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Matt McGhie

10 Tips to Make Student Services More Visible, Flexible, & Accessible 848 565

10 Tips to Make Student Services More Visible, Flexible, & Accessible

10 Tips to Make Student Services More Visible, Flexible, & Accessible

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

To learn how ConexED provides the tools you need to implement each of these tips, submit your contact information in the form below.

Get a free demo and request more information.

3 Ways Colleges Are Reimagining Virtual Student Services 1000 500

3 Ways Colleges Are Reimagining Virtual Student Services

3 Ways Colleges Are Reimagining Virtual Student Services

As U.S. colleges and universities explore their options for reopening in fall 2020, more than 65% are now planning for in-person instruction. But as they prepare to welcome students back, they’re also developing contingency plans for fully virtual campuses.

While most schools have the infrastructure to manage and deliver online learning (an LMS, SIS, and distance education program), fewer have an enterprise platform for virtual student services. 

Whether your school opens for in-person classes next fall or goes 100% virtual, every institution needs technology and workflows designed to increase access to all student support services—from admissions to career services and every touch point in between. Here’s how three colleges are using ConexED to connect with students online as part of their long-term strategies to improve student engagement, persistence, retention, and completion.

1. University of Utah

Public research university in Salt Lake City, Utah with 32,000+ students

In 2016 the University of Utah formed the Integrated Student Team to better unify the student support experience. A key part of their plan was to help students easily find and connect with academic advisors and other student support staff across the institution.

With director-level members from IT, student services, and academic affairs, the team focused on ConexED to enable online appointment scheduling, virtual meetings, instant messaging, and related reporting.

ConexED Cards: Helping Students Connect

When students log in to the university’s instance of ConexED, they see a directory showing ConexED cards for hundreds of academic and student support staff. There, they can search for a department or service unit and browse staff in that area.

Outside the directory, advisors and instructors can embed their ConexED cards on any departmental webpage or online course. They can also customize their cards, giving students options to connect such as:

  • Knock on Door. If an advisor or instructor is online, a student can virtually “knock on their door.” The staff member can then start an online chat or virtual meeting right from their ConexED card. Or, they can ask the student to self-schedule a meeting for another time.
  • Online Chat. With the instant messaging feature, sessions can be recorded with reason codes for reporting, and chats can be delegated to other staff or faculty for follow up.
  • Schedule Meeting. Students can click to see open time slots and self-schedule on-campus or virtual meetings. The system integrates and syncs instantly with staff calendars. Once a meeting is scheduled, students get an automated email reminder with details about how or where to connect.
  • Send Offline Message. When staff members aren’t online, students can click to send them an offline message, which goes to their email inbox. 
  • Register for Workshop. The registration feature allows students to reserve a seat for online or on-campus events. Advisors or instructors can host webinars or online information sessions in ConexED for up to 100 people. 

According to Cory Stokes, Digital Learning Officer & Associate Dean of Online & Continuing Education, “A university is a big place and finding the right person to talk to can be really difficult. Knowing how to contact them is the second problem.” With ConexED, U. of U. students can easily find the help they need and get online support from departments across campus.

2. Purdue University Global

Public online university in Indianapolis, Indiana with 31,000+ students

As part of the Purdue University system, Purdue Global offers more than 175 fully online degree programs geared toward working adults. In addition to online instruction, the university provides online academic and student support services with a human touch.

Through the university’s Academic Success Center, students can log in to see ConexED cards for business, math, science, technology, or writing tutors. Cards show which tutors are online, and students can virtually “knock on their door” to connect. Here’s what students see next:

  • Informed Consent Statement. A pop up asks students if they consent to having their online tutoring session recorded. (Only the tutor and student will have access to the recording.)
  • Chat Box. When students consent, a chat box opens, inviting them to join a virtual meeting or wait in a virtual lobby until the tutor is ready.
  • Virtual Lobby. From here, any available tutor can move waiting students into a meeting.
  • Virtual Meeting. When students join, they can choose to share their video and/or microphone for video conferencing or simply use the chat feature within the interface.
ConexED Virtual Meetings: Ensuring ADA, FERPA, & HIPAA Compliance

Unlike free video conferencing apps, the ConexED platform is secure, private, and compatible with major screen and text-to-speech readers. It also provides automatic closed captioning that can be edited in real time for accuracy and referenced by students later in the meeting archive.

