Above: MTSU students filming on the Seigenthaler Bridge in Nashville
Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) near Nashville continues a rich cultural heritage of music, media and arts. The University’s College of Media and Entertainment, the Department of Media Arts, and its School of Journalism and Strategic Media have large inventories of equipment for students taking classes in recording, film, video production, photography, animation, interactive media and journalism. It amounts to 3,000 pieces which require controlled access, efficient tracking and maintenance.
In this case study, we speak with Mike Forbes, Assistant Director of Technical Systems, about improvements made to the access and management of these resources through the adoption of connect2 equipment checkout software.
The team identified the need for a new system to support equipment loans. It needed to be modern and well supported, feature integrated reporting, a streamlined authorization process for equipment use, faster checkouts and better accountability on resource usage.
“The Lorensbergs sales manager listened carefully to the problems we were having and our requirements for a new system,” says Mike. “He answered all our questions and we were able to conclude that connect2 was the best system to meet our needs. We gathered faculty online for a zoom meeting and went over how it worked and all we had to gain from making the transition. Everyone embraced the change with connect2 and were excited to start using the new software.”
Since roll out, all equipment lending has been organized and tracked through the software, leading to some astonishing benefits that have impressed all who use it.
“Our investment in connect2 has already paid for itself, with the amount of time that you save on booking the equipment and organizing it, keeping track of it, making sure stuff doesn’t get lost, that it’s repaired when it’s supposed to be, for maintaining schedules – it really has been a game changer for us. It has greatly increased our productivity, both for ourselves and for students.
“We expect students to use connect2 to make all their own equipment bookings. They love it because it’s very user friendly, it’s always online and ready to go whenever they need it. It’s a solid system. We’ve been really impressed by the responses we’ve got from the students in terms of feedback. They’ve been very complimentary about how easy it is to use.
“Faculty also know how to make bookings in connect2 for their classes or on behalf of students if needed. They love it because they can keep track of what equipment students are using and that their borrowing the right amounts. We can see students have been borrowing responsibly and that they’re not abusing the system.”
Above: Connect2 homepage for online equipment reservations at MTSU; Camera class
The connect2 installation process was well supported and much easier than anticipated. Microsoft single sign-on for the new system was essential for MTSU. All new systems have to have this and Lorensbergs’ technical support team helped in setting it up as part of the install.
“Single sign-on can be a big challenge but there was a lot of support. Lorensbergs worked directly with our IT department and system administrators. They set up the single sign-on and helped us import the student user list into the system. Lorensbergs’ technical support people are fantastic to work with.
“They also advised on the best barcoding system to use, the labels and scanner. It made the changeover process much easier.”
The university chose to organize students in connect2 in a tier system which determines how much equipment they get to see and reserve in the system. This way they always have the resources available to them that relate to their capability and training. The higher the tier, the more sophisticated equipment they can see, reserve and use.
The equipment is organized in categories determined by departments and the classes they give. Each has its own borrowing rules. So, animation items can be borrowed for 7 days, film and video for 5 days. Some really popular items may have exceptions with a shorter borrowing period permitted. Faculty can see what equipment relates to them and what their students are able to borrow. “The structure of how it’s all organized has made everything much easier for us.”
The team customized the booking form to suit their needs, for example a step includes the need to select the sponsoring faculty for each student’s loan. It’s a simple drop down box which means borrowing activity can be tracked under each faculty’s classes.
“With connect2 so many processes are now fully automated. Once you get it set up and working how you want it, it’s almost a completely hands-off system. Yet you still have lots of control over it. You can limit the number of days a checkout is for, or see how often students are checking out kit. Any initial caution from faculty quickly wore off once they saw the system in full flow.”
Fewer problems, greater satisfaction
Student workers coordinate the checkout/ins of the equipment to students. With the barcode system they can move through the store, selecting the items listed in a student’s reservation, and scanning them with the wireless scanner. Any errors in picking out the wrong items and connect2 alerts the worker that it doesn’t match the order. So it’s extremely difficult to check out the wrong items.
