Communicating with students

On 1 June staff from the University’s Academic Administration Division (AAD) shared their experience of communicating with students at a workshop of the Communications Officers Network. In this article Alun Edwards of Academic IT Services summarises the information that he gleaned from the event.

Communications channels

AAD uses a range of channels, including:

  • The Oxford Students website, which includes a Latest News page.
  • @UniofOxfordSI on Twitter, from which students can receive regular updates on student news and events, including links to .
  • Videos and podcasts such as the series Student life at Oxford.
  • Student News: newsletters emailed fortnightly to every student. Separate newsletters are published for undergraduate and postgraduates. Past issues are available in PDF format on the Latest News web page.
  • Preparing for Oxford: monthly newsletters which are emailed to students who have been offered a place at the University. Separate newsletters are published for undergraduates and postgraduates, and past issues are available in PDF format on the New students web page.
  • The Student Handbook: an annual publication of rules and regulations, formerly known as the ‘Proctors’ and Assessor’s Memorandum’ (PAM).
Screenshot of a tweet reminding students how to make sure they can vote in the EU referendum

A tweet from AAD reminding students to register to vote in the EU referendum

Communication is, of course, a two-way matter. Methods for collecting students’ feedback and views include:

  • Social media, through students’ tweets to, and retweets of messages from, @UniofOxfordSI.
  • Online surveys, primarily:
    • The Student Barometer, which collects data from students other than final-year undergraduates and other specific sub-groups. The Student Data Management and Analysis team in AAD publishes a summary of the Barometer data, and
    • The National Student Survey (NSS), which collects data from final-year undergraduates.
  • The Student Advisory Group: a pool of undergraduate and graduate students, from which focus groups can be recruited to provide direct feedback on specific projects or initiatives.

How

Sketch of a lady using a tin-can telephone with the string making the word NOTHING

As an AAD comms team member commented, ‘when comms are successful then we hear nothing at all.’ In other words, ‘no feedback’ from students can be ‘good feedback.’

In all their communications the AAD team takes the following into consideration:

  • timeliness of the information;
  • minimal duplication of messages from across the University’s central services;
  • brevity (students’ interest has to be piqued within 3-4 seconds at most); and
  • a consistent voice and flexible approach, addressing students directly in an official yet approachable voice and in concise, straightforward language.

Social media in particular gives an opportunity for instant updates and two-way engagement, and the website of the Public Affairs Directorate provides comprehensive advice on running social media channels.

Who from

In general, undergraduates are more likely to pay attention to messages sent by their college and tutors. If a message from elsewhere, e.g. IT Services, has not been endorsed or passed on by these bodies, there is a risk that the student will disregard it. The same goes for graduate students, for whom endorsement from their supervisor is key.

When

The optimal period for reaching students during each term is weeks 3-7: i.e. where feasible, avoid the busy times at the beginning and end.

Measuring engagement

AAD adopts the following methods:

  • Google Analytics
  • ‘Was this page useful?’ buttons at the foot of each web page
  • Oracle’s RightNow analytics tool
  • newsletter email tracking
  • social media tracking

Find out more…

If you’re interested in learning more from the workshop, slides and an audio recording from the day are available from the Public Affairs Directorate website.

The IT Learning Programme runs termly courses on Google Analytics. To express your interest in the half-day ‘Overview’ course, visit http://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/TWGA1. If you already know the basics, you can express your interest in the full-day hands-on course at http://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/TWGA2.

Image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 t s Beall and many others via Flickr.com

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