Nicola Venditozzi, Student Counselor and Psychologist, University of Adelaide
The rise of eco-distress
The increase in interest and engagement with the vast array of material around climate change is likely to be having an impact upon us all in some form. It is, therefore, of no surprise that anxiety or distress related to these issues is beginning to show itself in our student populations. The requests for support through the Counselling Service in recent months indicate that whilst for some, climate related concern generates moves to activism, it can also lead to anxiety and distress that many people are struggling to deal with. Communicating with and engaging students in helpful dialogue around this issue is a challenge that we are all likely to face at increasing rates as we move forward into the next decade.
“Standing together” to open useful narratives
With the theme “Stand Together” for the 2019 Mental Health Week events at the University of Adelaide, Student Life and Ecoversity came together and created an event that brought students and staff together to foster helpful dialogue around building psychological resilience in this time of environmental uncertainty and change. Student Life contains the shared expertise of the Counselling Service, Disability Service and International Student Support and provides tangible and useful input to students that maximise their opportunities at university. Developing a campus culture that values and applies sustainable practices is at the heart of Ecoversity’s vision therefore, ‘standing together’ in delivering this event combined these shared goals with a great opportunity to engage the university community in dialogue around building resilience.
Together, on Wednesday 9th October, we hosted a film screening of “2040 – Join the Regeneration” followed by a panel discussion with members from local government, research, clinical practice and industry. The combination of a film screening, social media engagements, informal discussion and facilitated panel session reflected some of the diversity in how we now seek to engage with information. It also provided a forum which allowed people to engage flexibly with a narrative that promoted problem solving, hope and compassion in a time where we can so easily become entangled in despair and avoidance. With over one hundred attendees, the conversation that developed was thought provoking, challenging and importantly connected us not only as individuals but to a broader network of information and support.
Following the success of this event, a strong relationship between Student Life and Ecoversity represents one way in which the University of Adelaide can continue to provide supportive forums for open dialogue around managing the challenges faced as a result of our changing environment. With support and hope comes the ability to respond to our emotional challenges and develop the resilience to move forward into a more sustainable world.
Travis Logan, Student Communications Manager, Auckland University of Technology
As one of the fastest growing universities in New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has an enormous opportunity – to contribute to the quality, aspiration, and success of the next generation. AUT is New Zealand’s second largest university with approximately 29,000 students studying across three campuses in the wider Auckland region. The University aims to bring together people, knowledge, and potential in ways that create unique learning experiences for individuals, experiences that are relevant, inspiring, social, and supportive.
AUT is made up of a diverse community of individuals at different stages of life, who engage with and respond to communication channels differently.
In 2014, the Student Communications team was established to offer communications guidance and advice, supporting the full range of support services, including: admissions, graduation, fees, finances, medical, counselling and mental health, accommodation, international student queries, learning disabilities, students of concern, and Rainbow identity.
The Student Communications team
As the Student Communications team was being established, the decision was made for the team to sit within the Student Services and Administration (SSA) division. This ensures messages to students come from a team that are focused purely on current students and embedded within the support systems designed to help enable student success. However, the team regularly collaborates with the Corporate Communications, Brand and Marketing teams to ensure overall alignment and consistency of messages.
The team consists of a Director of Student Communications, Manager and Co-ordinator, with a Graphic Designer and Photographer, and casual student staffing as required.
Mike Shaw, Director of Student Communications says the team has worked to disrupt, transform, and innovate the way the division, and AUT, communicates and engages with students.
"Getting information through to students is a challenge. It takes much more than simply hitting send on an email.
2019 has certainly been the most exciting and rewarding of the journey so far. We have launched some new and innovative ways of communicating and sharing information with students and have started to cement ourselves as strategic communications practitioners who can add value to a range of levels within the University.
But we can’t be complacent. As a University of Technology, we’re always growing our knowledge and discovering ways to do things better. Our students want to be enabled to find out about things and act easily. It’s our job to continue to make that happen.”
