Alexander College (AC) is a small private college that offers two-year associate degrees for international students. The College is mandated by the Ministry of Advanced Education to collect Course Archives (CA) which are records of courses taught at the College that have information such as assignment guidelines and tests, as well as attendance and grades. The AC Library is responsible for CA management for the institution. Although not a specific library-related task, the duties were originally placed with the Library as one of the core units of the small private college, and it remains an important process we fulfill to this day.
Much has changed since the first days of AC when there were fewer classes, and everything was collected in print format. The CA project occurs each semester (four times per year) and takes a significant amount of staff time (approximately one month to complete after a major term). It is a complex process as materials were handed in at different campuses (either Burnaby or Vancouver) at different times, and Library staff sometimes had difficulties with tracking and ensuring all required documents were retrieved.
Prior to the campus closure due to Covid-19, the Library was planning on digitizing the entire CA process to create a more efficient workflow for both faculty handing in materials and library staff collecting, editing, and archiving those materials. Due to other priorities for the institution and library, the digitization was postponed until our remote workplace prevented us from collecting print documents. But never say never! From March to April 2020, Library staff were hard at work implementing a new online workflow using Microsoft SharePoint (along with other remote working technology) to collect CA files. Fast forward to Spring 2021 and the Library will be working on moving the digital process into the College’s internal database system (myAC).
This article will share the Library’s major hurdles of converting a print process to digital, successes in digitizing the archives, and future developments for CA work at AC. In addition, the authors will provide their insights on working with colleagues in multiple units and faculty in the online environment.
The AC Library has been responsible for the collection and distribution of Course Archives to college administrators since 2007. Traditionally, this project has involved the following steps:
The majority of faculty handed in printed files, while a few handed in their files via email (as exceptions). This process worked well for a long time at AC; however, over the past five years the College experienced exponential growth of its student body which in turn led to more classes being offered. From Fall 2015 term to Fall 2019 term, there was a 100% increase in courses and archives. This growth of the College, while exciting, also posed new challenges when dealing with CA.
The increase in courses and corresponding CA to manage led to the age-old problem of more work to do in the same amount of time. CA documents are not ready until the semester is over and final exams have been completed; at this time the work for library staff ramps up (usually at the start of the next semester), which is also when the library is busy welcoming new and returning students. In 2019, the Library and College administration formally recognized that faculty submissions are due on the first Friday of the next semester. With four regular semesters in a calendar year, the change in policy was extremely effective in improving the workflow as it allowed for a consistent due date each term so that both staff and faculty could now plan other job duties around the date.
In addition to the increased workload are staffing challenges. As mentioned above, library staff are busy with CA usually leading up to and at the start of a new term, which is also one of the busiest times of the semester; new semesters mean that the Library staff are preoccupied by the influx student ID requests, material requests from faculty, and the planning and delivery of information literacy classroom sessions. While on campus, staff often found that they spent the majority of their time during the first weeks of a new term helping on the reference desk, creating student and staff IDs, and answering technical questions from new students. The collection of CA during this time complicates the already busy start-of-term when staff were collecting CA documents between two physical campuses. Storage of the materials was also challenging while on-campus as CA require strict security but there was no Library office available at either campus to store them; this meant that staff were often tracking CA which were stored outside the Library space (in locking offices) – a time-consuming process!
The move online changed our service models and, inadvertently, provided an opportunity to streamline the CA collection process through remote working technologies.
It became increasingly apparent in the early days of March 2020 that the Library would have to start planning to move online for an unknown period of time. While the Library did have several weeks to start preparing for this shift, our focus during these early days was primarily on getting the College’s virtual meeting rooms set up and moving our team and reference services to an entirely digital workflow. The Library began to look at digitizing our CA collection process closer to end of the Winter 2020 term, as it became apparent that we would all be working remotely for longer than anticipated. Our newest challenge became how to set up a virtual workflow for both Library staff and faculty in order to continue the important CA collection process, all within a matter of weeks.
