The State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia is a four-year liberal arts college. It is a constituent college of the State University of New York, best known for its bachelor's degree programs in music and education. In this case study, John McCune, Multimedia Team Leader in Fredonia’s Information Technology Services department talks about Fredonia’s need for an equipment checkout solution, and their experience in selecting and working with Lorensbergs’ connect2 system.
Identifying the need for a new system
The Information Technology Services (ITS) department at Fredonia supports the Communication Department and the Media Arts Department by providing students with a range of video production equipment including cameras, lighting kits, and audio visual equipment. The ITS department also supplies the wider campus with various hardware equipment such as laptops, web cameras, projectors, Blu-ray and DVD players, adaptors and other items. The department realized that the system in use for reserving equipment needed improvement. Students had to visit the media center in B person, fill out a paper form, and then timestamp it to finalize their reservation. John says: “It was a drawn-out paper-based system which made it difficult to work out which reservation should take priority”.
Students didn’t always get the best equipment to meet their needs due to a lack of detailed information and overly generic descriptions. There were also occasions when students were borrowing items that they weren’t really authorized to use. This could result in the eligible students finding that items were unavailable when they needed to access them. The system also relied on manual entry into an access database which staff found difficult to keep up to date, and inadequate for generating reports for decision-making on equipment resourcing.
“Looking at usability, user-friendliness and appearance of the available systems, that’s what swayed us in the connect2 direction, and the pricing was competitive as well,” John McCune, Multimedia Team Leader, SUNY Fredonia.
New system decision-making
In 2012, the Fredonia team started to look for a new system. Usability for end users was paramount in making the right choice, and so they began by asking students what they needed.
“Feedback from students was that they wanted to see all the equipment available to them. So when they signed up to a specific class, we could designate what equipment was available for them and it would be visible in the system.”
The team aimed to shortlist four systems in order to make a decision on the right one to install at Fredonia. They began by exploring what was already in use at other SUNY schools, including in the library for book checkout. The team also considered whether an IT ticketing systems for wider incident reporting would be appropriate. In both cases, they quickly concluded that a dedicated equipment reservation and checkout system was required in order to meet all needs.
An equipment checkout solution was already in place in other schools at SUNY, and although it fulfilled many of the criteria listed for the new system, there were usability concerns. John says: “It wasn’t user-friendly enough for end users requesting equipment and for the administrators of the system”.
John learned about lorensbergs’ connect2 system, which was already widely established at UK universities for equipment tracking, reservations and checkout.
“Looking at usability, user-friendliness and appearance of the available systems, that’s what swayed us in the connect2 direction, and the pricing was competitive as well,” he explains.
System navigation and the user interface were both key factors in Fredonia’s decision to go with the connect2 solution. It also fulfilled the following identified requirements:
- Self-service online reservations with high ease of use for students
- Allow students to be able to see all equipment available to them - to ensure they book the best equipment for their needs
- Competitively priced
- Strong reporting functionality
- Ability to segment stock by department and site - so that students and faculty in each department can only reserve the equipment allocated
- Functionality to segment permissions at the group or individual level - to ensure that only students on the right courses and with the right authorisation can reserve equipment
- Refresh timepads incorporated into reservation times - to allow equipment or kit turnaround time between bookings
- Reservation email notifications after students have made their online bookings
Working with Lorensbergs on installation
The connect2 system completed installation early 2013, with the project team finding the process to be very positive. Lorensbergs initiated some specific development to ensure that the system would work as smoothly for Fredonia as it does for Lorensbergs’ many UK-based customers, including displaying date and time in U.S. format.
As part of the installation process, connect2 was configured to integrate with Fredonia’s LDAP directory for user authentication. This allows students to access the system using their regular login credentials and also allows the system to understand instantly their department and year in order to apply the right borrowing permissions.
During the installation, the project team worked closely with Lorensbergs’ specialist connect2 engineer to ensure system requirements were understood and that the right configuration was achieved.
“It’s been a very good experience with Lorensbergs in terms of feature requests and delivery. There has been a lot of U.S. configuration carried out and Lorensbergs has been very responsive to our needs,” John comments. “I think it’s a good product and new enhancements have worked out well right off the bat.”
Student and staff impressions
Following the launch of connect2, the new reservation system was warmly welcomed by both students and staff.
“The students really like it - they find it really valuable to see what’s available without needing to come into the media center on campus,” John comments, “Students like that we’ve included pictures of various equipment models in the system. And people really like the calendar notification after they’ve made a reservation, and seeing in their calendar when the equipment can be picked up and when it needs to be returned.”
“It has allowed us to help students to be more specific with what tools they are looking for, such as the type of camera or lighting. And that items are correctly reserved for them as well, so that they get the best equipment to meet their needs for the project. This was a key thing for students.”
It has also helped that students can’t accidentally reserve or checkout items that they are not authorized to use. Equipment training for students takes place at the start of each semester and the team gets notified as to which students are authorized for certain pieces of equipment. This can then be reflected in the system.
“Having that logic built in was pretty critical to ensuring that we can regulate this process and avoid students signing out equipment designated for a different course”.
In addition, staff have found that the reporting element in connect2 has proved extremely useful in making sure that the department is scaling equipment availability sufficiently in each case.
“The reporting functionality is very good. You can really segment down to the item level and see usage for a specific timeframe,” John comments, “You can anticipate if we’ve hit any points where we nearly did not have equipment available. Did we run through the semester with sufficient stock? Do we have the right number? Do we have the right scale? Are we meeting everyone’s needs? Because from our perspective we want to see that equipment is available, but that there’s also enough in use.”
The team uses the usage data analysis for making purchase decisions in May at the end of the semester, with the data also being used when compiling their annual report. It is also useful for desk staffing evaluation to ensure that quality of service is always being met by identifying peak times and identifying if additional staffing is sometimes needed.
Process since installation
The department’s responsibilities are growing; it is now responsible for supporting video recording, capture and uploading for teaching student candidates that need to meet the edTPA program requirements. There are up to 300 students with this requirement each year, and this has increased demands on staff in terms of offering the required support. They have purchased 30 iPads to support students and are using the connect2 system for advance reservations and instructions for students in how best to create and transfer the video extracts.
Fredonia are now looking at the possible roll out of the connect2 system to their music department. They are increasing the number of images integrated into the system, and are looking to provide links to the user manuals for items of equipment.
Summing up, John says: “I think for everyone looking for an equipment checkout solution such as this, it’s about defining the requirements at the start, exploring solutions that meet those requirements, but then looking at things from the perspective of usability, to make sure it’s targeted towards the end user and making reservations. You need to determine: will people use the system for making reservations? The success of the product is how well it’s adopted by the end user. I think that’s the key thing to look at”.
Connect2 has proved a big success in this respect, with students easily reviewing what’s available to them and happily booking ahead to make sure they secure the right equipment when needed for all projects and assignments.
With thanks to John McCune at SUNY Fredonia for participating in this case study.