Episode 61: Everything You NEED To Know About Creating Personalized Student Experiences – Dustin Ramsdell

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Shiro Hatori
Hey, everyone, welcome to the higher ed dimension podcast hosted by concept 3d. If you like our content, please follow or subscribe to us on Spotify, Apple, Google, or whatever your streaming platform is. And if you’re on Apple podcasts, please leave us a comment, we’d really appreciate it. My name is Shiro. And today, I’m really excited to be talking about how crazy it is to do the same thing and expect different results. And particularly, we’ll be talking about creating student experiences. And for that, I’m really excited to have our guest join us today, you may know him from the higher ed geek podcast. He’s also the community engagement lead at patha phi as well. Please welcome Dustin Ramsdale.

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, it’s a pleasure to be here. Always good to be in community and chatting with the fellow podcaster. So appreciate the chance to do that.

Shiro Hatori
It’s great to have you and I do ask all my guests this icebreaker. Dustin, what do you love about higher ed?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, it’s a great question. Because I mean, there’s so much to love. I think for me, as I gaze upon my University of Delaware mascot bobblehead that I have on my desk, it’s the ability to have like, this lifelong kind of affinity and affection and love for the institution that that gave me so much. So like that I can keep that connection really active and fulfilling, long after graduating. So I think it’s just that ability to have such a like, deep and personal impact, even though there’s all these other impacts that it has, obviously, in sort of, you know, the workforce, and just society and all these sort of like really macro things, you know, it really does sometimes just come down to kind of the individual, how did they feel that they feel supported that they, you know, have fun? Did they learn things, all that kind of stuff? So that’s what I’ll go with.

Shiro Hatori
I find that fascinating. And I know you’re very involved with higher ed, because you have your own podcast, right with the higher ed geek podcast. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How long have you kept the show run in there?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I’ve been podcasting generally, for a very long time, the very first show ever did started in March of 2014. and higher ed, launched in November 2017. So we just passed our five year anniversary, which is quite a milestone, very, very grateful for that. And, yeah, it’s been a fun ride, because I think I just love the medium and just as a sort of a vehicle to have these really fulfilling and kind of fruitful conversations for myself and knowing that, you know, I almost don’t want to, like hog them to my sons that you don’t like, it’s just something that I want to be able to share and give back to the field. And yeah, so really, I really have enjoyed doing it over the past over five years.

Shiro Hatori
That’s, that’s fantastic. And for the listeners who don’t know, your, by your podcast, can you tell us a little bit more about like, the format structure, what kind of people and guests you have on the show?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, definitely, you know, similar to this just kind of classic interview style, just typically one person, sometimes I’ll have multiple, but I, you know, exclusively gonna focus on higher ed, and there’s sometimes maybe 10, gentle, you know, things that are sort of impacting on maybe a policy level or things like that, but really kind of keep the focus in on higher ed talk with presidents of institutions, folks who work in ad tech, in leadership positions and everything, but really just trying to have kind of light hearted, engaging conversations that are kind of just driving forward the field, you know, the kind of topics of the day and the issues and best practices and all that. So, you know, on one hand, it is a pretty kind of open mandate of you know, what we’re talking about. But nowadays, I’m finding like a lot of, you know, ed tech folks want to be on and you know, a lot of folks want to hear from them. So that’s been a lot of focus lately is just kind of exploring obviously, the increasingly you know, digitizing nature of our work and I know I had your CEO on a short while back, which is a treat so that’s it’s a definitely a great sort of effort on my part. I get that a you know that what I get from it kind of part of it, but then just knowing that Yeah, somebody other people enjoy. It is just very, matters a lot to me.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, thank you. I listened to that episode with concept 3d SEO Gordon boys is a great one. So thanks for having us on your show as well. That’s great. And I just checked Spotify, it looks like you’re almost at 200 episodes, you’re at 192. At least post it. So that’s a lot episodes. Congratulations on keeping a go. And I know how much work it is to keep any podcasts going. But let alone over 102, that tuner benchmark that’s fantastic. I swear.

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.

