May 1, 2016

IECs provide early reviews of new Coalition technology

The University of Washington will be Coalition exclusive next year.

Without fanfare or press release, last Thursday the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success quietly launched the first two components of its new online technology—the Student Locker (a portfolio development tool) and the Collaboration Space (a platform for sharing materials).

And so far, the initial response from independent educational consultants (IECs) has been largely positive.

“After seeing the Locker and then using it, this may be the most important part of the Coalition’s work. For those students with unstable educational, economic, and home lives, they now have a place to store resumes and graded papers as well as perhaps other information—a teacher recommendation,” explained Jeana Kawamura, an IEC based in Newport Beach, California. “I thought that the Locker was the weak link. I was wrong. Not every student has College Planner Pro, a well-run, thoughtful CBO [Community Based Organization] or an IEC.”

Many of the consultants who have taken the time to explore the Locker agree.

“I was pleasantly surprised, actually,” said Pam Shor, an IEC with offices in Washington State. “I appreciate the college research capability—particularly as some schools appear to make understanding application requirements a little easier. If schools continue to develop the information on these pages, I feel it will help students research schools and connect with them more effectively.”

A demo posted on the coalition website and led by Colin Johnson, interim executive director, walks the viewer through registration, profile completion, document sharing, and college search.  With all the advantages of being “newer,” the coalition platform has much to like.

 “I had a minor glitch when creating my account and signing up. The interface did not prompt me to check my email before logging in again—students will have to be reminded that the verification email could land in spam,” explained Archana Sudame, a northern California-based IEC.  “But after that, completing the profile and uploading stuff in the locker was a breeze—50 MB is substantial. In fact, the best feature about the Locker is that it accepts files directly from my Google Drive or Drop Box, so I can work on a computer that has no hard drive, like a Chrome Book.”

According to the coalition demo, the locker will accept Word Docs, JPEG, MP3s and MP4s.  “If you can drop it in Drop Box or upload it to YouTube, you can store it in your Locker.” Students have the choice of using drag-and-drop or uploading individual files into their lockers.

And the contents of a student’s Locker are not visible to any outside person or organization. Individual documents or files may be “shared” with an invited mentor, but that mentor will not have universal access to the Locker. No changes or edits to a document will be possible through this process—only comments, which are restricted to a column located on the side of the shared document.

In addition, the list of student mentors will not be universally shared. Only the student will know who all his or her mentors are.

Down the line, the Coalition will be expanding the student “profile” to add a self-reported academic section and a standardized testing section. Between 60 and 95 percent of an individual institution’s application will be contained within the student profile, depending on how complex or detailed member questions are. 

In the meantime, questions inquiring about ethnicity and dual citizenship, as well as the ability of students to rate level of interest in different academic areas or the status of investigations into individual colleges, received high marks from IECs.

“I was encouraged by the ease and intuitiveness of the student section. I found it very easy to navigate,” added Kawamura.  “I think that this will be very helpful to students. Maybe in the future it will be an art teacher or English teacher that suggests to a student to place work in the Locker. I could see that as a real possibility.”

Additionally, a student developing a college list for the Locker, which can include coalition as well as non-coalition schools, can decide on a school-by-school basis whether or not to allow sharing of basic information with individual colleges and universities. With each decision, the student is reminded that the college will have access to name, mobile phone number, email, home phone number, mailing address, and other information that can serve to facilitate communication or demonstrate interest. The student can opt out of sharing at any time for any coalition member college, although once sent, it’s hard to take back.

But despite all the positive reaction, not everyone was totally sold.

“I did notice that there is no designated place for independent educational consultants (IECs) to log in,” said Rachelle Wolosoff, an IEC with offices in New York and Florida. “Since there is an increasing number of IECs helping students these days, I would think it would have been, at a minimum, courteous to have provided the particular login for IECs.”

Another IEC added, “I think this locker/app is going to increase stress and work for students (and high school counselors and IECs)…Many underserved students do not have computers, which is another hurdle (so their papers may not even be typed), not to mention they often lack scanners. Unless teachers/counselors help the students upload to the locker at school, on school computers, I do not see the vast majority of this population taking advantage of this application.”

And Jeana Kawarmura cautioned, “In California, the student to counselor ratio is obscenely high. I don’t see how the majority of high school counselors are going to be able to mentor students through the locker collaborative space. I also want to make sure that I am not doing anything on my end that places more responsibilities on them.”

This would be particularly true of schools and counselors working with Naviance, as that system will not be fully integrated with the Coalition platform until year-two.
It’s clear that the Locker is still a work-in-progress, and the full application will not come on line until July. Between now and then, however, coalition staff members have indicated a willingness to accept and consider comments on any element of the technology. 

Already changes were made between the time the demo was produced and the technology was launched last week. For example, the required question asking for the “Gender” of the applicant was changed to “Sex” and a note added that coalition members would be asking for information about gender on their individual applications.

In the meantime, school-based and independent college counselors are considering if and how to introduce the coalition application to students, with many opting to take a wait-and-see position.

“Of course, we will review all the options including the coalition application, but my thinking is that in this first year of the new coalition platform, many students will want to keep it simple and do the Common Application for all colleges on the Common App, rather than have multiple apps to complete,” said Mary Spiegel, a Connecticut-based certified educational planner.

Others are getting ready to jump right in.

“I emailed my juniors and told them they could start,” said Wendie Lubic, an IEC located in Washington, D.C.  “It will be interesting to see who starts…and what their experience is.”

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