Have your say! And help us to enhance our student online communities
The University of Edinburgh (UoE) is so much more than bricks and mortar. It is at the heart of our city and a place where people come together to learn, share knowledge and experiences, have fun and be their best selves as part of a diverse and vibrant community.
In recent years, and especially since the Covid pandemic, more and more students are turning to online communities to meet and interact with one another, and University staff, both in their private and academic lives.
Enhancing the sense of community and belonging among our students is a key area where the University is working hard to improve experiences.
At present, the University does not have a central strategy, single service, or platform to support online communities.
Some current University services provide local solutions and students often also use commercial or private services, such as social media platforms.
Consequently, the University is now exploring ways it can better support, build and host online communities to bolster the sense of togetherness and interconnectivity, and ways in which students can interact online.
A new project has been launched by the UoE’s Information Services (ISG) department to investigate how IT and online tools and services can help the University to do this.
Although improving students’ sense of community is a challenge that is much broader than just the online tools used, this project will make recommendations on how to build better online communities and aims to create a business case for an approach and/or application to take this forward.
A survey asking students, staff and anyone else who wishes to share their thoughts and desires concerning online community services has been created by the project team and they are asking for as many people as possible to contribute.
Feedback to this survey will form a key part of informing the project team’s decision making and recommendations.
The project team will additionally identify good practices internally and from across the higher education sector, as well as review vendor case studies and industry research from US consulting firm Gartner.
They will also examine whether online tools and systems rely on wider cultural changes to be effective.
Moreover, they will help to identify and understand any potential weaknesses in current UoE online community services provision that could, if addressed, enrich student experience.
The project will consider both students who study entirely online and those who come to Edinburgh whose communities may interact both online and in person.
This will take into account the diversity of students’ needs, expectations, experiences and access, such as for part-time postgraduate students who are studying while they work, full-time but online-only students, as well as those who are on campus.
Not only is the project engaging with students to gain their insights and guide the focus on student experience, but a number of students have been brought onboard to work on the project and create the survey, providing them with a great experience in project management and working on a business case.
Chelsea Yang, one of the Project Services Student Workers involved in the project, said: "As a student who started her university life under the pandemic, most of my studies and social life inside the university are highly relying on our online communities, which makes me understand their strengths and weaknesses and the importance of improving them.
“Doing a business analyst internship at ISG gives me the opportunity to look at things from a different angle. We have been exploring the possibilities that we can have to make our online communities better. I’m happy that I can be part of the project and looking forward to learning more from people around me."
Overall, the project will contribute to the University’s wider Strategy 2030 goal – "We foster a welcoming community, where staff, students, alumni and friends feel proud to be part of our university".
By helping the UoE to grow and enhance our online communities this project will help to make the University an even better place to live, learn, make friends and come together to share fantastic experiences.
To contribute to the project survey please follow this link: https://edinburgh.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/external-staff-survey-copy