College of Education Streamlines Student Placements with Sonia 

East Carolina University Logo (ECU) Download VectorLearn how East Carolina University’s College of Education Streamlined Placement Management with Sonia.

When it was time for ECU’s College of Education to migrate to a new student placement management software, the Office of Assessment, Data Management and Digital Learning selected Sonia.  

Digitizing the Placement Process to Streamline and Meet University Needs 

The team considered another software solution; however, they found that it wasn’t flexible enough for their needs. Sonia is highly customizable, and this was a key decision factor for the ECU team.  

Prior to Sonia, the placement team emailed each other various spreadsheets and scanned documents. “Everything was on paper; this was time consuming and hard to manage,” said Mary Worthington, Data Manager; Office of Assessment, Data Management and Digital Learning; College of Education. 

The built-in fields in Sonia help the team to collect information in one place, and they can easily add new fields any time as their needs change.  


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Navigating Uncertainty Made Easy 

Sonia was implemented at the start of 2020 and became a critical tool to help the team smoothly navigate the fast-moving and unpredictable changes that followed through 2020 and 2021. “It was just in time to help us manage through the pandemic, and it saved us tremendously,” said Mary.  

“Sonia meant that we experienced no break in service, no problems communicating updates and changes with schools, and constant - sometimes daily - communications with students.” 

“With all forms now done completely electronically, we could manage so smoothly and quickly. Sister institutes were struggling and wondering how we were doing this. We said, ‘we’re good, we’ve got Sonia!’” 

Additionally, Sonia’s reporting and tracking functionality helped with a smooth transition back to campus when the time came.  

Setting Up the System and Stakeholders for Ongoing Success 

The Sonia team worked closely with Mary, her Director, and ECU’s IT team to ensure staff, students, and sites were set up for success. “Everyone was great to work with,” said Mary.  

A daily import from the main university database ensures that data is always accurate. The bulk upload is Mary’s favorite feature, “In the old system, information and statistics for all public schools in the state had to be updated individually each year, which took a grad student six months. Now with Sonia, the full project is completed in 30 minutes!” 

Students were provided with instructions and found Sonia easy to use. Staff saw the benefit of everything they do being in the one place – happily waving goodbye to the challenging process of working across multiple spreadsheets. 

“Sonia works really, really well and the product expert team replies almost immediately to any questions. They also help me to think about our processes differently, which is really helpful in finding new, more efficient ways to record and collect accurate data.”  

Supporting Teacher Education Engagement and Licensure Requirements 

Prior to the Sonia implementation, clinical teachers were required to participate in training modules in a separate system to create a personal account, “it was a hassle and they hated it”. Now, with Sonia all communications and forms are sent electronically to their school email account. Clinical teachers no longer need to log in or remember passwords. “It’s just an email which is a big blessing. It’s one less thing for them to worry about, and the response rate for submitting forms has really increased.” This means that the ECU team saves time as there is less follow up required.  

Additionally, before Sonia, the team could only track edTPA scores as pass or did not pass. There was no way to store and search for date, score, or retake data – which all needed to be reported to various agencies. “It was not great information, and it took a really long time to upload each status individually.” With Sonia, the team can collect and store all information required and it’s done in 5-10 minutes. “Now the edTPA coordinator and licensure specialist always have what they need, and all of the information is recorded.”  

The ECU team continue to expand usage of Sonia as new opportunities arise. For example, Education Residency Candidates will soon be managed through Sonia, with a specific customizable layout. This means all the moving parts and spreadsheets are now in one place which makes people’s lives so much easier. When asked if she would recommend Sonia to other colleges, Mary said, “Just go to Sonia”.  

Placement System Centralization for Greater Efficiency and Risk Mitigation

Emergency Incidents Highlight Need For Process Review

Following the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, the team at the University of Otago needed to rapidly
identify, locate and communicate with students who were out on placement in the region. This was challenging as placement data was held by various people, in different formats at the department level on-site, rather than a secure, central database accessible from anywhere. The University also experienced an event where flooding destroyed paper records intended for permanent storage.

Sonia Identified As Best Fit Placement Software For System Centralization

In response to these incidents, a project team was established to centralize systems, source and implement a solution that would support risk management, and duty of care obligations, and create organizational efficiencies for placement program administration.

The cross-functional University based team created a strong business case that clearly demonstrated the benefits of placement software implementation. They undertook a thorough vendor assessment, ultimately selecting Sonia as the best fit placement software.

