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Planning for Student Experience Services

Yesterday the Student Systems Management team met to review the draft “Strategic framework for Student Experience Services” and consider how our work can support this plan.  The discussion ranged over a number of topics.

One recurring theme was how to join services and information so that students can find what they need (sometimes even before they know they need it).  The recently released Path tool (requires login) is a great example of this: it shows students which courses they may need to take as precursors for others, while also showing them alternatives that may be available from other schools.  If the feedback option is enabled, they can see moderated comments from other students, such as recommendations to read a given book before starting the course.  This helps students navigate their way through the complex set of options available to them.  It also makes this information available to personal tutors, who otherwise may only have a partial view of the possibilities.

We can and should take this further.  For example, potential applicants to the university have to complete forms for scholarships which are separate to their application, and they have to hunt through the information on the scholarships web in order to find the scholarships for which they are eligible.  Why not have the IT system use the information on their application form to direct them to the appropriate scholarships?   On a more prosaic level, the web sites for student-facing services are currently quite disjointed and students need to know which departments to look for.  The web sites could be redesigned to give a list of all services available. 

This discussion led us to another theme.  How do we know what students actually want or need?  The University has several initiatives attempting to answer this question for different areas.  We, as IT professionals, need to be included in these discussions so that we can understand the requirements and make suggestions at early stages.  Then we need involvement from actual students to help design our systems so that they work to best advantage.

We also discussed how to support innovation.  The Path system is a great example; it was developed by student developers, supported by their school, and taken on board by IS.  Perhaps we could create programmes for students to propose changes to the support services, with a prize for the best idea and optional funding to take it forward.  We could support open data initiatives within the University, linked with the annual Innovative Learning Week.  And on our side, perhaps we could harness our developers’ knowledge by offering a similar competition to suggest ideas that would improve the student experience.

One final point to mention was the importance of steering suggestions through to actual changes.  There is a perception in some quarters that the University runs a lot of surveys and collects feedback but that people don’t see any effects as results of all this activity.  This makes them cynical and less likely to contribute feedback.  We need to extend the “you said, we did” mentality and consistently show how the feedback and comments lead to improvements in services (big or small).  We can help that by putting in a provision for small, quick changes in cases where the difficulties revealed can be easily addressed.

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