Higher education institutions everywhere have been met with one of the most significant challenges to their operation because of COVID-19. Not only did teaching and learning have to quickly shift to an online environment, but support faculty and staff also had to undergo a transition to working remotely. This has impacted how students are supported, how they get their information, and how they make decisions about their future education.
Because of our dedication to the higher education community, especially in times of such large-scale transition, we knew we had to respond quickly and effectively to continue supporting your efforts in this time of great change.
Now we’re sharing the steps we took as Blackboard Student Services to prepare to support our staff and partners immediately and plans to continue support in the longer term.
Blackboard Student Services
Blackboard Student Services offers a variety of services that function as an extension of institutions’ student support departments. We support a full portfolio of institutional and student success services, including strategic research, full-service marketing and enrollment management, comprehensive student support (including student accounts and help desk services), and retention coaching.
Through these connected capabilities, we help our partners effectively attract, enroll, support, and retain their students at scale—and this time of unprecedented change is no different. As the effects of COVID-19 began to unfold, we sprung to action to keep services running while also opening new avenues of support specific to the needs of this new reality.
Ensuring Continued Support During COVID-19
As events began to unfold in mid-March, Blackboard monitored the situation closely and initiated a plan of action. Keeping the health of our staff a priority, we first needed to address our contact centers and make sure our teams were able to continue the work they do every day in a safe and responsible way. Agents who were able to work remotely were quickly shifted to a work from home environment to open more space for social distancing in the centers.
From there, resources and technology were secured to move the remaining employees to work from home capable as soon as possible. Because of the quick action of Blackboard leadership, we were able to not only stay functional during a period of rapid and unpredictable change but also stay ahead of headcount limitations and business closures before they happened.
Enhancing Support for Our Partners
First, we had to look at the immediate challenges institutions would face and identify the areas where support needs were greatest:
- Student communication
- Technical support for students and staff
Next, we had to develop quickly deployable service models to address those needs:
- Outbound Engagement Campaigns
- Inbound Help Desk Redundancy Campaigns
Student Communication with Outbound Engagement Campaigns
Communicating new information to student bodies is paramount in a time when information changes rapidly. To help support institutions through this challenge, we developed a quickly deployable, automated messaging campaign structure that would allow schools to push information out through multiple channels to students on a pre-determined cadence. These campaigns typically include messaging around resources available to students to make them aware of where to go for support, particularly with the move to remote instruction.
Technical Support Redundancy Campaigns with IT Help Desk
During such rapid and widespread transition, support volume surges. It’s difficult for institutions to scale resources in a quick and effective manner to handle that surge. To address this challenge, we developed an inbound IT Helpdesk solution with two implementation models for institutions’ specific needs and objectives:
- The Redundancy Model provides quickly implemented, out-of-the-box support for temporary volume surges.
- The Phased Implementation model leverages year-round redundancy plans with a phased approach that extends support throughout the year.
Changing the Conversation
Next, we knew that our contact center agents would be faced with new questions and concerns and these conversations needed to be handled with care. We took this opportunity to find new perspectives to share with students to help them focus on positive outcomes over temporary disruptions. Talk tracks were modified to encourage students about the challenges they were facing. For example, the experience they’re gaining learning in an online environment will help prepare them for a new frontier of careers shifting to a more remote format. Rather than encourage students to pause, we encouraged them to explore all their options like a modified course load that would allow them to keep moving forward and not add time to their educational track.
Keeping Leadership Informed
Lastly, we knew that school leadership would need student-level insights that helped them address their current and upcoming terms. We added new qualitative responses for agent CRMs to help them record when/if a student’s decision making was influenced by COVID-19 or events related to the pandemic. Rather than bombard students with more surveys, we tapped into our agents and listened to what they were hearing and experiencing on a day-to-day basis.
From these preliminary steps, we have learned that while many students are concerned with how COVID-19 will impact their ability to enroll or stay enrolled, there is also a segment of students who are more interested in pursuing their education. We know that while some students are frustrated with how their school handled this challenge, there are students who are relieved that their school took the steps they took. This ongoing research is also showing us the difference in sentiment between community college students who may have been pursuing more hands-on, ready-to-work programs and adult learners who were already focused on integrating online learning and online careers into their plans.
While the final impact of these circumstances is not yet known, we know that, at a minimum, Summer and Fall 2020 terms will be the most effected by the virus. But the impact can be minimized by taking steps now to proactively contact stalled applicants or stop-outs or have inbound teams ready with clear information and answers to the most common questions. Once institutions begin to consider phasing in on-campus classes, being ready for the uptick in return to school inquiries will be just as important.
At Blackboard, we’re taking swift and responsive action to stay in front of the challenges higher ed is facing and to support our partners in whatever way is most valuable to them. Whether we’re standing up a new service or being ready to listen and brainstorm with partners, Blackboard Student Services is ready to help institutions and their students be successful.
Take the next step in effective student support and learn more about our quick-to-implement outbound campaigns offering multi-modal outreach to rapidly disseminate key information, scale the effectiveness of your teams, and gather valuable feedback for continuous improvement.
Need help keeping pace with increasing demand for inbound IT support? Learn more about our two Help Desk support models to ensure educators and students get the technical support they need. These quick-to-implement IT Help Desk solutions expand your institution’s service capabilities and free up valuable resources for your support teams.