This is very much the story of Terra Dotta, an idea borne out of working at UNC Chapel Hill and has been solving problems, for more than 200 clients a year, for more than a decade. Co-founders Garrett Christian and Brandon Lee also both have international education and tech experience, making them the right people to launch a tool that offers so much to our field.
I stopped by the April 2012 Terra Dotta U event in Charlotte, N. Carolina and it was quickly evident that there are swarms of users who are much more proficient in the technical talk of Studio Abroad (now Terra Dotta Software for Study Abroad) than I. (For those of you who don’t know, Studio Abroad is a web-based software that allows you can maintain your own website, keep your program brochures online and up-to-date, accept applications online, organize data, and mitigate the risk associated with international travel and living.) Those attending were deeply engrossed in the new version of Studio Abroad, gabbing in a language that I struggled to understand at times. Acronyms. They can be tough!
My observations, as a “newbie” to this conference is that besides being very welcoming and adjusting to some new lingo, it was clearly a strongly networked group who deeply understood how to ask the right questions about the ins and outs of Studio Abroad as a tool to increase efficiency at their own campuses/organizations.
There was a session on New Implementation for the true ‘newbies’ of the group. The session covered the story of one university’s path to signing up for Studio Abroad – and it is one that will be familiar – exponential growth in faculty led study abroad, staffing challenges, the need for a centralized process. The presenter spoke about how important it was for them to “change the culture of HOW we do things” on campus.
Another session, Troubleshooting Implementation, was designed to keep things as simple as possible for both students who are on the receiving end of web based forms and staff who are looking to maximize efficiency.
There were sessions for power users – those who could easily train their colleagues. There was also a less tech focused sessions, Scholarship Programs, given by Claire Valdivia of the University of Maryland, College Park which guided participants through how to use the system to track scholarship applicants and ratings.
Another attendee indicated that there was no need to reinvent the wheel within her organization when there was already a tool out there to track travelers. This is increasingly necessary for organizations sending researchers, students, faculty and administrators out into the world.
Today, I spoke with a colleague who attended Terra Dotta U this past spring. I asked for his reflections with several months behind him to consider all he learned at the conference. He commented that the biggest single takeaway was perhaps realizing the wide range of innovative ways that users are leveraging the tool – from query watches sending automatic emails to tracking and sharing course equivalencies to handling non-standard submissions such as program proposals.
If you are a campus with a growing study abroad population and imagine that you will soon get to the day where paper files or excel spreadsheets will not do the trick, or you envision your paper applications igniting a major inferno at the drop of a match, I’d encourage you to explore the resources that I had the pleasure to learn more about while at Terra Dotta U. You can learn more about their upcoming 2013 conference here!
Disclosure: I was not paid to write this piece. However, I did have a press pass to cover this event and was grateful to spend a few hours in Charlotte with the attendees.