First IT Solutions Partner of the Year Awarded
Dr. Dan Cronn-Mills Recognized for Innovative work in Partnership with IT Solutions Team
Dr. Dan Cronn-Mills, a Minnesota State University, Mankato faculty member, became the first ever IT Solutions Partner of the Year in 2019. This award is now set to be given annually to recognize those who have a passion for innovation in technology and work in partnership with IT Solutions to improve student and employee success within the University community. Recently, Dr. Cronn-Mills worked along with IT Solutions and a wide array of other divisions and individuals on campus in the development of the interactive online academic catalog, which went live in summer 2019.
Dr. Cronn-Mills is the Curriculum Design System (CDS) Coordinator and is also celebrating his 28th year as a professor. He is an alum with two degrees from Minnesota State Mankato, receiving a BA in Speech Communication and Mass Communication in 1987 and an MA in Speech Communication in 1989. Dr. Cronn-Mills then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1995. At Minnesota State Mankato, he frequently teaches online courses on Communication Research Methods, Ethics in Free Speech, Political Communication, Social Movements and Advocacy, and more. A lifelong innovator, Dr. Cronn-Mills has been involved in several technology-related projects. This includes the use of Moodle, an open-source learning platform, to help teachers renew their licensures through online training modules. And recently, he worked with IT Solutions’ Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) Mark Johnson and Assistant CIO Matt Clay to turn an Armstrong Hall classroom into a synchronous space for teaching on-campus and online students together.
Dr. Cronn-Mills’ most extensive project in partnership with IT Solutions is the recent development of the online academic catalog, the foundations of which started during his time with the Undergraduate Curriculum and Policy (UCAP) committee at Minnesota State Mankato. He worked closely with UCAP, serving as chair from 2006 to 2011. Though he has no formal training, he became an advocate for positive change within the University’s curriculum design.
While working with UCAP, Dr. Cronn-Mills noticed a lack of consistency within curriculum design, which at the time was all done on paper. This led to confusion, so Dr. Cronn-Mills pushed for a revision in the system. He posed a solution by calling for common terminology, structure, and organization within curriculum proposals. In response, the official online Curriculum Design System (CDS) was built and implemented in fall 2008 after two years of development. Faculty now log into CDS for submitting course or program proposals. CDS allows for less confusion in curriculum processes and provides an electronic record of changes to University courses and programs.
Creating an effective CDS was just one part of the puzzle for Dr. Cronn-Mills. Although changes and proposals are now completed online, the final catalog was still being transcribed for print distribution. Human error in the print catalog combined with the inability to make changes after publishing was a major problem affecting students. Noticing the high level of engagement students have with technology and mobile devices, Dr. Cronn-Mills realized the need to adapt the system to better fit their communication preferences. Seeing that other universities had already made the switch to online catalogs, he prompted Minnesota State Mankato to do the same.
This began the three-year process of creating a website where catalog information could be viewed on any device and where updates could be made. Dr. Cronn-Mills worked together with IT Solutions and other divisions on campus to make it happen. A third-party design firm was hired to create the public-facing structure of the catalog. To allow information from CDS to feed into the catalog, the back-end infrastructure had to be overhauled. The IT Solutions team headed this task, re-writing the code to adapt CDS to its new role. Throughout the entire process, ideas and progress were presented to the president, the provost, the Student Relation Coordinators, and the Admissions Office for review. This process ensured that information was correct and user experience was satisfactory.
What resulted is a streamlined system where course and program information is pulled from the CDS database and presented on a clear and organized website for anyone to view on their devices – a system perfect for digital natives who make up the largest portion of incoming students. Changes and corrections can be made so anyone viewing the catalog receives up-to-date information. And while previous print and PDF formats may have contained typos or discrepancies that didn’t match the information from other sources, the new online catalog provides consistency to reduce confusion. Dr. Cronn-Mills believes the new platform helps contribute to student success by fighting what he calls “decision paralysis,” or the struggle to make choices concerning majors and coursework due to overwhelming amounts of information. The print and PDF catalogs required students to sift through pages and pages to find what they wanted. In contrast, the new online catalog makes the process less intimidating with a clean layout, links, and a search feature with filters.
One of the main goals of this project was to make sure students have access to the most accurate information through their preferred communication methods. Because of this successful partnership between IT Solutions and key individuals and divisions on campus – including Dr. Dan Cronn-Mills – this has been made possible. The IT Solutions team values building relationships across campus and strives to implement teamwork to achieve important goals that strengthen support for the community. Driving innovation in technology is IT Solutions’ mission, and the team believes in achieving new heights with the help of other voices across campus.