Keeping Admissions Competitive in a Mobile-First World

How mobile campus tours boost student engagement, keep costs under control.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Keowen

CREDIT Guidebook image.pngThe campus tour is an essential, high-yield recruitment tool for prospective students and their families. One of the services most in demand from prospective students and families, it’s also one of the most difficult to scale.

With up to 75 percent of students visiting campus without an official scheduled tour, there are droves of stealth applicants flying under the radar. These visitors are likely missing out on interactions that tap into the experiences of current students – interactions that will guide their decisions and compel them to apply.

To address this gap, colleges and universities are increasingly turning to mobile technology.

Meet students on mobile

Today, discovery happens right where students are most comfortable: on their mobile phones. 85 percent of students own smart phones and they’re spending 8-10 hours on those devices every day. It’s no surprise that students begin their relationship with institutions earlier and earlier each year, orienting themselves with schools online through Google searches and social media.

In today’s competitive admissions environment, reaching out to students through mobile technology is a must.

In this mobile-first world, students’ expectations and assumptions form well before they even step foot on campus. And considering the class of 2025 will be the largest, most diverse and technologically literate class schools have seen, the time is now to embrace a new age of admissions outreach and engage students through the tools they use. Mobile apps offer an ideal way to connect with prospective students without dramatically increasing personnel or adding other resources that will drive costs through the roof.

Self-guided, mobile tours

Admissions professionals at schools like Monterey Peninsula College, Santa Clara University (SCU) and University of Oregon have found success in using self-guided mobile campus tours to supplement in-person tours. These “virtual” tours offer student-led narratives and point-to-point directions that take advantage of the device’s native GPS to guide the student on a designated route, allowing them to discover the campus outside of traditional touring hours. By extending the reach of the admissions department, mobile tour apps can help schools significantly cut down on the number of stealth applicants, while keeping costs under control.

In the first six months of using the app, SCU for example, served 25 percent more visitors with the same number of staff as previously. In addition, with mobile tours available in English, Mandarin and Spanish, SCU can meet the growing needs of non-English speakers, including many first-generation Americans and their family members.

Create authentic, meaningful experiences

Just as student tour guides lead students and their families around campus with rich narratives framing the broader college experience, so should mobile tours capture and communicate an institution’s culture and identity. Mobile tours are most effective when they include diverse and authentic student narratives that articulate relatable experiences rooted in shared identities, ideas of success, and expectations of life on campus.

As part of an overall digital strategy, mobile tours provide admissions professionals with an opportunity to track the digital footprint of students as they explore campus and start a conversation that provokes interest in an organic way. There are multiple opportunities for students to connect with the school – whether they want to speak with a counselor, an ambassador or the admissions team – directly through the app. Plus, engaging students through mobile, post-visit, builds on the excitement from the student’s initial visit and leaves a lasting impression.

In today’s competitive admissions environment, reaching out to students through mobile technology is a must. By portraying campus life on their preferred means of communication, mobile tours will help students feel connected and energized to take the leap of faith and join the school’s community. At the same time, admissions can keep costs low and reach even more prospective students with existing resources. In 2016, SCU saw a record number of visitors and admission applications – enrollment metrics directly impacted by the mobile tour app.

This is a time of opportunity and the options are endless – how will you use mobile technology to remain competitive and relevant?

Matt Keowen is VP of Marketing at Guidebook. He has nearly 30 years of experience in technology companies and is well versed in higher ed mobile technology strategies. Write to: mkeowen@guidebook.com and follow @guidebook

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Helping the Greatest Number of Students

A teacher’s perspective on edtech that works for everyone. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Erin Redden

CREDIT Caddo Parish LA.pngMy school district, in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, might be a lot like yours. We have strengths and we have challenges with academics.

Students in some of our schools have fallen way behind. They’re not reading, writing or doing math on grade level. They struggle to complete simple assignments. They don’t do their homework.

