Student experience is an all-encompassing term which can cover anything from the quality of teaching to the provision of nightlife and social activities.

At Coventry University, student experience is approached from a number of directions. There is an ethos of quality and positivity built into the heart of each interaction we have with our students. The student experience is built from the bottom up, with engaging session, module, and course designs, passionate teaching, and a plethora of student support services available. One way we seek to support our students is through an academic mentoring scheme, currently known as the Academic Personal Tutor (APT) scheme. This scheme provides each student with a designated member of academic staff to help tutor them through their time in Higher Education.

We were acutely aware of some of the issues and concerns raised by students about the APT scheme. Issues around the contact time available, knowledge of the scheme, and awareness of its purpose were just some of the issues raised by students, academics, and tutors alike. Working with the four Associate Heads for Student Experience within our Faculty of Business and Law, we set out to explore the mechanics of the APT system with a view of tweaking it’s implementation and ensuring it works for our students. Taking the design thinking process of the CU SPRINT, over three days we set out to explore the issues facing the current scheme, potential solutions, and user test our ideas with students and tutors. This rapid, deep-dive exploration of our current processes allowed us to radically rethink our approach to academic mentorship whilst simultaneously engaging students as a way to provide ownership over a scheme designed with their support in mind.

Through a three-day sprint process, we developed a rich understanding of the support currently offered to our students and the additional support needed. It was understood that many students did not see an intrinsic value in the APT system, with confusion around its purpose and scope of activity. Some students believed the APT system to be a point of contact for pastoral support, whilst others understood it the be a space in which they could discuss academic performance. The tutors delivering the scheme raised concerns around the contact time provided to students, and a lack of access to the systems needed to effectively monitor overarching academic performance.

Through a process of refinement, with student services, academics, and students themselves involved in the discussions, a radical rethink of our current provision was needed. As such, an ideal approach to academic support was designed based on a three-tier system.

First, academic office hours currently available would remain as a space for module/topic specific support from the module tutors. This would provide specific topical support by subject experts for academic questions around knowledge and content.

Second, the current APT model would be re-designed into a series of Progress Coaches, focused around strategic interactions with students in need of additional support. This would produce a smaller, but richer team of academics with specific skills tailored to providing individual academic mentoring and support. The change from APT to Progress Coaches would also enable a focus on strategic interactions based on a data-driven model of achievement and engagement.

Finally an online Artificial Intelligence triage system would be available 24/7 for simple questions not requiring the full face-to-face experience. This would further free up contact time with staff, enabling the in-person support available to be better spent on focused interactions with students. The addition of a 24/7 support service for students will further enable support services to keep up with an increasing appetite for on-demand access, 24/7, 365 days a year.

The ideas developed during the CU SPRINT process have some way to go before becoming a reality, but the mere act of using a design thinking approach to problem solving has developed a solution to a problem which nobody in the room would have envisaged on day one.

Image Credit: Zachary Nelson on Unsplash