Library staff brainstormed several ideas and, in the end, settled on creating SharePoint folders for each class. Currently, the new workflow follows these steps:
The College Library has been using this remote working technology workflow to collect CA for one year at the time of writing this piece.
Remote Technology: Benefits and Challenges
Moving the College to an entirely digital system of services provided a unique opportunity to update the CA workflow; prior to Mach 2020, the Library had hoped to create a digital collection process, but had not yet found the time to draft a process or investigate faculty buy-in. The unprecedented circumstances during the Winter 2020 term (which have continued up to the writing of this piece) prioritized such an update. The CA process, now entirely digital, has provided the Library with a centralized collection system. This system has allowed for the library to more easily track completion and collection data. Staff working from anywhere can now clearly see which documents have been uploaded, and can more easily split up the courses for compilation. Overall time has been saved in the tracking process and through the easier division of work by Library staff.
The successful implementation of the digital collection process has been in part due to the appropriate level of planning and communication between Library staff and faculty. The digital collection process was created during the first virtual semester and faculty feedback was obtained after the first round of collection. This data was vital in determining aspects that worked well for instructors and aspects that faculty found difficult. Library staff were able to review and address suggestions. For example, library staff created a checklist for instructors based on comments from the survey and it has been emailed out along with CA instructions each semester since. Additionally, collaborating with other units to support faculty was essential. For instance, many faculty members had never downloaded exams from their LMS and needed extra support in order to do this. The Library, in conjunction with AC’s Canvas Helpdesk, was able to create and circulate to instructors a FAQ document which provided instructions on how to export quizzes.
Having flexibility when issues arose has been important in ensuring the successful collection of documents as well as maintaining good relationships with faculties. On occasion, library staff accepted files via email if faculty had issues uploading to Canvas. No major changes have been made to the collection process, as the instructor feedback noted it is an easy-to-follow workflow. The stability of the CA submission process is likely another reason why the completion rate has increased term over term.
However, the time saved in one aspect of the project has, of course, been made up for in other aspects in this new collection process! The introduction of SharePoint as a central repository has resulted in:
The current CA process, while more organized, easier to track, and easier to delegate between different staff members, is still very time-consuming. Future directions for the development of this process consider ways where working technology can be used to automate some of the current processes.
Moving forward, the CA will need to accommodate a variety of course types (in-person, online, hybrid); therefore the process needs to be accessible for all delivery methods. Faculty feedback from the Library’s Winter 2020 survey noted that many respondents liked the online submission process better than handing in paper files. The Library is currently looking for ways to further incorporate the technology already used by the College to help automate the CA collection process and save staff time. The Library is also looking at our in-house administrative information system (MyAC) as a future repository for CA documents. Working with the College’s Information Systems team, the Library is investigating the feasibility of creating a simpler system for both faculty and library staff. Our plans so far include the creation a faculty interface (for uploading CA) and a library interface (for combining & tracking CA). We are hoping that this system will include features such as:
The Library is hopeful that, with these continued developments, the CA process will become less time-consuming for staff while still retaining the increased levels of accuracy and completion which resulted from the move to a digital workflow. The use of remote working technologies (such as SharePoint) has allowed this important function of the College to continue uninterrupted; we are excited at the prospect of further developing the CA process, so that these technologies do not simply just make the work functional, but instead transform the process into one that is time-efficient for both faculty and library staff. We look forward to continuing to learn and develop our workflows in a creative and innovate way using the tools that have become so essential for all libraries over the last year.
Raul Campos’s background is in History, specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic History, with a B.A. from Simon Fraser University and a Geographic Information Systems Diploma from BCIT. He has been working for Alexander College since 2018.
Caitlin Lindsay has a background in History and has her MLIS and MAS from UBC. She has experience working with active and archival records in archives, libraries, and municipal offices. She has been working as a Librarian at Alexander College since 2019.
Janelle Haley has both her LIBIT Diploma from UFV and MLIS from Western University and has worked in a variety of information organizations including archives, museums, and libraries. She has been working as a Librarian at Alexander College since 2019.