Call for change

As soon as it became clear that a traditional college experience in the fall of 2020 would not be feasible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northeastern University (Northeastern) began preparing for a return to school that would provide students with a safe and flexible learning environment that also fosters human connection and supports high quality education. The plan included everything from launching an on-campus testing centre to de-densifying classrooms and dorms. Two key elements of this return were the introduction of their hybrid "NUflex" learning model and the launch of the Student Hub. In order to maintain a sense of community to keep students enrolled, Northeastern created an innovative student experience that kept students socially and academically engaged in whatever learning format they felt comfortable.

When tech meets human ingenuity

Drawing from Accenture’s expertise in digital design, as well as their partnership with Northeastern, the team successfully developed and deployed several digital tools within a matter of weeks to allow around 30,000 students to safely return to campus.

The primary tool is the Student Hub, a portal that serves as the students’ home base for key class information, applications, resources and community engagement. It helps students navigate and keep track of their busy lives using a variety of Microsoft products - including features like:

  • Access to Outlook and Canvas
  • Registrar announcements and overview of course schedules
  • Account information from student financial services
  • Updates on dining plans, laundry bucks and university card balances
  • Quick links to OneDrive, Yammer and other Microsoft 365 apps

The other tools include the COVID-19 Scheduler, which students use to manage required testing appointments and schedule their vaccines. And finally, the Dynamic Class Scheduler on the Student Hub used to submit weekly preferences for attending class in-person or remotely. The tool then assigns available seats to students who want to physically attend class and provides Northeastern faculty with a roster of who has been cleared to attend. Together, these three tools: the Student Hub, the Covid-19 Scheduler and the Dynamic Class Scheduler deliver integrated insights, notifications and university content to enable the NUFlex model and deliver a highly personalised experience that encourages greater collaboration and engagement, while also keeping students and staff safe.

The transition to NUFlex and the implementation of these digital tools involved extensive collaboration with cross-departmental Northeastern leaders and community members. Embracing Northeastern’s culture of experiential learning, the project team also regularly collaborated with a group of 10 student interns, who directly and continually provided insight into the student experience, helped prioritise new features and shaped content for the site.

A valuable difference

Northeastern achieved immediate results with these new digital tools:

  • It safely reopened the school during an uncertain time. Since re-opening, the University has seen a total of 1,112 positive tests, an average daily positive rate of just 0.25% of administered tests. Students and faculty report feeling safe on campus and confident in administration policies.
  • Students gained the flexibility to attend class remotely or in-person; nearly everyone enrolled at Northeastern accessed the Dynamic Class Scheduler during the first semester to choose their learning preferences.
  • To date, more than 25,000 unique users have used the COVID-19 Test Scheduler tool to schedule 537,531 COVID-19 tests. The ease of the scheduling process has contributed to the university being able to maintain around 95% testing compliance.
  • A central location helped engage students and allow them to manage their daily tasks. To date, students have initiated 873,737 unique Student Hub sessions.

While we all hope for a future where COVID tests are no longer regularly required, the tools and practises that have been developed will leave a lasting mark on the future of teaching and learning at Northeastern. Looking ahead, Northeastern will continue to improve and innovate to meet the needs of its students in a post-COVID era and fulfil its vision of becoming a bold and visionary leader in higher education by focusing on the human experience.

"It’s really important to take the opinion of a customer before delivering a product and that’s what was done."

— Student Collaborator

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