Musings on the student experience

SPONSORED: Michael Larsen, Chief Executive Officer at Studiosity, reflects on the Chartered Association of Business Schools annual meeting

I recently attended the Chartered Association of Business Schools annual meeting (#CABS2017) where the hot topics naturally included Brexit, meeting growing student expectations and the role of business schools in financially supporting their fellow faculties.

The theme of creating ‘work-ready’ graduates was also popular, with the strengthening of academic foundations being heavily emphasised. Similar to the role of fundamental research, core numeracy and literacy skills provide the bedrock that prepare today’s students for “jobs that do not yet exist, to use technology that hasn’t been created yet” as eloquently observed by Ann Pickering, HR Director for O2.

Ann Pickering, HR Director for O2 (Telefónica UK) shares insights into graduate recruitment

I was also fortunate enough to participate in a panel discussion on TEF’s aspects of quality. During which I noted that in Australia’s Quality in Learning & Teaching survey, student support and learner engagement have been (since inception) the lowest ranked aspects of students’ HE experience.

In the UK the challenge is not dissimilar with the most recent NSS results showing that ‘assessment and feedback’ is amongst the greatest sources of dissatisfaction. ‘Academic support’ fares somewhat better, but remains a full seven percentage points below the best performing metric.

In the UK the challenge is not dissimilar with the most recent NSS results showing that ‘assessment and feedback’ is amongst the greatest sources of dissatisfaction

Perhaps in an ideal world, students could have confidential access to their course instructors on-demand at any time of day or night, however this is unlikely to be practicable, economically viable or indeed popular amongst academic staff – no matter how determined a university might be to score highly on the ‘teaching intensity’ ratings in the new pilot subject level TEF.

ABOVE: Richard Smith, Senior Higher Education Policy Adviser, HEFCE and Michael Larsen, CEO, Studiosity discuss the TEF’s subject-level pilots

There are however several well-known success stories in the UK which may offer some guidance in regards to meeting student expectations. The ‘Norman Out Of Hours Helpline’ IT support service developed at the University of Northumbria has proven to be very popular, as has the ‘Questionpoint’ librarian chat service now in use at universities across the UK & USA.

Both services have succeeded by aggregating the demand of relatively generic enquiries from thousands of students to provide a service that is scalable, cost effective and adored by users for its timeliness and high quality.

At Studiosity, we have taken a similar approach regarding the provision of online, on-demand academic literacy support. We support over 350,000 university students at 25+ institutions across more than a dozen time zones. The impact of this personalised, just-in-time support, with a real person has been thoroughly researched, with compelling evidence of the positive outcomes upon academic performance and self-efficacy.

The work Studiosity is doing alongside university partners is viewed as a ‘Tier Zero’ level academic literacy support which complements existing academic skills teams. It also allows for the referral of students to campus support when more immersive assistance is required.

This approach has allowed university partners to significantly extend the reach of their academic literacy support in a manner that is scalable and cost effective, and ultimately provides a healthy return on investment.

Some universities may view commercial partnerships as ideologically problematic. Others conclude however that they are a contemporary solution that address a vexing issue, while allowing institutions to focus upon their unique strengths and differentiators within the academy.

In many cases, it is the business faculties who bring a clear-eyed and strategic view to the prospect of commercial partnerships, and are among higher education’s early adopters of solutions that can have a game-changing impact upon the student experience.


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