Meeting the Communication Needs of Students

Submitted, Cindy Crossman, Mount Allison University, AACUSS Health Divisional Rep

Communication is essential for the translation of knowledge, particularly in the academic setting. Yet, how are we, as student service providers effectively communicating with the demographic we serve?

According to an article written by David Baez, entitled, “How Campus Communication Technology Works”, today’s generation of college and university students are among “the first to take technological innovations such as e-mail, text-messaging and wireless Internet capability for granted”.

“As university administrators try to keep pace with the expectations of these students who've grown up using the Internet, they’re transforming the college campus into a wireless environment that integrates the latest communication technologies into the classroom and into student life”, according to Baez.

We work with students, we collaborate with students, and we communicate with students; if we are going to do this effectively, we need to engage students in such a way that is familiar to them.

In 2015, the University of Waterloo conducted a survey looking at preferred methods of student communication. The survey had 1,199 student respondents and explored the following questions:  
1-How do Waterloo students want to be communicated with?
2-How are Waterloo students using email and social media?
3-Who do Waterloo students consider an important source of information?

Highlights from this survey include:

“Waterloo students consistently identify email and social media as their preferred communication channels.

The use of multiple channels to communicate key messages helps ensure your messages will be heard by Waterloo students.

Waterloo students are equally likely to read their emails on a mobile device or a personal computer.

Waterloo students identified email subject and sender lines as two motivating factors for reading an email.

Waterloo students identified that their email reading style is ‘skim and scan’ and in an email, they prefer to have links to further information.

The majority of Waterloo students are using social media, but platform preferences and activity levels vary amongst different groups.

The majority of students consider their professors or program coordinators and academic advisors as sources of important information.” (University of Waterloo 2015)

In summary, based on feedback from the Waterloo student survey, as well as best practice in email and social media communication, Waterloo has created the following guidelines to ensure effective student communication.

·         Increase the likelihood that students will open, read and retain your messages by tailoring the email subject line

·         Meet student requests for concise, easy-to-read emails from their university 

·         Create a student-friendly social media strategy 

Therefore, no matter how many savvy or aesthetically pleasing posters are designed or flyers are distributed, we also need to be targeting our student group. This can be done by communicating effectively through email and social media using the guidelines suggested by the University of Waterloo.

Social media and technological innovation has opened the door to more effective engagement.  Instead of reaching out to students through passive programming, effective online engagement enables real-time feedback that is useful when connecting with students on projects outside the classroom. Therefore, while University Affairs staff may still need to maintain formal channels of communication, increasingly sophisticated messaging systems are becoming a preferred method of student communication. 

However, do not underestimate hands-on, face-to-face, or personal interaction. This method is still effective when seeking student involvement. At Mount Allison, sidewalk chalk messages are used frequently and do not forget about using humor in the media strategy- it works too! In conclusion, academic institutions can try different methods of communicating to students and figuring out which approach is the most effective.