The End User

by Kristen Abell

Recently I changed jobs to work with websites and online presence for student affairs at my university. In my brief time in this position, I have already learned A LOT – and I’m still learning new things daily. But one thing that I’ve learned has me, well, not completely surprised, but definitely frustrated.

Student affairs has forgotten for whom they create their websites. (Okay, to be fair, not just student affairs, but thisĀ is a student affairs blog, so I’m focusing on that).

As we’ve met with various clients and website managers, I hear many of the same things: “We think this would be really cool.” “Can we add a slideshow? We want to make it look like that website.” “We want the latest look on our website.” We, we, we – well, you get the point.

In all the meetings that I’ve had with folks, I almost never hear anything about the end user – the students. How would a student use your website? Why are they coming to your site? What do they need to get from your site? None of that is even considered a majority of the time.

Have we forgotten that students are our audience, our clients, our reason for being here? Every time I have to remind someone about that (and then continue to be ignored), I have to believe that to a certain extent we have. Or maybe it’s just when it comes to tech. Every time I see a new social media account pop up when the user clearly hasn’t learned how to best engage students through the other three accounts they have, I start to think that when it comes to technology, we just want the latest thing, students be damned.

What do you think? Has technology blinded us to how to best serve students online? Are we so intent on having the newest, the best, the coolest that we’ve forgotten that students just want the easiest way to find and use our services? Have you noticed this at your institution?

The End User

Blog Prompt Monday

We’re back to reflecting on that fabulous field of student affairs – and why we love it like we do.

Tell us about a special moment with a student that highlights why you work in student affairs.

We can’t wait to hear these stories – and tell our own! These are the things that really make us love our jobs. Remember to post your response in the comments below with a link to your blog, as well as tweet it out using the #sawomenblog hashtag. Who can’t use more good student stories in our field?

Blog Prompt Monday

How to Communicate with Students

Lately at my university, there have been many conversations regarding how to communicate effectively with students. In an effort to reduce costs, we have moved predominantly to email-only communication with students regarding their educational process at the institution. The problem? Research continues to show us that students don’t really check their email.

My personal experience trying to communicate with students about the housing application/assignment process confirms that students don’t check email. Furthermore, I’m continually frustrated to see Joe Shmoe’s email addresses very clearly a parent or family account. Then, when Joe Shmoe doesn’t have all the information he needs to make informed decisions about his housing, he has the audacity to get mad at me for not giving him the information! It’s the epitome of a lose-lose situation.

So if you can’t get students to check their email (or provide you with one they actually use), how can you communicate with them? Many universities have moved to utilizing social media in creative ways to communicate with students. Creating a Facebook or Twitter account is an excellent start at providing general resources and information for students. This is great if you actually check those accounts, and open up a dialogue with students. Creating an account and then never posting anything or answering questions from students could end up as more of a detriment to your reputation than an asset.

There are even some universities that create an innovative social media platform for their students. The University of Florida, for example, created Gatorspace as a place for incoming and current Gators to connect and build relationships via the Social Text platform. Gatorspace is still relatively new, but has provided an innovative opportunity for University of Florida students to make connections with the university before they even attend their first class.

What other options are out there, especially if you don’t have the money to invest in your own social network?

Whatever you do, make sure to provide a number of outlets for students to receive important information from your university, so they are able to make informed and complete decisions about their educational experience. Don’t rely solely on one medium or another to connect with students. It’s important to provide a variety of avenues for students to connect with staff and student leaders from your university while they are making important decisions about where they will eventually attend college. It also never hurts to pick up the phone and give students a call every now and then, to see if they have any questions about the process. Taking that extra step to connect one-on-one with students may just help them choose your university over that other one that’s also courting them.

So what tips do you have for effectively communicating with college students?

How to Communicate with Students