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Communicating key messages from central services to students

Central services collaborate on Editorial Board to prioritise and cascade key messages to students.

Coordinating central messages for students

Central offices and services recognise the difficult balance our departmental colleagues strike to keep students informed about key updates, events and opportunities, without bombarding them with duplicate or irrelevant messages. The Student Communications Editorial Board seeks to coordinate and minimise duplication in student communications from the centre. 

The group, co-chaired by the Office of the Vice Provost (Education and Student Affairs) and Communications and Marketing (CAM), brings together representatives from

  • Student and Registry Services
  • UCL Careers
  • UCL Library Services
  • Students' Union UCL 
  • UCL Innovation and Enterprise 
  • ISD
  • UCL Culture
  • UCL Accommodation
  • Office of the Vice Provost (Advancement) 
  • UCL Equality and Diversity
  • and three representatives from the Faculty Marketing and Communications Group. 

The Editorial Board meets every Monday to discuss communications priorities for the week ahead and to agree the top messages for students we will prioritise in our communications that week. 

Communications with the highest value will be put forward to be pushed across all relevant teams and platforms. Competing communications are prioritised based on urgency/timeliness, relevance to the whole student body and alignment with the student lifecycle. 

Cascading communications via departments

Past research and anecdotal evidence suggests that our students are far more likely to open and engage with communications from their immediate programme or department team than central bulletins.

Our approach, as agreed with Faculty Tutors, is to disseminate these priority messages to key contacts in departments so they can cascade them to students via whichever channels are traditionally used in their departments.

This approach enables greater reach, reduces the volume of communications being sent to students (and staff) from central teams and allows colleagues to tailor notices to their specific context if required. 

Currently, as we deal with a high volume of announcements and guidance in relation to Covid-19, this summary of student comms is included in the fortnightly Education Bulletin, sent to departmental Covid-19 Mitigation Coordinators (CMCs) Faculty Education Teams and more) [UCL login required]. 

CMCs are responsible for forwarding this summary to whomever in their department/faculty is best placed to share the information more widely. Faculty Tutors, Vice Deans (Education) and representatives from the Faculty Marketing and Communications Group also receive the CMC Bulletin and have sight of these priority student communications. 

The summary of key messages is also shared on our new Central Student Communications Teams siteTA Talk, (formerly the Teaching Administrators forum), and individual items appear in the weekly student bulletin, My UCL

If you have any questions, please contact Lauren Hawkridge, Co-Chair of the Student Communications Editorial Board and Communications and Events Manager for the Arena Centre. 

Annex: Guidance for departments on adding 'local' content to central student communications updates 

Published 29 April 2020

Objectives of the guidelines

  • To support departments when communicating with current students.
  • To ensure current students are receiving key messages and updates from UCL central teams while still feeling supported and connected with their departments during this challenging time and remote setup.
  • And ensure communications are in line with UCL’s tone of voice and institutional coronavirus communications. 

Authors

These guidelines were developed on behalf of the Joint Faculties Marketing and Communications team, in consultation with the Student Communications Editorial Board.

Purpose of the guidelines

As outlined above, the Student Communications Editorial Board will select and disseminate five priority messages to be included in the Education bulletin. These will be shared in a weekly “Student Communications Update” section of the Education Bulletin. Departmental CMCs will then be asked to cascade these bulletins updates to students via whichever channels are traditionally used in their departments.
Past research and anecdotal evidence suggest that our students are more likely to open and engage with communications from their departmental team than those that come from central teams. Therefore, we would like to encourage you to personalise and add local content to your current CMC communications to students.

As departments, you are best placed on how to reach out and communicate with your students, but below is some guidance on how you can include this local content in the CMC central bulletin.

How to adapt the Student Communications Update (in the Education Bulletin)

Core messages within the Central Student Communications MS Team should remain the same and unedited so we can ensure students across UCL are receiving consistent communications. However, you should feel welcome to add some ‘local’ content the bulletin content. Some ideas include:

  • Rather than forwarding the bulletin updates straight to students, ‘top and tail’ the communication with a greeting, any local updates, and a sign off.
  • Include further information on how the central update will affect local activity. E.g. changes to assessment or how degree classifications will be calculated given UCL announcement
  • Message/video message from Head of Department.

Other departmental communications (outside of the CMC Bulletin updates)

Please do continue to contact your students as you would normally. Do not try and fit all departmental updates into the same communication as the updates from the CMC bulletin as the central key messages will get lost. It could be helpful to reach out to your Student Representatives for feedback on the frequency of your communications to whether this needs to be altered. 

What students want to hear at departmental level

At a Student Engagement Steering Group meeting, held on 22 April 2020, it was expressed that Student Representatives across UCL have shared feedback that students would like more information surrounding departmental contacts. Therefore please make sure your students are aware of the following in your communications:

  • Students know who to contact if they have any queries or concerns
  • Who students should be contacting if their Personal Tutor or Supervisor is not available or reachable
  • Clarification on who to contact about what.

As mentioned above, it is also recommended that you continue to check in with your Student Representatives to understand how communication is landing with students in your department, what they would like to hear more of and how frequently they would like to hear from you.

Tone of student communications

We would recommend using a confident and engaging tone when communicating to your students. The most important role these departmental communications play is reassuring students that someone they know is reaching out to them to care about how they are adjusting to the ‘new normal’.

We should try to avoid alarmist phrases and language which could make students feel more worried or anxious. Examples include: “global crisis”, and “virus outbreak”. Instead opt for softer and inclusive language, such as: “during the pandemic” and try to use empathetic language, such as "we understand this is a challenging period and we're here to support you".

Including "humanness" in your student communications

The current situation means we are receiving much more operational information in our emails and this can mean ‘culture communications’ can be pushed aside. One way to remind your students of your departmental community within your communications is to create a staff or student spotlight. We would recommend adding this as a link rather than a full item so to not distract away from the central key updates.

For example, the Joint Faculties Marketing and Communications team are currently encouraging staff to submit answers to our “10 questions with…”. This includes 10 questions that allow other staff to get to know a little more about them and their role at UCL. We have also included some light-hearted questions in relation to the current situation, such as:

  1. What song would you like to contribute to the Joint Faculties lockdown playlist? *
  2. What are your three tips for managing life in lockdown?

*Once we have collated a few more responses we plan on creating a playlist on Spotify featuring everyone’s playlist contributions which staff can follow and listen to.