“Previously, faculty would be in touch with us if their students had been issued the wrong equipment. Fortunately this doesn’t happen anymore! The barcode system has eliminated that issue entirely.”
This has been an important problem to resolve, as it’s tended to have a snowballing effect, with more students inconvenienced if the equipment needed had already been checked out incorrectly.
“The barcode system has really been great – getting things scanned and getting people in and out of the door as quickly as possible. It’s made the checkout process much faster. And if an item has been left on the counter, all I need to do is scan it and look at connect2 and I can see it’s been scanned and checked back in so it just needs to go back on the shelf.
“Any missing components, and it’s easy to access the entire borrowing history of each specific item. So if a power cable has gone astray, you can instantly look up who last borrowed the kit and ask them if they still have it. Quite often items turn up in students’ cars, under seats etc!”
Each time a student reserves an item in connect2, they agree to the terms and conditions of the loan. They are financially responsible for what they borrow. With connect2, there is greater accountability and this encourages more responsibility.
“Any problems with breakages or losses, and students are encouraged to tell us right away. Accidents happen but our students understand that honesty is the best policy. This way we’re more likely give them the benefit of the doubt if things have gone wrong.
“We color code our kits with colored tape, which helps our students to report any problems. So if they’ve used more than one kit, they can tell us if it was the blue one or the red one that needs our attention. With every item color-coded, it also makes it difficult for them to mix up items between the kits which is helpful for tracking purposes.
“With the fines system for late returns – 12 hours grace then $10 per day – fewer items are late. The automated daily reminders going out from connect2 tell students how much they owe in fines which helps to get stuff back quickly.”
Besides this, the connect2 dashboard makes it possible to see instantly if a late item needs chasing up to stop the next user being inconvenienced.
Simply put, with connect2 you get peace of mind that everything is in order and in the right place.
Above: Cameras on the checkout desk; equipment checkout store for MTSU's Media Arts and School of Journalism and Strategic Media
Why students love connect2
A big benefit with connect2 is that students receive their booking confirmations instantly: “It takes away a lot of stress for students, now booking approvals are automated. They know right away that they can access all they need for their classes and assignments. If you can see it on the connect2 website, you can get it. So it’s saved students a lot of time but also a lot of stress.”
They also find connect2 extremely easy to use. In the online system, students select their items into a cart. They click on a calendar which generates a booking slot that both complies with the borrowing rules for the item (i.e. its maximum loan time) and the checkout store’s opening times. The user can adjust the pick up or return time if needed. If there’s a problem with the time they select, connect2 actually suggests alternative times close to it. Click on one and it creates the reservation, grabbing the relevant slot in the calendar.
Users can search for a particular item or browse the categories of equipment that are available to them. Once a reservation has been made, they can manage their order online, for example changing the pick-up time to fit with changes to their schedule. They can also renew many items online or cancel bookings.
There are certain items students aren’t expected to pre-book such as tripods. It’s easy for staff to add further items before concluding a checkout so the arrangement works really well.
Rated highly by faculty
Faculty quickly embraced the new connect2 system when it was seen how much easier life would become for both themselves and for their students. As the equipment loan sponsors, there was a lot of admin tasks that connect2 was able to reduce or remove from them. Here are some of the benefits that proved especially important:
- Connect2 incorporates an automated booking approval system – so faculty no longer need to spend hours every week checking their emails for loan authorisation requests
- Before each semester, faculty determine what gear is relevant to each tier. Then students linked to that tier in the system are allowed to book these items. There’s no need to revisit or review it for the rest of the semester
- The tiered permission system means there are no inappropriate requests for items that are out of scope for students’ use. Students can only see and book what applies to their classes
- When needed, their connect2 user role enables faculty to place orders on students’ behalf, overriding booking restrictions (e.g. length of loans)
- They can also promote students to a higher tier for more equipment access if required
- Faculty can place their own orders in connect2 and make recurring bookings to secure items for their classes in advance
- Connect2 provides usage data on which they can base purchasing recommendations, this helps ensure their department has the best resourcing
Some reactions from faculty upon learning these benefits include:
“This is great work, this is tremendous”
“This is wonderful”
“We need to all be on the system”
“I like this system already!”
