Telling student stories

Posted in: Staff insight

There's a new online prospectus (named course search) on its way and we've been picking what to feature in the student testimonial sections. The bad news is that we don't have enough content, but the good news is that we do have more platforms to tell student stories and we've been approaching these stories in different ways.

Web case studies

In the past, getting student testimonials was prompted by the need to update a brochure. We then added this collection of soundbites to the web as an afterthought, usually in a thumbnail list.

If a student story came up in the meantime, we had to publish a news article that usually consisted of:

  • introduction
  • student quote
  • academic quote
  • definition of a term from the intro
  • and then an unsubstantiated "that's why we are the best" sentence

We've found these news articles quickly go out of date and are mainly read internally rather than by prospective students. This situation was partly due to OpenCMS's hierarchical structure and outdated templates. But now we have a brand new CMS and a host of new content types to use. We are big fans of the case study content type; it focuses content through its structure, and optimises it with a feature image and quote (all mobile responsive of course).

Partly, though, we were also approaching content wrongly. There was something about relying on news articles or asking the same old "why Bath?" questions that didn't feel massively satisfying. I couldn’t articulate why this wasn't working until I read this blog post by Hanna in the digital team about their approach to writing research stories. Becky began using this approach and the new case study content type when profiling PhD researchers Bruno and Olivia as part of the worldwide collection. Once our Faculty pages shipped to the new CMS in January, we could roll this out to profiling our taught students as well.

So, we have been moving towards more specific case studies centred on a student's experiences of a project or a placement, where we actually profile what the student is working on. This approach produces content with longevity, it creates a more coherent story and it's more interesting. For example, by reading about the experiences of Hemant from Team Bath Drones or Stefano from Team Bath Racing Electric you get a real sense of the skills students develop through project work.

Getting an insight on our student blog

Our student blog provides more of a behind-the-scenes view than the more formal web case studies. It's a snapshot of student life as it's happening, while our case studies are more about giving the completed story: beginning, middle and end. I love that we have this platform to hand over to the student voice. It's less polished, but there can be a real power in its authenticity. You can get updates from our students as they go out on placement, travel abroad on the ERASMUS scheme or develop their projects.

The website and the blog really came together for a profile on this year's Basil Spence winning project. The web case study gives an overview of the group project and then links through to a blog post from each team member for a more extensive personal insight into the students' experiences.

Video shorts

We've also begun using video more this year (we are still quite limited on this due to resource) to give prospective students a taste of studying in the Faculty. These range from short project videos to the My Day in 60 Seconds collection.

Keep the content coming

It's tough producing this content with such limited resources; the one university photographer or the one AV specialist are usually booked up well in advance. It leaves little time for idea generation, concept development or retakes. We also rely on collaboration from staff who work directly with students, even if it's just a suggestion or passing on a piece of student-generated content, we can usually tailor it to one of our platforms.

What is usually pretty easy though is getting great content from our student volunteers. They know how to present themselves, they know how to communicate their work and they know why they should communicate it. It's so reassuring reading our students' experiences on the web, on our blog or social media. The Faculty of Engineering & Design is producing not only technically astute but articulate architects and engineers who will make a positive impact on the world...and best of all, they'll share with you how they are doing it and why.

Posted in: Staff insight