Digitally enhanced: Enriching the campus experience

Digitally enhanced: Enriching the campus experience


When students reflect on their time at university, it is the campus experience that offers enduring memories. This experience includes everything from encounters with campus infrastructure and facilities to events, interactions with other students, researchers and industry, and students’ regular contact with academics. This experience is being significantly reshaped by digital technologies.

At first glance the rise of digital might seem to challenge the significance of the on-campus experience. After all, if online connectivity makes physical proximity less relevant, why would students develop any special connection to their campus? But a deeper look suggests that universities have a unique opportunity to harness digital interactivity and contemporary technologies to create genuinely memorable student experiences.

Simple and intuitive digital access is key to a good campus experience

Students increasingly expect their smartphone or tablet will be a big part of the way they interact with their university, including accessing information and services. They expect more than just simple apps, websites or portals they can access through their smartphone. Right now the apps, websites and portals of most universities offer siloed functionality and are difficult for students to navigate.

This digital complexity hampers students’ on-campus experience. Universities could glean a lot from the way platforms such as Amazon, Tencent and Alipay use digital tools to enrich experiences in the physical space by offering a seamless experience.

Students’ expectations are being influenced by their frequent use of emerging contemporary ‘super apps’, such as WeChat, owned by Tencent. This app started as a social chat application but is now an integrated suite of functionalities made available through a single interface. It is a game changing design innovation that has enabled such apps to offer multitude of functionalities through a simple chat like interface. Functionalities includes video chat, gaming and a payments wallet, as well as mini-apps for shopping, ordering food, listening to music and travelling. Amazon Anytime and Alipay similarly aim to become lifestyle ecosystems through a single app.

Frequent use of these apps means students expect a similar experience at the university: a single, intuitive, and fully integrated mobile or web-based super app that enhances the quality of their campus life.

Universities that capture the essence of this experience and deliver it to students early, will gain a significant competitive advantage. Such a student app or portal can be the one-stop-shop or a single interface to help students navigate their way through their life on campus. For example, it can:

  • give students virtual induction tours of the campus, powered by augmented reality
  • offer students step-by-step navigation of enrolment-related activities
  • assist students with frequently used student services from one place
  • enable automated translation of content for international students
  • truly personalise the experience through virtual assistants that know the student’s enrolments, timetable, and preferences to offer useful alerts and nudges
  • allow students to book campus facilities, participate in events
  • enable students to engage with peers, communities and interest groups across campuses
  • enable students to interact with academics in a digital forum
  • support students to achieve their career goals by drawing on predictive analytics and access best-fit jobs through a bespoke job or task marketplace
  • enable alumni to stay connected with the campus and digitally participate in the life on campus to maintain the connection.

Similarly, an app for researchers and academics can enable staff to coordinate their activities. It can offer staff a place to undertake administrative activities, to view timetables and reminders, to apply and manage leave and pay, to respond to student queries, to interact with learning systems and to receive insights on students who may require additional support, based on analytics.

The response to date from most universities has been organic. Historically, universities have developed digital solutions in pockets. While these efforts have been well-meaning, they have resulted in increased complexity and confusion for students. Most students find it difficult to locate the information they seek at the right time. This leaves them with fragmented interactions across the university, often resorting to time-consuming paper-based interactions, and introduces frustration for both students and staff.

Strategic thinking is vital to getting digital solutions right

Fortunately, there is a better way. Universities can harness this growing student appetite for mobile access to enhance their campus experience. There are a few basics a university must keep in mind:

  1. Crystallise the student experience into a blueprint. A clear and practical understanding of the future student experience is key to building a shared understanding of where emerging technology and analytics insights can add most value. It is critical to have a clear blueprint that enables prioritisation of investments to bring this experience to life, and drive harmony between different initiatives.
  2. Keep it simple for students. Students will benefit most from solutions designed for the journey rather than from solutions broken down by who they interact with on this journey. This means that a simple but scalable digital platform that offers several functions in one place to enable a student’s journey is better than bespoke digital tools developed in isolation. It is critical for different parts of the university to collaborate to design a digital experience that is centred on the journey of the student. Common vision and ownership of this experience is important to avoid a proliferation of digital solutions, each designed by product-owners based on how they see the student need.
  3. Harness data and analytics to deliver value through a single interface. A single place to digitally interact with the university gives the university a richer view of students’ interactions. Smartphones offer an unobtrusive and user-controlled way to gather feedback on the ways students use services. Analysing and acting upon this information can help to optimise the student experience. For example, universities can learn which courses are being researched by students and build insights about potential pathways of interest. Universities can also discover which students may be at risk of dropping out by understanding subtle behaviours in attendance, campus visitation and frequency of online access. Proactive direct and indirect interventions can deliver better student and financial outcomes.
  4. Start small. Universities should start small and build from the foundations to incrementally add value to web and mobile tools, in line with future student experiences. Trying to include every possible feature from the start will likely add to the risk while adding little benefit for users. Far better is to get the basic tools right and expand as new opportunities emerge. A clear blueprint and roadmap for development of the digital channels is vital to ensure a coordinated investment that aims to give students a consistent, intuitive and valuable experience across the digital channels. This adaptive approach will also enable universities to manage the change effectively with academics, and staff members, who will be able better placed to spend time with students on activities that genuinely add value.

We are helping universities put digital into action

Nous has recently worked with several universities to accelerate their digital campus experience and prepare for a future of lifelong online learning.

In these engagements we have enabled universities to:

  • design fit-for-purpose digital strategies by better understanding future digital opportunities
  • develop a blueprint to identify practical ways to realise these opportunities while reducing complexity for students, academics, researchers and industry partners
  • apply contemporary technologies, such as machine learning and gamification, to significantly improve the student experience
  • design and launch digitally enabled employment marketplaces that are improving student employability
  • design curriculum platforms to support bite-size, lifelong learning and the ability to support flexible course architectures.

For digital solutions to work, universities must take a holistic approach that puts students at the centre of thinking. Done right, this approach can create valuable tools that enhance the campus experience of students, that create memorable experiences and that enable lifelong connection with the university.

Each of these ideas would achieve incremental benefits, but the major advantages come from them working in concert to achieve a superlative experience for students. With dozens of universities competing to attract students, this competitive edge can make a big impact.

Get in touch to discuss how Nous Group can help your university enhance the campus experience for students.

Written by Kaushal Vyas during his time as a Nous Principal.