In order for you to run a successful Higher Ed IT department, you must communicate with students. Effective communication must be ongoing and open, ensuring that this integral part of your user base always has an avenue to express their concerns or ask questions. This does not just benefit students, however. Fostering a positive relationship with your users allows their feedback to be accounted for during systems implementations, which will make university staff and faculty happier. Since fostering a strong line of communication with students is an important part of your IT department’s success, we would like to offer you five new methods to try!
The advisory council’s main goal should be to create a trusting relationship.
One way to bridge the gap between IT communications and your students is to invite them directly into the department by creating a student advisory council. The advisory council’s main goal should be to create a trusting relationship between IT and its user base by showing students that their input matters. In order to build that trusting relationship, you should involve the advisory council in as many IT-related activities as possible. These activities could include: prioritizing new implementations, offering input on new technologies and the effectiveness of potential projects, testing, and budgetary meetings. As every IT department is different, your student advisory council may need to take on a completely different role than the examples listed here. Ultimately, your department will have to determine the extent to which your student advisory council is involved. However, their involvement will be invaluable to IT’s relationship with a very important part of your user base.
Forming an advisory council is a great way to communicate with students and bridge the gap in IT communications, but it should not be your only venture into effective communication. Another way to involve more of this user base is to sponsor a series of open forums. In these forums, invite both students and IT personnel in to facilitate a larger conversation about the state your university’s IT department. You could also use these forums to streamline other types of communication efforts, like answering user questions that were submitted online.
The presentation should cover what you feel is most relevant to your department.
Similarly to how you integrate systems, your communication efforts can be integrated with other departments at your university. This can vary greatly depending on the department, but there are some key departments you should reach out to. For example, Residence Life should be easy to partner with; residential students will arguably be needing your IT services more than commuters, making the partnership ideal. Coordinating an IT communications presentation to show to Resident Assistants is an easy way to begin building this partnership. The presentation should cover what you feel is most relevant to your department—implementations, changes, policies—and will give the student leaders something to discuss.
You’ll have to get more creative in how you present your information.
Now that you’ve considered creating an advisory council and forming interdepartmental relationships, you’ll want to consider how your IT communications reach your user base. The most commonly used method, email, is potentially ineffective for reaching students. Email allows you to get your message out instantly, allowing you to make sure they are always informed. The drawback, however, is that your email will go unread when it becomes buried in a student’s inbox. Due to this, you’ll have to get more creative in how you present your information. One way could be allowing your interdepartmental colleagues to help spread the information to your user base. One way many universities combat this is by implementing text message alerts or by using existing campus tools, such as a student portal, as all students login to them and will be more likely to see your message.
While all of these methods of IT communication and relationship building are effective, we recommend that you keep a level of transparency with your students. The easiest way to do this is to keep an accurate log of your network and system statuses that is accessible to your user base. If a certain system is experiencing downtime or there is a network outage, it’s good to be as open about the issue with your users as possible. It may seem like a harmless omission, you don’t want to invest energy into creating this positive relationship with a crucial part of your user base just to have them feel that you are trying to hide something. Your students will be glad to know they’re being kept up in the know.
While it may seem like you do not need to communicate with students about everything, it is good practice. A clear and constant line of communication will only improve your IT department’s service and performance because your user base will feel like their opinions are valued. Furthermore, better IT communication practices allow your students to feel like your department is a genuine part of their university experience and not just a department to call when something needs fixing.
Your campus is a community and your IT department should feel like it has a relationship with the members of your community, including students.
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