[Editor’s Note: This article originally ran on Optimal Partners’ blog here.]

In order to run a successful higher ed IT department, IT must communicate with students. Effective communication must be ongoing and open, ensuring that this integral part of your user base always has an avenue to express their concerns or ask questions. This does not just benefit students, however.

Fostering a positive relationship with users allows their feedback to be accounted for during systems implementations, which will make university staff and faculty happier. Since fostering a strong line of communication with students is an important part of the IT department’s success, here are five new methods to try:

studentcouncil

1. One way to bridge the gap between IT communications and students is to invite them directly into the department by creating a student advisory council. The advisory council’s main goal should be to create a trusting relationship between IT and its user base by showing students that their input matters. In order to build that trusting relationship, IT should involve the advisory council in as many IT-related activities as possible. These activities could include: prioritizing new implementations, offering input on new technologies and the effectiveness of potential projects, testing, and budgetary meetings. As every IT department is different, the student advisory council may need to take on a completely different role than the examples listed here. Ultimately, the department will have to determine the extent to which the student advisory council is involved.

(Next page: IT department communication strategies 2-5)

forum

2. Another way to involve more of the user base is to sponsor a series of open forums. In these forums, invite both students and IT personnel to facilitate a larger conversation about the state of the university’s IT department. These forums could also be used to streamline other types of communication efforts, like answering user questions that were submitted online.

residentlife

3. Similarly to how systems are integrated, communication efforts can be integrated with other departments at the university. This can vary greatly depending on the department, but there are some key departments that should be reached. For example, Residence Life should be easy to partner with; residential students will arguably need IT services more than commuters, making the partnership ideal. Coordinating an IT communications presentation to show to Resident Assistants is an easy way to begin building this partnership. The presentation should cover what the IT department feels is most relevant to the department—implementations, changes, policies—and will give student leaders something to discuss.

texting

4. Consider how IT communications reach the user base. The most commonly used method, email, is potentially ineffective for reaching students. Email allows the message to go out instantly, allowing for an informed campus. The drawback, however, is that email will go unread when it becomes buried in a student’s inbox. Due to this, the department will have to get more creative in how to present information. One way could be allowing  interdepartmental colleagues to help spread the information to the user base. One way many universities combat this is by implementing text message alerts or by using existing campus tools, such as a student portal, as all students login to them and will be more likely to see the message.

sitedown

5. It is also recommended that the IT department keeps a level of transparency with students. The easiest way to do this is to keep an accurate log of  network and system statuses that is accessible to the user base. If a certain system is experiencing downtime or there is a network outage, it’s good to be as open about the issue with users as possible. It may seem like a harmless omission, but don’t invest energy into creating this positive relationship just to have users feel like IT is trying to hide something.

Overall, a clear and constant line of communication will only improve the IT department’s service and performance because the user base will feel like their opinions are valued. Furthermore, better IT communication practices allow students to feel like the department is a genuine part of their university experience and not just a department to call when something needs fixing.

Campus is a community and the IT department should feel like it has a relationship with the members of the community, including students.

About the Author:

Korey Pimental is a blogger for Optimal Partners.


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