Understanding and Enhancing the Student Experience

By Elizabeth Farrar and Anthony Jones-Scott

At eLearning Miami, our mission includes partnering to enhance the Miami experience. One aspect of that mission means we carefully consider the student experience.

What do we mean by student experience?

In broadest terms, the student experience at Miami encompasses all the activities and interactions students have with Miami University.

These interactions begin the first time a prospective student visits our website or perhaps their first campus visit. We call these interactions "touchpoints".

Throughout their time at Miami students will have millions of touchpoints, ranging from using the dining halls, looking for groups to join as a freshman, and learning to research in the library to, of course, their academic experience in courses. All of these experiences affect students on a physical, emotional, or social level.

In order to improve the student experience, we first need to look closely at student touchpoints in a wide range of areas such as academic programs, student services, technology, campus facilities, and community.

As individuals, we may not be involved in all of these areas, but by defining our unique roles, we are able to identify what we are doing well and where gaps or pain points might exist. As faculty and staff who interact with students regularly, we can routinely evaluate how our actions are impacting students. This self-assessment is one way to lead us to new ideas and innovations.

How do we assess the student experience?

Having broadly defined the student experience, how do we begin to assess the various aspects of this myriad of interactions? How can we do so in a way that ensures we have gathered the right data, analyzed it properly, and in a manner that allows those making decisions based on it to believe in the findings?

As you might imagine, there are many ways to go about this. Each has its limitations, so keeping those in mind from the outset is essential to building a holistic approach. Thinking through what is being assessed, what methodology is being implemented, and what format the data will be collected in, are all crucial considerations.

Surveys for instance are widely available in a variety of forms—e.g. Consortium surveys, bespoke campus surveys, and those from consultant groups are just a few of the types we can use. Regardless of origin, things like low response rates and the limited nature of each group doing their own surveys can limit their broader usefulness.

To get a more holistic idea of something like student experience requires that you augment things like surveys and data mining with interviews, focus groups and observations. Doing so will allow you to effectively address the challenges of student experience assessment.

How do we improve the student experience?

Armed with the insights gained from these various sources, how do you begin to take actions that will improve the student experience going forward?

First, reflect on the insights to identify opportunities for you to make small, manageable changes as well as steps you could take to move toward large scale changes.

Second, look for opportunities to have more contact with students beyond the classroom in your role as mentor and advisor. Involve students to a greater degree in research or co-curricular activities to foster long term and in-depth student and faculty interaction. In your role as an Instructor, you might also create more active learning opportunities to impact the social and academic pieces of the student experience.

Third, consider prototyping or pilot testing one of these ideas to see what happens. This will also give you a sense of where you might improve the student experience in regard to your role, and how you might address any gaps in your current approach.

Most importantly, think about your profound impact on the student experience and how that experience is molded by their contact with you in the classroom and beyond.

In our mission to partner, our office can be a resource for faculty and staff seeking to enhance the student experience through digital and innovative means. If you are interested in exploring, discussing, or evaluating your touchpoints, we are here to help. Contact us today to collaborate on ideas you have on how you can improve your students' experience.