Student communication channels
Over the past two years, the team has introduced a range of traditional and digital student communications channels, to achieve an omni-channel approach. These include:
Every communication, whether it’s the fortnightly newsletter, social media post or a message on the Student App, is regularly reviewed and assessed to see what worked and what didn’t. The team is fortunate to sit next to the Student Experience and Hub Connect teams. Many people in these teams are current students or who have recently graduated and are willing to provide advice to make sure our communication hits the mark with students.
Stop, collaborate and listen
A key ingredient for the Student Communications team is collaboration, ensuring other teams are aware of what we do and vice versa.
The team has been working with the Student Employability team to encourage students to attend employability events and on-campus employer seminars. This involves the two teams working together to understand and agree on the messaging and which students need to be invited, based on programme of study, campus, ethnicity and year of study. With over 29,000 students, targeted communications is key in ensuring ongoing adoption.
The team partnered with the Business Intelligence team to develop AUT’s most sophisticated Student App. Launched in August this year, the App is transforming the way students receive news, events, and notifications from AUT. The news, events, and notifications are personalised and relevant to each student, as it is based on their AUT profile i.e. campus, year of study, programme etc. In addition, the App provides students with a means to opt in or out of other categories, enabling them to select what news and events are promoted to them.
Earlier this year, AUT established the Student Communications Advisory Committee, consisting of people from different departments and teams who meet once a month to discuss what’s new in the Student Communications area, and to offer their opinions on whether a new initiative or activity will land with their students.
Jessica Burden, Marketing Manager and Karla Brandstater, Student Engagement and Retention Officer
The English Language and Foundation Studies Centre provides a pathway into undergraduate degrees. This cohort of over 3,000 includes both on campus and online students who can study full-time or part-time. It is an ongoing challenge to engage and retain this cohort due the nature of the demographic of our students including low barriers to entry and exit, and a large cohort of online students. Communication has been a key area of focus for student engagement and retention in the Centre, which has resulted in an audit of current student communications channels.
Historically, most university teaching or academic staff have communicated with their students at both a course and program level by using the send announcement as email function in the online learning environment Blackboard. Within the Centre, this was also common practice and while staff actively used this function to communicate with students studying their course, it was difficult to know if students were indeed reading these messages.
Why move away?
Challenges in convincing teaching or academic staff to move away from communicating via Blackboard include:
To test this final point, an ‘impersonation’ email was setup (and delivered via Campaign Monitor) that appeared in students’ inbox previewing exactly as the standard email message sent from Blackboard would.
Example A: How a message from Blackboard previews in student’s inbox:
Example B: How ‘Impersonation’ Blackboard email example from Campaign Monitor previews:
Teaching staff had been surveyed on their estimation of the number of students that read the Blackboard messages they were sending, with some staff estimating up to 90 or 100% of students reading their messages. In actual fact, the open rate was closer to 20% as seen below:
Preferred alternative communication method(s) and justification
Results to date
Face-to-Face day Case Study
Clean up of Blackboard Portals Case Study
With the move away from Blackboard as a communication tool for students, efforts have been made to create a streamlined template for program Blackboard portals. By removing the outdated information existing on the portal, a more user-friendly experience for students is created, improving engagement with the portal.
The portal will be used to direct students to personalised support websites which are up to date and specific to their study plan. This will not only reduce duplication, but having one source of truth will limit errors, confusion, and minimise the time staff spend updating multiple Blackboard portals.
The case studies to date have demonstrated a small investment of time at the initial stage of moving the process over to an email campaign or CRM system has reaped significant rewards both in reducing staff workload and significantly increased visibility of student engagement with communications.
