By Damian Martina

Helping Unis Engage With Students When They Need It Most

Helping Unis Engage With Students

The current global pandemic has impacted almost every industry and our higher education institutions are in no way immune.

Without knowing the scale and longevity of the impact of COVID-19, university leaders have had to reimagine their learning offerings from a traditional face-to-face structure to online learning. With thousands of students under their watch, universities need to start considering how they can effectively communicate with students during this time of crisis.

In this article, we look at how you can leverage technology to make more informed decisions when it comes to your students’ mental health and productivity.

The three stages of dealing with sudden change

In my role as a Simplus higher-education specialist, I’ve observed a three-stage journey towards the light at the end of the ‘change tunnel’.

  • The first is what I call the OMG stage, when people struggle to understand what certain changes mean to their organisation.
  • The second stage is a time during which processes, structures and technologies are implemented in an effort to pin down the ‘new normal’. This is the stage most organisations are currently experiencing.
  • The third stage is when we think we’ve got everything under control and can begin to move forward with confidence.

However, the problem is that things are now changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. As soon as institutions adjust to a new set of requirements, the government makes a new announcement, and the change cycle begins again.

Given the nature of COVID-19, universities need to start asking themselves how they can be agile enough to deal with the rapid-fire changes posed by the coronavirus threat. You also need to know how to consistently, accurately and quickly communicate your action plan to your students across email, phone and text.

In my opinion, implementing an integrated technology platform is the only answer.

Technology is the key to engaging with your students

People are feeling increasingly disconnected from each other. Integrated platforms like Education Cloud or other CRM technologies can bring them together and, just as importantly, give you the data they need to ensure education standards continue to be upheld.

For example, video conferencing is a good way for people to feel more connected and improve communication. Additionally, if you’re using a CRM that integrates with a video-conferencing platform like Zoom, you’ll be able to see when a lesson started, who attended and who didn’t. Students who are absent won’t fall through the cracks.

CRM technologies come with a host of other add-ons as well, not least of which are integrated document collaboration tools – especially useful in a distance-learning environment.

Rose Fitz, a first-year student whose university was one of the first in NSW to begin shutting down campus and moving things online, says, “My tutors and lecturers have been really willing to find new ways to teach. I think it’s made a lot of people appreciate them more when they use technology to engage us.”

Understanding and responding to the mental health of your students

Students are almost invariably social creatures. Ever-increasing restrictions on movement, social distancing measures and studying from home are hugely impactful on their sense of well-being. Their mental health at this time is critical.

Technology allows you to quickly reach out to students to make sure they’re okay, assist if their motivation is waning, or establish if they need more help with their studies.

By analysing the data obtained through technology, you can then make smart educational and mental-health decisions – like reducing their workload or getting them involved in more online social activity – actions which can ultimately help them to make it through the semester despite the omnipresence of the new social landscape.

Fitz says, “I have seen other people whose mental health has deteriorated because they are used to seeing their friends as a way to feel supported and distract them from their issues. But a lot of my friends have started using the technologies the university has made them aware of, like Zoom, so we can have virtual get-togethers.”

Be ready to bounce back more quickly

The business impact to higher education institutions during this time is likely to be enormous. If your students aren’t engaged, they may drop subjects.

A recent insights article from McKinsey & Co called for universities to look beyond the immediate threat and to think about their long-term strategies for returning to normal.

Education institutions that use technology to engage their students have a greater chance of increasing retention. This will go a long way to minimising the financial impact of the coronavirus and allow universities to bounce back more quickly.

When we’re finally through all this, these universities might also be in a position to attract more market interest than ever before.

“Some students don’t think online learning is effective regardless of teachers’ efforts so they’re suspending studies until next year,” says Fitz.

“But I think going online has actually made the learning environment more diverse. You’ve got video chats and recorded lectures from a couple of years ago, and a lot of teachers are setting up online questions and breakout rooms. We’re being offered a lot of different resources. I have a lot of respect for the university’s response to the coronavirus threat.”

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