gold medal bearing the UW crest, hanging from a red ribbon

Student Affairs Honors DoIT Teams For Online SOAR, Wiscard Efforts

In the spring, it was the daunting task to rapidly help instructors move over 9,000 courses to a virtual format as the pandemic shifted the university’s operations largely online.

Then came the next hurdle: As we approach a new academic year, how can we give incoming Badgers the best possible orientation experience—not to mention issue new students their all-important Wiscards—all without students coming to campus?

The challenges represented the next legs of the 2020 marathon for UW–Madison’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT) and its partners across campus:

  • To come together to bring what had traditionally been an inherently in-person experience online, re-inventing the university’s Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR).
  • At the same time, a new secure online process needed to be developed to allow incoming students to remotely submit their photo and a government ID in order to receive a Wiscard, their key to campus life.

In recognition of these critical efforts, both the online SOAR and Wiscard provisioning projects received honors this month in the UW–Madison Student Affairs Award Ceremony for the 2019-2020 academic year, hosted by the Student Affairs Professional Development Committee.

During the online awards ceremony held December 3, Student Affairs leaders noted that it’s been a far-from-typical year at UW-Madison, underscoring the importance of reflection and acknowledgement of colleagues across campus in their contributions.

“Through all the losses we’ve experienced, I’m excited to celebrate our many wins,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor in kicking off the ceremony.

Outstanding Student Affairs Partner Award for Advocacy

Recipients: DoIT Academic Technology
Team Members: Representatives from 9 of DoIT AT’s 10 services, as well as many collaborators from schools and colleges across campus
Nomination: “Coming off the experience of transitioning UW’s spring courses to online delivery, the DoIT Academic Technology team pivoted to support welcoming our newest students. The task was daunting: create a new online experience that delivered critical content and engaged new students and their families in a way that felt truly welcoming. All of this was done in about 8 weeks, a feat that a private consulting firm estimated would take 4 to 6 months. The upbeat, collaborative attitude of the DoIT AT team not only resulted in a well-executed program, but also created partner relationships that will last beyond this summer.”

At an Instructional Continuity meeting this spring, the floodgates reopened.

For months, DoIT Academic Technology (DoIT AT) and its campus partners had been intensely focused on moving thousands of classes online amid the pandemic. And while things were indeed going well in the academic setting after that initial heavy lift, Office of Undergraduate Advising Associate Vice Provost and Director Wren Singer signaled the next big move: How can we lift the SOAR experience into an online format?

“We had really been focused on how do we pivot and get all these classes moved from in-person to online?” recalls DoIT Academic Technology Assistant Director Brian McNurlen. “We had more or less accomplished that and were patting ourselves on the back. And then Wren said: ‘We have another major challenge right before us.’”

“This was not something anybody in that community had ever done before, and they needed help,” McNurlen added.

So DoIT Academic Technology got to work forming a SOAR team, which included the Center for the First-Year Experience and the Office of Undergraduate Advising. Fresh off orientation herself as a new UW employee, Naomi Bernstein had just joined DoIT AT’s project management group and was tapped to coordinate efforts.

“There were all these different pieces of that puzzle, so there were a number of people like Naomi who just played such an instrumental role in all of this, and had to go from zero to 100 miles an hour,” McNurlen said.

Another newcomer to DoIT AT, Cori Schmidtbauer, joined the effort and began building prototypes. Yet another relative “newbie” instrumental to the launch, Andy Posselt, represented the Learn@UW-Madison team. Also joining the technical effort were Mike Farnham, Saikat Sengupta and Mitch Hanson from the MyUW Academic Application Development team, and Stephanie Johnson, Brian Ploeckelman, and Ian McNamara from the Teaching & Research Application Development (TRAD) Team. Bringing a wealth of institutional knowledge, Strategic Learning Technology Consultant Margene Anderson also played a critical role—while defending her doctoral thesis, no less.

And to make the SOAR online experience as usable, accessible, and inclusive as possible, members of the Center for User Experience team—including Megan Holman, Sandi Arendalkowski, Christine Anderson, Adam Hills-Meyer, and Jess Jones—contributed their skills in user-centered design and accessibility.

All totaled, DoIT AT’s core SOAR team involved nine of DoIT Academic Technology’s 10 services. And that wasn’t all.

“It’s great to get this award,” McNurlen says of the Student Affairs honors, “but there were also people from the library, people from the schools and colleges, the Division of Continuing Studies and the Collaborative for Advancing Learning & Teaching. They all came when the call went out to help create these Canvas courses for SOAR.”

DoIT’s Web and Mobile Solutions team also played a key role, with Matt Schleifer developing a reservation system that served as the entry point for students to participate in online SOAR.

Reflecting on the project as a new UW employee, Bernstein says she couldn’t have been more impressed by the collaborative effort.

“Everybody was working together towards a common goal, quickly, and full charge ahead,” Bernstein says. “I was just in awe of all the talent at UW, and just the collaboration that happened.”

That cross-campus collaboration resulted in the ability for new undergraduate students to enroll in classes through online SOAR, in addition to meeting peers and an academic advisor, and getting connected to campus resources through an online experience. SOAR also included online components for parents, family members, and supporters of incoming Badgers to learn more about the campus resources and support networks available to help their student succeed.