Safety and Product Development
As connect2 was being rolled out at MTSU, the University was adjusting to the challenges presented by the Covid pandemic. Around half of students were staying off campus but still needed equipment for their projects. The equipment checkout staff and on-site students also needed safe ways to continue accessing the equipment inside the store.
“We’ve adjusted very well to the recent Covid protocols. The flexibility of connect2 with the unknowns of Covid, and the fact Lorensbergs made adjustments in the software, it’s enabled us to make the necessary changes for students to continue with their projects. It’s also helped us to keep our student workers and users safe.
“Developments in connect2 mean we can limit number of checkouts and check-ins for each 15 minutes of service. So each student entering the store won’t come into contact with anyone else. They can pick up or leave their items while workers stay behind the plexiglass. Then there’s time to sanitise everything before the next student arrives.
“For students off-campus, they still book equipment through connect2, but now we add a pelican case and a return label and allow a three-week loan period, Then we ship it off to them via UPS.
A virtuous circle
The transparency on usage and analytics that connect2 provides helps the team to make informed inventory management decisions.
“From an auditing standpoint, we’re now able to go into connect2 and see what equipment is being used at any given time.”
“So now we are basing our purchasing on the usage data, which has really helped. With this data we know if the LED light kits are being used more than the Tungsten Light Kits, or if we need more boom poles. We have to make those decisions very quickly as the funding doesn’t last long, but connect2 makes this possible.
“It also tells me from an inventory manager standpoint, what’s not being used. The biggest issue we have in our equipment store is space. Connect2 enables us to see if we have any older items that may be ready to retire. If some kits are no longer being used, we can take them off the shelf and surplus them and make space for more of what is in high-demand. It leads to a cycle of rotation, moving unused stuff out, and more useful items in.”
Connect2 also supports greater utilization of equipment. There are no delays anymore getting access plus the online system lets students view the full range available to them. It even helps spread the news when new purchases have been made:
“The messaging system has been really good in connect2. When we get new gear in during the semester, we send a message out to tell students about it, what’s new that’s available for them to use.”
Helping keep on top of repairs
Connect2 makes it easy to process items that are returned broken.
“You go into connect2 and mark a broken item as being in maintenance until a certain date to stop it being reserved or checked out. When we know the repair price, we add this to the item’s inventory too. If it ever happens again we can keep track of how much it costs to maintain the camera and understand how often it gets dropped or parts need replacing and question why this is happening.”
Mike is automatically notified each time an item is put into maintenance which really supports team communication. Impacted future bookings are also processed and updated by the system, so everything is taken care of from the time the broken item is returned for check-in.
- Students enjoy using the system
- It’s always online
- It’s intuitive and straightforward to use
- It allows great flexibility in how equipment loans and permissions are organized
- It saves Mike and his team masses of time, as students make all their own bookings
- It saves faculty hours each week – the automated loan approval process means they no longer need to check their emails every day
- The automatic authorizations also save students a lot of stress – there are no delays in getting access to what they need for their studies and assignments
- Connect2 offers transparency and accountability on resource usage – students use it responsibly and there is no inappropriate borrowing activity
- Checkouts are really fast enabling workers to manage during high footfall days
- There’s room to include user manuals and video links for each item of equipment, adding support for correct use of equipment
- You can set it up so students see only the equipment relating to their classes. It also helps students to make good use of the range of items available to them
- Usage analytics support and justify funding sign off for new purchases, supporting better and faster decisions
“We’re very happy with connect2. We’d do it again in a heartbeat and encourage other universities to do the same. It supports having an effective organizational method towards equipment loans and meets our long term goals. It’s been great.”
With thanks to Mike Forbes at MTSU for working with us on this case study.