What Your Students Want to Hear
Effective Communications in the Time of COVID-19
Kimmy Cacciato is currently serving as a student advisor to the Ithaka S+R Holistic Metrics of Student Success project. She graduated from The College of New Jersey with a major in Deaf/Hard of Hearing Education – Mathematics Teaching. This fall, she is returning to TCNJ to pursue an MAT in Deaf/Hard of Hearing Education.
During this time of uncertainty, effectively communicating with students is more important than ever. Campus administrators and offices are working tirelessly to meet their students’ needs while adapting to the ever-changing landscape of virtual communications. Meanwhile, for students, finding information online is much different than doing so on campus, where we are often more familiar with where offices are located or where to find someone to help.
As a student during these unpredictable times, I have experienced delays in finding answers to time-sensitive inquiries due to my uncertainty on who to contact or because staff are likely dealing with overflowing inboxes. Likewise, I have also missed important updates because information was scattered across digital platforms or because the sheer volume of emails I receive from offices across campus is overwhelming. We are all struggling with finding the best ways to communicate and navigate information in a nearly exclusive virtual world. Thus, it is imperative that administrators and the staff they oversee seek ways to effectively communicate with their students.
Previously being on campus meant that all information was in one physical location, whereas now a series of virtual platforms and communication mechanisms – a college website, various emails, social media platforms – may be more difficult to navigate. Since being completely on campus is not an option for a growing list of institutions, here are some ways institutions can provide concise information that students can easily navigate.
- Keep updates brief and straightforward. With the immense influx in virtual information, keeping updates brief and straightforward whenever possible demonstrates respect for students’ time and well-being and ensures valuable information is not being diluted. Sending quick weekly updates, on the same day each week, with pressing updates in between as needed, is probably the most effective way to provide general updates to the campus community.
- Consistently provide information and updates at regularly scheduled times. While students are awaiting further information, sticking to scheduled times to provide updated information helps reduce stress by eliminating another unknown (i.e. when updates will be provided). Consider making the schedule for your updates public and stating a deadline for when you will provide information or decisions on a certain topic to create a sense of assurance. An update that essentially says “nothing has changed from our last update” is actually in itself very valuable and can help students feel like they are being kept up-to-date about what is going on.
- Make information and updates as easy to navigate as possible. To accomplish this, improve keyword searches on your college website and establish an information hub that contains general updates, department updates, and FAQs in a clearly organized fashion. It may also be helpful to update office and staff/faculty directories to include descriptions of the office or staff/faculty roles that pertain to specific areas where students are seeking help.
- Consolidate information across digital platforms. Finding institutional information online is further complicated when news and updates are not offered in one place. We are all facing information overload and important information tends to be diluted by the amount of emails, Facebook or Instagram posts, and more that are happening right now. For example, if campus departments or offices need to send information to a webmaster to be published on their college webpage, they may instead opt to post information on various social media platforms or send updates through separate emails. Although communication from multiple campus offices and resources is vital for updates to reach students quickly, efforts to provide this information should be coordinated across campus and consolidated in one place as much as possible to ensure that information can be found easily.
- Acknowledge receipt of emails and inquiries. College staff — just like students — are trying to find ways to effectively manage their overflowing inboxes. While students may understand that responses and replies are delayed, it can be stressful to wait in silence for a response to an important inquiry. One simple suggestion to ease the uncertainty and delay in responses that students are facing is to provide acknowledgement of receipt of emails and inquiries. This can be an automated message that confirms that the student’s question was received and will be addressed as soon as possible. A further step to take would be to provide daily updates on the status of the inquiry (e.g. number in queue or estimated time for response), so the student has a sense of when they can expect a response, again minimizing the unknown factors in the line of communication and alleviating at least some stress.
While it’s hard to overcommunicate in a pandemic about college-wide policy updates and decisions, it is easy for important information to be diluted or difficult to navigate in a virtual experience. The above considerations may help your updates reach students more effectively during a semester when unpredictable changes are bound to occur, and successful communication will be more essential than ever.