Professor Cliff Allan, Studiosity UK Academic Advisory Board member and former Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham City University talks with Professor Ezingeard, Vice-Chancellor, University of Roehampton, London about the experience of working with Studiosity and the benefits that those services bring to the university's students.
What made you decide to provide Studiosity services to to your students at Roehampton?
It was quite simple, we had long considered how we could offer additional out of hours academic support to our students. So it was one of the drivers, and one of the challenges that we have as a university is supporting students who have complex lives. A lot of our students are commuter students and they also tend to need to work to support themselves during their studies. So for them being able to receive support regardless of their location, whether they're working on campus, whether they're working at home, in a café or indeed a workplace, is one of the challenges that we need to resolve.
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In parallel with that, the university had a strategy which was encompassed under a heading of Library Anywhere. And that's a strategy that we devised prior 2019 to ensure that students were able to access all library resources and supporting academic skills from wherever they are, and there was I think a good convergence of opportunity between our Library Anywhere project and what Studiosity offered. So as a result of a piece of work in terms of the market research around what was available to augment the Library Anywhere project, but also the pilots that we conducted, we knew that Studiosity would fit the bill and that's what led us to signing this agreement.
One of the things that really interested me when I joined the Academic Advisory Board of Studiosity was its emphasis on working in close partnership with the universities.
What has Studiosity been like to work with as a partner?
Talking to colleagues across the university, it's been a very positive experience, working to to a number of agendas, whether we're talking about the academic agenda, but also the technology integration agenda. And from the first pilot, we were provided with support to set up the service, training and guidance, and that's allowed us to integrate the service within our existing support services.
We also do a lot of work with Studiosity in terms of encouraging students to use the service. So we had support from them in terms of the marketing material and Studiosity colleague's attended, for instance, our freshers' fair to promote the service and engage with students, but also engage with academics. And since then, we've worked very closely with an account manager. I know there are regular meetings. We're provided with excellent data that gives us a sense of usage of the system. When a sense of any bottlenecks that we might be experiencing, and that integrates into our student dashboard. We also receive regular support to understand what needs individual students might have expressed and what needs might have been identified to then put in place further interventions. And that's through our student engagement team and wellbeing services. So all in all, it's been a great partnership and one that's supported by by great data.
"Student engagement with the service has been at extremely high, probably from day one"
How have you found student engagement at university? And have you been pleased with the level of engagement so far?
Yes, is the short answer! Student engagement with the service has been at extremely high, probably from day one. We've marketed the service to students extensively, embedded it with other academic skills services. And I know that we are one of the universities with the highest usage in the first year and that usage has then continued to grow.
- 8,577 Writing Feedback submissions and 550 Connect Live sessions were delivered between September 2019 and August 2020
- 66% of support was used out-of-hours (combined use outside of 9 am – 5 pm; on weekends and public holidays)
Read the full University of Roehampton case study here
In terms of feedback from the students, do you have any examples of or thoughts about what their experiences have been of the service?
We've had feedback through two mechanisms, firstly, the data that we get from Studiosity, and that includes qualitative feedback as well as quantitative feedback. We also have our own internal feedback system, particularly through the library. And what's quite clear coming from those two data sets is that students are very positive about the service and many use their full allowance of sessions. And I think the feedback is positive in two areas. Firstly, the service they receive and the feedback that they receive on their work. But secondly, they really appreciate the 24/7 element of the service. And as I mentioned before, a lot of our students have a need for support 24/7 because some of them are commuter students. Some of them have jobs outside at the university. And that 24/7 availability is very important for them.
We've also got an integrated system whereby we support the curriculum through Studiosity at various points which are indicated in the student journey. And that has meant that students know when a good time is for them to access the service. And that's also been helpful for them in terms of making good use of their sessions allowances. A recent example that I can give is the MSC in Life Sciences programme that has recently completely integrated the Studiosity student's journey with the student journey for the MSC. And they now are one of the highest users of the service at the university.
"it provides an opportunity to fill a gap that they weren't able to address"
What about staff members, particularly academic staff? Do they see the services as a benefit?
We have embedded Studiosity within our learning skills hub, and it's very much an extension of that service that's provided by our Academic Achievement team, which is located within Library Services. And the team delivers a range of services to support academic writing, reading, research, finding resources, dissertation planning, preparing for exams, and how to reference and cite, but also maths and stats support. And so it's very much part of a package. Staff at the university welcome that addition to the package they're able to provide. It's part of their armoury, so to speak, and it's something that they like. So, effectively it provides an opportunity to fill a gap that they weren't able to address through the service in the way it was set up. And therefore, we've had excellent feedback from staff.
So what you have emphasised several times is the importance of how Studiosity has become integrated to a whole range of student support services. Do you think this is quite critical because sometimes additional external services can feel a bit like a bolt on, so to speak. So can you say something about the criticality of this integration?
Yes, very much so. So that's the strategy we we planned right at the front, we felt if this is going to work, we've got to see it as a holistic experience. We've got to look at the learning journey that our students are on and how we can support that learning journey through various mechanisms, Studiosity being one of those. So that need for integration was really made clear at the beginning of the project. It's something that I think we've delivered on through our partnership with Studiosity. And that's been one of the critical success factors of the project.
What it would have been like had we not integrated, is difficult for me to answer because we have and I know that's delivered. But what we know is when we have bolt on services that we add on a piecemeal basis, usage tends to be lower. And a lot of the time what we notice is, of course, that take-up is patchy. And often it's those students who are in the greatest need of the service that don't and that end up not knowing that it's there. So the integration is important to make sure that everybody is aware of of what's available and can avail themselves to the support that we provide.
"I believe it's been a worthwhile investment for the university"
From your perspective as a Vice Chancellor, leader of a university, what have you seen as the main benefit of this kind of service being introduced?
I think the benefit is measured by the improvements in the quality of the work that we receive from students, and informally, I hear from my colleagues that there have been improvements in the quality of the work submitted.
The data we have indicates that the demand for the service is there and that the service is being taken up. And what that indicates is that there are benefits for students, otherwise they wouldn't be using the service.
All Vice Chancellors have to make critical investment decisions. Resourcing is a crucial factor of the role, of course, and the decision to bring in organisations such as Studiosity cost money. Therefore, could you comment about the relative value for money that the Studiosity service is bringing to the university, having made that decision to sign up for five years?
So all student support costs money, but that's what we're here for and we've got to make wise decisions about how we invest our student fees in services that they want and they need. And as I've mentioned already, the service is well used and well received. Therefore, I I believe it's been a worthwhile investment for the university.
Thank you to Professors Jean-NoëL Eizingeard and Cliff Allan.