Using the Power of Technology: 6 Common Sense Strategies Colleges Can Implement to Empower Students 

College is like an amusement park. There are so many different rides and experiences to explore and barely enough time to get it all done. The social network is busted wide open with a whole new array of prospective acquaintances and friends to choose from. Vendors utilize enticing marketing to draw their new customers to consider everything from homemade ice cream, gym memberships, tantalizing meals, credit cards, to Boba tea…there is virtually nothing a college student cannot access! This may be the first time a college co-ed discovers a world in which those around him have opinions or customs that differ from his own. At times it can be challenging to navigate these differences and find a way to discuss them with a balance of curiosity and respect. 

One of the greatest tasks college students are charged with is time and task management. In high school, they may have grown accustomed to a rigorous schedule comprised of classes by day and extra-curricular activities in the afternoon, evenings, and weekends. But in a lot of cases, Mom, Dad, or a guardian was in the background helping in some way, whether it was with meal preparation, laundry, or tidying up around the house, someone was facilitating the life skills so that Junior could focus on his schoolwork and other obligations. When a student leaves for college, the floodgates of responsibility fling open, and suddenly, all of these responsibilities are his to address. 

One of the most potentially valuable lifelines colleges can offer a college student is an online portal. There is so much power that comes with this tool. Professors can use it to communicate with their students-posting syllabi, assignments, study guides, and lecture notes are just some of the many ways this advancement can help a student to access the information she needs to succeed. Additionally, professors can post recordings of their lectures, demonstrations of course content, and sample labs. The possibilities for the portal are endless!

Here’s the thing:

As many of us are well aware, technology is only as strong and useful as the designer who created it. A school can have the most sophisticated portal system available to its students, but the design has to meet certain criteria to empower its students on their path to success. Here are 6 common sense features colleges need to consider when designing their online portal:

  • 1. Uniformity:

    One of the top complaints I hear from my college clients is the fact that their school’s portal lacks uniformity. One professor will post work on this part of the portal, while another will share a link to an assignment on another part of the portal. This professor requires the work to be handed in this way, and that professor wants it submitted to an external website. This professor posts the work and that one doesn’t post it at all, resorting instead to writing the assignments on the white board. The result? Students are left to engage in a game of logistical chase, forced to keep track of each of their four or five professors’ online protocols. This venture is challenging enough for the strongest of students, but when you sprinkle ADHD into the equation, the situation becomes an arduous and frequently insurmountable undertaking. Such circumstances can lead to wasted time, missed assignments, and overlooked deadlines, all resulting in poor class performance and one very frustrated and overwhelmed student.


Colleges need to consider setting standards for the following: assignments should be posted in a location designated as “assignments” in the portal. Syllabi should be posted prominently within the landing page of each course’s portal. Except for written assignments (like research papers), all professors should use the same online system of submitting assignments. Students should be required to submit all research papers via a scanning tool like School deans and presidents need to make these requirements standard practice, so all professors and students are literally on the same page. 

  • 2. Calendar:

    This next feature may cause some of you to scratch your heads and ask, “How much hand-holding does a university need to engage in to support its students?” If you’re going to provide the students with an online portal, one of the key features needs to include a central landing page for a calendar. Ideally, the professors populate the calendar with due dates for exams, labs, long-term assignments, and regularly occurring assignments. Yes, I hear you: back in the day, we had to use our own systems to track our assignments. Whether it was a weekly planner, a note-to-self, a notebook, a month-at-a-glance dry erase wall calendar or blotter, or a sticky note, we had to take responsibility for tracking our own assignments. We didn’t have these online portals. But the colleges are offering this portal with the idea of helping students to navigate their work and deadlines. So, if they’re going to do that, then go all the way. It’s like offering someone a car but without the seatbelts; don’t provide the car if you aren’t going to include the safety features. 


Schools should require all professors to post assignments throughout the course of the semester or quarter on this central calendar. Some colleges have gone so far as to color code the assignments in accordance with each class-red work is tied to the chemistry class posted in red; green assignments correspond to the history class posted in green font, etc. Furthermore, assignment should be posted in a timely manner, and if there are going to be adjustments to assignments, the professor should be required to notify the class in the messages feature of the portal, or email the students directly. (Ideally, any communication the professor makes in the portal is automatically emailed to the students in the course.) Students should also be able to populate their own personal deadlines for assignments and other obligations if they so desire. 

  • 3. Submit HERE:

    As mentioned earlier, locating the place to submit work needs to be consistent across all classes. Don’t make it a mystery. The poor kid just finished two all-nighters (The merits of that strategy can be addressed in a different blog post!), so why torment him and create a moving landscape in which he has to struggle to figure out where to submit the assignment?


With the exception of essays and research papers, there needs to be a submission page on the portal where students can submit and professors can access all assignments. For essays and research papers, professors should use the same plagiarism scanning programs across all courses.

  • 4. Personal Accountability:

    One of the most important goals any student can aspire toward is personal accountability. This is particularly valuable for students who have ADHD, since accountability is frequently so elusive. One of the most powerful points of data that aid in reaching this goal is a student’s grades. When a student cannot access their grades in a timely manner, it’s similar to having her drive a car with blinders over her eyes and earplugs in her ears…she has no way to know how she is doing in that class. It is nothing short of unethical and irresponsible for colleges not to post student grades. They need to be able to track their progress so that when they see a red flag in the form of a low grade, they can seek help and correct their trajectory. Furthermore, that feedback needs to be timely. It is unconscionable to think a professor can be allowed to take upwards of three to four weeks to grade students’ work. By the time the grade is rendered, the class could be well past any add/drop deadlines or any point by which proper intervention could have salvaged the student’s grades.


Grades need to be posted in an accessible and uniform location within the portal. Professors must be required to render these grades in a timely fashion such that students can get the help they need to recover from any potential academic trouble.

  • 5. Stay Up to Date:

    Professors have a lot to keep track of on these portals, one of which includes ensuring that posted assignments are current. Believe it or not, there have been a number of times over the past few years when assignments from previous semesters have been posted in the current semester’s course portal. Worse yet, in some instances, these assignments have erroneously counted toward the students’ grades, and since they were not correctly posted, the students were not expected to complete them, but this led to a draw on their grades, which lowered their marks in the class!


Professors and instructors are very busy, and admittedly, navigating some of this technology is not easy. I would respectfully submit that professors be allowed to engage in the aid of a teacher’s assistant to ensure the proper posting of work and communication in these portals. Alternatively, it may be mutually beneficial for an IT student to assist the professor in the form of an internship or fee for service. In this arrangement, the professor has all information properly posted, the TA or intern is compensated financially or with academic credit, and the students have all the information they need to meet with success!  

  • 6. Standards:

    Universities and colleges straddle a fine line between providing professors with autonomy to conduct their classes and the administration of these classes in the fashion in which they see fit, and supporting the personal and academic growth of the university’s student body. I fully acknowledge that sometimes these two objectives conflict with one another. However, when it comes to the basics, there is no justification for causing students to jump through hoops to access and submit their assignments and monitor their academic success in each course.


Colleges and universities must set a standard by which all professors and instructors need to render the following information: syllabi, professor contact information, assignment descriptions and due dates, students grades. Anything short of this is irresponsible and does a huge disservice to their student body.

College is a new frontier waiting to be discovered by all who cross the campus grounds. One of the greatest challenges students face is establishing a balance between academic and personal obligations. Colleges provide their students with a potentially amazing tool to achieve this equilibrium with their online portals. But this tool is only as powerful as the thought process that went into designing it. By creating a standard for professors to follow, universities have the potential to create a tool so impactful that it will empower their students to meet with personal and academic success.