>>Join Sally for an on-demand webinar to learn more about how to make student placement more efficient & consistent university wide

Implementation Successfully Configured to Each Department’s Unique Needs

The project team, including IT Project Manager, Nick Oborne, and Subject Matter Expert, Sally Warlow, implemented Sonia across the University. Implementation started with the College of Education, School of Pharmacy and School of Physiotherapy. The team collaborated with department staff to ensure each implementation was configured to support their unique processes and requirements.

Additionally, the project team established training and an online hub to support new users as they successfully migrated to Sonia. This included instructional videos, FAQs and benefits information. They also worked with their change management team to deliver a strong awareness and communications program, ensuring that the eventual users of Sonia and their managers were engaged early and understood its key benefits.

Sitewide Deployment Creates Efficiencies and Improves Risk Management

Sonia is now deployed across all departments at the University of Otago, successfully supporting almost 30 different placement types. Day-to-day management of placement programs is now so much easier. Data is reliable, which supports reporting. Processes are streamlined and visibility to academic staff has increased. For example, teaching academics can log in and see reports about their students.

The greatest efficiency the University has seen with Sonia is related to student placement preferences. “The ability for students to choose their preference directly in Sonia and then University staff allocate from this, is so much faster than the manual way we used to do it, and we get greater student satisfaction with allocations,” said Sally.

Users and management across the University see the benefits of Sonia due to the efficiencies it creates and the strong risk management it offers. “The Sonia Dashboard is a great visual tool, showing output that people like to see, and supporting incident management needs,” Nick says.

The new efficiencies and process consistencies facilitated by Sonia have resulted in reduced administrative overheads for the University and makes daily life easier for placement officers, sites and students.

About University of Otago 
Founded in 1869, Otago is New Zealand’s first university. Today over 21,000 students from 100 different countries are enrolled. It hosts two of the most widely recognized longitudinal studies in the world: The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study; Christchurch Health and Development Study and has produced 63 Rhodes Scholars.

Nick Oborne – IT Project Manager 
Nick has been managing the end to end delivery of IT projects for over 10 years across a number of different industries. Nick joined the University of Otago in 2019 and was responsible for managing the project to ensure the objectives and benefits outlined in the Business Case were met, including the deployment of Sonia into any area of the University that undertook student placements.

Sally Warlow – Sonia Subject Matter Expert 

With a background in teaching, sales and business, Sally has worked in many industries. She started work at the University of Otago – College of Education in 2015. Sally then became the Placements Coordinator and began using Sonia almost simultaneously in 2018. In 2020, Sally became a member of the latest University Sonia deployment project. She has worked on the project in a Subject Matter Expert and Business Analyst capacity.

Leading US Psychology College Reimagines Placement Experience & Improves ROI

Manual Processes Were No Longer Viable

The Field Education team at Massachusetts-based William James College, a leader in experiential education, behavioral health, and psychology education, needed a solution to support streamlining management of their field placement programs.

With approximately 600 training sites, over 800 students, and a complex operating environment, the small field education team needed to replace a homegrown system that was difficult to use and required heavy additional manual processing.

Cheryl MacDonald, Assistant Director Field Education at William James College, explained that the team had been working with "an inefficient system that was costly and cumbersome to manage." In fact, a team of students had to be hired to work throughout the year to support the manual placement processes, which added more cost to the program.

Sonia Met the Team's Requirements and Came with Glowing Endorsements

Cheryl worked with the William James College IT team to determine the right solution.  During a project to replace a campus-wide ERP system, a review was undertaken to select an appropriate student placement management solution.

The team considered many software options but, apart from Sonia, no other software solutions met their requirements.

Sonia stood as the clear choice for the team because:

The team also ran a thorough customer reference check process with current Sonia customers. They received overwhelmingly positive feedback about both the Sonia product and the US-based support team.

The ability to meet the William James team’s requirements, coupled with glowing customer reviews, made it an easy decision. “Sonia could do what we needed, without a doubt,” said Cheryl.

>>Learn More about Sonia. Request a Demo.

A Well-Designed Implementation Drove Success

William James College established a project committee to manage the implementation in partnership with QSR’s team of Sonia Experts and Support staff.

Sonia’s Student Importer was a critical feature during the implementation process, as it allowed William James’ staff to integrate Sonia with its campus management system so data could be updated seamlessly between the systems. “Sonia’s Student Importer offers huge benefits for schools with a large placement population,” said Abigail Manwell, QSR’s Sonia Product Expert for North America. “It ensures placement data is up to date and accurate, and our API allows us to work with virtually every campus management system on the market today.”