Students in other schools are way ahead—but their achievement poses its own challenges. They might not be learning or doing their homework either, not because they can’t, but because they’re bored, or not getting assignments that continue to motivate them to new heights.

Given our size and diversity, we decided to evaluate individual schools to understand students’ unique needs and teachers’ unique requirements for flexibility in an adaptive learning program.

And the teachers who face the daunting task of meeting the differing needs of Caddo’s more than 37,000 students? Normally, they’d be at their wits’ end trying to figure out which student needs what kind of help. But they’re not, thanks to edtech software we bought three years ago. I’m sharing our experience in the hopes that other schools that face similar challenges can learn from us and help their students and teachers, too.

It started in 2014 when we had to develop a new RTI (Response to Intervention) plan. We knew going in that one of our biggest challenges would be to streamline reliable diagnostic methods and ongoing assessments so we could help the greatest number of students.

We’re the third largest school district in Louisiana. Given our size and diversity, we decided to evaluate individual schools to understand students’ unique needs and teachers’ unique requirements for flexibility in an adaptive learning program.

What became clear was that we needed to offer our students a program that met their challenges academically and instructionally but in a user-friendly platform. The tool could not be mundane, tedious or boring, either.

We also realized that our students fell into three very different groups: those who were gifted, those that could be performing on or above grade level were they not missing certain skills, and those requiring special education.

Historically, our parish “cut and pasted” elements of many different tech tools to get the job done. But this hodgepodge created more barriers than benefits. Some of the software we used ended up being too easy, so students didn’t progress. Some of the software just wasn’t user-friendly, discouraging students and teachers alike. Much of it wasn’t adaptive, which prevented students from learning, regardless of grade level, achievement or learning style.

Meanwhile, using many different programs cost the district a significant amount of money while putting an undue burden on teachers to figure out what piece of software would best help a particular student. For example, at Caddo Middle Magnet there are 72 teachers teaching more than 1,300 students. Our teachers needed one solution that could help struggling learners while providing enrichment for higher achievers.

Enter a comprehensive software package that motivates students to achieve while giving teachers the flexibility they need to meet the needs of all learners.

For example, in order for our RTI program to implement successful tiered instruction and intervention, it needed reliable diagnostic tools. Our solution provided tools with diagnostic tests that quickly assess student proficiency in each standard of the Common Core. This function helped our teachers conquer one of their biggest challenges: identifying individual student learning gaps and assigning appropriate lessons to fill those gaps. For Robin DeBusk, the principal of Caddo Middle Magnet, that efficiency continues to be invaluable, not just because it benefits students but because it gives teachers the flexibility they need to help each and every student.

A lot of software might be particularly good for struggling students but not that helpful for gifted kids. The fact that this tool helps even a magnet school excel is not lost on any of us.

‘Two years ago we had an ELA teacher who taught gifted 7th grade writing. The students were still missing some of the basic skills. She used it to practice grammar skills and the students’ proficiency went way up! As an A school you usually don’t see great growth, but we continue to have growth because we continue to fix the basic skills.”

At Claiborne Elementary, teachers use it differently than they do at Caddo Middle Magnet. “Our students start with one beginning assessment,” reports Shannella Gaines, 3rd grade math teacher. The software “then allows students to work where they need to work. It takes the guesswork out of the equation for the teacher. And that means the teachers provide better instruction but with far less hassle or angst.”

Keeping parents informed and involved is always important, so it was another plus to discover that these tools streamlined that process, too, starting with kindergarten and following students all the way to the 8th grade.

As for teachers, the variety of students that come to us makes it almost impossible to teach on grade level every day. A tool like this gives them the ability to help students no matter what grade level they are performing at by finding and fixing missing skills.

This capacity—to diagnose where students are; provide the tools they need to learn given their unique learning style; and empower teachers to do the best possible job while reducing their sense of being overwhelmed—is why such a tech tool has become indispensable to Caddo Parish.

