of various stakeholders, and the processes being used to track student progress. Rodgers echoed Mahoney on both the effort involved and the value of the genuine partnership between ITS and COE staff: “The myCOE project was one of the biggest custom projects that ITS has been challenged with. It took dedicated teamwork and time from COE and ITS to make this project successful. Every time I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Mahoney demo myCOE, I stand proud to know that we, ITS, helped her create the myCOE Tracking System.”
Collaboration across departments was key to the successful implementation of a new database system that better serves the needs of all stakeholders. Yet, to create productive collaborative relationships across departments, it is critical to first establish trust. Transitioning to a new data system causes understandable anxiety among the system users who are most impacted by the change. Knowing this, the project team developed, tested and released new features and components in small increments. Once staff became familiar with the early release of myCOE and saw how it made them more efficient and productive in their jobs, they got on board with the new tool and began to eagerly provide input about ways to improve the tool’s features and capabilities.
myCOE has revolutionized how CSU San Bernardino tracks student matriculation in the COE and how key stakeholders communicate with one another. All relevant data are now stored in a centralized system that all stakeholders can access. Gone are the days of missing and siloed information. Staff, faculty, and program coordinators now have a wealth of relevant and timely information at their disposal. The new system also provides an opportunity to dive deeply into student data to understand strengths and pain points in the candidate experience. In particular, it enables programs to more precisely identify what students are doing well, where they are struggling, and under what conditions they thrive. This information serves as a springboard for efforts to continuously improve COE processes and practices to strengthen the preparation of all teacher candidates.