The importance of the student experience
A student’s experience at university or college can have a large impact on various aspects of their time in education. Having a good experience is important for both successful outcomes for students but also in maintaining student wellbeing. And it can also affect academic performance, retention and graduation rates, mental health and general wellbeing, and employability.
University dropout rates in the UK are reaching an all-time high, with a 28% rise over the last five years. So the question is, how can educators and institutions intervene with potential dropout risks, especially as external forces affect students’ wellbeing and their expectations increase?
This is especially important to consider now, as we’re likely to see the total numbers of the student body only grow. It’s predicted that by 2030, UK universities could see a 30% increase in applications, including growth from both UK and international applicants. Tackling potential issues that are causing high dropout rates now, while the number of applicants is increasing, will allow time for solutions to scale alongside the student body.
What contributes to the student experience?The student experience is rather a complex web of intertwining factors that affect how a student feels about their time at university or college. The six key aspects we’ve identified are: mental health support, wellbeing support, personal safety, extracurricular options, learning experience, and community-building. In this blog, we’ll lay out AI- and other technology-driven solutions for each of these key factors.
Six solutions for enhancing the student experience
- Mental health support
- Wellbeing support
- Personal safety
- Extracurricular options
- Learning experience
1. Mental health support
The transition from school to college or school/college to university can be a challenging time for students. It may be their first time living away from home, and they’re attending a new institution - likely without most of their close friends or support systems.
In fact, 36% of UK students experience their state of mental wellbeing change for the worse after starting higher education.
This only emphasises the importance of higher and further education institutions utilising platforms that provide mental health support services, so students know that they have somewhere to go for 24/7 support. When it comes to mental health, students really want a blend of digital and human interactions. Research in the US found that students welcomed the integration of digital mental health interventions, particularly ones that include human support.
2. Wellbeing support
Like with mental health support, platforms that provide resources such as videos or podcasts to encourage students to take care of their own wellbeing can be a solution to this key aspect of the student experience.
Many institutions, particularly universities, are using artificial intelligence technologies to support these platforms through the introduction of chatbots. These chatbots, such as Staffordshire University’s “Beacon” chatbot, help direct students to the support they need - whether that be online, digital support or in-person.
But there are also institutions that are taking AI technology further. Technology is key in ensuring that a student who might face difficulties gets the supportive intervention they need as early as possible. And AI technology can be used in such a way as to allow educators to know when to enact this human intervention for students.
For example, the Open University is using a type of AI - machine learning - to enable tutors to have greater visibility of students’ overall engagement and experience: the Early Alert Indicators (EAI) Dashboard.
The EAI dashboard aims to show the engagement and performance levels of students in their online studies, so tutors can be on hand to offer support in a timely fashion when required. Research conducted by OU staff has consistently indicated that the EAI approach has had a positive impact on the improvement of student outcomes.
3. Personal safety
An absolutely vital aspect of students’ experience at university and college is that they feel safe. And that they feel like they have the support and resources to turn to if this safety is threatened in any way.
Most universities and colleges handle this through the introduction of online reporting platforms, which can also direct students to resources or staff who can help. For example, the University of Surrey has a comprehensive online support system with options to report with contact details or report anonymously.
4. Extracurricular options
While a rather broad term with a variety of solutions, our focus for this blog is on extracurricular employability support. With employability listed as a top reason for students going to university and for further education college leavers completing their course, employability skills are vital across tertiary education institutions to help with enhancing the student experience.
Many universities and colleges are turning to technology to enhance their employability offerings. One such way is through institution-exclusive job application portals to streamline the application process for your students.
But perhaps the most impactful way to enhance employability training is by providing extracurricular training outside of core modules or regular classes. Immersive learning technology is a popular way to do this.
Coleg y Cymoedd in South Wales, for example, are utilising Bodyswaps to offer both staff and student employability skills training to help future-proof their abilities and prepare students for life beyond college.
5. Learning experience
It goes without saying that a student’s time in the classroom will have a great impact on their overall experience. And technology provides a variety of solutions to improve their learning experience. This can include the gamification of learning through online platforms like Mentimeter, which has been proven to enhance students learning experience, and an increased personalisation of feedback through AI-powered feedback assistants.
Another key solution that can often go undersung, however, is that of the flexibility of learning - namely through remote learning. Stirred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant educators had to search out remote ways of continuing to teach, offering remote learning options for a variety of reasons can help enhance the student experience as it allows students greater control over their own learning. This can be particularly vital for students who may not be able to regularly attend in-person lectures or classes due to a disability, for example.
Through a mixture of LMS integration, recording software like Panopto, and online assignments, learning can be done flexibly - enhancing the student experience and widening the accessibility of learning.
However, it’s important to remember that digital accessibility is not a given for everyone, and that extra support should be provided for those who may not have access to their own technology to support their learning and education.
Universities and colleges should aim to give off an overall feeling of community, ensuring that students feel supported by one another and by staff. Often this is done in-person, with institutions encouraged to host inclusive activities and events to help foster belonging.
But, equally, this can be done through technology. Use of social media, your institution’s website, an app - or all three - can help to create that same sense of community in the digital space.
A successful example of this is the University of Lincoln’s Student Life community. This was created by students for students, offering a chance for students to connect with one another both before they arrive at university and after. The online community also provides resources like podcasts, videos, and an app with content created for specific cohorts. The app includes mood trackers and journaling, to encourage healthy mental wellbeing habits, which loops back to our second solution.
These six solutions barely scratch the surface of what technology can do to enhance student experience in both further and higher education, especially with the rapid advancement of AI. And we are excited to discover further ways that AI and other new technologies can serve both students and staff and improve the overall educational experience.
Bodyswaps' Immersive Learning Solution
Looking for a way to provide extracurricular training to your students? Bodyswaps has a range of modules covering essential soft skills that will prepare students for the world of work. Download information about our Discovery Package today to learn more.