When students reflect on their time at university, it is the campus experience that offers enduring memories. This experience includes everything from encounters with campus infrastructure and facilities to events, interactions with other students, researchers and industry, and students’ regular contact with academics. This experience is being significantly reshaped by digital technologies.
At first glance the rise of digital might seem to challenge the significance of the on-campus experience. After all, if online connectivity makes physical proximity less relevant, why would students develop any special connection to their campus? But a deeper look suggests that universities have a unique opportunity to harness digital interactivity and contemporary technologies to create genuinely memorable student experiences.
Students increasingly expect their smartphone or tablet will be a big part of the way they interact with their university, including accessing information and services. They expect more than just simple apps, websites or portals they can access through their smartphone. Right now the apps, websites and portals of most universities offer siloed functionality and are difficult for students to navigate.
This digital complexity hampers students’ on-campus experience. Universities could glean a lot from the way platforms such as Amazon, Tencent and Alipay use digital tools to enrich experiences in the physical space by offering a seamless experience.
Students’ expectations are being influenced by their frequent use of emerging contemporary ‘super apps’, such as WeChat, owned by Tencent. This app started as a social chat application but is now an integrated suite of functionalities made available through a single interface. It is a game changing design innovation that has enabled such apps to offer multitude of functionalities through a simple chat like interface. Functionalities includes video chat, gaming and a payments wallet, as well as mini-apps for shopping, ordering food, listening to music and travelling. Amazon Anytime and Alipay similarly aim to become lifestyle ecosystems through a single app.
Frequent use of these apps means students expect a similar experience at the university: a single, intuitive, and fully integrated mobile or web-based super app that enhances the quality of their campus life.
Universities that capture the essence of this experience and deliver it to students early, will gain a significant competitive advantage. Such a student app or portal can be the one-stop-shop or a single interface to help students navigate their way through their life on campus. For example, it can:
Similarly, an app for researchers and academics can enable staff to coordinate their activities. It can offer staff a place to undertake administrative activities, to view timetables and reminders, to apply and manage leave and pay, to respond to student queries, to interact with learning systems and to receive insights on students who may require additional support, based on analytics.
The response to date from most universities has been organic. Historically, universities have developed digital solutions in pockets. While these efforts have been well-meaning, they have resulted in increased complexity and confusion for students. Most students find it difficult to locate the information they seek at the right time. This leaves them with fragmented interactions across the university, often resorting to time-consuming paper-based interactions, and introduces frustration for both students and staff.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Universities can harness this growing student appetite for mobile access to enhance their campus experience. There are a few basics a university must keep in mind:
Nous has recently worked with several universities to accelerate their digital campus experience and prepare for a future of lifelong online learning.
In these engagements we have enabled universities to:
For digital solutions to work, universities must take a holistic approach that puts students at the centre of thinking. Done right, this approach can create valuable tools that enhance the campus experience of students, that create memorable experiences and that enable lifelong connection with the university.
Each of these ideas would achieve incremental benefits, but the major advantages come from them working in concert to achieve a superlative experience for students. With dozens of universities competing to attract students, this competitive edge can make a big impact.
Get in touch to discuss how Nous Group can help your university enhance the campus experience for students.
Written by Kaushal Vyas during his time as a Nous Principal.