Shiro Hatori
Well, great. I know we had a quick intro call and a coffee meeting before this. The other week and we talked about some topics and you know, one thing that you’re seeing as you talk to all these guests with your podcasts and as you’re involved with higher ed, I know you mentioned there’s just a big lack of awareness in higher ed right now. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, thinking about student experiences and, you know, prospective student experiences, there’s just a lot of noise out there, you know, there’s a lot of noise in terms of, if you’re just trying to search for information, or even if you’ve kind of zeroed in on an institution, you know, they’re going to have a website just chock full of information buried in sub menus, and this that the other thing, it’s just hard to navigate. So I think, you know, I think it really is that we kind of have this like embarrassment of riches where, you know, a student just saying, like, oh, what’s a online business program? Or something? Like, they’re just probably going to be overwhelmed? And how do you try it to either distinguish yourself and maybe those classic mediums or try to kind of distill what you’re trying to communicate? So it’s more clear and easier to kind of break through? At the stick? Yeah, it’s, you know, there’s been so much investment in what institutions are trying to build around, like support resources, or their program offerings, and all that. So like, half the battle now is just in the kind of delivery, you know, of what they’ve built, what they offer, who they are. So I think that that’s kind of an interesting kind of conundrum where I think sometimes there’s been so much emphasis on maybe the marketing and the outreach and all that, and it still needs to continue to have its, you know, kind of do emphasis, but I’m sort of observing now that I feel like, half the battle is going to be the sort of the modality and delivery of you know, of content information, especially to prospective students as they’re making their decisions.

Shiro Hatori
Is this a conversation around quantity over quality, as well as it related to that?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, I think in a sense, because, there, I believe that there’s this perspective of like, you kind of just do the firehose approach, or sort of delusion, you know, students with just like, all the information that any possible student would ever need to know, versus trying to contour that information as much as you can, like, it can be certainly challenging, you want to try to, you know, through various means get some information, get some insights into who this person is and what they’re looking for. But as you get that information, I think you’d have to actually sort of start to utilize it and build out content that can kind of, you know, content or just sort of like, you know, platforms are just sort of environments that are going to help to kind of, again, do that sort of distillation, so they can focus and know, what do I need to know, as you know, the person I am for what I’m looking for at this particular institution? You know, at this time, so, yeah, I mean, you kind of want to consider let you know, you don’t want to just sort of overwhelm a prospective student who may be interested in your institution in particular, you then overwhelmed them, when they’ve already made one choice, at least with like, too much information.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. And so what’s the fixed? I know, we talked a little bit around personalization around the prospective student? Is that really, is that where you’re leaning towards right now?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, that’s like, the big thing for me is we have the tools and the ability now to create really meaningful, personalized prospective student experiences. And doing that, with the digital first mindset is kind of the big thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, which like, has implications across the entire institution, but focusing in on the prospective student experience, you know, you’ve got all the information and all the noise. And just envisioning this sort of, like, you know, kind of freeing nature, the sort of like optimization of, you know, differentiating the students kind of information gathering about institution, if they’re a residential student, versus a commuter, an art student versus a business student, and starting to kind of stack all those things. And if they can kind of have a gateway to enter in, explore what this institution is all about what it offers, how are you going to meet, you know, meet other people and just navigate everything, but it gets rid of all the stuff that you’re not going to need to know about. And you can kind of even then kind of just like, you know, parse out from that, what you want to see and how you want to see it, to start to be more reassured, be more sort of knowledgeable about all the great things that this institution has invested in for you. So that you kind of feel more, more confident in the decision that you’re making, and all the things that you need to do to, you know, get on boarded and oriented and all those kinds of things.

