Better New Student Engagement with a Welcome Week App
When the University of Essex began building their new students app for ‘Welcome Week’ 2015, they had two very clear goals in mind.
The first was to create a single place to store all relevant information about the week, which could be referenced by students (and parents) before and during Welcome Week, and then as an on-going student resource.
The second goal was to help new students settle and feel welcome as quickly as possible. Student retention is a key concern for all higher education establishments, and how quickly they settle in and feel comfortable is naturally a strong indicator of whether they go on to complete their degree at university.
Although the second goal is a difficult, more qualitative metric to study over a period of time – the University are able to analyse the in-app metrics and post-event feedback to gain an understanding of exactly how engaged students were during the new student Welcome Week. Charlie Keitch, Internal Communications Officer at University of Essex, discusses the feedback that they gathered from new students about the app in the video below.
Charlie highlights 3 main points that students found particularly valuable:
- Having all the information in one central place, so that he and the team could point students to the app for quick answers.
- Giving students the ability to create their own, personalised schedule for the week.
- Delivering regular push notifications throughout the week that highlighted key events and information.
How can we really understand the way the new students app was used?
Of course, personal feedback and surveys give a really strong indication about the success and use of an app – but there’s one thing that’s been designed specifically to help understand even better how your app was used. The metrics section built in to Guidebook’s CMS allows the University to see exactly which parts of the guide were used most, and by studying the ‘Top Menu Items’ (shown below) – we can clearly see which areas of the guide provided most value to the students.
These stats certainly support the 3 main points Charlie highlights in the video above, with ‘My Schedule’ and ‘App Alerts’ in the top 6 used menu items. Tellingly, what it also displays is that students read the ‘Welcome’ message from the University, and learned more about the staff they will be interacting with on a daily basis in the ‘Who’s Who’ section – surely indicators of feeling more integrated and welcomed to the campus. Furthermore, the guide clearly contained all the basic information a student could want during the event – and provided a repository for this long after the week was over.
“We had more time to ensure students were settling in and integrating”
During a normal ‘Welcome Week’ event, new students can inundate a communications team with support queries and common questions. However, when we dive even deeper into the metrics we can find clear evidence that the app deflected a lot of this support away from the team as new students used the app instead. As the chart below shows, under 50% of total app downloads happened before the event started (Sunday 27th) – and suddenly on the 28th there is a large spike of new downloads. Charlie and the team put much of this down to student word-of-mouth, as people quickly realised that they could more efficiently manage their time, and their to-do list, by using the app.
“All of a sudden it just seemed that students realised it was useful” -Charlie Keitch, Internal Communications Officer at University of Essex
For those that did download the new students app in advance of the 27th, all of the ‘Top List Items’ (shown below), and many of the ‘Top Menu Items’, will have been relevant for them before they even set foot on their new campus. They would have arrived slightly better prepared than those without the app, and keen to pass on this knowledge to others.
When reviewing these stats closely, we can clearly see just how many student questions would have been fielded by the app before and during the Welcome Week. When starting at university there is always a daunting to-do list for new students, so the app was able to clearly provide them with information on: how to register with a doctor, activate an IT/email account, find your way to the correct place on campus, and even arranging airport transportation for international students.
During the event, the app was able to support students with an easy-to-manage personal schedule (watch this in action below), campus maps, and many answers to FAQ’s. This drastically reduced the amount of basic support Charlie and the team needed to provide during the week, meaning that students had more time to settle in and get to know each other, and staff had more time to focus on important/pressing student issues.
“Because the app was able to quickly answer common questions, and walk students through clear steps of what to do in their first week, we had more time to ensure students were settling in and integrating” -Charlie Keitch and the Essex Communications Team
Importantly, the app was also a fun and social resource for new students – with a constantly updating photo album and links to social media. This undoubtedly helped increase engagement with the app, and the ‘word-of-mouth’ promotion that’s key to every app’s success.
A new tool to support a vibrant and integrated student community
The University of Essex will continue to track student retention, but the initial signs are clear: students were happy at being able to access all the key information on the device they use more than anything else – their smartphone. They also managed to complete many of the pre-arrival admin tasks quicker than usual, and could effectively and efficiently plan their week in advance – to ensure they didn’t miss out on what was most important to them.
With thousands of students arriving on campus, the University of Essex managed to successfully ditch paper, and reduce emails, to help organise their 2015 Welcome Week. Feedback surveys and in-app metrics have given initial indications that the new students app was greatly appreciated, and that Charlie and the team were able to communicate and engage with their students better than ever before.
“100% of students who completed our in-app feedback said that they thought we should create a Welcome app next year” -Essex University Communications Team