“Given the size and scope, it went pretty smoothly,” Bernstein recalls. “Yeah, it was crazy and hectic. But once we launched, we didn’t have any significant stoppages or issues.”

McNurlen notes that student survey feedback from the first online SOAR did not show a dropoff in how participants ranked the experience—an encouraging sign as winter SOAR approaches, which is also being offered as an online experience.

Outstanding Student Affairs Partner Award From Leadership and Engagement

Recipients: DoIT
Team Members: James Babb, Abrianna Barca, Charlie Calderon, Penny Clark, Tamra Dagnon, Susan Dyke, Karen Hanson, Patti Havlicek, Tom Jordan, Jared Kosanovic, Nuwan Rajika Kumarasiri, Ryan Larscheidt, Jon Miner, Shrey Shrestha, Joe Tarter, Bob Turner, Rachel Wroblewski
Nomination: “They were instrumental in assisting the Wiscard Office in designing and implementing the first-ever online photo submission process for first-year student photo IDs. This process was required due to SOAR going virtual. The implementation phase occured days before students arrived in late August. The DoIT teams put in long hours alongside Union staff as we authenticated online photo submissions from over 7,000 students. Without their leadership and assistance, we could not have served and supported students through this time of transition.”

Running in parallel to moving SOAR online, a creative solution was also needed this year to ensure that incoming students could remotely obtain their Wiscards—without having to physically stand in lines at the Wiscard Office.

To accomplish this, DoIT teams worked to test, implement and roll out a new online photo ID product called CloudCard. The application allows students to upload a photo of themselves along with a photo of their government ID to prove their identity.

Given the sensitivity of the incoming data, a thorough security and compliance review was undertaken to identify and implement risk mitigation measures, explained Penny Clark with DoIT’s Project Management Office, coordinator of the multi-team Wiscard efforts.

Then, in a mass email invitation sent out this summer, 11,762 incoming students were given a list of photo requirements: No professional photos. No sunglasses or hats. Eyes open. Take the photo against a solid, plain and light-colored background, and make sure it’s well-lit.

In an age rife with Instagram and Snapchat filters, the photo review process was a time-consuming undertaking squeezed into a short timeframe, Clark said.

Although invites were sent out to all incoming students, students were not required to upload photos if they didn’t want to, or were not going to be on campus. In the end, 70% (8,256 students) responded, and just over 56% of those students were approved the first time they submitted a photo.

Almost 3,000 students needed to submit their pictures more than once because they didn’t meet the criteria, and of those, 234 students hung in there, with their photo submissions denied three or more times before approval. Just over 700 students decided in the end that it was easier for them to come into the Wiscard Office to get their cards.

It’s perhaps not always easy to find the right photo—and it’s not easy being green, either—so one student went cowboy and submitted a photo of Kermit the Frog in a 10-gallon hat. But Clark added: “That was the only really crazy off-the-wall one.”

In a survey of students compiled by DoIT AT’s Chad Shorter, results indicated a successful first run for the new self-serve online student ID creation process. Overall, students felt the upload process was easy, with 89% of respondents saying the upload instructions were either “very clear” or “somewhat clear.” Students also found the pickup process clear and convenient, with 82% of respondents giving a positive response about the clarity and convenience of the process.

Students surveyed said they appreciated having their Wiscards ready for them at their residence halls on their move-in days. And some students were grateful to avoid something like a dreaded DMV experience: “I liked being able to choose a good photo of myself rather than taking one on the spot.”

Small tweaks are being made to the instructions to make the process even smoother for students, Clark said. Responding to student feedback, other improvements are under consideration, such as providing an example of an acceptable picture in the invitation email.

As DoIT’s Enterprise Integration group began working on its piece of the puzzle—to ensure interconnectivity between the cloud-based application and the Wiscard Office’s on-premise system—Enterprise Integration Assistant Director Charlie Calderon said it was invaluable to work directly with the Wiscard Office’s Jim Wysocky, the product owner.

Calderon explained that by using the Agile software development methodology, the team worked in “sprints,” a set period of time between meetings with the customer—in this case, Wysocky—during which specific work had to be completed and made ready for review.

“When I think about this experience, what stands out in my mind is the impact of Agile software development and working directly with our customers, getting our hands on the problem and providing value quickly in the form of sprints,” Calderon recalls.

“It’s important that we do that in an iterative way, because Jim can look at what we’re doing from a process or a deliverable point of view and say, ‘Yeah, that feels right.’ Or, ‘No, that’s not going to work.’ Jim’s feedback throughout the process was amazing,” Calderon added. “We were then able to pretty quickly reprioritize things that we may not have otherwise known were as important until the end. And with this project, we had no time for that.”

Calderon said he and his Enterprise Integration team members are grateful to receive the accolades from Student Affairs—because when you work in IT infrastructure, it can be difficult to see how your work directly relates to the student experience.

“It was nice that staff could be able to see that the work they put in—the hard, grueling hours in August—had a direct impact on student safety,” Calderon said, noting that the online provisioning of Wiscards prevented thousands of students from needing to physically gather in one place.

“The students were able to use this cloud-based system, which came about very quickly, to be able to get their cards—which is a necessity of life at UW—in a safe way.”

Watch the Student Affairs Awards Ceremony to learn about other efforts recognized for the 2019-2020 academic year.