A new report by Jisc examines how existing software systems can improve the student journey and lead to better outcomes for both students and universities, such as boosting National Student Survey (NSS) scores and tackling low attrition rates.
Part one of the report looks at what student engagement is, why it matters, and describes the challenges, while part two covers the role of technology and key trends.
The report, Enhancing student engagement using technological solutions, was sponsored by Unitu - an online platform that helps universities and students’ unions collect and analyse student feedback in real time.
The report considers how the rise of personalisation, artificial intelligence (AI), learning analytics and increasing student preferences for mobile and cloud service, all offer opportunities for universities to improve their approaches to student engagement.
The study was compiled in response to growing evidence that students didn’t feel a sense of ‘belonging’ to an institution. The Student Academic Experience Survey 2021 and the National Student Survey (NSS) found fewer than half of students feel that their voice is heard and represented by their institution.
Sue Attewell, head of edtech at Jisc, says:
“Student engagement is an important, yet sometimes challenging topic for universities in the UK. The increased sense of ‘belonging’ that engagement typically brings is approached differently in each institution depending on individual elements such as the university mission, characteristics of the student body and commitment of staff.
“We hope this report will help universities to assess how they can harness technology solutions to improve engagement.”
Based on interviews with university leaders and technology pioneers, alongside case studies, the report highlights some current best practice as well as next steps universities need to take if they are to fully exploit technology-based solutions.
The chair of the report, professor David Maguire, interim vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex and former chair of Jisc, says:
“There is no lack of appetite across the sector for improving student engagement and using technology to do so. University leaders face a challenge in staying appraised of what technology really works, what’s good practice and what skills and capabilities are needed to make the most effective use of these solutions."
Successful examples in the report of how startups are helping include:
- Predictive analytics at Lancaster University
- Real-time estate management at the University of Northampton
- A peer-to-peer platform that connects prospective students with current students at Middlesex University
- A clinically managed online community where members anonymously support each other's mental health at the University of Manchester
- A cloud-based experiential learning platform at the University of Southampton Business School
Finally, the report recommends five steps university leaders can exploit the benefits of technology for student engagement more fully. By introducing a digital strategy, investing in technically capable staff and skills at all levels, sharing experiences and good practice, coordinating approaches to finding solutions where there are currently none, and empowering student experts.
The report was created in partnership with Emerge Education. Mary Curnock Cook, network chair at Emerge Education, says:
“We can’t outsource the student engagement challenge to technology, but we can augment and complement student engagement initiatives with tech. Using case studies and a market map, this report sets out how universities can dial up their effectiveness in this space.”