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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Monthly lookback 3: February 2020

February has seen us turn our attention to working out how best to present fees information to prospective postgraduates. We also saw the Undergraduate Degree Finder 2021 go live on schedule.

This post is one in a regular series looking back at recent experiences in our team.

Read more lookback blog posts from Neil

What have we been doing?

We’ve completed one sprint, and are currently half way through another. Team activity has been in two areas:

  • Finalising and quality assuring the Undergraduate Degree Finder which went live 24 February
  • Developing and testing prototype website content that addresses the biggest issues we uncovered around the postgraduate fees experience

We recruited our software developer, and I’m pleased to be able to welcome Aaron McHale to the team. He joins us part time from mid-March, moving up to full time hours from September. Aaron brings an excellent range of technical skills, experience of working on University-wide initiatives with the Social Responsibility and Sustainability department, and excellent working relationships within the University’s developer community.

I’ve been liaising with members of the pilot Executive Steering Group, developing a remit,  and setting a first meeting date. The next task during March is promote the  operational steering groups, agreeing remit and membership.

I’ve continued to collaborate with colleagues in Information Services Applications Division on the future of the degree finder. They have now completed a degree finder options appraisal report with input from myself and Head of Digital Marketing, Steven Ross.

Disseminating  information about our focus, process and priorities continues. I’ve presented at a range of forums including the Medical Learning and Teaching Committees and the University-wide Marketing Forum this month. If you want a member of the team to come talk at your committee or meeting, get in touch.

Introduction to the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team: slides, video and transcript

What have we learned?

Our learning this month has largely been in the domain of student fees: the policy, process and technology that drives how students work out how much it costs to study at the University.

In a nutshell, it’s complex and there are lots of caveats. This places quite a lot of constraints on the prototype solutions we can move forward with, but the learning also stands us in good stead for future ongoing management, and for planning future states for the presentation of degree programme content beyond these early stages where we are targeting the quickest changes that will deliver greatest impact using existing web publishing technology.

The process of rapid, collaborative prototyping of potential solutions, and testing them out with students using representative scenarios is fundamental to the delivery of information that works for students.

The team has learned:

  • lots of specialist information essential to the development of new content
  • how students interact with and respond to the new ways of presenting content that they’ve come up with
  • new ways of collaborating with incredibly busy fees service staff to deliver prototypes that they’re comfortable with (in terms of policy and process)

Sprint 6 write up: including early prototypes of new fees content

What have we delivered?

Our key achievement this month has been the launch of the Undergraduate Degree Finder for 2021 entry, which went live on 24 February. Despite major changes in staff and responsibilities, new software and a delayed start we delivered on time to align with the year’s first student recruitment fairs.

This is a massive feat of coordination, involving colleagues across all schools and colleges, and in key central service departments. During this transitional year, we absolutely could not have done this without the coordinating efforts of Laurie Cameron-Back who brought her expertise and experience over from the Digital Marketing Team when our new team was established.

Laurie’s blog post about the launch of the Undergraduate Degree Finder 2021

Delivering annual content refreshes such as this are an unavoidable aspect of our work, but it does distract us from the main reason the team was established – the transformation and continuous improvement of all online content for prospective students.

While we have had quite a lot of focus on the degree finder, we’ve also been prioritising and prototyping improvements to prospective postgraduate fees content.

This is a tricky area to improve content. We are constantly walking a line between what is clear and comprehensible to students, with what the University is prepared to say about future fees. Students understandably want to be confident about their likely total cost of study, but this is difficult when fees levels are released on an annual basis and what an individual is due to pay depends on a number of variables.

At the end of Sprint 6 which concluded mid-February, we had watched students interact with our prototype content structures and complete top tasks much more successfully than on the current website. However, it was clear that we still had a way to go.

Being able to run through these experiences with members of the Fees team was a very positive step in terms of our growing collaboration. As I write this, we are in the middle of Sprint 7, with the team testing refined versions which have been co-designed with members of the fees team.

Sprint 6 write up: including early prototypes of new fees content

I’ve also been working on processes that will ensure the ongoing, open and transparent prioritisation of our work. In my presentations back in December, I talked about this process and how it would feed out sprint process.

The first meeting of the executive steering group, including senior members responsible for student recruitment and admissions in the three colleges and in central services has been organised and their remit is currently being reviewed. I’ll have more news on this in the next lookback.

Information about our prioritisation and steering process, in our introductory presentation – video, slides and transcript

More lookback blog posts

This post is one in a regular series looking back at recent experiences in our team.

Read more lookback blog posts from Neil


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