While Blackboard is a valuable learning management system, we will continue to explore alternative methods for communicating messages historically sent using the ‘Announcement as Email’ function, including:
Kaitlin Moore, HELPS Admin Coordinator & postgraduate student, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
International students take risks to develop a sense of belonging through English speaking practice programs
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the courage it takes to find your voice in a new language and what happens when you do. I used to live in the USA, and for several years coordinated academic support programs in a community college in the South Bronx, New York. At my institution, the majority of students, faculty and staff spoke Spanish and I quickly understood that to connect with colleagues and students, I should speak the language of the community. So I put on my learner hat, practised on my Duolingo app as I rode the subway, and listened to people around me speak. Sure, my comprehension was okay, but could I speak up? No way! I felt intimidated, unwilling to appear foolish, make a mistake, or be misunderstood. I was trying to go it alone, but quite simply lacked the courage to fail.
Feedback from students who engage with HELPS (Higher Education Language and Presentations Support) is described in this article.
“I would like to have more opportunity to speak though I would [sic] afraid”. Conversations student.
At HELPS, I see students looking to build the same connections in Sydney that I was in the Bronx – connections to peers, staff and faculty, connections to ideas, and for many, connections with a new country. For international students, navigating Australian social norms, questioning Sydney’s sluggish public transport system, and deciding what to buy in our weird supermarkets is all part of the daily struggle. And while working so hard to fit in, students also face the challenge of learning academic English and thinking critically in English. Suddenly international student life seems like a massive undertaking. In my case, I at least had the privilege of knowing I wouldn’t lose my job over my less-than-stellar language outcomes. But for international students, their sense of belonging, academic performance, and sometimes familial obligations are often at stake.
“I want to stress out [sic] that it is definitely very tricky to find friends as an international student, but Conversations at UTS helped me a lot”. Conversations student.
At UTS right now, we’re talking a lot about how to best support students with different language backgrounds. I think it’s essential that we support our students to find a sense of belonging because connecting with others is key to accessing opportunities and sustaining relationships. At university we connect and share knowledge about our academic interests, professional goals and ways to navigate the “gatekeepers” that govern our institutional life. Without connection, navigating these systems can become overwhelming and sometimes isolating.
“The fact that Talkfest is able to help international students gain a sense of belonging at university is very meaningful”. TalkFest volunteer.
When supporting our students, we should remember that building connection relies on the ability to communicate effectively. For some of us, acquiring the skills to communicate effectively in an academic environment takes longer. And it will sometimes be hard, and sometimes we will fall down. But if we have somewhere safe to fall, then we might just find the courage to get back up again.
“A safe or comfortable environment to talk in English. That’s quite important... if you make lots of mistakes and people laugh at you or they feel confused about your language — you will feel stressed or pressure at the beginning”. Buddy Program student.
If being courageous means showing strength in the face of challenging situations, then I think our students have it in spades. I see acts of bravery every day at UTS – students who come to HELPS seeking academic skills support alongside their peers, and students who show up to practise speaking and make friends in the Buddy Program and TalkFest. Students who attend Conversations or a U:PASS class are acting bravely simply by walking through the door to face the challenges of the day’s topic.
I’ve been at UTS six short months but it feels like home now. There is a sense of community here that I never expected to find at a large urban university. Students are entitled to share in that community and I think the key to that is to give them the space to connect and be brave.
“It offers me an opportunity to connect to the university. Also, I made friends in Conversations@UTS”. Conversations student.
Everyone can encourage students to find their voice, connect and be brave. Here are three things we can think about:
Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Head, Va’a o Tautai, Health Sciences, University of Otago
Ola Malohi study is a Health Research Council of New Zealand funded longitudinal study (over 3 years) that explores the mental health and wellbeing of Pacific students starting their journey at university. It seeks to describe the risk and protective factors that influence their mental health and wellbeing, examine students’ expectations and experiences, access to support services and the role of health care providers. The research outcomes will be used to advocate for helpful institutional policies, and further assist in developing suitable targeted Pacific intervention programmes.
There were 184 eligible participants who were invited to complete two surveys (semester 1 and semester 2) and 30 were interviewed using the Talanoa approach. The response rate was 68% and 65% for the first and second surveys respectively. Most students who participated in the study were 18 and 19 years old, of whom two thirds were females and one third were males. At least of half of the participants were studying towards a career related to health in the Division of Health Sciences.
