Utilizing virtual engagement tools to boost student learning and campus connections
“The Presence team showed us right away that their engagement solutions were two-prong: We could reach uninvolved students and incentivize deeper learning among the students who were already involved.”
GSU is not a university lacking in club involvement and event attendance. Many students juggle leadership roles in multiple student-run organizations, eagerly attend campus programs, and happily solicit their peers’ involvement.
But this wasn’t enough for GSU to meet its vision of preparing modern-day learners for the workforce. Even though students were signing up and showing up, they were largely unable to articulate the skills they earned to employers.
Learning goals within programs were also disconnected from one another. Campus life was akin to a buffet with dozens of chefs separately cooking appetizers and desserts without any complete meals in mind. Students would select whatever sounded tasty to them without knowing what might fill them up, introduce them to new flavors, or offer nutritional benefits. Then, when asked to explain how each item, separately and as a whole, fueled their body to tackle the day—most students couldn’t.
Georgia Southern’s leadership understood the value of learning outcomes, but their previous student engagement platform was unable to help them integrate such learning into the university’s robust programming catalog.
Additionally, though raw attendance numbers sounded vaguely impressive, they didn’t provide Dr. Gassiot with any insight into student learning. Senior administrators were left wondering “so what?” whenever they learned of how many students showed up to events; what did it all mean? How did that attendance benefit students, and what students were being left behind?
Without answers to these questions, the Division of Student Affairs couldn’t showcase its current value nor work toward further boosting student success.
“We wanted to elevate what we were doing. We needed to articulate to the campus community more than just attendance numbers. There are other ways in which we could specify ‘this is what our students are learning because they’re involved in these types of activities. These are the types of students who are coming to these programs based on demographic information.’” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
Campus Labs, the student engagement platform that GSU had tried for several years, wasn’t meeting their needs. Data was minimal and its tools weren’t suitable for inter-departmental collaboration. Basically, Campus Labs functioned like a student affairs involvement tool, and GSU needed a university-wide student success platform.
“Campus Labs was prominently used by student affairs, and many other offices didn’t view the platform very favorably or were able to be connected to it. We really needed something that the campus community as a whole could actively utilize. We wanted academic affairs and other management areas across the university to be excited about it too so that we could all be more collaborative and more intentional about what Georgia Southern is laser-focused on: student success and engagement ” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
Once GSU switched to Presence, they were immediately able to improve student engagement! They leveraged Presence’s Experiences tool to design learning outcomes, activities, and reflections — all hosted in their easy-to-use mobile branded portal, which they named Eagle Engage.
In other words, every student experience — from student org membership to one-time campus events, internships, semester-long leadership programs, service-learning projects, and more — is now integrated into clear learning pathways. Students can see precisely how each opportunity can help them develop and advance essential skills valued by today’s employers. And they don’t have to take any extra steps to find this information; it’s all laid out in their one-stop engagement shop where they already head to find out what’s happening on campus (or in virtual programming).
Dr. Gassiot is especially proud of collaborating with other campus partners to build out advanced leadership opportunities. They offer peer educator, mentor, and ambassador programs through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Sexual Assault Response Team, the Office of Admissions, and many other offices. Now, students don’t have to search all corners of the institution to discover leadership opportunities; every possibility is described (and students can apply to participate) in one place.
“Our mindset has been that, yes, we have opportunities within the division and we can highlight those, but there are other things happening in academic affairs, alumni relations, and other places that we want to spotlight as well. To students, it only makes sense for every office to be connected, and Presence has enabled us to finally do that in a more collaborative way. ” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
Co-curricular programming is no longer seen as solely the domain of Student Affairs at Georgia Southern. Other divisions and departments are equally involved, exponentially increasing the opportunities and commitment to student skill development.
What’s more, Dr. Gassiot used Presence to create a brand-new leadership certificate program that is open to all students without any selection process or selectivity. Participants have to complete community service hours, be involved in a student org, attend a set number of leadership programs, and write a final reflection paper. It’s an extra way of incentivizing students to break out of their usual engagement habits, advance their learning through new outlets, and prepare themselves for the workforce.
The certificate isn’t for academic credit, but it gives students a tangible experience to point to and articulate on their resumes and SmartTranscripts.
“That’s really something to feel proud of as a student, to say ‘I’ve got a leadership certificate’. And then, when they’re asked about it by an employer, they can explain that they were involved in a student organization, did community service hours, completed a reflection paper, and went to certain programs that helped them grow skills. That’s really impressive. It shows the initiative a student took to further their own learning.” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
“One of the top things that really made us want to move to Presence was the clear vision that the intentional use of their platform and creative build out of features can help engage the unengaged student.” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
Students have become more invested in their own developmental journeys. Each time a student attends an event, completes a self-reflection, or engages in any other co-curricular opportunity, Presence automatically updates their profile to highlight that progress. Dr. Gassiot has even organized skill sets into competencies, which guide students along progressively deeper levels of learning.
“The guided, yet flexible pathways are something that really excited us about Presence. We created new opportunities and learning levels, and it’s all possible with the features of the platform.” — Dr. Ken Gassiot
Essentially, Presence has helped the team at Georgia Southern University organize the buffet by nutritional benefits so that students can build their own custom, filling meals.
With Presence in place, Dr. Gassiot and the team at Georgia Southern University are empowered to offer more co-curricular certificates. In addition to the leadership certificate that students are already loving, he’s in talks with the Office of Inclusive Excellence about creating a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate. Certificates co-created with the Student Wellness & Health Promotions and Campus Recreation & Intramurals are in the works too.
The SA pros at Georgia Southern also see a future filled with more data-informed decision-making to support inclusivity and access. Presence has revealed powerful insights — including that student-athletes and international students are predominantly less involved than their peers in events that are not exclusive to those populations. Asian and Latinx students are also less engaged than white and Black students.
“Our previous attendance data never alerted us to these trends. Just looking at a raw number on how many students came to a particular event — it didn’t show us what was really happening, how different populations of students engage in orgs and programs differently. Presence finally showed us that, and I can’t wait to dig further into the data we already have and use tools, like surveys and polls, to learn even more. It’s going to help us serve our students, all of them, better.” — Dr. Gassiot
Dr. Gassiot will work closely with Athletics, International Affairs, and the Graduate School to investigate how they can better reach these underserved populations. He knows that real-time analytics, custom demographic attributes, adaptable reflections, and other Presence-powered data tools will be key to this exploration.
Additionally, Presence helped Dr. Gassiot to see that students with GPAs lower than 2.25 have, on average, the lowest co-curricular engagement of all. This potentially lends tremendous value to the Division of Student Affairs, as it may be proof that increased engagement supports classroom performance. While they can’t confidently make that claim yet, the correlation is fueling support from senior administrators for the development of co-curricular intervention strategies for students with low GPAs.
Dr. Gassiot is eager to explore the engagement-academic connection further. He is looking to extend and go further than Georgia neighbor, Valdosta State University, in finding the institution’s “magic number”.
Georgia Southern’s mission is “People. Purpose. Action: Growing ourselves to grow others.” The Division of Student Affairs is leading the way in doing exactly that! Dr. Gassiot is collaborating with offices across all three campuses to put the institution’s purpose into action, grow co-curricular programming, and advance student learning. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.
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