Shiro Hatori
If you mentioned digital first mindset earlier, Does that just mean? The delivery of all this information is like through email, something like what is that? What does that mean specifically?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, I would say that that would be the predominant modality is, you know, yeah, texting, email, having as much as you can sort of, you know, virtual calls and various things that even like, utilizing tools like chat bots, or like that ability to have kind of a 24/7 live chat option, okay? Things like that. But the guiding philosophy that can Again, permeate all different kinds of facets of the institution is that like, you build with that digital first mindset, all those things, you know, digital tools, that help online student, hybrid student, but really help all of your students, you know, because you just think of increasingly working adult learners that are, you know, looking for options to kind of upskill and rescale. And all that, like, you want to be well prepared to support any student in any way in any time with whatever they need. And I think those are, you know, having that digital first mindset is a really effective way to do that. Because again, there’s just so dynamic, they’re so flexible, and it doesn’t rely on either students having to make decisions in a vacuum because they can’t come to campus, or they can’t, you know, get hold of somebody during business hours, or you’re overwhelming, some poor advisor or something like just over email. That’s all. That’s the only way you can ever get an answer to any question. It’s just sort of bottlenecking through to one place, there’s just like, a lot of a lot of options. To get to get questions answered.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. And if you focus on personalizing these experiences for students, you know, whether you’re residential or commuter, or you’re an art student, or a business student, like, what is that? How does that reflect on the business? Like, what is the what is the goal that you’re, you’re getting closer to as an institution, when you focus on, you know, these more granular aspects of outreach and information delivery?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, I mean, it, frankly, it’s just like, you know, minimizing melt and optimizing the number of students who retain I think that there’s kind of a clear line between those is that like, you know, if you’re just, you know, there’s a whole other conversation of just like, you know, who are the students that you’re recruiting, but like, regardless, it’s like, you know, whatever that pool of students is, the better informed prepared they are, you know, the more likely that they’re going to feel like, well, I’ve got this, I understand, I’m not getting tripped up or missing something or kind of, you know, kind of starting on the wrong foot in my first semester. And then from there, you have so much more of a stronger foundation, as time goes on, you’re going into your second, third year, fourth year, versus not even knowing something existed until your senior year, and you were like, drowning, you know. So the ability to, again, personalized help the information be presented in a much more user friendly way, on a mobile app, or web website is exact same thing and all that it just, you know, again, institutions have invested so much in their orientation of students and creating all the mental health support student engagement clubs, and all these different opportunities, and Career Services and all that. And it’s a tragedy that I think we see time and time again, that students just lack a lot of awareness of what these supports are, how to, you know, take advantage of them. And you know, it just leaves a lot of sort of room for growth for again, that delivery, the modality that for presenting these things, and how can students get a hold of these various offices and, you know, wishing that you can just remove as much friction as possible, because, like, any of these things couldn’t be you know, there wouldn’t have to be where it’s like, okay, the students having a mental health crisis, and they’re having to drop out and, you know, say they’re not retaining it just be like, can we just make it easier for them and try to remove friction, you know, just have them be having these outlets to kind of process and grow and develop and everything like it, we owe it to ourselves as institutions, you know, for the all these resources that we have, and we owe it to our students to make sure that they just have like, the most satisfying, you know, sort of experience at our institutions as possible. So it’s not even just sort of like trying to kind of like, you know, identify those most at risk students, which that is important, it’s that and trying to just make sure if somebody’s having a hard time, they can get the help that they need when they need to. And, you know, that goes from a prospective student trying to kind of check all the boxes and all the things to you know, a student preparing for graduation, you know, there’s always just a lot to kind of manage and to know, and, you know, wanting to maybe like, check over your shoulder or, you know, engage with peers or engage with other you know, support staff. Yeah.

Shiro Hatori
Do you remember what your orientation was like, as well? Like, No, we just talked about your alma mater, but I was just trying, as you’re, you’re explaining all this, I was just trying to think of mine. What’s been