To successfully engage the participants, many forms of communication methods were used. These included emails, text messages, phone calls, posters, advertisements on Facebook, and reaching out to the student associations and all the residential college wardens in the recruitment process. We also involved the Transitions Officer from the Pacific Islands as he had established relationships with the participants.
At the end of the year, we organised a barbeque to disseminate the preliminary results to the participants and to show our appreciation for their commitment to the study. We look forward to following up the same cohort over the next two years to explore further how the University can best assist their mental health and wellbeing while undertaking tertiary studies. We look forward to having results to share with the ANZSSA professional community over the coming years.
Kelly Skilton, Chaplain, Monash University
Finding ways for student engagement is an endless task for tertiary Chaplains. Often we overlook our own strengths and qualifications when we seek to champion those we work alongside. Rather than quenching these strengths, we need to engage with them as opportunities for connection. As community workers we have experience of running events, programs, camps, committees, groups, forums, and the list goes on. These are amazing resources as our role includes, and goes beyond, pastoral care and support.
Finding times where we are able to share and connect can be difficult as the nature of students on campus is structured around their preset classes. We have found that the easiest ways to initiate involvement is via established University events. An easy example is Orientation Week. During this time, students are actively seeking to connect, gain campus information and looking at ways to enhance university life.
The aim was to be able to respond to the above dot points by offering a space for students to reflect on their University engagement. We focused around each person’s relationship with work, family, personal and social commitments. These sessions, listed above, were effective avenues to carry out the Spiritual Care Intervention Codings, articulated by the World Health Organisation, as well as set a foundation for us to implement these specified health classifications throughout the rest of the year.
We focused toward the Bullet Journalling method as a way to show different approaches to structure your tasks and timetabling. This was more than just timetabling our classes, but was across all areas of sleep, friendship, work, study and fun. It was a great way to teach students how to manage their own life expectations and their University assessments. We found that this was an attractive session for people to attend as Bullet Journalling is a current trend and we were able to teach effective ways to adapt to a university lifestyle.
Benjamin Cherry-Smith, Master of Arts (Research) Candidate and Dale Mitchell, PhD Candidate, University of the Sunshine Coast
The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) is a young, regional university with a rapidly growing Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student cohort. Our cohort has developed at an accelerated rate in an environment with an ever-developing research capacity and increased regulatory and budgetary pressures. For universities, the creation of a research community is not only vital to ensure student wellbeing and interdisciplinary collaboration, but to also create a sense of belonging – an indicator of student capacity and success (Shacha & Od-Cohen 2009). We sought to create a writing-group which both brought our community together to research, and which also created a sense of community. The resulting project, Write Club, has become a staple of the USC academic and research calendar.
Rule #1: Talk about Write Club
Write Club is a multi-modal writing group, centred upon the critical work of putting pen-to-paper, but which also helps connect peer-to-peer in an environment which increasingly confronts the tyranny of distance associated with our multi-campus environment. Unlike in Fight Club, the film from which the group unashamedly takes its name, our first rule is to talk about Write Club and to share the love for this collaborative space.
The purpose of Write Club is to:
Rule #2: Timing is everything
Write Club runs every Tuesday and Thursday from 8-10am. This was a strategic decision, with students consulted prior to this scheduling becoming concrete. Consistent scheduling multiple-times throughout the week has been key to the success of this venture, with Tuesday and Thursday avoiding interruption by public holidays and also allowing some creative marketing: ‘If the day starts with T it’s time for Write Club.’
Even when at Write Club, timing is central. Write Club has been structured this semester through the use of the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro technique, popularised by Francesco Cirillo, seeks to reduce anxieties related to performing complex task by splitting work into four 20-25-minute increments, interspersed with 5-minute breaks. After four of these increments (one Pomodoro), the individual is permitted a longer break.
