Residence life goes digital and is more important than ever
01 July 2020
Residence life will be more critical than ever this year, with Covid-19 restrictions set to last into autumn term. That was the message from the CUBO Residence Life Planning Webinar on 25 June, led by 2019 CUBO Residence Life Award winners, the University of the Arts London (UAL).
Initially, it will be a largely digital campus experience, minus the usual meet-ups through parties, clubs, bars, sports and societies. Some students will be quarantining while others will start their course remotely or arrive later in the term. But it won't be dull!
The move to digital reslife began with the lockdown in March, as universities and private PBSA understood the need to connect with and connect up students remaining in halls, as well as those back at home. Students from 43 countries have logged onto UAL’s digital programme so far, while HallsLife (UAL’s reslife platform) views overall are up 70% on the last quarter and 140% on this time last year.
So what does digital reslife look like? We asked James Greenwood, Student Experience Manager at UAL.
What kind of activities are you organising?
Literally everything! Our digital and virtual programme has so far included meditation, yoga, dance classes, fitness, group therapy, energy healing, vogueing, games night, positive psychology and even a twerk shop! And we’re broadcasting day, night and weekends!
What channels are you using to reach students?
Our students (art students) prefer Instagram and that’s where most of our content appears alongside the more traditional Facebook and Twitter. We also have a great open access platform called ‘HallsLife’ which offers lots of rich content to students such as wellbeing articles and further support guidance - it’s also where all of our fantastic events are hosted.
What’s good about digital reslife? What’s positively surprised you?
It’s really simple to set up and administer (even for less techy people like me) and due to the live stream nature we are able to capture lots of useful performance data instantly.
I’ve been surprised by how many of our staff have engaged with the programme (nearly 2000 staff registrations) … it’s been tough managing their expectations too!
What’s completely new, and what is more of an evolution? Will there be any permanent changes in reslife as a result of this crisis?
We have learnt that not all students want ‘in person’ events and we must keep this new blended offering going forward to ensure maximum inclusiveness. Linking with this, we have also been surprised that students who have never engaged with us before have booked onto several activities and events.
What’s the feedback telling you about digital residence life?
We have to keep it (alongside the real deal… if and when it comes back)
There is a big gap pre-arrival that could be filled with a digital res life experience – our students are telling us that they want to be part of a community before they arrive in the UK.
How do you look after student well-being online?
We are lucky to be supported by one of the largest student counselling teams in the UK so we can make sure that advanced support is there should a student ever need it.
Through halls res life we offer weekly ‘Tea and Talk’ sessions where students can book a one to one video or phone chat with another student… we just help with the technology and leave them to it.
Behind the scenes we also have a well-being management system (linked to our student records database) where we can securely record incidents and escalate students for support. It also means that students do not slip through the net and we’re able to track and monitor trends or problems.
Students want to interact with other students. How do you facilitate that?
I think we’re pretty good at this! We have lots of different platforms to support student interaction from a public facing Instagram channel to our private halls specific Facebook groups to build communities pre-arrival.
We also facilitate a number of online group well-being sessions where students can freely talk about their own well-being in groups with a trained councillor in the background.
What about staying safe, following guidance – how can residence life help students to minimise their risk of a Covid-19 outbreak?
We’re currently offering a number of global webinars which we hope will reassure students that we are doing everything we can (following UK guidelines) to keep them safe.
Our new ‘Halls Reps’ will this year be given special training to help us with the fight against a Covid-19 outbreak with sessions on how to facilitate social distancing and ensuring students are helping each other out… and most importantly being kind to each other!
If quarantine is still in place, how will those students experience residence life?
We have a full plan of digital activities for students throughout September, October and until the end of term with more than one opportunity most days. Our arrival and welcome celebrations will be very different… the last I heard is that we’re hiring DJ’s across all halls who will virtually stream the party to flat clusters and rooms!
Students working at residence assistants are a vital part of your team. How are you recruiting them this year?
Traditional recruitment posters / flyers are a thing of the past - we’ve just launched a jazzy online recruitment video to encourage ‘Halls Reps’ to apply.
Our interview process will switch from a blended process to a fully online recruitment and virtual right to work / DBS checks.
Could you sum up what residence life contributes to a university?
Where do I start… I have lost count of the number of students who have told us they would have dropped out of university without residence life. Of course, we care about our academic delivery but a greater amount of time is spent outside of the classroom / art studio and that’s where we come in.
Res life feeds into a number of our most basic human needs and our ultimate goal is for students to feel part of a strong and safe community.
For opportunities to share information about residence life and campus services find out how to join CUBO here