I’m happy to share additional experiences with teachers or administrators from other districts—edtech is terrific when it works. In our case, it really does.

Erin Redden is the Director of Accountability and Instructional Support for Caddo Parish Schools.

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Resist the Urge

Truly equipping graduates for the world of work.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kieran Webb

CREDIT Alison learning.pngThe recently released 2016 Workforce Skills Preparedness Report compiled by researchers at Payscale suggests that the gap between the skills employers need and the skills students learn through formal education is growing ever-wider. Students are graduating from often expensive degrees with lofty academic achievements to boast of, but lacking in both the soft skills and hard skills needed to make a genuine business impact in the companies they hope to join.

I fundamentally believe in the power of learning new skills to change lives.

The report suggests that critical thinking, attention to detail, and communication are the soft skills graduates struggle most with, while writing proficiency, data analysis, and public speaking are highly sought after hard skills millennials lack.

Young people faced with a turbulent jobs market should resist the urge to invest even more of their money and, more significantly, their time into a formal education system that has essentially failed them.

The combined digital and mobile revolutions of the last decade or so give people a wider choice than ever in terms of managing their own personal and professional development. Solutions exist that offer access to a comprehensive range of workplace skills courses including completely free access to all materials.

There are unique benefits for employees and potential employees who upskill in this way; the ability to study whenever and wherever one can get online, the ability to move at one’s own pace and the potential to discover talents and aptitudes by experimenting with a variety of different courses.

Learners then have the opportunity – if they feel the need to – to return to third level institutions to achieve a more advanced level of insight into a particular subject, free from the fear that they might invest a huge sum of money and time into a subject they are not well suited to.

Completing e-learning courses demonstrates a candidate’s commitment to continuous professional development to employers, and enhances their competitive value in the jobs market.

Employers, who often spend extravagant amounts on Learning and Development, have much to gain from the world of online learning. Graduates who come into the workforce bursting with energy and enthusiasm but lacking the prerequisite skills for their new environment can easily combine on-the-job learning with relevant workplace training, at zero cost to the HR budget.

Of course, the benefits are not limited to new entrants to the workforce. Online training can be used as a performance management tool for established employees who are struggling to meet expectations, and to upskill employees who have changed roles within the company or been promoted.

Choosing e-learning offers organizations a highly flexible, scalable and enduring approach to training, whilst simultaneously freeing up budget for offline learning and development activities. For individuals, the availability of free online courses offers an immense amount of opportunity and freedom.

I fundamentally believe in the power of learning new skills to change lives. Every day, I hear stories of people from all walks of life, from stay-at-home mothers readying themselves to re-enter the workforce to budding entrepreneurs worldwide who use courses to equip them to achieve their aspirations.

The disruptive power of the internet that has seen AirBnB and Uber thrive while traditional models fail to adapt quickly enough, is taking the world of education and training by storm, too.

Kieran Webb is an Instructional Designer at Alison with a strong background in adult education.

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Cool Tool | Learning Upgrade Android and iOS Apps

CREDIT Learning Upgrade.pngWith more and more students using smartphones for learning, Learning Upgrade, provider of literacy and math curriculum for English language learners (ELLs), has taken its ELL programs mobile. With their apps for iOS and Android, the millions of learners who don’t have a computer but do have a phone now have access to quality literacy instruction tools on their smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The apps aim to improve students’ time-on-task by allowing ELLs of all ages to work through their lessons anytime and anywhere. Including more than 300 sequenced classes, the content covers phonics, decoding, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and listening. To help make learning English more fun and memorable, mobile users have access to musical lessons that feature catchy, interactive songs. Each lesson provides practice problems accompanied by immediate intervention and remediation with multimedia supports. Students can repeat lessons until they master them, earning a gold certificate when they become proficient in each of the standard’s benchmarks. Learn more.

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Let Them Read!