Dustin Ramsdell
now I will say something so this kind of puts an interesting wrinkle into everything. So I did a unique program in Delaware where you can take essentially satellite classes for the University of Delaware in one of the community college campuses, so I was studying more local to me and was essentially just commuting into the community college. So that I think I was kind of like considered a transfer kind of, you know, where like, I wasn’t at the main campus, first year student in one of the residence halls. So like, I never really got an orientation experience. And I think that that is another sort of oversight and another sort of like persona type that you could be having is like, how would we give a similar engaging, supportive experience for a transfer student who’s coming in where it’s like, well, they’ve been to college before, they know some stuff, but they don’t know how things work here and all of that. So you’d want to be mindful of being able to tag this person as a transfer student, and provide to them an orientation of some sort, and other sort of like, you know, groups or things that would be able to help them to get their bearings and all that, because I think it’s something like, you know, I wouldn’t even like single out by all the water of like struggling with this, a lot of institutions struggle with it. And right, I think it’s just something to think about of like that you could be again, investing in some digital first infrastructure. And that you’d be completely having a blind spot of like transfer students who increasingly are like a population that, you know, especially a lot of like public, you know, 40 year state institutions are trying to kind of pull in students from the local community colleges, and everything is like, well, you need to make sure that you’re treating them similar, but different, you know, as you would a fresh first year student who has never studied at any other place, you know, you’d want to try to welcome them in as warmly, you know, welcome and transfer students, it’s normally as you would, you know, these new year students, you know, new students are getting much more of the emphasis, I think, traditionally. So that was kind of experiences that they’re like, really wasn’t one. And that’s like, as I’m talking out here, I’m like, Yeah, we have to be mindful that as well as we try to build up our classes each year and trying to have, you know, healthy student populations that again, have the students be supported and retained.

Shiro Hatori
It’s very interesting. I’m like, I went to a big university as well, they public university, CU Boulder. And I don’t think there is any personalization that I can at least remember today, other than like, hey, here are the welcome day events. Here’s like, the concert we’re doing on Friday night. Yeah, I don’t I really can’t remember anything in particular, that was, like, personalized. So I mean, huge opportunity, like the cell phones, like not everyone had a smartphone then. So, you know, I think some of the digital first capabilities of today didn’t even exist, you know, but I, that would have been nice for sure. You know, speaking of creating these personalized experiences, is there a certain school size or school type, you know, like private, large institution, regional like that? Creating these experiences will have like the biggest benefit for the school. The reason I asked that is like, if you’re an Ivy League school, and you’re like, hey, we have no enrollment issues, right? Like, our school is not struggling at all, like we don’t care. Like, what do you say to that? Versus like a regional school, which might have enrollment or admissions decline?

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that that’s a good point is that, like, you know, it’s something that’s overlooked for the schools that don’t have to struggle or kind of hustle, you know, each of their incoming classes and stuff, which again, on principle, I think that they should be caring about the State experience and giving them as supportive experience as they possibly can. But yeah, there’s not like that sense of urgency. And I think, what I’ve observed over like, the past year, that have been a pacifies, like, it’s interesting that, yeah, there’s a lot of religious institutions, which I really did not expect, that like, really have such a deep commitment to really kind of building this, you know, inclusive community for the, for the whole, you know, institution that they have, and even just making sure that if they have, you know, services that they do, that they, you know, are making sure people are aware of those and can be a part of them. And certainly community colleges, you know, it’s in the name, like, they want to be very accessible, very approachable, very supportive of their students. So we’ve seen it be very impactful for them. And then otherwise, I think it is just like, yeah, you could have your small liberal arts who’s, you know, tuition driven, and, you know, living and dying by, you know, each, each student that they bring in that they’d want to, as much as they can, I think, spare no expense, you know, in making sure that they’ve got as many guardrails up as they can to, you know, people just sort of, you know, fall off, and they’re kind of just, you know, there wasn’t much that they really could have done or something, but, so, I think that those are two interesting observations. And I think we’ll see. Yeah, just there’s more of that, and other like affinity based institutions like HBCUs, you know, they obviously have their own kind of deep commitment and tradition and history and community that they’d want to try to get us create, you know, a really supportive network.

Shiro Hatori
Do you think in the future, yeah, just trying to think future like, Do you think we’ll have like a Netflix of student enrollment where like, all your favorite shows are recommended to you now, you know, like, is that the future State of where higher ed will go, especially for prospective and transfer students.