When the time was right, Cheryl launched a pilot program with students. This important step helped the team fine tune processes before launching more widely. Following the pilot, Sonia was very successfully launched with two degree programs, with a third to follow soon. The team customized Sonia to support each degree program's unique requirements.

Accolades and Happy Customers

Sites, students and the field education team are thrilled with the benefits of Sonia.

Sites are delighted. William James received feedback from sites saying they love the “nifty new system”, and it is so much easier for them to update their information. They can attach resources like videos and brochures to better market themselves to students, which they see as a tremendous benefit.

Students can now more easily complete site searches. "Sites can be identified very quickly based on a specific requirement, like client age, setting, and treatment modality. And updating information like email addresses is simple, no longer taking six steps!  You can just do it all in one place. It's remarkable," said Cheryl.

In addition to managing student placements, Cheryl uses Sonia for site development – nurturing partnerships with new and existing placement sites. Previously managed in Excel, agencies and next steps are now easily tracked in Sonia.

Not only is the field education team now more successful, but they are also acquiring marketable new skills and garnering kudos for delivering a solution with strong organizational efficiencies.

When asked if Cheryl would recommend Sonia to other field education offices, “Oh, a thousand percent! This is an amazing product.”

​About William James College
Founded in 1974, William James College is an independent, non-profit institution and a leader in educating the next generation of mental health professionals to support the growing and diverse needs of the mental health workforce. Integrating field work with academics, the College prepares students for careers as organizational leaders and behavioral health professionals who are committed to helping the underserved, multicultural populations, children and families, and veterans. William James College alumni can be found making an impact in a variety of settings, including schools, the courts, clinical care facilities, hospitals, the community and the workplace.

About Sonia

Sonia, developed by QSR International, is a student placement solution and central hub for program data management that supports improvements and efficiencies for work integrated learning programs.

A Unified Approach to Improve Student Placement Operations

A relatively young public university located on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia, the University of the Sunshine Coast opened in 1996. Renowned for its research, the university places students in rotations, internships and other work integrated learning programs, with the nursing program as its largest cohort. Student placement operations for the university are managed by Sonya Smith, System Administrator, Student Services and Engagement.

Before using Sonia, Ms. Smith, an experienced education placements officer was feeling the stress of tight deadlines and varying requirements for teaching areas. The use of spreadsheets for placement administration proved costly when a file corrupted and the data recovery process proved to be time-consuming and laborious. This led to research into student placement software solutions, a vetting process, and ultimately the selection and implementation of Sonia.

University leaders were watching as Sonia was rolled out to various departments, and Ms. Smith worked with each school and discipline to tailor the product to their needs, bringing greater efficiencies and improved experiences to staff, students and site supervisors. Now an official record-keeping repository for 25 disciplines, the platform streamlines data and saves time.

Automation Supports Personalized Placements

Since implementing Sonia, Ms. Smith and her centralized team have turned a critical eye towards various processes that could be streamlined and automated. The implementation at the University of the Sunshine Coast has grown to support all off-campus activities, including field trips, study tours and placement courses. Sonia also supports on-campus learning by managing requirements for classes students take at the USC hospital. Integrations with payment systems and Blackboard (LMS) enable
better experiences for staff and students.

Sonia has proven itself to be a powerful tool with its electronic forms. Student placement workflows are no longer paper-based, and automated email reminders are a big time-saver for administrators and students. Students in the Nursing cohort are assessed via an electronic form in Sonia. Pass/fail grades are automatically sent to Blackboard, an improvement over the previous manual importing of grades into the LMS.

A Critical Communication Tool

The dashboard serves as a simple interface for managing critical communication and data needs for students participating in off-campus coursework, and the communication features proved critical when news broadcasts warned of a large cyclone headed for India. With students studying there, school officials moved quickly. By using Sonia, administrators were immediately able to identify those students studying in India and get news of the cyclone and safety procedures to them.

>> Learn how to streamline placement communications​

Student placement workflows are no longer paper-based, and automated email reminders are a big time-saver for administrators and students.

Sharing Best Practices

A leader in student placement operations, Ms. Smith traveled to Western Australia in 2018 to share her knowledge and best practices with peers at four universities. Sonya presented on USC’s model of providing university-wide placement support via a central team. She highlighted new product features and how they apply to various placement models. Representatives from local universities learned about time-saving features and functionalities that generally apply to any placement program.

Looking Ahead

Ms. Smith and her team continue to look at expanding the use of Sonia across the university for further improvements to processes and stakeholder experiences. She is currently looking into integrations with other key components of the campus technology ecosystem.