In the fall of 2020, universities are faced with an unprecedented challenge. In the midst of a global pandemic, the guarantee of a typical college student experience cannot be granted. With limited extracurriculars, heavily enforced social distancing measures and the potential inability to return to campus, the upcoming academic school year is full of uncertainty.
These changes to the environment coupled with the challenges students already face can lead to an onset of emotional distress – including lack of motivation, the feeling of being unsafe, and even depression. That’s why it’s imperative for college administrators to check in regularly with students and continuously experience the pandemic through their eyes.
In order to gauge how well pandemic communication strategies are being received, universities need a way to get in front of their students at scale and ask them specific, targeted questions that will ultimately drive insights that staff can act upon. With all that being said, these “gut checks” need to be executed in a way that feels authentic, provides students with real answers and will actually drive response rates.
These are the 5 key questions to ask college students about their experience so universities can gain actionable insights about their COVID-19 response plans.
1. Which of the following emotions have you been feeling over the last 4 days?
The most important component of the student experience while navigating COVID-19 has also been notoriously the most difficult to track. Students' emotional responses to the unfolding events and administrator's decisions based on those reactions can indicate a student's likeliness to return. It’s important that universities make students feel heard through direct conversation which can be difficult for institutions to scale.
To encourage ongoing conversations with students, it’s important to start with an open-ended question. Not only can this be more meaningful, but two-way communication provides deeper, more detailed data and can give universities the ability to take necessary targeted actions.
For example, an ongoing conversation in this inquiry flow could resemble the following:
Pro tip: Be specific. Asking a student how they feel can seem generic but including a definitive time frame allows for more accurate and accessible qualitative and quantitative data. Additionally, incorporating emojis into the question and encouraging students to use them is a great way to accurately depict their moods.
2. Has your opinion of school changed since COVID-19 hit? If yes, how?
How universities handle the fall 2020 semester will be vital in determining student behavior over the next few years. For administration, it’s important to learn what students genuinely think at the beginning of this new semester so they can better understand student priorities and have ample time to adjust their messaging in the coming months.
For students, answering this question grants them an opportunity to honestly share what they’ve seen, heard and felt in regards to academic, social, financial and safety-related issues during an ongoing pandemic. By acknowledging that their students’ opinions and experiences matter, higher-ed institutions can act on these perceptions granting them the early chance at remedying their relationships.
Pro tip: Create a multi-step flow that allows you to collect both qualitative and quantitative data. While the first question offers more qualitative results, asking the follow-up “If yes, how?” draws additional conclusions that can provide crucial reasonings for future or updated communication strategies.
3. Going into the semester, what’s one thing that you’d like the most help on?
The pandemic has presented a multitude of issues that have never been previously dealt with before, and students are forced to face them on top of the challenges they already experience during their first term back to school. Beyond the concerns of coming in contact with the virus, it’s likely that students are feeling their college experiences aren’t going quite as expected and certainly aren’t what they originally signed up for.
An open-ended question designed to put students in touch with helpful resources allows them to respond without limitations while administrators receive invaluable feedback.
For example; it’s possible that they need help finding a job due to reduced availability or they’re looking for advice on how to acclimate to living on campus or making friends. Recognizing this information provides schools with the ability to respond to their students’ needs more efficiently and can lead to an improved allocation of student resources.
4. Has the pandemic shifted your priorities? What are your top priorities this semester?
As the landscape of higher education has changed drastically in the past six months, so have the needs and goals of their students. As the world adapts, students may be confronted by decisions to change their careers, focus on their families or even decide that a "real-world experience" is more important. To address this, colleges need to actively collect data from students and zero in on shifting goals and priorities. That’s why it’s important for administration to ensure that they’re asking specific, targeted questions that cast a spotlight on how students are genuinely feeling.
By posing the question “What has COVID-19 made you reconsider about your future?”, schools are able to utilize the responses and craft both short-term and long-term solutions.
Pro tip: Organize this communication flow in a way where you’re asking the same question from different angles. This tactic allows the conversation to feel more fluid and organic but also garners more responses that contribute to the overall data collection. Pose the questions that you’d like the most responses to first, as a slight drop off rate (around 5%) from the first to the third question is to be expected.
5. How do you think your school has handled COVID-19? What do you think it did a good job at or could have done better?
It’s important to keep in mind that even with all of the IT troubleshooting, social distancing guidelines, hybrid classes and in certain cases tuition reductions, students are still the ultimate critic for how well their school is handling the pandemic. And, while the future state of higher education remains unknown, administrators can be proactive by asking the hard questions that can aid in the creation of future communication strategies.
While this is an intimidating performance review, colleges should see this as an opportunity to collect meaningful data and make changes where needed.
Pro tip: Start-Stop-Continue surveys can solicit an immense amount of valuable data with very few messages involved. For example:
What is your school doing to handle COVID-19? (Start)
What is your school doing to handle COVID-19 that it shouldn’t be doing? (Stop)
What is your school doing to handle COVID-19 that should be repeated next semester? (Continue)
Check-ins That Check Out Student Perceptions
During these uncertain times, it’s paramount that students feel supported, have their challenges recognized and can receive the resources and guidance they need to be successful during their 2020 Fall semesters.
Once universities have settled on the questions to ask their college students about their experience, they then need to consider the matter in which they collect the information. While there are numerous ways to gather the data surrounding student perceptions, an SMS chatbot is arguably the most effective method due to its unique student access point and immense ability to scale. For example, EdSights’ bot sees an average 96% student opt-in, 64% active engagement and receives most of its student responses within 15 minutes.
EdSights is a great solution that can provide valuable data and trends to help higher education identify both short-term and long-term solutions to matters that are important to their students. Not only is this data quickly and succinctly collected but is also displayed with actionable interventions on the EdSights Data Dashboard to allow staff to listen and connect with students in a meaningful way and work to make a difference.