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Technology in Higher Education: Debunking Digital Student Engagement Myths

by Mark Visco Jr. on September 24, 2020

Among the many lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the power of technology to connect us wherever we are. From Zoom meetings to live chats to even cyber-weddings, advanced communication tools have the power to bring us together, keep us engaged and ensure we remain on a positive track toward our career and personal goals.

Nowhere is this more true than on college campuses, where administrators are embracing new technologies like never before. Some of this comes from pure necessity--taking lectures online, accepting course work over secure networks and communicating with students in real-time are a must. But some of this shift has come more gradually, as administrators have worked to challenge persistent myths that exist about the tech usage of their students. These myths have long prevented shifts to mobile or cloud-based solutions, push notifications, real-time productivity tracking and more.

Fortunately, we believe that is starting to change.

Let’s explore some of the biggest tech-related myths we hear from school administrators and other professionals and share tips to help you reexamine your digital student engagement in higher education.

Myth: Mobile-first is not a “need”

This is a dangerous myth, especially as more higher education institutions are embracing technology due to COVID-19. Using mobile messaging, push notifications, and other mobile-first strategies is a “must” for schools looking to connect with students who today are living almost constantly online. If remote learning solutions don’t function across devices, student participation is likely to suffer as students struggle to connect, submit assignments, attend lectures and events and keep up with campus life. In short, your university will become less connected with students, making the decision to transfer that much easier. Centering mobile technology in your remote strategy is also more inclusive, as our next myth will show.

Myth: Not all students have smartphones

Many schools are reluctant and slow to implement mobile-first strategies because they assume those strategies won’t reach all of their students. They believe a significant number of low-income students don’t have access to smartphones, so their student development teams should stick to traditional engagement approaches. But when you look at the data, you can see that this is far from the truth. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey revealed that among young people in the US, 93% of low-income teens say they have access to a smartphone and 75% have access to a computer. At the college level, low-income students are likely to have greater access to smartphones than anything else. So it’s certainly safe to explore mobile-first strategies at your institution today.

Myth: Email marketing is always effective

A staple of communication strategy in virtually every industry, email is considered one of the most reliable student engagement techniques for colleges and universities. But how effective are they really? Maybe not so much. And here’s why:

  • Students don’t check their email that often, and don’t open every email they receive. They’re skilled at skimming subject lines and preview text and know how to use filters to organize their inbox based on preferences, so there’s no guarantee your promotional email will be opened, let alone read in full.
  • College and university inboxes are filled with emails from peers, professors, departments, programs, and campus activities—many of which send emails too frequently. And personal inboxes are filled with so much more. When your email is competing with every other unit on campus that’s also emailing your students, you can easily get lost in the crowd throughout the week.
  • Students are used to being a little lost when it comes to determining which emails are important because many school units label their messages as "important" using email platforms. And the writers crafting these emails aren’t great at using clear CTAs. Many students roll their eyes at poorly formatted emails, lengthy and long-winded emails, and emails that are followed by slightly different twins with correct event times or campus locations. This means that students may never take action on emails that are truly important.

Email marketing is still a valuable tool, but it’s a tool that many higher ed institutions need to master if they want to improve their student communications.

Myth: Digital connections are cold and incomplete

At Suitable, we’re not in the camp that says technology makes connecting with others a distanced and cold experience. We believe digital tools open up new ways of bringing people together, and we’re certain that your students think so too. And as they move through this pandemic as part of your institution, students need extra support to succeed in their academic careers in and out of the classroom. Technology can help you employ empathy in endless ways while students work from home. Here are a few of them:

  • Showcase faculty and students on your website and social media as they work and study at home to show how everyone is here for each other and in the same boat.
  • Support career readiness and student activities with virtual events to replace in-person events and on-campus socializing.
  • Update your brand messaging strategy throughout your school’s online presence to reflect the value of virtual extracurricular experiences. Show students how they contribute to their skills as future job candidates and why it’s important to keep up with activities outside the classroom.
  • Utilize technology platforms like Suitable to keep students connected and allow them to participate digitally in their communities and academic journeys when they can’t be on campus.
  • Supplement student development and engagement programs with apps that create pathways for students so they know exactly what to invest their time in next.

Learning how to increase student engagement, and even how to measure student engagement, through digital technology is an essential skill for professionals managing the modern student experience. If students are online for a myriad of reasons throughout their day, your school should be too. There’s really no reason to fall behind in adopting mobile-first tactics and trying out technology platforms that could help you see more action from investments in great student programs. Take a closer look at how your school stacks up to others and how satisfied your students are with your level of tech savviness, and set fresh goals for engaging students this fall.

Need some help? Contact Suitable to learn more about how our technology platform is updating the way colleges and universities across the

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