How Robotic Process Automation is Transforming Education

Dane White November 4, 2021 Education Robotics Process Automation

RPA

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stress of adapting manual, dated workflows to a digital environment were felt by educators and administrators alike. When the student journey is held back by sluggish backend administration, bottlenecks highlight opportunities to craft a flexible and focused experience.

From grade school to collegiate experiences, education is in clear need of a behind-the-scenes tuneup. Robotic process automation (RPA) is quickly becoming the tool of choice for automating dated, manual workflows to a digital-first student culture. Let’s explore key ways education institutions are elevating to a transparent, accessible, agile experience via RPA.

Why legacy workflows in education are a big obstacle

RPA addresses long-running issues with workflows that persist from ancient eras by today’s technology standards.

At a glance, RPA in any industry is leveraged to eliminate any of the following:

  • Manual tasks
  • Data silos
  • Bottlenecks

For instance, many overworked education staff still process and shuttle mountains of physical paperwork across campuses. Applications alone may demand multi-phase manual approvals of physical student documentation — which steals staff time to track progress, catch errors, and reconcile discrepancies.

Ultimately, concerns of overwork and delayed results often stem from a tangle of wasteful steps across many day-to-day processes.

RPA offloads human tasks best suited for automated machines — awarding your educators and administrators room to repurpose their lost time.

How is RPA stepping up to challenges in education workflows?

Robotic process automation augments human efforts rather than replacing them. While your staff focus on complex problem-solving tasks, RPA puts auto-triggered shortcuts within their digital workflows.

RPA’s human-free reactions, or automations, work where humans would typically have to:

  1. Bridge disparate systems,
  2. Engage in monotonous or repetitive manual tasks, or
  3. Track progress of tasks and processes.

In essence, actions get done while information is auto-fed across interdepartmental staff and work systems for flexible, real-time use. Manual becomes automatic — and lost time, focus, and money can be repurposed for tasks your staff want to complete more often but don’t have resources to spare for.

Ultimately, RPA helps education institutions become digital, visible, and agile.

What qualifies tasks for robotic process automation use in education?

Tasks that are primed for use in RPA systems typically hinder human staff via:

  • Repetitive actions,
  • Occurring frequently,
  • Requiring humans to bridge digital systems, and
  • Multi-stage tasks.

As we’ve covered previously, choosing the wrong tasks can throttle the success of your RPA orchestration. Fortunately, both academic and non-academic workflows are loaded with tasks that fit these criteria. 

What are some parts of educator workflows that RPA can improve?

RPA tackles many of the smaller workflows in academics that go beyond student-facing tasks.

Educators balance a mountain of tasks per student — from plagiarism checks to maintaining the course study plan. RPA gives educators at all levels of education the tools to speed through these tasks with fewer errors and minimal manual effort.

Grading and Student Performance

Plagiarism cross-checking has become simpler with modern software tools — but still demands teachers manually feed assignments for a per-student verdict.

  • The alternative: Instead, RPA can link completion of other grading workflow tasks to auto-trigger the cross-checking stage. Indicators for further investigation can then trigger a search for open slots in teacher calendars, then send appointment requests via email to relevant students.

Student performance monitoring can only be as effective as the speed of a teacher’s decision-making process. If educators manually assess and compile reports on all their students, slow decisions are sure to follow.

  • The alternative: With RPA, data across all digitally-managed student assignments can be fed into a single dashboard in real-time. Educators are free to slice their view of grades at the individual, section, and course-wide levels. In addition, alerts for performance drops and periodic report cards can be generated instantly for automated email delivery to students and parents.

Course and Content Management

Class period attendance remains another essential but tedious routine keeping many educators locked to impersonal “pen and paper” roll calls. 

  • The alternative: By adopting a digital focus, RPA-driven attendance opens the door to a more engaging student experience. To combat pandemic-era drops in attendance, automating attendance trend tracking also allows RPA to trigger a wide range of virtual outreach efforts. Attendance Works notes that teachers can provide caring check-ins for absences and reinforce returns to class with “welcome back” messages and incentives.

Assignment content management can pose issues on its own if an institution’s learning management system (LMS) doesn’t help students keep their files organized. When students lose time sorting through messy file storage for key learning resources, their work quality and drive may drop below expectations.

  • The alternative: As noted in a 2021 publication by the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, RPA bots can integrate with LMS to organize and manage resource files. Anything from notes to study exercise questions and project instructions can be fielded with RPA support to eliminate friction between file access and taking action.

What are some parts of administrator workflows that RPA can improve?

Administration carries tons of RPA-friendly tasks that feed the student experience — both directly and indirectly.

Across many departments, administrators collectively manage and support educators, students, and dedicated admin staff. RPA aims to release these teams from paperwork overload and lack of information visibility by empowering their decision-making.

Admissions

Student enrollment decisions revolve around sorting through layers of critical paperwork. With physical paper, a single missing document can quickly bottleneck an entire registration pipeline. However, delays and stress plague the process even when all documentation is present.

  • The alternative: Once forms are digitized, RPA can thread submitted information directly from documents to admissions’ data stores. By setting validation triggers based on eligibility, RPA can decide to enroll and instantly alert students — or mark an enrollment request for further manual review.

Human Resources

Employee access control during onboarding and offboarding keep campus facilities and systems secure. However, oversights with access to physical and digital spaces could give unwanted or even damaging access to unauthorized individuals.

  • The alternative: Rather than manage access manually, HR can select dedicated permissions for distinct access groups. Then, RPA can automatically provide or revoke these preset permissions upon hire or termination.

Faculty hiring interviews need plenty of candidate vetting and cross-referencing to make decisions at each stage. Without automation, HR loses valuable time by manually sifting through prescreen questions, references, and other information.

  • The alternative: Robots are more efficient at the repetitive task of matching suitable applicants for open roles. Once HR sets criteria for promotions and rejections, RPA can sort through candidates for each interview stage.

Employee attendance can complicate costs for an education institution if times and appropriate pay benefits are miscalculated. Since education payroll fraud may occur more often than reported, institutions may not have enough safeguards in place to prevent it.

  • The alternative: RPA-linked biometrics time clocks can limit fraud via facial and fingerprint recognition, resulting in more accurate time data. An RPA bot can then leverage time data to apply any overtime pay — without concern of errors.

RPA meets BPM: What this means for educators and administration

While RPA adopts and links tasks for less manual labor, business process management (BPM) keeps workflows transparent and centralized to avoid becoming unruly.

BPM software platforms like ProcessMaker can integrate with RPA to help educational institution workflows by:

  1. Planning,
  2. Mapping,
  3. Evaluating,
  4. Implementing, and
  5. Iterating processes.

By connecting systems with application programming interfaces (APIs), ProcessMaker is equipped with the universal key to major RPA leaders like Automation Anywhere. Rather than leave teams with tons of isolated automations to upkeep, ProcessMaker is a flexible workflow hub that simplifies how tasks are programmed and maintained.

More importantly, BPM software allows for changes and new automation initiatives to be completed in-house — even by your non-technical staff.

For instance, Tulsa Community College struggled to manually manage paper-based approvals before ProcessMaker. They knew that shuttling paper between campuses, buildings, and offices was a clear bottleneck. ProcessMaker helped them switch to and manage approvals with digital forms while utilizing the advantages of RPA.

Ultimately, ProcessMaker BPM software works as a flexible drag-and-drop workflow solution that unlocks a more efficient education journey — for students, staff, and faculty alike.

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