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Webcast Blog 5: Ensuring successful student engagement

June 2, 2022
Webcast Blog

Welcome back to another student experience episode! In this week’s episode, we’ll be covering a new topic; how to ensure successful student engagement at your university.

Want to listen to this topic instead? Click here to check out the webcast.

Why are so many institutions not able to offer a vital engagement phase to all students? And what do we even mean by an ‘engagement phase’?

When discussing the engagement phase, we refer to the period when students are looking to find their ‘spot’ within the university. This can be on their first day of arrival, their first year, or their entire student life. This can be different for every student, but the most essential point is that every university should have an engagement plan to help students connect with their university whenever they are ready for it.

There are several reasons why many universities struggle with offering such a plan.

Firstly, communication with students is not effective, and the gap between institutions and students can grow unnecessarily in this critical phase of education. As we have mentioned in so many of our earlier webcasts, communication is crucial. If the tone, channel, approach, or message aren’t conveyed properly (i.e., in the form that students would like), they will not engage. As the engagement phase can be a very long period and doesn’t just happen overnight, it’s always important to consider how your communication strategy should not just be aimed for the short run. For instance, if you send regular messages to students about the support that is there for them, they may not respond instantly. After some time, however, they will start to appreciate that their university is looking out for them and they may start becoming more engaged. These long-run effects may only be visible when students have already graduated and become alumni. If their general impression of the university was that they were always approachable, supportive, and encouraging, they may even reach out to you and only become engaged at that stage.

Secondly, despite universities typically offering a lot of support, it can be extremely overwhelming for students. There is so much going on, it is so decentralized and there tends to be an overload of rules and regulations that dictate who can make use of what support and when. As mentioned in webcast episodes 1 & 2, determine which students require which support on the data you are actively collecting. Then announce this to students using the appropriate communication strategy. If students are supposed to search for the support they require themselves, the chances of them actually receiving this support will drop drastically (as students tend to not follow through on this as much).

Lastly, socializing is often not prioritized at a university. Despite a happy social life being one of the most important determinators of health, many universities focus too much on only promoting academics or their own agenda (e.g. university events). To actively promote students from getting engaged outside the classroom, make sure you offer the right tools for students to discover the social activities that match their needs. It should not matter which event a student decides to join, as long as they are deciding to join something. Again, communication is key here. For instance, promoting an event by sending an email to all students may already make the event seem less ‘cool’, simply because it’s their university that’s promoting it.

Based on these learnings, we have come up with three potential solutions that may help your institution:

  1. Communicate with students continuously. Easy access to student counselors could prevent various issues that students may face at the beginning of the engagement phase such as worries about the educational content, level of workload, exams, and social life. With the help of accessible student counselors, these doubts could be eliminated early in education. Do bear in mind how you communicate this though.
  2. It can be beneficial for universities to have open communication on what type of ordinary and extraordinary support they are able to offer to their students to keep them motivated and engaged. Whether it’s an occasional visit from field specialists, free external lectures, or other educational material that can provide additional knowledge and assurance that they have made the right choice of education. Keep access to this support simple, however (don’t add too many rules & regulations). It can also be done by providing positive verbal feedback and creating relevant positive experiences that your students enjoy. Again, do bear in mind how you communicate this though.
  3. Encourage your students to socialize repeatedly during school activities and outside of school. This can be done by creating group assignments, program events, and overall university events. Socializing students can provide added benefits not only to their personal well-being but also increase their motivation to study. You probably already guessed; do bear in mind how you communicate this though.

Our suggested first step to start with this; ensure you have enough resources to create a student engagement plan/phase. Similar to the way the alumni department engages graduated students, and the admission department engages incoming students, make sure the engagement department takes care of all students who are currently studying. Using the tips & tricks from earlier webcasts, make sure you develop an engagement strategy that utilizes real-time data, strong communication, and simplicity.

How many students are your university feel like you are truly engaging with them?

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