A growing number of college students are working full time, caring for dependents, and taking classes online. And, in the era of COVID-19, they’re also dealing with anxiety about the future. To succeed in school and in life, they need campus support services that are more visible, flexible, and accessible.
By visible, we mean students should be able to easily find the right help at the right time without having to pore over your website or staff directory. By flexible, we mean they should have choices about how and when to make contact. And, by accessible, we mean virtual student services should provide equal access for students of all abilities. Here are 10 tips to make it easier for students to find and get help at your institution.
1. Vary your office hours.
For many students, 9–5 isn’t prime school time. They have jobs, kids, or other responsibilities that make it hard to connect during normal business hours. Not every advisor or counselor has to be available every day until 7 p.m., but you should experiment with staggered hours to accommodate more students. By leveraging data from your virtual student services platform, you can identify peak meeting times and adjust your hours to increase efficiency.
2. Use interactive contact cards.
It’s not enough for every instructor or staff member to be searchable in your online campus directory. The roadblock for many students is not knowing who to contact. Anyone on your team who provides direct student support should have an interactive contact card on your departmental website that displays their:
- Name and job title
- Phone number and email address
- Days and times of standing office hours
- Area of specialization (e.g., undergraduate advising for biology)
With a virtual student services platform like ConexED, you can also let students see when you’re online and give them the option to virtually “knock on your door” or schedule a meeting for later.
3. Allow students to self-schedule appointments.
Campus scheduling software integrates with your online calendar to enable online self-scheduling. It gives millennials and Gen Z—who’d rather not leave or receive voice mail—a way to schedule, cancel, or change appointments without calling your office.
On your public calendar, you can show the availability of your entire department and/or individual team members. When students request an appointment, they get an automated email notification with the date, time, and location of your meeting. This makes it easy for students to find time on your calendar and reduces the administrative burden for staff.
4. Offer virtual meetings.
Virtual meetings may be number four on our list of tactical tips, but they’re number one in terms of strategy. Research shows that increased contact with advisors helps improve retention and completion. But how do you increase contact for students who spend most of their time off campus—without sacrificing face-to-face interactions? The answer is virtual meetings.
5. And virtual drop-in meetings.
When students are on campus, they can drop-in on instructors and advisors during open office hours. Off-campus students need the same flexibility. In addition to standing times for student appointments, set aside time on your calendar for virtual drop-in meetings. An interactive contact card will show students when you’re online and allow them to reach out with the click of a button.
6. Welcome students in a virtual lobby.
For scheduled or drop-in students waiting for their turn, a virtual lobby mirrors a physical waiting area. It gives students a way to see their place in line, and shows staff how long they’ve been waiting. It also protects student privacy and security by creating a controlled process for admitting students to a meeting and getting their digital signatures on consent forms for FERPA compliance.
7. Handle quick questions via online chat.
Some students have quick questions that don’t require a meeting. From your interactive contact card, they can reach out immediately with an instant message. If their question requires discussion, you can request that they self-schedule a meeting (also from your contact card).
Additionally, for nonverbal students or those who prefer not to share video or audio during virtual meetings, you can use online chat as an alternative method of communication.
8. Use ADA-compliant video conferencing software.
Accessibility is why video conferencing apps like Zoom aren’t ideal for education. Your institution has a responsibility to create an equitable environment for students with disabilities, and that requires universal design features such as closed captioning and compatibility with major screen and text-to-speech readers.
9. Integrate your virtual student services platform and your LMS.
Beyond the benefits of aggregating data to help deans and directors make informed decisions, integrating your systems for virtual learning and virtual services helps students, too.
Embedding interactive contact cards in online courses makes instructors, tutors, librarians, academic advisors—or anyone students rely on for support—easier to find and contact. You can also customize course navigation in your LMS to include a dedicated button for your institution’s main student services website. Making campus services more visible online helps more students succeed online.
10. Ask students what you can do better.
At the end of every advising appointment, ask students to complete a brief survey. Include questions that allow them to rate the ease of:
- Finding the right person or campus department
- Scheduling, canceling, or changing their appointment
- Joining your virtual meeting
- Using the camera, microphone, text, or collaboration tools
- Getting the right help at the right time