Berklee College of Music tablet program hits the right note

October 15, 2012

Fortunately for Damien Bracken, dean of admissions at the world-renowned Berklee College of Music, he got the go-ahead to staff his team with tablets.

Although the Boston-based music school has capped enrollment at 4,000, the very selective school has seen requests to attend climb to nearly 11,000 students this year.

And, unlike many schools that can rely on electronic paperwork, to grant admittance, Berklee also needs to see prospective students play and sing.

“Twenty-five to 30% of out student population is international. We have a strong international student population that we want to maintain. So we travel extensively,” the admissions director told TabTimes.

Enter the tablet. The Berklee admissions staff started using iPads about two years ago, he said. And the app they use to track all the student admission data is FileMaker, a cross-platform relational database. “As soon as they launched FileMaker Go (for iPad and iPhone), I must have been one of the first people to download it.”

The college went with FileMaker because it's a rapid development platform, Bracken explained. "Super adaptable and customizable."

The dean noted that most musicians use Apple products for their work—including sequencing, notation and recording.  He estimates 20% of all the school’s students have tablets. “I’m definitely seeing more,” Bracken said. “It’s a trend.”

"The iPad makes our load lighter"

As for the 30 person staff, the decision to switch to tablets was a no-brainer, based on increased mobility, globally and locally around the school’s 21 buildings located in the Back Bay. “The iPad makes our load lighter,” he said.

“We decided to go to iPad because Berklee was already Apple-focused,” he said, adding that another college department requested that the Admissions department loan them out for the school’s registration process.

The admissions team started traveling a few weeks ago to assess candidates for the next year’s class. On any given day, the admissions team has roughly 300 auditions to cover including 11 rooms across campus and whatever is scheduled off-campus or out-of-country.

They use their iPads to take notes and enter comments during both the audition and the rating process. The portable form factor lets them move from process to process freely.

"On one day we may have scheduled 300 auditions with 11 rooms running auditions and 11 rooms running interviews," he said. "We want that to be as high touch as possible.

“Everything that happens during those auditions qualitatively  and quantitatively is entered and brought back to our suite of servers on campus and entered,” Bracken said.

Why not just laptops? “Because for us, as an institution, we prefer to be on the cutting edge,” he answered.

With everyone looking at the same data live, management can make adjustments to prospective student’s schedules on the fly. “If one room gets behind, we use our iPads to reschedule.”

The dean notes that other parts of the school use FileMaker. “Our IT department uses it,” he said. Bracken also likes the fact that when he and his staff are out on the road, they tap into the school’s data center to do other administrative work as required by the admissions committee.

Seeking additional ROI, the Admissions department is preparing to launch a mobile version of the school’s view book—what used to be called the prospectus—to contain streaming data and set to be available to smart phones and tablets, he said.

And looking down the road, Bracken envisions another way to employ his team’s iPads in the applications process.

“We could play some examples of music we might want students to play along. We may want to develop some standardized call and response using the iPad,” he said. “We could use it as a tool to deliver a more effective audition. There are possibilities yet to be explored.”

Bracken will offer further details and insights related to Berklee's deployment and use of the iPad at the upcoming TabletBiz conference & expo in New York on November 27.

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