Hey tech-savvy teacher, here are some cool tools for improving literacy skills.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rita Platt

CREDIT epic!.pngMost teachers would agree that increasing both differentiation and integration of content is the key to maximizing learning. For the tech-savvy teacher, both goals are becoming more attainable. Below is a list of my favorite literacy and reading websites that offer either differentiated reading materials or computer adaptive online instruction platforms for students. In addition, our district utilizes two excellent resources that have quality professional learning to meet our teachers’ needs. Together, these resources have helped our school earn a “significantly exceeds expectations” mark from the Department of Public Instruction in our state.

These resources have helped our school earn a ‘significantly exceeds expectations’ mark from the Department of Public Instruction in our state.

Let Them Read!

There are many wonderful ways to find differentiated texts for students. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. epic.pngEPIC! I wrote about this great resource in my last best-of list. EPIC! is an online library of high-quality children’s books with more than 10,000 first-rate books from major publishers. If your students are reading about a topic, you can find books to differentiate for most reading levels. The best part? EPIC! is free for educators.
  1. reading a - z.pngReading A to Z – Reading A to Z is a subscription service that costs about $100 per year. With a membership, teachers gain access to thousands of texts at a kindergarten through fifth grade reading level that can be downloaded, printed, and folded into books. There are many titles that have the same cover and information but are written at multiple levels so teachers can gear texts to students’ individual reading levels. 
  1. newsela.pngNewsELA– NewsELA is a free website where teachers can create an online classroom and assign informational articles to students. Each text can be modified by Lexile (reading level), ranging from fourth to twelfth grade, by clicking on a slider. Many of the articles offered contain a short test, which is aligned to the new Common Core State Standards-based tests.
  1. readworks.pngReadWorksThis website has hundreds of free short texts and fiction stories. That just-right text can easily be found using the sorting tools at the top of the resource page. Teachers can select for grade, Lexile level, subject, genre, skill, or strategy. Each reading passage comes with a carefully crafted question set.
  1. renaissance accelerated reader 360.pngRenaissance Accelerated Reader – While Renaissance Accelerated Reader doesn’t have texts in and of itself, the program helps motivate and monitor students’ reading habits. Students read books and take short quizzes on them. They set goals and actually see their own progress using the program’s analytics. A sister product, Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360, offers the above plus short online informational articles.
  1. tumble book library.pngTumble Book/Storyline Online – This subscription site has thousands of books for students to listen to online or using an iPad app. It is costly ($599 per school per year) but if your school has the funds, it is well worth it!

Help Me Teach!

Here is how I provide online learning environments for my students:

  1. learnzillion.pngLearnZillion LearnZillion is a free resource with a wealth of standards-based video lessons. Students can watch videos on everything from writing a personal narrative to determining an author’s message.
  1. mobymax.pngMobyMax ReadingMobyMax is a kindergarten through eighth grade online learning platform that allows users to sign up for free to use a portion of its offerings. Students take an online, computer adaptive test to determine their reading level and then work their way through instructional modules.

Help Me Learn!

Check out these two suggestions to brush-up on your professional knowledge in literacy:

  1. coursera.pngedX.pngMOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

If you have ever wanted to take a course from a master professor out of Harvard, Stanford, or Yale but didn’t think it was possible, you were wrong! Not only is it possible, it is FREE. Many universities are offering online courses or learning modules free to teachers. They mostly consist of videos, readings, and online discussions. While credit is not always available, with a MOOC you can participate in the parts you are interested in and ignore the parts that don’t seem to pertain to your learning needs. Try Coursera or EdX.

  1. pdi.pngProfessional Development Institute (PDI)

With dozens of online courses on literacy teaching, PDI is a long-time favorite for practical teachers. The total cost for three graduate credits from the University of California, San Diego is approximately $375! 

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate student. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls School District in Wisconsin and consults with other local school districts. Find Rita at 3C’s Educational Consulting.

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