5 Considerations to Optimize Texting for Your Higher Ed Pandemic Communications
Back to “Normal”? 5 Considerations to Optimize Texting
The past year and a half are a blur and texting has been a magnifying glass for students on what they need to do and for institution professionals to understand what students need now. With the talk about a return to “normal,” texting has become even more critical to supporting students through the noise and distraction of reorienting themselves to campus.
Changes: Structural or Temporary
For some students, a “return to normal” means barriers returning that were removed at the outset of the pandemic. Continuing to text reaffirms that an institution has made structural changes, not temporary ones. Now is the time to refine the messaging to hone in on information that needs to be disseminated and collected.
College is the poster child for “change is hard.” Creating a consistent experience and expectation for your students, learning from COVID lessons, is one less change for students. They have gotten used to virtual support for transactional items. This enables in-person opportunities to be about building much deeper, value-added connections that don’t translate as well through technology.
There were many COVID inspired changes that made many students, especially those with invisible disabilities, find great success. By continuing virtual opportunities to receive information and get support, institutions are supporting inclusivity by all student types.
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The rise of the delta variant has signaled that we aren’t on a one-way path to a post-COVID experience. On-grounds events and the logistics of attending class (with enhanced covid protocols) are more complex than simply logging in from home. Are masks required? Can I opt to be online? Are there capacity limitations? Keep your students updated with just in time information, identify who has made a change in plans, and create a path to alternative support.
So much of college is about building confidence. Use texting to help students feel comfortable and confident that they are walking into situations with all of the information they need to be successful. Keeping the texting channel open for on the fly “dumb questions” ensures that students ask those questions, get accurate information, and provide insight on what those questions are to proactively address in the future.
So many learning options, more complex support options
Students have never had so many socially acceptable versions of learning. This flexibility in learning options creates the need for more mobile and connected communication engagement with resources on campus. The more self-directed learning that is enabled, the less time faculty have in person, or even on zoom, to reiterate to students what they need to know to be successful in the course.
In turn, the types of resources available to students can feel more complicated. While we aspire to give students options, sometimes a directive to go to one place and then shift based on feedback is more effective. For example, driving students to the tutoring center on campus, but when they respond that they don’t have time or ability to get to campus, push them to tutor.com.
So many students, so few staff
Back to campus means “I’m back to getting lost in the mix.” Many campuses have oversubscribed this year to make up for last year. Simultaneously, many schools have fewer staff hours to deal with the influx questions and policy changes. Keeping a proactive approach to guiding students to resources based on outstanding to-dos with automation enables staff to focus on the students who aren’t able to navigate the standard processes.
Mental health and their Amazon/Uber consumer experiences can make students have little tolerance for delays and confusion. Activate the Virtual Advisor to answer redundant questions and guide students to the resource that will get them the information they need fastest. It is quite likely that they just want more 1:1 time with the professional at hand and that means that professional can’t be spending time dealing with basic information dissemination.
New career goals
Many students are rethinking work and work arrangements, as well as their designated choice of major or career path. Academic advising is going to have their hands fuller than usual as students want to process decisions, understand changes to their graduation plan and the costs associated with such decisions. 70% of all questions coming into advising are repetitive, registrar related questions --- date to register, how to change a grade type, etc. --- but the value of advising is these substantive conversations related to academic planning.
As students explore new options, getting information about events and opportunities to connect with alumni is good, but understanding if they are going to attend is crucial. Moving from telling students about events to confirming their attendance and sending a reminder will result in more students accessing these meaningful events.
Social capital building
One in three students showing up on campus are transfer students, over 50% of students are over the age of 25, more than 30% of students are first gen or Pell eligible --- these students need to have support and resources normalized. Normalization helps them understand what other students are doing, what they can expect, and how they will benefit from taking the action.
In many instances, sending a positive, encouraging meme that can elicit feelings of appreciation and knowledge that they have a team of people on their side and available to help. It is not uncommon for students to not respond to several outreaches and then respond to positive outreach with a question that is critical to their success.
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