We can’t deny that our mobile devices are, for many, a primary means of communication and that we often prefer texting to talking or emails. The same is true for our students at Colorado Technical University, which is why in 2018 we introduced a texting feature within our mobile application known as Messenger, allowing students to communicate with their advisors, classmates, and faculty. With Messenger’s launch, student communication with faculty increased, but what is most noteworthy is the content that students are communicating to faculty. The informal nature of a text-style communication tool has changed not just how but what our students communicate.
Candidly, we were surprised at how personal the messages to our faculty are including the sharing of personal circumstances as well course and technology challenges. As we reviewed Messenger data from students, we quickly realized that the faculty and university now had insight into the day-to-day nuances that prevent students from progressing in courses. For example, multiple students indicated that the fear and challenge of math prevent them from engaging in the course content. We know that students face math phobia, but to read the consistency of anxiety within math courses compared to other courses facilitated adding positive video messages in our early math courses specifically to address student mindset.
The volume of Messenger data, honestly, is impressive. CTU academics has reviewed thousands of student messages, and here are some of the key learnings from these messages:
- Student acclimation to university technology, classroom design, and course cadence takes longer than we anticipated.
- Technology challenges can stop students particularly when there are multiple technology tools, including learning management system and adaptive learning courses in first courses.
- Students see their faculty as a critical support system when facing external challenges interfering with classroom engagement.
Much of the research indicates that students reach out to advising during year one with more frequency than faculty. We are seeing the opposite as students share very personal information with their faculty and communicate more with advising about schedule changes and other university business issues. What we then realized is that we needed to prepare faculty appropriately for the increased communication with our students.
When students don’t understand or are frustrated with the technology or classroom elements, they are more likely to reach out to their faculty, so we realized faculty needed access into the student view of the classroom. This project not only allowed faculty to better support students but also provided real opportunity for course design insight.
Students also often share very personal stories of challenges and hardships, situations made more common at CTU because of our nontraditional student population base. Students disclose serious personal health issues, family crises, and devastating losses. We learned that faculty were not always equipped to effectively respond or support students, and so we developed trainings on our student demographic makeup, their motivations, and strategies for effective communication both in the classroom and through outreach.
Recently, a student who lost his young granddaughter wrote the university to share that he was successful in his class only because of his faculty member’s support. Faculty cannot change these situations, but what faculty can do is to offer empathy, provide flexibility on due dates, and commend the student for persisting.
When faculty do this well, students are more likely to stay engaged instead of allowing the situation to derail their educational dreams. Faculty are content experts and course guides, certainly, but they can also be student champions, and that role makes all the difference for students. The value in taking the time to engage with students to learn about what is impacting students can make the difference between a student passing or failing a course. How can your faculty check in with students during the semester? CTU believes that this engagement is well worth the time it takes and potentially can lead to improved student outcomes.