A new app lets students connect and administrators monitor

Upcoming first year students have always found ways to connect with each other before starting college, especially through social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Now a new app is trying to enter that market, increasing the connection between incoming students while at the same time allowing administrators to join their conversations.

Unibuddy, a student recruitment platform for higher education, last month launched a new product called Community, an app that connects admissions and incoming first year students to a group chat room dedicated to different interests or identities, including games, music, A community of race and sexuality is formed when the admissions officers of an institution invite newly admitted or committed students to download the Unibuddy app. Once students sign up for the community, they can add their interests and find relevant groups that they would like to join, either created by the institution or added by other students.

Nina Bilimoria Angelo, Unibody’s chief marketing and strategy officer, says more than 400 organizations around the world – including Indiana University in Bloomington and Marymount Manhattan College – are using Unibody’s community features.

Students already know how to connect with their peers. Even before they set foot on campus, many joined class Facebook groups or Instagram pages and shared their handles for Snapchat, TickTock and Twitter. Diego Fanara, CEO and co-founder of Unibody, says the company builds community because students are moving away from Facebook — and does not allow Instagram and other app users to form large group chat rooms. Also, the Unibuddy platform allows new students to connect not only with other newcomers but also with administrators, faculty and current students, which is difficult to do on social media.

“We’re rebuilding WhatsApp and Facebook groups, but in a closer, more secure environment, especially since we know the new generation, they’re not on Facebook,” Fanara said.

Both Fanara and Bilimoria Angelo say the site allows administrators to monitor the app so that it remains a “safe place.” Bilimoria Angelo noted that administrators can jump into a conversation and remove or block students from the chat room if they are inappropriate যা which is also difficult to do on traditional social media.

“Let the students make authentic connections and conversations with each other and find their people and find their interests and explore campus life through the eyes of current students, through the eyes of other potential students,” says Bilimoria Angelo. “But even then, let’s allow an administrator to monitor the app so that it is a safe, secure place for students to have those authentic conversations.”

Information privacy concerns

Brian Kelly, director of Educause’s cybersecurity program, a non-profit organization that aims to advance higher education through the use of information technology, said in an email that apps like Unibuddy’s Community are part of a growing trend in higher education institutions using data and analytics. To monitor and improve student outcomes.

According to a 2020 Educause student survey, most students feel comfortable with the institution using their personal data to help them achieve their academic goals. However, some students are concerned about the institution misusing their personal information.

“Students who do not trust their institution to use their personal data experience a lack of moral transparency, generally lack confidence in their institution and believe that their institution is benefiting from their data,” Kelly wrote.

But most students seem to be fairly critical of their college policies regarding technology and privacy. According to a Student Voice survey Inside higher ed And in College Pulse last year, 37 percent of students said they were aware that their institution had a data privacy policy, but they did not read it. By comparison, 36 percent said they were not aware of a policy in their organization and 12 percent said they were both aware and read about the policy.

At the same time, 26 percent of students said sharing personal data with third parties was “very unacceptable” for colleges, compared to 29 percent who said it was “somewhat” unacceptable and 20 percent who thought it was unacceptable or unacceptable.

Kelly said Educause makes four recommendations that organizations should follow in order to make students feel comfortable with data privacy: let them know what data is being collected and how that information is being stored, used and protected; Seeking consent from each student about the collection and use of their personal information; Allow students to view and update their own data as needed; And give them a chance to opt out at any time

Kelly noted that in Educause’s 2020 survey, undergraduates felt supported by their organization’s helpful online technology tools that advise and guide them.

“Purposeful use of technology in education boils down to ensuring that these tools and technologies contribute to student success,” Kelly wrote. “It’s a secure space between students and administrative staff and mentors, including a technology device or platform through which students can talk about success and support.”

Personalized messaging

The Unibuddy’s Community app also gives administrators insights into how students interact with each other, partly sharing data on often-discussed topics such as financial aid, adaptation, housing or something else.

Fanara says, “What society does and the rest of our products really understand what the core interests of students are and what their motivations are, their motives and what they want to talk more about. “So that we can provide organizations with these insights so that they can better manage their messaging or personalization and support.”

Chris George, dean of admissions and financial support at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, said he was attracted to the Unibuddy community app because it was an easy way to connect new admissions with current students and other administrators.

St. Olaf began using the community feature in January, and in the first three months more than 100 enrolled students connected with each other and sent more than 300 messages, according to Unibuddy. Coincidentally or not, St. Olaf’s yield has risen 4 percent this year for the first-year class; The college’s yield fell 3 percent last year.

“I think it has been incredibly successful and it has been a great opportunity for us to be a part of the conversation, for the students to ask our questions,” George said. “Because in the end, we want our potential students to be involved with current students, and they tell us it’s an important part.”

George said the epidemic has forced St. Olaf to reconsider how it connects students with admissions, as many students have not been able to attend campus tours or events before coming to campus.

“As a residential college, a campus visit is really, really important,” George said. “But the epidemic has changed that and we want to expand our community. It allows us to think differently about how we can use virtual tools, whether through community chat or through zoom. “

In the St. Olafs Community App, students can join a group called Different Capabilities and Accommodation on campus, a BIPOC for students, or an LGBTQIA + group, as well as groups dedicated to athletics, music and various clubs and activities.

George said St. Olaf’s administrators observe community features for insights into what common questions students are asking for admissions so administrators or current students can respond.

“I think the potential opportunity to have a moderator so that we can be involved with the students was a big part of that decision for us,” said George. “Students just want to know and learn more about each other.”

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