Universities, colleges and other learning providers are working round the clock to demonstrate the value of their support services to students. And yet research suggests that students may be missing out because they’re not visiting them or simply aren’t aware of them.
Allen Crawford-Thomas, e-learning adviser at Jisc’s Regional Support Centre (RSC) in the West Midlands, believes that there is often a cultural gap between students and staff that learning providers need to bridge. He says: “Some people may think ‘isn’t it easier to do what we’ve always been doing?’ But today's learners are used to multiple layers of information constantly streaming at them. They are very comfortable with audio and with film. They may want to receive information very differently from the way we’ve traditionally provided it.”
It can feel frustrating to work so hard to promote a service and then not see it used. But technology can help bridge the gap between support services and the students they’re designed to benefit.
Top ten tech tips for support services
Engagement works both ways so begin by reviewing your evaluation mechanisms – use our Evaluating Services infoKit for clarity. In particular, be aware of the limitations of surveys. At Cardiff University they run fun and friendly feedback days in library foyers.
2. Connect online
Provide a variety of possible ways for individuals to connect. At East Riding College in Yorkshire they have even created their own Facebook app to promote courses, as you can read in this case study.
3. Build Facebook groups
Consider using a Facebook group; start with those who are using the service, and then build up.
4. Look for the latest trends
As Facebook uptake slows, Christa Appleton from Jisc’s RSC West Midlands says that institutions should identify which sites learners are turning to. Is Pinterest cool in Plymouth? Is Instagram used in Ipswich? A number of further education providers including Newcastle-under-Lyme College, Burton and South Derbyshire College and The Henley College now use Google + to connect with their students.
5. Promote your social media
If you already use a social media account, promote it. Students may be unaware of social media accounts used by their institution, as this Guardian article suggests.
6. Use your students’ union
Get their union on board to help promote your support service and work with them to understand what students need.
7. Flip the service
You may need to consider what it is about the service that isn’t working for students – the opening hours, the accessibility, the speed. Encourage a dialogue that fosters genuine openness to new ideas from staff and students. Even if you can’t make the changes the students want to see you can begin to understand the gaps.
8. Engage everyone
There is some evidence that students from lower socio-economic groups and “non-traditional” students may access support services less often, despite the important role that services such as study skills workshops can play. Be aware of where your non-traditional or distance learners are, physically and emotionally. A recent survey of seven HE institutions by the Equality Challenge Unit found a gender difference. Men appeared to be more reluctant to self-refer even to non-academic services and more likely to wait for an additional prompt like being referred by a member of staff. Work with your equality and diversity team to understand the needs of under-represented groups and how your service can become more accessible to them.
9. Exploit augmented reality
This is adding virtual audio or video to a real object – such as a poster that triggers a smartphone to play a video. This technology has been deployed by Walsall College and South Staffordshire College to bring practical demonstrations to life, mainly for learning. But it also helps students engage with information that could be easily passed over, like the location of fire exits and safety signs. Why not think about using this technology to add interest to learner satisfaction surveys or open day information?
10. Anytime, anywhere access
Allen Crawford-Thomas recommends: “ Empower the learner – putting resources online allows them to be accessible whenever students need them.”
This article originally featured in issue 40 of Jisc Inform (via the Wayback Machine).