Francesco Cirillo notes the first goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to ‘alleviate anxiety linked to becoming’ (emphasis in original) (Cirillo 2007, p 3). For our purposes, the Pomodoro Technique also alleviated anxiety to becoming a community. We chose to run the group using the Pomodoro Technique because it allowed for short conversations during the session and emphasises a 30-minute break at the end of every four writing blocks.
Rule #3: Be open, inclusive and understanding
To allow students who are not at our primary campus to attend we utilise Zoom, a teleconferencing software. This software allows external students to write along with those who are physically in the room, and also for them to witness and share in conversation during the session through video-conferencing. It is vital that Zoom be an option. The HDR journey is isolating, and for those who are not physically located near the main campus, or even near any campus, it can be even more so.
Over the course of the semester, the group has had a steady, if fluctuating, attendance. The students who attend are at all stages of their HDR journey, with some having only just started, others nearing confirmation, and some close to submission. This diversity in student attendance has created a supportive environment where sharing knowledge, tips and tricks to survive and thrive throughout the HDR journey.
Rule #4: Community comes first (and coffee a close second)
Write Club is not solely about writing – it connects students in a social space outside of work. The HDR journey, whether Masters or Doctorate level, is an isolating experience (Hunt, 2010). Research shows that HDR students are more prone to mental health issues due to the stress of the degree (Pain, 2017) and there is a culture of ‘publish or perish’ (McGrail & Jones, 2006). Write Club seeks to not only remove students from their own isolation to engage in writing, but to also create an environment where students are able to share their struggles, ask questions and seek advice from peers.
We secured funding from the University to purchase coffee for Write Club attendees. By going to the cafe, we create connections between students and allow for general discussions to happen. This allows for conversations which are often cut-off by the limited 5-minute break between the writing sessions. Coffee also provides an added incentive for students to get out of bed early, trek into campus, and be productive.
Rule #5: It’s right to write
Write Club has proved to be a success, with plans for it to continue into 2020. Heidi, a Master of Science student, recently remarked: “I’ve found that if I don’t come to Write Club on a Tuesday, I don’t get any work done for that week. It sets me up to work.” This group has not only allowed for the creation of new friendships and increased outputs, but for critical reflection on the way in which participants write. In a community which is increasingly dispersed and pressured, events like Write Club provide opportunities for peers to share their own best practice and to connect beyond their disciplinary space.
We are excited to see where Write Club goes into the future – potentially exploring different writing techniques and meeting new friends in the process. Write Club has helped us to ‘start the day write’, but it has also shown how writing can provide a way of doing right by students, and creating a more collaborative, connected research community.
Cirillo, F 2007, The Pomodoro Technique, Franscesco Cirillo.
Hunt, J 2010, ‘Mental Health Problems and Help-Seeking Behavior Among College Students,’ Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 3-10.
McGrail, M, Rickard, C, & Jones, R 2006, ‘Publish or perish: a systematic review of interventions to increase academic publication rates,’ Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 19-35.
Pain, E, 2017, ‘Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges,’ Science, 4 April, Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/04/phd-students-face-significant-mental-health-challenges.
Shacha, M, Od-Cohen, Y 2009, ‘Rethinking PhD learning incorporating communities of practice,’ Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 279-292.
ANZSSA members are encouraged to check out blogs about supporting student success here. They are a great read and our ANZSSA President, Dr Christie White, encourages you to consider submitting a blog in her Tweet below.
Looking for a new employee? Or looking for your next career move? The ANZSSA website provides a space for job opportunities in the student services sector to be listed. If you have a position available that you would like to share - it can be posted here.
Job opportunities can be viewed here.
ANZSSA has had the pleasure of awarding $1000 sponsorships for one Australian student and one New Zealand student to put towards the cost of their attendance to the 2019 ANZSSA Conference. These students will have the opportunity to engage with a variety of students and staff from other institutions, represent their student community in a panel, further develop their leadership skill set, and share their learnings with their own student community. Congratulations Emma Pratt, student of University of Canterbury, New Zealand and Raymart Walker, student of University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia as the recipients of this year’s student sponsorships.
