The past year marked the beginning of accelerated digitization for colleges and universities, leaving faculty and staff members scrambling to adapt to new digital tools. Though online learning and integrated data tools existed before 2020, they were mostly used to supplement in-person classrooms and offices. But, since the pandemic, educators and administrators have had to fully replace these in-person environments with digital platforms, reimagining everything from teaching style to a course evaluation and accreditation processes. While this is a new endeavor for the higher education sector, the path forward is being led by former educators who are using their experience in teaching and curriculum design to help guide current administrators and faculty through this digital shift.
In her previous role as a high school teacher, Alicia Villarreal, Senior Director of Client Services at Watermark, saw value in the large amounts of data collected through assessment processes. Villarreal wondered why more educational institutions weren’t making use of this data. “Assessment is good, and we should be looking at what we’re doing, what we’re teaching, and how students are learning, so we can continually improve and make decisions based on data,” Villarreal said. She eventually carried that thought to the ed-tech space, where she now oversees training and support for administrators who are seeking data software solutions to gain meaningful insights into the student experience.
Villarreal’s belief in using assessment data to inform decisions in educational strategy translates to her training methodologies at Watermark as well. “This philosophy has led us to create different learning modalities so we can reach as many people with as many unique experiences as we can so that people can learn the most about our tools and be successful,” Villarreal said. “And we’ll continue to assess how things are going and make improvements to make our training more effective, based on internal and external feedback.”
Dr. Linda Ludwig, the Product Consultant for Watermark, was already accustomed to using numbers and data in her previous role as a faculty member at Northern Michigan University. “I had to create an annual review binder each year with tabs for teaching, service, and scholarship. We knew it wasn’t a perfect process, inputting all the info to run reports from stacks and stacks of binders,” Ludwig said of the faculty review process. At the time, Ludwig didn’t know that there was a software solution that could fully digitize faculty reviews.
Ludwig’s ability to relate directly to her clients has been a great advantage in her current role, where she acts as a mentor for faculty members and administrators navigating digitized faculty credentialing. Because of her experience as a faculty member, it’s easy for Ludwig to see from a faculty perspective how to best leverage the ability to access all information in one place and run useful reports. “Working with university faculty is easy for me, especially with data, which goes back to my teaching days,” she said. “Numbers and data tell a story and help us make decisions.”
For higher education professionals, adapting to new technology has been challenging. But for early adopters like Villarreal and Ludwig, digitization in higher learning has been a priority well before the pandemic. Applying their experience as educators, Villarreal and Ludwig is now helping other higher education professionals navigate digital solutions, which is proving to be an integral part of digital transformation in higher education.