Increasing Student Engagement in a Hybrid Environment

Throughout the past year, there have been sharp changes in students’ needs, expectations and priorities that have forced higher ed institutions and college success programs to rethink their approaches to supporting and engaging students. Heading into a new academic year, there is now a huge opportunity to embrace new models of learning and engagement, blending both in-person and virtual elements.

As a college success advisor, imagine you have a toolbox with new and improved engagement strategies for your program. Ready to get cranking? Here are some approaches to increasing student engagement as we move into a more hybrid world.

Shifting Mindsets

More than ever, students need individualized support to help them see that you are engaging them where they are. Beyond considering when to engage with students, you must also consider how to engage, as that will open deeper and more meaningful dialogues in your program. That can look like utilizing popular social media platforms to engage with students virtually or having in-person socials for students to get to know each other.

In addition, students place value on how well you understand the barriers they are facing. Many students will struggle to transition into in-person learning after more than a year in the virtual classroom, and they may need some extra support. That requires carefully looking at the needs of your students to see if you have the services and programs to address those needs. At the same time, don’t undervalue the success of your program. Your unique view of barriers to success, along with your data makes you invaluable to the student experience.

Emphasizing Interactions With and Between Students

Social interaction is a key component of student learning and success. After the isolation of the pandemic and many months of “Zoom fatigue,” many students are craving those in-person interactions. For those who started college in a virtual environment last year, it may be challenging to navigate the college experience and figure out how to build relationships with other students, but this is such a core part of the college experience.

Moving forward in a hybrid setting, consider opportunities to create safety-conscious, in-person interactions with and between students to help them develop deep and long-lasting relationships within your program. Depending on local conditions, it may be feasible to coordinate an in-person social, with multiples dates and times to accommodate students and spread out the capacity at each event. Advisors may want to offer on-campus support like drop-in meetings for students who want to speak about sensitive topics face-to-face.

Preparing Staff for a Hybrid Environment

It is important to look at any limiting factors you may have in your program, such as older technologies that limit virtual connections. Make sure your team has access to the tools they need, such as up-to-date software to access key platforms and a quality camera set-up for remote meetings. Staff may be engaging with a population of digital natives – do they have the training they need to meet students where they’re at? Make ongoing education a priority in your program to ensure a smoother transition into the hybrid environment.

In college success advising, the pandemic was a catalyst for rethinking the traditional way of doing things. There have been no shortage of challenges over the past year, but for many students, virtual models also presented new opportunities; for those managing responsibilities outside of school, increased flexibility was a huge benefit. This time has also reminded us all how meaningful it can be to come together in-person and build relationships. The hybrid model is a new path forward to help us ensure the success of our students along this college journey.