Blog

18/10/2022

Creating a Connected Experience for Students

Salesforce has just come out with the Third Edition of their annual Connected Student report. It's a study from 2.600 students and staff from around the world, with strong representation from European countries. I recommend reading it, the report has great insights for people in the sector, but there are two key findings listed that especially got me thinking and writing.

  1. Belonging is the foundation of success. The first few weeks at the campus are so important. According to the connected student report, students who have a great onboarding experience are 35 times more likely to have a great overall university experience.
  2. Students want holistic support from application to graduation. A whopping 36% of students said they need more well-being resources, and 54% said they need more events and activities to connect with peers. Students say that social events, more than classes, help them feel like part of the university (reminds me of something I heard from the CIO of one great university – for them, it’s one community of people, there’s no separation of staff and students!)

Both points to me speak about the need to connect, to be welcomed into the community, and to be supported. We are social beings and crave connections, in our own in various kinds of ways and at various levels.

So then the thought that came to me was, how could technology help?

How Can Technology Help with Building Connections

Technology when used incorrectly sometimes almost feels like some kind of antonym to actual connections with others. This is often because of too much focus on tech for tech’s sake, instead of focusing on the experience and outcomes. Used correctly, tech can augment the analogue experience and help connect people. Thinking about this reminded me of some work we had done for a university around student lifecycle and how you could support the student during onboarding.

We worked with the staff and students to identify what had been the pain points of the onboarding experience. There were many lessons learned, but ultimately, the first few weeks are a very hectic and often confusing experience. There are so many things to do, to remember, checklists to go through, events to attend, registrations, logins and more. And for the student, there isn’t one service that would cover all. No one service would offer a guided process on onboarding, where all your important contacts like your peers, your tutor, and your student support, would be at your fingertips.

No, most often these things are spread over disparate systems, in the case of the extracurricular and peer bonding activities maybe even completely outside university systems on social media or other apps. And let’s be honest, the first weeks are just as much about getting to know your peers as it is about getting to know the university as the institution, place of study and where you’ll be spending much of your life for the next few years. And for that, you need consistency. You need clarity. You need help, especially if you’re from a background where you have no family who’ve been to university, and who can tell you how it all works and what to do. A service that could help with all that would be great, right?

An App For One Connected Experience

We had our hypothesis – that technology could connect people. Now it came the time to test it. Through design and proof of concepts, we conceptualised and finally realised a prototype to see if you could help the student by doing two things.

First thing – build a university app that can combine data from across your systems (LMS, SIS, etc.) into one place and turn that into insights and actions, such as what is your study plan, how many points you have, how are you doing vs your plan, meetings, group work, tasks and so on. Implement SSO so that you only have one login as a student across services and create a seamless experience (think *The* University app). Bring in services such as academic advising so you can contact your support team, tutor, professor etc. from the app, see when they’re available, and book a time for a call or a meeting. And finally, bring in the communities around students by creating a space where they can interact, such as seeing what events are coming up from the students and signing up.

Simply put – remove the silos across the experience, services and data concerning the student and create a seamless experience for them to engage with the university as a whole. Make sure your service desk and faculty use the same system in their work, and you combine the analogue and the digital experience into one Connected Experience. The student only has one place to go to access all their data, services and the digital academic experience. No matter the channel the student uses to engage, their data is always up to date, and the experience is always personal. Sounds brilliant!

A Personalised Onboarding Journey

The second thing we investigated was if we could automate the onboarding journey to university, focusing mostly on the first weeks and months at university when you’re still a bit disoriented and need more guidance to gather your bearings. The idea was that in many cases the onboarding is still today very manual and impersonal. You get mail or an email, or both, that has your name on it, but that’s about as personal as it gets. When you get to the university, you still need to keep a pretty close eye on your to-do list and manage that, and it can get hectic. But what if it didn’t need to work like that? What if you could create personalised messaging and content from the welcome letter to the onboarding checklist, curated event invites and easy-to-understand tasks that you need to complete and when you need to complete them? It could be stress-free, a breeze, and it could be on your mobile, in the One University app!

Together with staff from the university we created concepts and mapped the journeys around several processes, like application acceptance letters, tutoring, course reminders and general informative newsletters. What we found was that many of these processes are often very straightforward, which means that they can be automated. What’s more, when the processes are automated, with the right tools, the experience can be personalised. It could be digital. It could work seamlessly with the app on your phone, with push notifications to notify you when you have a deadline approaching on an onboarding task, or if you’re a tutor, to notify you that one of the new students from your group hasn’t responded to your invite for a group meet at the cafe to socialise and get to know each other. As I said, the tech is there just to help you, not take over the very analogue experience of coming to campus.

As a final proof of concept, we built a prototype where you would have one app to engage the university, that was personalised around your student lifecycle. The content and services of the app change depending on if you were an applicant, a first-year student, or alumni. It would always focus on what is most relevant to you, supporting you in your journey through university.

Imagine if…

Let’s describe a possible journey.

You’ve downloaded the university app to see the status of your application, so you get the news first via a push notification on your phone. You’ve been accepted to the university. What joy! You will get an acceptance link in your email as well, and the beautifully crafted acceptance letter will come via mail, so you have options on how to answer, but the stress is already gone and you can focus on what’s coming next. On your app, you can accept the offer, because it has a strong identity verification setup. Your applicant profile is updated to an admitted student, and once you re-login to your app you notice the change.

“Congratulations on your choice! Welcome to the university!”

Warm, fuzzy feelings. You’re in! You notice the user interface is different. It now highlights a few new things. Your Onboarding Journey, an overview of key dates and events you need to know. Your Onboarding Tasks, are a checklist of things you need to do, tied into the schedule so that you know exactly what you need to do and when, and where you need to be. And it’s all on your phone, so you will get push notifications to ensure you don’t miss anything. A few other things are there as well as you scroll the app. There’s a knowledge base that you can access to familiarise yourself with things in the academic world. There’s your student success team, the people who will help and guide you through your academic onboarding and journey, such as your tutor and the academic support staff. You can contact them via the app or book a time to have a chat. There’s also a chatbot you can engage that links back to the student support team and can help you find answers or pull in a person from the student support team as required. All that you need is here, in one place, at your fingertips.

One of the tasks on your list is to check if you want to join your tutor and the rest of the group for a soirée. The invitation is personalised for you. With a smile, you accept. It’s going to be a great year.

Kari Poutanen

Global Industry Lead, Education

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