May 19, 2014
Today’s college students arrive on campus with an average of seven devices. Eighty percent of these students will carry and use a mobile phone during every waking hour of the day. So, how do you navigate all of this screen mayhem to reach students where they are…eyes to the screen? That’s the challenge we’re addressing at Campus Quad. Working with both top mobile engagement industry leaders and trailblazing innovators in higher education, we’re defining a framework for mobile engagement that is based on communication channels that capture students in their “always connected” environment, in real-time.
Our mobile communication app and platform has been prototyped, piloted and is now in beta at leading institutions across the U.S., including Daemen College, Georgetown University and Stanford University. We’ve learned a lot through these implementation phases and continue to make new discoveries every day through our power users – students, faculty and administrators. Together, we’re identifying mobile student engagement best practices for student services practitioners.
Below are some of our key learnings to date:
1. Real-time trumps email, listservs and paper
Universities often rely on these relics as the main communication channels to reach students. These methods feel cumbersome, slow and irrelevant to today’s app-driven student so they opt not to engage. On average, less than 15% of emails are actually opened by students and we can expect that rate to further plummet. Students have vacated their in-box and jumped to real-time mobile communication tools such as Campus Quad and others like Snapchat, WeChat, or GroupMe to help navigate their academic and social day with greater relevancy and ease. To give you further perspective on the progression in this sector, think about how paper “snail” mail was replaced by email, how email and the inbox is being replaced by chat, how desktop software is being replaced by cloud-based software, and how the mouse click is being replaced by tap navigation. Some of these waves of change happened faster than others, but mobile technology is by the far the most sweeping in its adoption. Today, more than 76 percent of undergraduates own smartphones and access apps (not the Web) 3.5 hours per day. The decision to embrace mobile communication to effectively engage with students in real-time has never been more important.
2. Flipped student services is the new paradigm
The days of students standing in line, making appointments, and traipsing across campus to see an advisor are short-lived. For example, at Stanford, practitioners are flipping from advisor to coach by creating community meet-ups in student residence halls, campus coffee shops, and food spots. The co-location of coaching services outside the traditional office coupled with the delivery of real-time content in fields that interest students for internships and jobs creates stronger communities and builds the knowledge students need to be successfully placed. Counselors get the word out to students by creating and broadcasting a mobile event flyer that provides details about the upcoming meet-up. Mobile-first engagement enables them to promote the event, track attendance and receive vital feedback on services. It marks the first time career services has a way to effectively monitor and assess the quality of their programs, staff and student engagement outside of traditional advising offices hours.
3. Visual is the new language
Think twice before you hit “send” on your next communication to students without an image. A picture is worth a thousand words and critical to getting students’ attention in a media saturated world. But it’s not enough. The most relevant images are those communicated by their own community, hash-tagged with a point of view, tied to an interest community, and geo-tagged to a campus location. For example, instantly sharing a quick snap that captures a fun dorm floor event is much more compelling than sending an email in an effort to convey the same message. Visual-first, real-time mobile communication engages students providing greater context, and building more connected student communities.
4. Hyper-local environments are where communities are established
When it comes to community, location matters. The living environment is the landscape where students enter into their college experience, yet it remains largely devoid of communication and assessment tools to measure student engagement, satisfaction and success. We’re finding that students like to share their floor and dorm spirit and experience via visual expression. Staff can then draw upon community connection to create conversations with students, ask student opinion and create greater awareness of programs and services.
5. Interests drive engagement
Grouping students by their interest is an age-old practice in education, whether it is team sports, the chess club or a sorority. Students build confidence and community in smaller groups who share their passions. Beyond email list servers, however, most university practitioners don’t communicate with students on this fundamental level. Instead, students are barraged with daily emails that feel irrelevant to them. Campus Quad enables universities as well as students to create interest-driven communities that provide an on-ramp to follow groups that are most pertinent to students’ daily life. Early engagement rates within the platform have reached up to 70 percent showcasing what drives students to seek out, participate in, and provide feedback on campus activities and programs.
6. Student services are 360
Early engagement data has also shown that students have a keen interest in the following: campus food venues, the recreation center, health and wellness, dining services, residence halls, the bookstore, and other relevant services. Students are busy navigating their day that breaks down to: eating, studying, hanging with friends and sleeping. They’re pragmatic and efficient in their choices and want to get connected to university resources that help fulfill these needs.
7. Information plus social media equals mobile student engagement
Today’s mobile menu is brimming with a social app du jour. While social media is a great way to connect students to each other, it falls short in the area of campus resource awareness. We’ve learned that what students really want and need is relevant campus information to navigate the chaos of college life. They’re faced with a daily tidal wave of choices and often make decisions without the benefit of knowing what is accessible to them via incredibly rich campus resources. Implementing a mobile-first strategy gives universities the ability to fuel students’ exploration and discovery of academic and campus life services.
8. Real-time data can improve resource utilization and help assess program outcomes
We work with many departments and divisions within a given university and across the board practitioners are able to clearly articulate their goals to better serve students. We often hear “we want to meet students where they are.” What these practitioners are lacking, however, is critical data that can help them better understand students’ needs, opinions, motivations for engagement and more. We’ve discovered that tagging our photo flyers (in 120+ ways) can yield vastly different slices of the data resulting in the potential for deep analytics -- or, in more simple terms, “aha” moments. For example, a career services counselor may be interested in monitoring student RSVP and check-in data for workshops and meets-ups at-a-glance while the head of the center for alcohol policy may want to know what students learned from participating in events sponsored by their department. This instantly accessible engagement data related to student participation at events as well as their feedback to brief surveys provides both quantitative and qualitative data to frontline practitioners to assess the effectiveness of programs to positively influence student learning. This data allows campus leaders to test hypotheses about how to reach students in real-time and how better to serve their needs.
9. Mobile engagement is the gateway to connection and confidence
Talk to any high school teenager and you’ll quickly realize you’re conversing with a mobile aficionado. The threshold to all of their experiences is mobile-driven. They chat, text and browse their way into every circumstance and experience. By 2016, mobile devices are expected to outnumber all other devices. So imagine this next set of students landing on the doorstep of colleges and universities nationwide. Universities need to develop a mobile communication strategy now that both empowers students and practitioners to succeed within the campus community.
10. The time is now
Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by learning a new technology. Mobile is the native language of today’s and tomorrow’s students. They don’t go anywhere without their smartphone. It is the first thing they reach for upon waking up and the last thing they put down before falling asleep. It is their “what’s happening now that I need to care about” lifeline. It is critical that universities become fluent so they can shape and influence their mobile campus culture.
Data-driven analytics captured from mobile communication platforms such as Campus Quad allow universities to deliver a superior college experience, putting every student on a trajectory for success. At the end of the day, however, it is not as much about the technology, but rather amplifying what is good about your campus and putting all the richness it has to offer at students’ fingertips.