There is no question that UK higher education (HE) is changing. Conversations and essays about the importance of the student experience abound, but we can see it simply by looking at the different channels and evolving nature of student-staff interactions.
Student-focused HE is becoming just that: more focused.
And when the learner becomes the focus of the enterprise, everything supports the core endeavour of the university – to teach, learn and engage students, to equip them with the skills they need.
Robust student services
As the student experience becomes more important to a university – and in fact comes to offer a competitive advantage for those institutions that do it well – student services will continue to play an important role in student engagement, recruitment, retention, career advisement and success.
Digital tools such as social media sites and apps will be instrumental in this delivery, affording administrators a unique set of opportunities to communicate, connect and engage. Serving as interactive points of contact, these channels provide student services with numerous ways to reach students for content, orientation and community-building practices. It also allows administrators the chance to promote, lead, advise, network, teach and connect in educationally relevant ways.
Innovative organisational culture
In the past student services took place via brick-and-mortar means, such as face-to-face appointments on campus at an allocated time slot.
Today, students are on the go, always connected, and demanding to engage with their institution in a variety of ways. Student services that commit to using social media for engagement are automatically making a statement about ‘who they are’ in terms of organisational culture – as an institution that talks, listens and takes on board feedback from its students.
If you want to offer innovative and creative communications that reach students in social spaces, then you need to be using social media. Moreover, departments that create strategic communications plans that span digital channels will be poised to support students in all facets of university life, both online and in-person.
Where everyone is digitally capable
A wonderful side effect of having a robust student services social media effort is that both students and administrators will learn how to be much savvier with the tools.
Students in 2015 and beyond need to be digitally literate for when they make the step into the workplace. Personal learning networks between students, staff and administrators will create expanded opportunities for student engagement, knowledge and skills acquisition. When student services personnel utilise social media, they are showing students how to be professional via digital communications, and also helping them to build their digital skillset.
Increasing student literacy with all things digital, especially social media, can enhance employability. Digital literacy education at the university level should begin at induction and continue throughout a student’s HE journey. In particular professionals in career services as well as other functional areas should build up connections with students as soon as possible, so that they’re not only thinking about and developing skills for work when they’re about to graduate.
Making the time
Sometimes the most ‘engaging’ thing that a student services department can do is to answer questions or refer students to someone who can help them – simple, and if that’s what an individual learner wants, then you can quite easily meet this need. For more complex matters, even just having someone to talk to can help. It’s an invaluable service to offer.
A word of advice though: supporting students on social media requires consistency and time. Once you've got your community using social media channels for communications, it's crucial that enough time is allocated to maintain digital outreach. The worst thing would be to establish and not use them.
Whenever social media is used for student services communications, it's important to note that digital engagement needs to be part of a strategic communications plan. Yes, this is the second mention of the ‘plan’ in this post, and I must emphasise it.
Creating a plan for social media communications will focus your efforts on what you actually want to achieve, and allow for measurement of stated goals and outcomes. However, the plan will most-likely always exist as a living document as digital tools evolve, and ensure what you’re doing continues to be relevant.
The student experience
As this blog evidences, student services teams that capitalise on the reach and utility of digital channels have an opportunity to enhance their work, create campus connections, and lead the way for successful student experiences.