Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Looking ahead to Freshers Week and Inductions

Over the last couple of weeks we have started to think about what the Student Information Point service will be offering and participating in during Freshers Week and Induction.  There are no definite plans yet but we are liaising with other parts of the University to make sure that we have a joined up approach or, more realistically, at least know what is happening and how we can ensure that this information reaches students.  The Student Information Points are a strand of the Student Experience Project - another strand is Inductions and there are three Induction Development Planners.  It is great that we are part of the project with them as they work in the same offices and it is easy to collaborate with them.  They have just produced and circulated the draft central induction plan which outlines events and activities which take place centrally i.e. mainly University wide as opposed to at a College or School level .  This means that we can feature the SIP service and any activities that we propose running in the plan and also know what else is going on.
I have been to meetings of the Information Services Freshers Week Working Group so that we can liaise over activities and services that will be offered in the libraries.  The SIP desk in the central area is located in the Main Library so it is important that we know what is going on.  Also so we know how to direct students to the online information that they need and link this to information that we will be promoting and signposting to.
One of the main places that students need to go to during Freshers Week is to Adam House where they can get their University ID card if it has not been sent to their Halls and also to see Finance.  This year we are going to have a presence at Adam House as it is where there is heavy footfall of new students who will be trying to find out about everything and will have enquiries.  There is quite a big space but we have decide how to make best use of it - is it better to have an enquiry desk / information point set up or better to have a more flexible mobile approach and circulate among the crowd?  

Adam House Ground Floor

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Regular meetings day

When I looked back over this blog recently I realised that I had been posting to it since 2009 which seems a long time ago now.  Also that some of the early posts in particular were quick posts about everyday happenings which are quite useful to have a record of to refer back to.  Recently I have posted more lengthy posts about more interesting aspects of managing a service or particular initiatives which others in a similar role might find useful.  However I miss the mundane posts so am going to pick up some of those too.
This week I had a day off on Monday which gave me a longer weekend as I had been to Cambridge.  Yesterday, Tuesday, I spent quite a lot of the day catching up on emails and catching up with the rest of the team.  Then we had the regular supervisors/managers meeting which is myself and the two supervisors and consists of a general chat of what has been happening with the Student Information Points, any meetings or events that have happened or are going to happen and anything that we need to have on the agenda for the team meeting.
The team meeting happens on a Wednesday morning and we open the Student Information Points slightly later to allow for this.  I think team/department meetings are very important and should happen on a regular basis for two main reasons.  Firstly to catch up with what is happening and plan operational stuff for the week ahead - if everyone's there it's easier to circulate the information and get a consensus and saves time.  Secondly, it's a forum and an opportunity for people to raise any issues they have - communication is important but also difficult unless you work at it and create opportunities for it to happen.
Also today I had my fortnightly catch up with my line manager - it's not usually Wednesday, it's usually Friday but gets moved around depending on diaries.  This is my opportunity to let him know what's happening, ask for his advice on some things and ask him to pass up to a higher level some issues that need decisions making.  It's also a chance for him to let me know what's happening at a more strategic level and for us to discuss where and how we want the Student Information Points to develop as part of the Student Experience Project.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Student Focus Groups

I have recently been involved in two sets of Student Focus Groups and have found them to be very interesting and informative.  The first group was one that is part of a number of groups that have been set up and facilitated by the communication strand of our project.  For background information, the Student Information Points that I manage are one strand of the Student Experience Project at the University of Edinburgh.  The other strands are Communication, Pre-arrival and Induction, Online and Innovation, Enhanced Selection, Emergency Response and also Surveys.
As the project has progressed and evolved there has been more collaborative working between the strands and this has been very positive.  It also means, on a practical level, that there is less chance of duplication of work and effort and more sharing of results.
A batch of focus groups was set up and facilitated for undergraduate students in December to ask them about communication at various stages of the student life cycle from application to pre-arrival to induction.  The questions and discussions were based on how the information was communicated to students at the different stages via different channels, methods and media.
The focus groups set that I helped to facilitate was with Postgraduate research students in the College of Science and Engineering.  There was a mixture of Home/RUK/International students and the questions were based around the ones that had been asked of the undergraduates.  The students were asked about the communication methods used by the University/College/School to inform them before they arrived and once they were at the university.  As these were PGR students there was obviously a difference between the amount of general information and methods as there was a greater involvement on a one-to-one basis with their supervisor.  It was interesting that some had been undergraduates too at Edinburgh so they had some prior experience of the institution.  The feedback was in general positive, they have high expectations and are very able so can filter and adapt information for their own purposes.  There is a need as a PGR student at any institution to be self motivated and this was evident from the feedback - you need to be persistent and spend time investigating the information you need.  This is good but obviously it means that any communication by the University/College/School has to be relevant otherwise it is filtered out.  (There is a complication with an institution as large as Edinburgh that you are going to get information from a number of places as you will get whole University information then College i.e. Science and Engineering information then information from your particular School (Faculty).
Two points that surprised me but are pretty obvious really and happen at lots of places are firstly that most students have their University emails automatically forwarded to a gmail account.  Secondly to find some information on the University website, sometimes it is quicker and easier to Google the phrase or key words you want and then follow the results link back to the website.  Simple.
The second group that I have been involved in (mainly as an observer) was one that was set up and facilitated by Registry with an external facilitator.  The format was that there were long sheets of brown paper stuck on the walls around the room in three sections.  1. Enquirer 2. Applicant 3. Student (this might have been a different title) - basically it was to get feedback at different phases of the student life cycle or journey.  In each section there was a series of post it notes at the top of a column with different subjects e.g. website, library, matriculation, scholarships, portal, induction, feedback etc. etc. The students were given green post it notes and pink post it notes and had to go round writing feedback about as many areas as they could (green = good, pink = not good) and stick them in the appropriate columns on the brown paper sheet.
There were about 20 students - a mixture of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, PGT, PGR - international and home.  They were all very engaged with the process and wrote lots of feedback on the post it notes.  They also discussed their opinions informally while moving around the room and also more formally during the round table discussion.
I've been impressed at how useful and informative the focus groups have been.  Student Information Points (SIPs) were added on at the end of both groups and the feedback is that students think they are a good idea, those that have used them have found them very helpful but they need to be more widely publicised.  We have done and are continuing to do a series of campaigns to raise awareness of the SIPs and the services they offer.  This year we will have the weeks leading up to Induction to promote the SIP service and already have started planning for Freshers Week activities and events.