How a mobile app improved student satisfaction with university communication
Back in 2020, early in ErasmusX’s existence, we started to notice an issue that students were struggling with. It had to do with the plethora of digital platforms offered by the university to students. The list is long, but the most prominent platforms were Osiris for grades, Canvas for courses, MyEUR for general information, timetables for schedules and the infamous email inbox for even more general and course-related information. We started looking into it because we wanted to understand how this affected students. Was this a problem that was a slight annoyance for them or was it affecting students more thoroughly?
We identified two key problem areas:
After performing two rounds of qualitative interviews and a quantitative survey (which included students from most faculties), we identified 2 key problem areas that students reported being caused by the abundance of different digital (information) platforms:
1. Issues related to looking for information: Students reported facing issues when they had a need for information. Where should they look for it? Who do they need to reach out to if they face a problem? Was information sent by email, or is it somewhere on MyEUR? Essentially, they found it tough to navigate the several digital platforms when they have an active need for information. It resulted in unnecessarily wasting time they could have also spent on their studies, and sometimes not finding what they were looking for on official university platforms and turning to student-driven information pools instead (such as group chats, fellow students, social media).
2. Issues related to receiving information: On the other hand of the spectrum, the availability of different digital platforms also means that the university and the faculties tend to communicate information through different channels (such as by email, by Canvas or by MyEUR). This resulted in students sometimes missing out on important information because of overflowing email inboxes or information was missed because it was somewhere on MyEUR. Another issue that we noticed is that urgent/important information & unimportant information is often presented visually indistinguishable. That means that students can’t easily distinguish what is important for them from less-relevant information.
After working on this for a while, we learned we weren’t the only one on campus noticing this. After talking to Wietse Buijs, Sanne van der Meer and Isabel Bezemer, all part of the Erasmus School of Law’s Learning & Innovation team, we quickly found out they were facing similar issues within the Erasmus School of Law (ESL). And from that moment onwards, we decided to continue this journey together.
Collaboration with ESL & launching a pilot
It was September 2021 when we decided to collaborate with a clear goal: we wanted to test if we could solve the aforementioned problems by centralizing all faculty-related information into just one app, one platform.
Bear in mind that we were keeping course-related information out of scope because of technical limitations and because Canvas, of all platforms, is one that students tend to like best.
We decided to launch a pilot in which we used an existing solution (provided by ReadyEducation) to test whether such a solution could indeed solve the issues presented above. Their white label app StuComm was built to present information coming from multiple systems into just one interface, and they were doing this for multiple universities across the country (and even internationally).
Launching the pilot and the app, also meant we had to come up with a name for it; the birth of the MyESL app was there!
We invited all bachelor 2 and bachelor 3 students of a specific study within the Erasmus School of Law to take part in the pilot. Although all those students were granted access to the app, using the app was completely optional. That means that we kept the regular lines of communication intact, while also offering an alternative (the piloted solution).
Before the launch: Let’s first do some research
Research was a vital part of this project. We conducted research to explore how these law students experienced the process of information provision and search. To answer that question, we first conducted interviews to check if our earlier findings still hold up. After the interviews, we could indeed conclude that students found information (relevant to their studies) to be scattered and they expressed wanting an easy and clear way to access it.
We also surveyed 110 students from ESL to describe their satisfaction with faculty-related communication. The survey quantified how satisfied the students were with different aspects of communication at ESL (from 1: very dissatisfied to 5: very satisfied). We found that the main cause of student dissatisfaction with ESL communication came from the lack of centralization of information and lack of speed and ease with which the students could find the faculty-related information. The students also informed us that they would prefer to use their smartphones to access faculty-related information and that they wanted an application that was uncluttered, comprehensive and clear.
All these findings did not only help us to (1) shape the MyESL app according to student needs, it also (2) further strengthened the idea that the implementation of the MyESL app was an excellent opportunity to improve the quality of communication between ESL and their students.
Pilot in full effect: What happened after we launched the MyESL app?
One month after launching the MyESL app, we conducted a research focus group to gain insight into student experience with the app and so we could make improvements at an early stage (if needed). The students we talked to were enthusiastic about the app and had a positive experience during the first month of use. They liked that the content was comprehensive and that they had direct access to their email and the campus map. As 3rd year students, they mentioned that they would’ve loved having something like this when they first started studying at EUR/ESL. They also gave specific feedback about increasing the frequency of notifications and improving the visual presentation of specific pages. Their suggestions were quickly incorporated, and that improved the experience for both new students and for students already using the app. Around three and a half months after launching the app, we conducted interviews to explore how students from the Erasmus School of Law experienced the information search, information reception, and the use of the MyESL app. The students gave positive feedback about the MyESL app, and found the app useful, convenient, and valuable, mainly because it centralizes all relevant information for them, i.e., study results, timetables, information related to their study & contact information. They loved that all the relevant information was available on their smartphone. They also indicated that they would have loved having this app since year 1. Since the students in our sample were bachelor 2 & 3 students, they already formed their own (suboptimal) habits to deal with the key problems. They believed that ‘raising’ new students with this app from the very start of their academic experience would make their lives much easier and improve their educational experience.
Four months after launching the app, we sent out the same survey we previously asked students to fill out before the app launched. We wanted to compare satisfaction between users and non-users of the MyESL app. In total, 102 filled out this second survey. We found that students that used the MyESL app were more satisfied with ESL communication than students that did not use the app. Most students that used the MyESL app found it useful and agreed that ESL should continue using the app. The results of this study supported the continued use of the MyESL app by ESL students and identified opportunities for scaling-up the application to the whole faculty.
Scaling up to the entire faculty
The Erasmus School of Law was very satisfied with the results of the pilot and decided to fully adopt the MyESL app and offer it to all students. By the start of the 2022/2023 academic year, the Erasmus School of Law actively promoted the MyESL app to all students. While still keeping usage of the app optional, they saw over 70% of all ESL students downloading the app. A huge success!