Tiny tweaks: Small interventions to improve student worker performance
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The digital imaging work at the University of North Texas (UNT), as is the case for many institutions, is largely done by student workers. These part-time, student employees create the vast majority of the images of cultural heritage items and other materials that make up UNT’s digital repositories. As such, their work is invaluable to the completion of digital imaging projects at the institution. But as students, these employees tend to come with minimal work experience, little direct imaging experience, have many other higher priorities in their lives than their part-time job at UNT, and usually only work between 15 and 24 hours a week, making the acquisition of a needed skill set for the efficient and accurate completion of digital imaging work sometimes rocky. Over several years of employing student workers, the staff of the Digital Projects Lab at UNT have implemented several small initiatives that have improved the performance of their student employees greatly. These initiatives have included sending monthly time reports to student employees to help them track their adherence to their scheduled hours; collecting and reporting to students error rates, along with qualitative feedback, giving them objective benchmarks of success; integrating general imaging education into student orientations and semester meetings increasing their overall imaging knowledge; adding a “what to watch out for” section to project pages to give students advance warning about potential imaging issues a collection of materials might have; adding reminder signs to computers and walls about various procedures and standards to ensure compliance; deploying physical checklists with more complex equipment and quality control work completed by students; and teaching the use of command line tools for folder creation and file naming to minimize human error and ensure adherence to lab standards. By establishing a practice of giving more information not less, providing more tools not fewer, and documenting and reporting out progress to students consistently and thoroughly, the Digital Projects Lab has seen an improvement in the quality and consistency of student work. Each one of these initiatives is small, and the effort on the part of staff to implement them has been minimal, but the impact of each has been significant and measurable, demonstrating that tiny tweaks to practices and procedures have the power to drastically improve student worker performance, thereby enhancing the quality of output and the productivity of an institution.