To make virtual tutoring sessions more interactive, Purdue tutors use built-in ConexED tools like the shared whiteboard and document library, where they can review student work and collaborate in real time on a paper or project. This enables the university to provide the flexibility students need to achieve their career goals, while also providing the support they need for academic success.

3. MiraCosta College

Community college in Oceanside, California with 14,000+ students

MiraCosta College boasts four beautiful campuses in North San Diego County. They also offer more than 600 hybrid and online classes, with over half their students typically enrolling in distance education programs.

As one of 80 California Community Colleges now using ConexED, MiraCosta relies on the platform to increase support for students on and off campus. From the college’s Counseling Center page, students can connect for an Online Express Chat with these features:

  • Contact Cards and Instant Messaging. ConexED cards in the directory show which counselors are online, and enable students to send an instant message.
  • Online Scheduling and Virtual Meetings. If students have more than a quick question, counselors direct them to schedule a virtual meeting in ConexED.
  • Offline Messages. If no counselors are online (or after business hours), students can choose to send an offline message or self-schedule an appointment at their convenience.
ConexED Integrations: Connecting Canvas and Other Campus Systems

With a multi-dimensional API, ConexED seamlessly integrates with most major student information and learning management systems to accurately push/pull data in real time. Calendar integrations include Google, Microsoft Office 365, Outlook, and Exchange—all synced instantly.

Leveraging the ConexED integration with the Canvas LMS, MiraCosta College includes a link to student support services in the Global Navigation Menu of every course, making it easy for students to reach out for online advising and counseling.

These institutions (and many others) are using ConexED not only to increase access to student support services online, but also to streamline and integrate services across campus. And, because ConexED combines the functionality of a scheduling and reporting system, instant messaging and chat service, queuing system, and video conferencing software, it saves money as well as time.

Learn more about our interactive tools for virtual student services

Request a demo to see how ConexEd can help your school deliver high-quality student services online (for admissions, financial aid, academic advising, tutoring, library services, mental health counseling, career services, and more).

The Necessity of Virtual Admissions 1024 683

The Necessity of Virtual Admissions

The Necessity of Virtual Admissions

In 2019, when prospective students applied for admission, no one had ever heard of COVID-19. Campus tours, overnight visits, and onsite orientations were a normal part of the college application and enrollment process.

But in spring 2020, as virtual learning became a necessity at colleges and universities everywhere, so did virtual admissions. The question for admissions departments now is why and how to go virtual as a long-term solution—not just for campus preparedness.

Increase access and equity on campus

With enrolled students adjusting to universal online learning, nearly half a million prospective students took virtual campus tours in April 2020. Virtual tours aren’t a new thing for higher ed, but this year, they’re having an equalizing effect.

In past years, students with greater resources were able to visit their schools of choice regardless of distance. Students who couldn’t afford to travel got local visits, virtual tours, or nothing. This matters because many schools use demonstrated interest as a criteria for admission, and they rely on campus visits as a key indicator.

In a recent survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, only 32% of institutions said demonstrated interest had no bearing on their decision to admit first-time freshmen. The other 68% said they gave preference to students who did more than simply apply (such as visit campus or meet with an admissions counselor).

So how do you give students of all backgrounds and abilities more ways to demonstrate interest and make a connection with your institution?

Create a connected online experience

Giving students the option for on-campus or online admission increases access and equity for everyone. Beyond virtual tours, admissions departments can take the following steps to make the entire process virtual—but no less personal:

  • Enable students to self-schedule appointments and register for information sessions online.

When you make it easier for students to connect, they’re more likely to reach out. With campus scheduling software, entire departments can create shared calendars for office hours. Students can see the availability of individual counselors on your website, set up appointments at their convenience, and receive a confirmation email with the date, time, and location (in-office or online). This ensures that more prospective students get not only the support they need to apply but also a competitive edge among schools that measure interest.

