Southern Oregon University used emojis as its newest initiative to elevate student
engagement. Residential staff at SOU find digital messaging provides a safe space for their students communicate.
Southern Oregon University (SOU), is located in the luscious green mountains of Ashland, Oregon. Approximately 1,000 students live on campus and communicate with their Resident Assistants and Professional Residential staff through Kipsu. We interviewed Allyson Beck, who is the Assistant Director for Leadership, Retention, and Marketing at SOU, to learn more about their student engagement model in Residential Life. Beck is an integral member of the SOU team who goes above and beyond when engaging with students, both face-to-face and via digital messaging, and shared some insights around SOU’s newest initiative to elevate student engagement.
SOU recently moved to communicating with students through texting to try to meet students where they are: on their phone. Most college students today are digital natives, growing up with a phone in their hand. Beck explains, “back in November 2019, around week 6 or 7 of our quarter, we wanted to check-in with our students to see how the term was going for them.” The team at SOU sent three variations of the same message to dig into the student experience on campus. Beck explains that the variations were “: ‘Rate it on a letter grade A-F’, ‘Rate it on a scale from 1-10’, and ‘Send us an emoji that wraps up your experience so far on campus.’” Beck and her team leveraged casual, friendly, and personal language to drive perpetual engagement throughout the quarter.
Asking for an emoji to sum up a whole semester can be cryptic. What does a slice of pizza mean? A train? Beck explained that “if our staff did not understand the subtext of the emoji, they were honest with that student that they were unclear on what the student was trying to convey, but were around to help the student”. In the end, the messages throughout the quarter ultimately drove unexpected and value conversations and made it easy for students to open up about their experiences.
Team members focused on acknowledging and addressing each emoji with a personalized response. Beck emphasized the detail their team took to “give thoughtful caring responses” to each incoming message. Each message included the name of the SOU staff member and was drafted to specifically acknowledge the student’s original response.
The staff at SOU explained how Kipsu helped break down the barrier for student communication since launching at the start of this academic year, “from a student not returning a spare key, to assisting a student on getting registered for courses, we have been able to engage with our students in a way where they respond much quicker than emails or even calling them.” Students are able to quickly ask questions and share feedback in this new channel of communication. “For the most part, our students are really enjoying using Kipsu,” Beck states. In fact, during the fall quarter SOU staff received at least one message from more than a third of the students living on campus. The real-time engagement model of Kipsu has revolutionized the relationship between students and the professional and student staff at SOU, allowing them to engage with students in a more personal and frictionless way.