One of the biggest complaints about any university is that it is difficult to establish a relationship with one’s professor. Especially in lecture hall classes with over one hundred students, professors have a hard time even just learning your name. After UMBC faculty members also voiced their concern about this issue, various departments on campus were able to come together and collaborate on an innovative solution: The ability for professors to view student photos on class rosters.
The idea came about during an Academic Advisory Committee meeting. During these meetings, faculty members come together to identify difficulties with the Student Administration system. “We take their issues and concerns, and then find solutions,” further explains Arnold Foelster, Assistant Director of Student Administration at UMBC. Faculty members communicated that not only did they want to connect more with students, but they also wanted a way to easily verify student identities during exams. Although faculty members already had the ability to take their own photos and upload them to PeopleSoft, there was no standardized way view a student’s photo alongside his or her name.
After the Academic Advisory Committee approved the idea, DoIT began looking into the best way to include student photos in the PeopleSoft system. Led by Patrick Simon, a specialist in DoIT, the team found that the capability was already delivered with the PeopleSoft software– they simply needed to enable it. Eventually DoIT was able to develop a mechanism that could pull photos from the campus card system and store them in PeopleSoft in just ten to twenty minutes. The Registrar’s office was also key in the development of this solution, as their office is in charge of scheduling and registration and thus owns the class rosters.
While the solution was a work in progress, DoIT shared their incremental progress with the Academic Advisory Committee. Although faculty members liked the development and felt comfortable with the new capability, they knew that student opinions were also important, as concerns about privacy often arise when personal is information being shared. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), institutions must protect the privacy of students’ personal information and data. “FERPA laws are very similar to HIPPA laws,” explains Nate Czarnota, Associate Registrar of Scheduling, Registration, and Business Process Management. “We can only share your information if you’ve given us permission to do so.” However, since photos are considered directory information, similar to a phone number or address, they can also be shared on a need-to-know basis. SGA representative Grace Calvin, who sits in on the Academic Advisory Committee meetings, also discussed the changes and gave her approval. “It was great to work with SGA and keep everyone aware,” Foelster says.
With the go-ahead from both faculty and students, DoIT moved toward launching the capability for faculty use. After the Registrar’s Office sent an email informing all faculty members about the option to view student photos, the feature went live in the summer of 2012. No training or preparation has been necessary, since faculty members simply need to log into PeopleSoft and check a box on the class roster.
Faculty members love the new option. “Within two hours of going live, we had ten emails from excited faculty members,” says Simon. The easily-accessible photos make it possible for professors to match faces with names, which causes less confusion in the classroom. The photos are refreshed every few days during the add/drop period, and then wiped at the end of each semester to ensure accuracy and that only the photos of active students are being used. The photos are also available to advisors when they access a student’s advising profile.
For students, faculty access to photos means a greater level of familiarity with professors and the chance for more personalized interactions. Although the capability is still new, the departments involved are satisfied with this end result. “It was something that only took small amount of effort, but has a huge impact,” explains Foelster. Through simple collaboration, UMBC was ultimately able to enhance the quality of education provided at the university.
–Article and photo by Laura Lefavor ’13, Summer 2012