Top 5 Tips for Improving the Student Experience

student exp

It sounds simple, but asking and involving students in how technology could support them in their studies means we’re actually giving them what they want and need. If students don’t have a positive and enjoyable experience, which they believe meets their needs and offers value for money, a college or university is likely to notice a fall in applicants and reputation over time.

So how do we take steps as we continue to improve the university students’ experience. Through various conference sessions over the years, conversations with educators, listserv observation, as well as reading research and published articles on the topic, I have found the following tactics common among educators who have been most successful at involving their students in the process of learning.

1: Clarifying roles of engagement

It’s a tricky question…how should we view our students…as customers, clients, partners or all of these?

I don’t know the answer, but I may venture to say we could view them with a bit of a mix of all of the above. I think students need a voice and need to know how they can use it to its best effect. There are a multitude of opportunities on campus for students to enhance their university experiences, but a need for effective communications to explain those opportunities exists. We need to make it as easy as possible for students to engage.

Customer feedback channels are essential to maintain satisfaction in certain aspects, but for those interested in playing a more active engagement role, it is important to explain opportunities offered by becoming a student body rep, standing for student union posts or contributing to partnership projects. These students can give you a way in to the student environment and are often helpful in understanding your students’ needs.

2: Taking the student voice seriously

We should not underestimate the benefits of a good student survey. Not only does this allow us to see the areas that require improvement and consider the needs of students, but we realize through these efforts where and how to better focus efforts.

Some institutions have internally and externally (seeking feedback on the content of the survey from other institutions) refined a student satisfaction survey over several years.  Some have even gone as a far as to find ways to personalize each survey so that each student answers questions relevant to his/her studies. They include closed questions, which act as prompts for open questions focusing on the best and worse parts of their experiences. Such tactics also more deeply engage students in their experience, forcing them to reflect, and encouraging them to fill out/submit the survey.

Combining and analyzing these survey findings with any other student feedback data then ensures that the best steps are taken to meet student needs. It is important not to just listen to students but to implement some change so that they know their feedback is being taken seriously and/or explain a plan for future change.

3: Understanding sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction

University operations are highly dependent on one another and deciding how best and where to intervene to improve the student experience can be challenging.

It’s going to be important to employ feedback mechanisms that allow you to uncover real problems. Through their use of data collection, course surveys, and alumni surveys, some institutions have found that the root cause of dissatisfaction to be undergraduate curriculum. For them, the offers had grown more complex over time and made it difficult to implement consistent improvements for all students. To improve the student undergraduate experience, simplification was proposed, which would necessitate a re-write of the entire undergraduate curriculum – a big undertaking and project in and of itself, but at least the problem was determined.

4: Being bold…systemic change requires courage

“We can’t change anything because we’d have to change everything.” Does this statement sound familiar?

Once you uncover a true problem, like curricular confusion among undergraduates, we must start down the road of transformational change – and that, that can be scary and a lot of work.

But think of the payoff! A strong university reputation attracts students and research funding. These bring resources which, when deployed effectively, produce outcomes that further enhance reputation. Being a university unafraid of change and able to meet student expectations is a university that will enjoy a more positive reputation. The reverse of this brings a downward spiral of reputation and resource. Therefore, any changes you’re looking to implement must make exceptional use of scarce resources and actively manage your reputation.

Institutions that do not submit to the ‘we can’t change anything because we’d have to change everything’ mentality, take the bold step of saying ‘So let’s change’. If that means forming new committees, rallying administration internally, introducing new business processes, preparing plans/timetables, and exploring learner-centered technologies, then that’s what must be done.

5: Using technology to wrap the institution around the learner

For a lot of institutions, personalized student information, such as course load, assignment due dates, exams, office hours, professor assessment/feedback, evaluations, etc., are dispersed across numerous electronic or paper-based systems. If you explore using technology, you can better gather this information on each student’s behalf and present it via the web. Doing so will bring consistency to each student’s experience and more deeply engage them in their academic experience by wrapping the institution around the learner. That’s called being student centered. In addition to improved perceptions of course organization on campus, you may also soon find yourself seeing improved overall student satisfaction.

When we open ourselves up to tactics like this, we are opening ourselves up to the beginning of a journey – a journey to enhance the student experience at our universities. These five tips are offered not as the recipe for success, but as reflection points on our journey so far. In that spirit, I hope you find them useful!

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