  • Offer 1:1 online counseling and virtual orientation for groups.

Going virtual doesn’t have to mean sacrificing face-to-face engagement. An interactive student services platform provides tools for high-quality video meetings with universal design features such as closed captioning and support for text-to-speech and screen readers. In addition to increasing accessibility—and maintaining a human connection—these tools also help ensure your interactions with students are FERPA and HIPAA compliant. In a rush to implement virtual solutions as part of their coronavirus response plans, many schools opted for free video conferencing apps like Zoom or Skype. The problem: neither platform complies with FERPA or HIPAA, which puts student data security and privacy at risk.

  • Use a virtual lobby to manage online drop-in meetings.

To simulate the experience of an on-campus admissions office (minus the long lines), you can post times for open office hours on your online contact card and allow students to drop in virtually. With a virtual lobby integrated with your scheduling software and student services platform, you can see how many students are waiting and how long they’ve been waiting. Every counselor in your group can pull students from your shared lobby into a virtual meeting or start a private chat.

  • Provide digital forms and online application support.

With Common App already streamlining the online application process, it’s critical that all documents and application forms specific to your institution are digitized and accessible online. The most robust student services platforms have a built-in document library or integration with Google Drive where you can collaborate with students in real time to provide online application support and collect digital signatures.

  • Respond faster with instant messaging.

Connecting with prospective students effectively means providing the anytime, anywhere access they expect. With instant messaging, students can reach out from their smartphones and you can quickly respond. You can also embed your online contact card on any website (or within your LMS) to indicate whether you’re online or offline and give students the option to virtually “knock on your door” when you’re available or send an email when you’re away.

Get interactive tools for virtual admissions

ConexED is an interactive platform for virtual student services and instruction. In addition to helping you connect with prospective students in all the ways described above, it integrates with enterprise campus systems for data analytics and reporting. It also streamlines processes so admissions departments can serve more students in less time. Submit the form below to request a demo.

Get a free demo and request more information.

What Is Academic Advising Software? 1024 594

What Is Academic Advising Software?

What Is Academic Advising Software?

Academic advising software enables colleges and universities to facilitate and track interactions between students and their academic advisors or college counselors. Typical features include tools for appointment scheduling, virtual meetings, instant messaging, student success plans, plus data and analytics for reporting.

Why online advising is a prerequisite for online learning

Before COVID-19 forced colleges and universities online, the Connected Student Report found that digital-age students expected more online services than schools were providing. Among students surveyed:

  • 39% expected 1:1 online advising (provided by 20% of schools)
  • 47% expected access to an online chat service (provided by 26% of schools)
  • 51% expected online application support (provided by 35% of schools)

While higher education has embraced online learning—and one-third of students were taking at least one online course before schools went remote in spring 2020—some institutions have been slower to roll out virtual student services like academic advising.

As a result, their coronavirus response plans have relied on short-term advising solutions like free video conferencing apps (not secure) or email and telephone support (not student-friendly). Whether or not schools reopen for face-to-face learning in fall 2020, most students still need and want online advising.

For online and nontraditional students who are more likely to work full time or care for dependents, making a special trip to campus to meet with an advisor or counselor can be a barrier to student success. The same is true for students with disabilities.

According to a profile of 21st-century college students by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, nearly half of all students are now categorized as nontraditional because:

  • 45% are age 22 or older
  • 45% live off campus but not with parents
  • 28% are parents themselves
  • 26% work full time
  • 14% take online classes only

Just as these students need the flexibility of online learning, they need academic advising and campus support services they can access from anywhere.

How academic advising software improves student success

Advisors and counselors empower students to meet their personal, professional, and academic goals. They help students explore potential majors and career paths, and serve as guides to complex campus systems. More importantly, they foster a meaningful connection to the institution.

Many students, especially ethnic minorities and first-generation students, report feeling isolated and disconnected. A recent academic study found that a greater sense of belonging “predicts better persistence, engagement, and mental health,” especially among freshman. This underscores the importance of advisors and counselors as touch points for student engagement.

