A digital epiphany
Historically, UCLan Students’ Union and many of its clubs and societies had taken advantage of social media to reach members although, whilst this approach was useful for promoting events and asking for feedback from members, it meant that the SU’s website was sometimes overlooked as a source of information. Following user experience research conducted in 2020, a number of areas were highlighted where there was room for improvement including visibility of relevant content and, for SU staff, access to member engagement data.
The simple truth was that we had not given the time and focus on the website over recent years that it required. A review of the website and embarking on a tender process allowed us to challenge ourselves and suppliers with some fundamental questions on what we needed the website to do.
With the decision made to implement the MSL System, a project team was established and, working closely with the MSL team, the next stage of the Union’s digital transformation began in late autumn 2020.
MSL’s implementation plan really helped us to plan the time and staff resources we needed at every stage of the development. As project manager I was able to monitor and report on progress against the planned timeline to our trustees and, as work progressed, meetings with the project team became more frequent and training sessions were scheduled for all users as we got closer to the launch date.
Creating content for students, by students
Launching a new students’ union website during a global pandemic had its challenges but for UCLan Students’ Union it presented a huge opportunity to push their students groups and internal departments to take advantage of the brand new online resources they could call their own. Clubs and societies had struggled to connect with their members during 2020 without face to face events but the new website proved to be a catalyst for some really creative ways to engage with members year-round. The Psychology Society committee was eager to take control of their own new online location and, following training, they showed off their talents for creating engaging online content and maintaining their own support network for members.
The majority of student groups have run online quizzes, Q & A sessions with their committees and have continued with fundraising initiatives even when they were at home. The Union is now implementing MSL’s Student Group Finances which will support committees with an easy to use, fully online expense management portal ahead of a full return to campus and more events taking place.
We are very proud of the dedication shown by our student groups to contribute to the university experience and use all the digital resources at their disposal. Their hard work has meant clubs and societies membership has actually increased despite the limitations committees had to work around. We’re continuing to work on training our committee members so they can use the MSL System to reach their group’s full potential online.
A new home for Student Voice
Student Representation is a cornerstone of UCLan Students’ Union objective of making sure students are at the heart of everything they do. The Union makes use of MSL’s Idea Lists, online Elections, academic and course rep tools to underpin their representation services. Elected officers have their own space on the website which they use for providing information as well as running their own blogs. In the coming months, Council members and course reps will be given their own space too with the facility to offer downloadable resources.
We’ll be able to maintain quality control of all material that goes onto the website through the approval process within the MSL content management area. We want to ensure that all content posted is relevant, useful, of a high quality and follows our branding guidelines so that students really benefit from their representatives’ work. Work is also now underway on a Student Voice Forum in collaboration with the University which will be hosted on the UCLan SU website.
Candidates standing in elections increased during 2021 as for the first time all available posts for School Presidents and Students’ Council were elected using MSL’s online elections platform. Every stage of the election process is managed online from candidate nominations, manifestos, voting and the final count procedure and the MSL team was on hand to support UCLan SU during what was their first election using the new system.
Supporting skills through participation
UCLan Students’ Union’s members have always been able to volunteer their time to support student led volunteering projects, with roles such as the Time For Change champions who run wellbeing sessions for the Union offering valuable opportunities to build employability and life skills. To support and encourage more students to take up these opportunities and drive new volunteering initiatives themselves, the Union has implemented MSL Volunteering & Employability to manage the entire process from advertising roles, applying for a role, signing up for training and logging skills and hours.
One volunteering initiative set up and lead by a student volunteer is the Secret Garden project to turn an unused green space on campus into a garden and vegetable patch. Even during campus closure with few students around or able to help, the student volunteer lead has run online sessions to show the garden’s progress and is able to log hours spent on the project to their volunteer record. These efforts will count towards the Union’s Livesey Award which has been developed to recognise the contributions of all student volunteers.