Guidelines: Communicating with Engineering Undergraduates

Introduction

Need

To support student success, U of T Engineering staff and faculty must correspond regularly with students about their academic and co-curricular activities. As a result of our desire to reach students in the most direct and efficient manner possible, we often choose to email students, en masse. However, students have expressed that they feel overwhelmed by volume when numerous messages from across the Faculty accumulate in their inboxes over a short period of time.

A Student Perspective

In November and December 2015, the Faculty conducted focus groups with engineering undergraduate students across all years. First-year students felt the most overwhelmed by email volume. Overall, students across all years wanted to receive less email, but also desired well-composed messages that made it easy for them to scan quickly.

High email volume combined with messages that are information-dense or difficult to read leaves our students feeling frustrated — not just because of the time they spend sifting through their inboxes, but that high-priority messages sometimes get lost in email bulk and go unread.

Objective

The guidelines outlined in this resource will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the messages that reach students while alleviating some of the frustration they feel toward email quality and volume. Through this resource, the Faculty also aims to increase awareness among staff and faculty of all the communication vehicles available to them beyond email.

While these guidelines were developed primarily with undergraduate engineering students in mind, the best practices can be effective with many other audiences.

 

Guiding Principles

 

Regardless of what communication vehicle you are using, make it easy for students to find what they need. Be sure to consult our best practices to help you achieve clarity in your messages.

Email is an effective way to connect with individual students privately through personalized messages. However, sending unsolicited mass email to large groups should be reserved for your most urgent messages (e.g., room change for an exam). This increases the likelihood of our students seeing critically valuable, time-sensitive information. Use the communications diagnostic tool and a reference chart of recommended communications tools by message type to help you determine how best to connect with your audience. Reference the best practices for sending email whenever you send messages.

The communications diagnostic tool will help you determine which communication vehicles are most appropriate given your message (you may prefer a printable version of this tool). Using these vehicles consistently across the Faculty will help our students find and consume information more easily.

The best way to generate awareness is by promoting your announcements across several communication vehicles so your message reaches your audience simultaneously through different modes. Use the communications diagnostic tool, download the Suggested U of T Engineering Communication Channels by Message chart and read through our sample communications plan.

Think holistically and critically about email communication from your audience’s perspective. If your area needs to communicate several pieces of information to the same audience on a similar timeline, coordinate and consolidate those announcements into one message rather than sending a separate email for each. This will mean planning ahead with your colleagues across a variety of functional areas (e.g., event notices, relevant health and safety issues, lab closure reminders, important deadlines, job opportunities) to coordinate content and schedule the timing of your messages so it meets everyone’s needs.

If you find yourself needing to send mass, unsolicited emails to the same group of students with some regularity and you do not already have a newsletter for your department or unit, consider starting one. Using a newsletter-management service like eNewsletter Pro provides useful metrics that will help you track open rates on your messages, and ultimately help you tailor and improve your messages even further. Read the newsletter best practices for tips on how to plan, write and format your forthcoming newsletter.

The Faculty has a distinct look and feel. When we communicate using the same aesthetic in designed communications, our messages feel more cohesive to our audiences. Use the menu to explore our branding basics: logos, colours and fonts.

 

What is relevant to our students?

In all cases, the content of our messages across all communication vehicles should be linked directly to U of T Engineering. If the message is about the wider U of T community, it must be of interest to engineering students.

To help you assess what is appropriate to share with students, here is what your messages should not include:

Need help? Contact Shilpa Gantotti, Communications Strategist at shilpa@ecf.utoronto.ca