Brock University uses Microsoft Lists to manage its student exchange program
Published Mar 02 2021 06:00 AM 8,646 Views

Brock University is a leading post-secondary institution in the Niagara Region of Canada. The University has a robust international exchange program, which is widely popular among students. Every year, students participating in the program spend one or multiple terms at one of Brock University’s international partner institutions. At the same time, students from partner institutions come to Brock University to study. To maintain the program, Brock University administrators manage exchange agreements with their partner schools, keeping an eye on contract deadlines and starting a renewal process when these deadlines approach. At an elevated level, leadership also tracks operational data to gauge the success of the program and make improvements, such as the number of students participating and overall trends.


Brock University logoBrock University logo

The challenge: Keeping everyone informed along the way


The IT (Information Technology) team at Brock University primarily focuses on supporting learning management systems, student information systems, and traditional Finance and HR (Human Resources) operations. Unfortunately, this leaves a gap in support for business processes in teams like the one managing the student exchange program.


Originally, a single Brock University staff member used an Excel spreadsheet on a desktop PC (Personal Computer) to track everything, including partner institution names, contacts, agreement types, and end dates. The process was entirely manual without any measures in place to share insights across the whole team. The spreadsheet was difficult to manage, and agreements often expired due to oversight and lack of ownership. Plus, managing multiple renewals with different end dates was not intuitive in the spreadsheet format and caused additional operational strain.


“We needed to get off isolated desktops and into a shared environment that worked for us all.”

– David Cullum, Associate Vice-President, Brock University Information Technology Services


Brock University needed a solution to modernize their student exchange process. They needed everyone to be able to view and share status updates, centralize the tracking system, and automate reminders ahead of agreement expirations so they can start the renewal process earlier and on time. They also wanted it to be easier to view expired agreements, track inbound and outbound student headcount totals, and summarize insights by country.



A single, ongoing list to modernize program tracking


Brock University sought the help of data architect, and Microsoft MVP, Norm Young. Upon review, he helped Brock University implement Microsoft Lists to move an isolated, manual task, to an automated exchange student agreement process.


Norm first guided the university to leverage the Create List from Excel feature to easily import data from the old Excel spreadsheet into a new Exchange agreement list.


  • A Status choice column indicates current state of an agreement, with conditional formatting to visually highlight statuses/expirations.
  • An Owner person column assigns staff members to each agreement. The column connects to the associated member’s Azure Active Directory information, so notifications can be set up automatically.  
  • A Comments column allows coworkers to provide free form, multi-line updates in each list item.
  • Calculated columns are used to calculate total agreements, total outbound students, total inbound students, and inbound minus outbound students – each displayed in their own column.
  • A Power Automate flow is used to check for expired agreements and automatically change the Status column to Expired. Owners are sent a reminder email 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks) before the end date.
  • A Custom view is created to group items by geography, so faculty can get insight into how many agreements they have for each country and the respective city breakdowns.


Screenshot of Exchange Agreement listScreenshot of Exchange Agreement list




While packing a powerful solution, the list is still easy to use – like the previous spreadsheet for entry and edits. The design was kept simple with new views and visuals, added automation, calculated columns, and colorful choice fields – all to lessen the workload and errors by eliminating mundane work.


"Moving from Excel to Microsoft Lists made it easier for the team to work together on the exchange program details, while making our processes more open with fewer errors."

– David Cullum, Associate Vice-President, Brock University Information Technology Services



Norm also set up a SharePoint site for the team to establish a digital home for all important documents and information created and used by the program’s staff. The Exchange agreement list is easy to find on the team site, and it appears within everyone’s Lists app in Microsoft 365.

Screenshot of list in SharePoint siteScreenshot of list in SharePoint site


A small investment with large returns


Now in Lists and accessible in SharePoint, the exchange program information has a simplified and more user-friendly design. The list reduces the time it takes the team to organize and input data. A shared-source location in SharePoint allows all program owners across Brock to own and adopt the process rather than relying on one single point of failure. The solution was built in just a few hours, with a few additional hours to drive widespread adoption. Leadership loved the small investment that provided a large, ongoing return. Plus, it allows staff to be more self-reliant, increasing their comfort level using Microsoft 365 to modernize their digital workplace within the University’s modernized IT system.


To see it in action, review “A 50-minute digital transformation”, an on-demand training session with Microsoft MVP, Norm Young, explaining and demoing all details of the student exchange program’s modern and automated business process – moving from Excel spreadsheets on the desktop to Microsoft Lists and SharePoint content services powered by Power Automate flows:


Video: 50 minute digital transformation with Norm Young


Read about more Lists scenarios and use cases in the Lists Day in the Life guides, amongst other Microsoft 365 solutions.  And for more customer stories, head to the Microsoft Customer Stories page.



Happy tracking!


Andrea Lum, Product Manager - Microsoft


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‎May 06 2021 11:44 AM
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