To increase the reach and effectiveness of advising staff, NASPA says “institutions are investing in technology tools that have the potential—when purchased and implemented wisely—to transform academic advising and student success.” Additionally, the Deloitte Center for Higher Education Excellence reports that “colleges and universities are adopting a growing number of digitally-enabled student services, in addition to traditional in-person services offered on campus.”

Features for online advising

Just as learning management systems facilitate anytime, anywhere access to distance education, academic advising software helps extend student support beyond campus. Effective virtual advising requires technology that mirrors in-person workflows and methodologies with tools for:

  • Appointment scheduling. Make it easy for students to self-schedule appointments online from any internet-connected device.
  • Virtual meetings. Maintain a face-to-face connection for 1:1 or group sessions with built-in video conferencing that’s ADA, HIPAA, and FERPA-compliant.
  • Instant messaging. Answer student questions quickly via live chat from any mobile device.
  • Student success plans. Collaborate with faculty and staff across campus to create a personalized plan to help every student succeed.
  • Data and analytics for reporting. Integrate advising software with your LMS and SIS to improve the breadth and depth of institutional reports.

Choose software built for higher education

Submit the form below to schedule a demo of ConexED, the interactive platform for student services and instruction. It has all the features you need for online advising and counseling.

Get a free demo and request more information.

What’s the Best Video Conferencing for Higher Ed? 640 488

What’s the Best Video Conferencing for Higher Ed?

What’s the Best Video Conferencing for Higher Ed?

As COVID-19 forces classes and student services online, many colleges and universities have turned to Zoom for virtual meetings. Used widely by businesses for video conferencing, Zoom is now being stress tested by higher ed. So far, it’s not making the grade.

At issue are concerns over privacy and security. Last month, a Zoom user filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the company shares data with Facebook—without consent. Even more disturbing, schools around the country report an increasing number of Zoombombing incidents.

What Is “Zoombombing”?

A recent FBI warning defines Zoombombing as the disruption of video conferences and online classrooms by hackers who share obscene images and use threatening language. To keep your online classes and student meetings in Zoom from getting hijacked, the FBI and other cybersecurity experts offer these recommendations:

  • Make meetings and classes private. You can do this by requiring a password, or by using the waiting room feature to control who joins.
  • Send meeting links to participants only. Some meetings and classes have been taken over when the host or instructor shared a Zoom link on a public website or on social media.
  • Change screen sharing to “Host Only.” This will prevent all other participants from being able to share images without your approval.
  • Use the most recent version of the software. Zoom released a security update in January 2020, adding passwords by default and preventing users from being able to randomly scan and join open meetings.

Switch to a Platform Built for Higher Ed

According to G2, the top three alternatives to Zoom for video conferencing are GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex, and Google Hangouts. Like Zoom, these platforms offer easy access to online meetings. And like Zoom, they weren’t built for higher education—which puts student privacy and data security at risk. A better long-term solution for colleges and universities is ConexED, the interactive platform for student services and instruction. 

In addition to video conferencing, ConexED has tools—like online scheduling, instant messaging, and a virtual lobby—designed specifically for learning and online advising. The platform is also:

  • ADA, HIPAA, and FERPA-compliant. Hosted on AWS, ConexED uses secure connections for all transmissions between the application, database, and authentication servers. Protections for student privacy, data security, and consent are built into the platform. It also conforms to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, and provides automatic closed captioning and support for all major screen readers and text to speech.
  • Ready to integrate with your LMS, SIS, and calendar system. With a multi-dimensional API, ConexED seamlessly integrates with your SIS and LMS to accurately push/pull specific data in real time. Calendar integrations include Google, Microsoft Office 365, Outlook, and Exchange—all synced instantly.
  • Designed to support advising, instructional, and reporting methodologies. ConexED was built for student engagement, offering features—like the ability to record sessions with reason codes and delegate chats to other faculty or staff for follow up—that replicate methodologies used in higher education. It also provides the data you need to measure and report on student success.

Compare ConexED & Zoom

See a comparison of ConexED and Zoom for higher ed—and learn why you need tools built for the classroom (not the boardroom).

Get a free demo and request more information.