With the costs for higher education consistently in the news, the University of California, Berkeley has found that leveraging students is an effective way to deliver first-rate IT services at minimal cost. We’ve also found that soliciting student input into campus IT is not only possible, but highly desirable.
Students are often the largest group of users of IT services such as student information systems, collaboration tools and learning management systems. We should not exclude such important stakeholders when they are willing providers of subject matter expertise. By involving students in assessments of campus technology needs, we can make effective decisions that benefit the entire campus.
The Student Technology Council, run by students, advises the CIO on student technology issues and provides student representation to several major IT committees.
One of its first accomplishments was writing a referendum and mobilizing support for a student technology fee, which funds software licensing and student tech projects. They campaigned with peers and wrote op-ed pieces for the student newspaper, among other outreach efforts. In a climate of increasing costs, this was not an easy sell, but with advocacy and support from other student organizations, the campaign was successful and the fee established.
The STC was also instrumental in engaging students to participate in the requirements-gathering process for a new student information system that manages registration, billing and other services. Members worked with the project team to ensure student voices were heard. They mobilized hundreds of students to review and prioritize the requirements. Indeed, the consultants noted that they had never seen such a high level of student participation.
Until this past fall semester, Berkeley did not have a help desk for students on campus. Working with the STC, Student Affairs IT, Educational Technology Services and library, we convinced the Student Tech Fund Committee to invest some of the money from the student tech fee to launch a student-run help desk.
Staffed by students, this resource provides support for a wide range of issues, including network connectivity, troubleshooting mobile devices and finding campus technology resources.
Student Affairs IT has 60 full-time employees and 100 part-time student employees. These roles include the help desk and customer technical support, system development and maintenance, infrastructure, network and information security, among others.
Employment here offers students a unique blend of entry-level experience, advanced technical work and apprenticeship alongside IT professionals. Students participate in direction setting and decision-making, making contributions that have an impact on their peers and the university. Students value the opportunity to engage in meaningful work that directly affects the campus, and they appreciate the trust the university places in them to be accountable.
After graduation, they find that employers value the soft skills they have learned as much as their technical experience.
These are ideal ways to offer students a robust, meaningful experience. But this is not just altruism; we have found our students to be knowledgeable, capable, dependable, creative and cost-effective. We highly recommend this approach to other institutions. Engaging directly with students helps ensure you provide the services students need and is a great way to stretch limited resources.