Enhancing the Student Experience: Digital and Beyond
Two recent graduates share their insights on digital matters, the student experience and beyond.
- Involving students in the decision-making process helps institutions to continue improving their service
- Digital transformation helps to improve the student experience and it also impacts student lives within their life cycle at university
- With the rise of digital, institutions can adopt an omni-channel approach to improve student experience
As student expectations evolve and demands grow, higher education institutions are developing digital environments to meet students’ expectations and help them to progress during their studies and beyond.
While consumer industries are out there spending significant budgets conducting testing panels for new products and services, most institutions are rarely so fortunate. But why is that? Furthermore, with the rise of digital, how does it extend to supporting student wellbeing in addition to their academic experience?
As part of our Digital Transformation Series, we explore the student experience in the age of the Experience Economy. Increasingly, customer experience is dictating strategy - so how does this affect operations, capabilities and technology in higher education?
In this discussion, we hear from two recent graduates sharing their insights on digital matters, the student experience and beyond. The candidates include Louis Hale - Associate Product Specialist at Ellucian and former student at University of Greenwich, who graduated in 2016, and Aashna Bakshi - Associate Customer Success Manager at Ellucian, former student at Heriot-Watt University who graduated in 2017.
A Collaborative Approach
Both Louis and Aashna were instrumental in helping to contribute to and devise strategies at their former universities. As front-line users they brought first-hand experience to the plans their institutions were putting in place.
“I think it's super important to have student representation at that kind of level,” suggests Louis, who helped to set up the Mobile App Governance Group at University of Greenwich, and he was also the student representative on the IT Strategy Board.
Louis contributed to the decision-making process behind some key investments at the university, helping to feedback and assess the impact of these investments on the student experience. “Attending university and knowing that there are students advocating on your behalf is really important. There's no substitute to being represented by someone who's experiencing the same thing, advocating on behalf of 22,000 other students.”
“Digital transformation helps to improve the student experience, not just from an academic perspective, but also how it can impact student lives within their life cycle at university,” says Aashna, who was VP for Student Wellbeing at Heriot-Watt University. She sees digital transformation and technology from a university standpoint allowing institutions to take a proactive omni-channel approach in getting students from point A to point B through their university journey.
Both Louis and Aashna agree that something as big as digital transformation requires direct input from front-line users. Louis comments: “The probability of getting a product/service right is higher if you ask the people who are going to use them. I believe it is vital to have a student voice on matters that will affect students’ lives and their experience at university as they are going through this first-hand.”
University is an Experience
Putting the education aspect aside for a moment, albeit a key aspect, university is about the experience, and experiences matter.
For some, it goes beyond the fear of missing out; it’s why the majority of students opt to live on campus; it’s why teams, societies and student government play such a major part in university life. Experience is intrinsic to the choices that students make, and their overall university life.
As a student, Louis spent the first two years commuting and noticed what a difference that had on his experience: “As a commuter student I came in, did my classes and then left for the day. I simply travelled to campus to study, with no extra-curriculars, and this affected my overall commitment to the course and my place at the university.
“By contrast, in my second year, I decided ‘I’m going to throw myself into this a bit more’, so I joined the American Football team. My whole unique experience transformed overnight. I made friends, my work improved, and I even went on to be president of the American Football team and later the VP of student activities [sabbatical officer].”
At the same time, student behaviours are changing. For example, at Royal Holloway, University of London most of their student population now live within a two-hour journey time of the institution and so students will commute in. At the same time, many students now work part-time to supplement their finances, they want to engage in extracurricular activities and perform well in their studies. So as part of their Digital Futures strategy at Royal Holloway, their approach was about doing things in a way that maximises an individual student’s time on campus, and at the same time enable students to take the campus with them and access all the services they need when off-site.
The Great Enabler
“Technology is not the be all and end all. It's a catalyst. It's a change agent. It's an enabler.” – Louis Hale.
Having a digital first mindset when it comes to digital transformation is a great way to think about how digitalisation can enable greater things and deliver better experiences.
Voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa-enabled devices, are great example of how digitalisation can be brought into student spaces - such as dorm rooms.
“This is a digital space that’s really interesting,” comments Louis. “Imagine waking up in the morning, asking a voice assistant, ‘What classes have I got today?’ You get a list. ‘How do I get to them?’ You get a route. ‘What am I studying today?’ It plans out your books. We might not be there yet, but this is what digital transformation could do.”
Education is not the only thing that students experience when they're at university. There are non-academic aspects to consider as part of this student life cycle; the transition to university, their expectations and their experiences – especially in the first year – all have an impact on mental health.
The Universities UK Step Change programme sets out the case on why mental health should be a strategic priority for all higher education institutions. While Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia, has released a major report looking at the mental health of university students. But mental health is not confined by national borders. The GSA’s Student Wellbeing Matters study, which launched last year showed student mental health is an international issue.
It is important that students are being supported to fulfil their goals and ambitions as mental health can affect their relationships, their wellbeing, and it determines how they learn and their productivity while at university.
As we focus more on student experience, adopting an omni-channel approach allows a seamless experience between those online and in person; allowing the online to improve the in-person experience and gathering feedback at every step.
It’s becoming clear that a holistic approach is vital in enabling student success and institutions now have access to new and emerging technologies to support them.
“There is great potential to do a lot to help students, like student wellbeing for example,” Aashna points out. Increasingly, learning analytics is being used to support students, identifying those at risk and enabling early intervention. Having the right technology in place can help to pick up on the signs, but it's also having the right resources and people in place to use the technology to identify when a student is in trouble and act on it before it hits crisis point – an omni-channel solution that helps front-line users.
There’s no doubt that enhancing the student experience involves the collaboration of many roles and stakeholders and digital is increasingly playing a huge role. Institutions that adopt a more strategic approach and get their students engaged in their decision-making process, with direct access to their opinions and experiences, can only benefit from this as well as help them to continue improving their service.
Learn more about our Digital Transformation Series.