Dustin Ramsdell
You know, because they think that’s is always and I mean, it’s fallen out of fashion a little bit, but everyone’s saying like, Oh, we’re, you know, we’re making the Netflix of blank, like it was, like everything in life, or like, it’s the Uber of this or whatever. for education, like, the MOOCs, you know, of the world, of course, arrows and edX and stuff is like, the closest thing that we have currently to that I feel like, and I do honestly think that we’ll get, we’re gonna keep getting closer to where there’s going to be kind of consortium sort of efforts and networks where, you know, I always love seeing these is when like, either like a, you know, dense urban center like DC or New York or a region, like the greater sort of like Baltimore, DC area, like when they’re able to get a network and work together to support each other were like, Oh, we have a lot of those, you have none, we can help support you with like our program offerings or, you know, different, like, you know, involvement opportunities. So, I think we’ll keep seeing more of that, because like, there’s just people who are, you know, whether they’re on the Ed Tech side, or those institutional leaders who I think are seeing the benefits, as institutions are closing and merging to like, almost have a little bit more foresight to not be like, Hey, we are just like drowning financially as an institution? How can we try to just survive, you can maybe at least have the foresight of like, could we work with our neighbor institutions, or similar institutions across the country, to sort of like, compensate where others are struggling, so then we all kind of collectively benefit because it’s like, right, it’s all just education, you see people like in education, like, show and tell so much and share with each other and support each other. So I think that’s like, kind of the next evolution like, I don’t think it’s literally going to be like you log into a Netflix style interface, and just pick and choose courses, and you just make your degree, and it’s super seamless, like that could be very far off. But like, just even the notion that like institutions stop seeing each other so much as competitors, and start seeing opportunities to sort of like, create these sort of robust libraries of courses, or involved in opportunities, or just other things like, I mean, you’re already seeing like, the athletic conferences, like sort of kind of play around in this sort of space and other things. So that’s definitely something to keep an eye on. It’s just like, the merger sort of side of the equation. And if institutions are almost like, getting ahead of that, prior to when they like, have to, or else they’ll just, you know, cease to exist.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, that’s really cool. I think one of my past guests, I think it was I know, I’m blanking. It was a regional university, like more in the Midwest, and they have like a program with John Deere, they have like a specific course with John Deere, where they can learn more like agricultural farming like engineering. And they actually partnered directly with John Deere to like, help create those courses, which I thought was fascinating. And they’re super involved with their community as well. And so I kind of aligned to what you’re saying right now, which I thought was pretty impressive. That would interest me if I went to school, you know, if I can have direct relations outside of just just to campus and just the school, that’d be really,

Dustin Ramsdell
yeah. I mean, corporate partners can be a part of that as well, for sure. So, yeah. I think yeah, that’s something that I hope to potentially talk about. As like another teaser, I guess, is this, you know, comes out as at South by next year. That’s like, the proposal that I put in for the panel picker was like, partnerships. Yeah, well, partnerships with a big part of alliteration. Now I’m like, partnerships, pathways or peril. That was a the idea that it’s like it’s corporate partnerships and institutions sort of partnering with each other, and even like boot camps, partnering with institutions, so that like a student does, you know, one year technical boot camp and then can get, you know, preferred admission into, you know, getting their bachelor’s. Yeah,

Shiro Hatori
that’s a that’s a heavy competition right now. Right. Like we’re big X’s note, like, we’re not on the same team right now. There. So that’ll be interesting. Gotcha. Awesome. Well, Dustin, it was great to have you on today. I was wondering where our listeners could connect with you and learn more about what you’re up to.

Dustin Ramsdell
Yeah, absolutely. So folks can absolutely connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m pretty active there to search my name and should be one of the first ones to come up because I feel like I don’t have any of Dustin rim sales that are that are as active on LinkedIn or go to pacify.com. So it’s just path. I f y.com. So that is, you know, my day job. I work on creating content there. So you can find a lot of stuff that I’ve made there like their podcast connected campus or the interests of blog posts and things. So I look forward to hearing from folks.

Shiro Hatori
Awesome. Thank you again, Dustin, for joining us, and hopefully it’s not the last and thanks for our audience for tuning in today. Make sure to check out the next episode. Thanks, everyone.

 

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