Many oral presentations and workshops at the upcoming ANZSSA Conference will focus on communication and engagement with students through storytelling, effective engagement, alternate narratives, perspectives and voices. The Conference Programme includes case studies and success stories such as the University of Queensland’s Student-Staff Partnerships program and sub-programs, featured in ‘Fostering new approaches to student representation at the University of Queensland’, presented by student, Naima Crisp and one of the program leaders, Dr James Forde. Dr Howard Wang will show case the Duke Kunshan University Student leadership development program and it’s take-aways for global student affairs practitioners. Jackie Dean will be joined by colleagues from the University of Otago Career Development Centre to facilitate a workshop on the role of students’ narratives in career counselling and how participants might influence the stories told. Keynote speaker, Laura O’Connell Rapira will discuss engagement and communication lessons from crowdfunded community campaigning organisation, ActionStation, in her pre-Conference workshop to explore their application to a student community setting.
Full registration includes access to all sessions and catering on the Conference Programme across the 3 event days, 9-11th December, a ticket to the Welcome Reception and the Conference Dinner and complimentary access to campus Unipol Gym facilities. Student 3-day registrations and single day registrations are also available, with additional tickets still available for purchase to the Welcome Reception and Conference Dinner. Pre-Conference activities are available for ANZSSA member and non-member registrations including workshops presented by keynote speakers Laura O’Connell Rapira and Lesley D’Souza – Conference registration is not required, workshops can be registered for as stand-alone activities.
A highly anticipated event on the Annual ANZSSA Conference programme will be held this year, at Larnach Castle, Dunedin. This Dinner and return bus transfers are included in your full conference registration with additional tickets available for purchase through the registration page.
The conference theme carries through to the Dinner with 'Once upon a time...' being the theme for the evening. Join fellow conference delegates and guests at this spectacular castle with history dating back to 1871, located on the Otago Peninsula. Choose to dress up if you like, tell a story, come as your favourite character, or choose to come as you are. Dress to impress, just don't forget your dancing shoes!
Join us for this Professional Development day for Higher Education Counsellors. Participants will gain knowledge and understanding of current issues and innovation in the tertiary counselling context. To promote and exchange new ideas and practices impacting the work of Higher Education Counsellors.
Friday 29 November 2019
9:00am - 4:30pm
RMIT, Cnr La Trobe & Swanston Sts, Melbourne
30th ISANA International Education Association Conference from 3 - 6 December at the Bayview Eden Melbourne.
The theme of the conference is: Leading and inspiring through collaboration: Student wellbeing and support services, today and tomorrow. The conference will give us the opportunity to explore and discuss the many factors that contribute to the overall student success, both within and outside the classroom.
The JANZSSA Editors invite submissions from ANZSSA members and student services and affairs workers for inclusion in JANZSSA Vol 28 Issue 1 (April 2020). JANZSSA publishes peer reviewed articles, professional papers, best practice examples, book reviews and reports. Along with seasoned contributors, new authors are encouraged to submit articles on their work for publication. Support for authors is provided by the JANZSSA Editorial team to assist with readiness for publication. Information and Submission Guidelines for authors are available at: https://janzssa.scholasticahq.com/for-authors
Remember, as a publication your work in Student Services and Affairs supports not only your professional development but also encourages your colleagues and supports them in the important work that they do in student support and services in higher education.
The JANZSSA editors also invite members of the ANZSSA community to nomination to be involved in JANZSSA and would be delighted to accept expressions of interest from ANZSSA members who would like to:
a) review as a peer articles submitted for consideration for publication;
b) take on an associate editorial role.
JANZSSA relies on ANZSSA members to provide support for the production of each publication and both these roles are important to ensure that JANZSSA continues as a professional journal.
Please contact the JANZSSA editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.