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In the palm of their hands

Capita’s Nigel Rayner looks at how different further education colleges are using mobile technology to attract and retain students as well as boost their grades.

“As a further education college, if you don’t get information onto mobile platforms you are in trouble, in my view,” says Jeremy Sheen, director of information at King Edward VI College in Stourbridge. “It is the students that are driving this – we know we simply can’t communicate effectively with them in the old ways anymore.”
And he is right. Young people today are shaping the future of communication. According to Ofcom, almost nine in ten (88%) 16 to 24 year-olds now own a smartphone and 51% a tablet device.

This trend provides a fantastic opportunity for further education institutions. But embracing mobile technology is not just about giving students the latest piece of kit, or letting them use their own devices in class. According to a new white paper produced by Capita, there are major benefits for further education colleges if they harness the power of mobile communication to recruit more students, support them more effectively and improve their results.

Attracting new students

When colleges have the tools to get information about their provision and success straight into the hands of young people, the opportunity exists to start communicating with them even before they enrol.

For some institutions, social media is helping to reach young people early. “We are increasingly using Twitter to give our prospective students a taste of what it is like to attend our college. It provides a constant stream of consciousness that makes them feel as though they are already part of life here. It is an important way for us to reach new students,” says Helen Dennis, director of marketing & information at Bilborough Sixth Form College.

Jeremy Sheen from King Edward VI College agrees, “I think if you can keep your presence in their face – or on their phones – then the college can become part of their world,” he says.

Communicating simply with existing students

Once a student has enrolled, it is vital that they are kept engaged and motivated to progress towards their targets. Good communication is central to this, as Stuart Hargrove, assistant principal at Queen Elizabeth 6th Form College explains.

“In schools, you can get students together in assembly regularly and talk to them there. Once they enter further education, however, you need to find a way to communicate directly with students without the ability to get them all into a room at the same time.”

Stuart recognises that a text can be a great way to remind a student in the first instance that they are meant to be somewhere, but as he explains, “Having an app on a tablet, they could see exactly where they should be on any given day and get alerts if their attendance or punctuality falls below acceptable levels.”

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Student-centred achievement

Encouraging students to take greater responsibility for their own progress can keep them focused on their studies and help to boost their attainment.

Imagine how valuable it would be for a student to be able to check their attendance or punctuality throughout their course, view their targets and track their own achievement on a mobile device.

“We are now looking at how we can make things like students’ timetables and achievement targets accessible via their smartphones,” says Helen Dennis at Bilborough. “After all, their phones are hardware that is already bought and paid for, so we might as well make good use of them.”

Going mobile with staff

Mobile technology is also helping teaching and non-teaching staff to ensure students get the support they need to achieve to the best of their ability.

At Portsmouth College, a team of student progress officers are responsible for monitoring attendance and the progress students are making. The college has plans to provide these staff with an app that will allow them to pull up student information in a few swipes, wherever they are on the campus.

“There is so much potential in having mobile enabled kit in the hands of all your staff as they are not constrained by being at their desk in order to enter or access information. This enables very swift interventions to nip things in the bud as they happen,” says Neil McMonagle, vice principal, college services and information at Portsmouth College.
By utilising mobile technologies, colleges can put essential information in the hands of those who can use it best.

“Advances in technology give us a real chance to engage more closely with young people to help shape their futures. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by,” says Stuart Hargrove, assistant principal at Queen Elizabeth 6th Form College. And in my view he is far from wrong.

Nigel Rayner is director of Capita’s further and higher education business. To view the complete summary of the college interviews on mobile technology, download a copy of Capita’s white paper here

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