The What I Wish I’d Known Diaries and Other Programme Content

By Maija Koponen, King’s College London | 

The What I Wish I’d Known programme is one of our two randomised control trials focused on enhancing students’ sense of social belonging. The aims of the trial were detailed in last week’s blog post.

What I Wish I’d Known ran from December 2016 to June 2017 and involved 470 first year King’s Living Bursary recipient students. The intervention focused on making students aware of a range of support services available to them at King’s, and messages throughout the programme laid a heavy emphasis on the fact that it is entirely normal to need help and support during your time at university.

Programme presidents

The majority of the programme messaging was sent in the name of our two What I Wish I’d Known presidents. One of our presidents was a King’s alumnus, and the other a current King’s PhD student, who had also completed her undergraduate degree at King’s. These near-peer presidents were invited to represent the programme due to their own WP student backgrounds, and their willingness to share their stories, experience and advice which was important in bringing the programme to life. We used their images in communications, as behavioural insights research suggests that people’s engagement with a message is increased if the text is accompanied by an image of a person’s face.[1]

Special social events

The programme was kicked off in December by an email from the presidents. The email introduced the programme and invited students to a free dinner at Pizza Express. The pizza event aimed to provide students – and in particular those who live at home – a means to build their networks and bolster their feeling of belonging and social support. A further aim was to provide students with a positive student experience right before the Christmas break, which is a tricky milestone in the student journey, and a difficult time in terms of student retention. Various behavioural insights were built into the event, including activities that encouraged students to exchange contact details.

WIWIK diary design-page-001
Figure 1: WIWIK diary cover

What I Wish I’d Known diaries

Right before the Christmas break, all students on the programme received a What I Wish I’d Known programme diary in the mail. In the first year of the KCLxBIT project, we found out that students often do not use any type of diary to plan their studies and other term time activities. So our first aim was simply to provide them with a diary. The inside covers of the diaries included a collection of tips from 2nd and 3rd year students, so the diary also worked as an additional way to encourage students to engage with the opportunities available to them as King’s students.

WIWIK diary design-page-002
Figure 2:  What I Wish I’d Known diary inner leaf

Furthermore, research from the USA has shown that sending students a gift from the university – branded or otherwise – helps emphasise students’ connection to the organisation and increases their sense of belonging.[2] This in turn has a direct positive effect on the student’s institutional commitment and significant indirect effects on intentions to persist and actual persistence.

Behaviourally inspired text messages and e-mails

In the spring term, student received fortnightly communications from What I Wish I’d Known in the form of text messages and e-mails. Communications centred around a different theme each month, and included information on support available, unique opportunities, and video testimonials from fellow students. Topics included; promoting study skills support, information about financial services and encouraging take-up of summer study abroad opportunities. All messages were sent in the name of one of the programme presidents, and were formulated based on the principles of BIT’s EAST framework.

WIWIK messages
Figure 3: Example text messages from the programme

Programme feedback and outcomes

Preliminary qualitative feedback has indicated that students found the programme content useful, and the diaries and invitations to the social events in particular were well received. An interesting point of feedback from a number of students was that even if they did not attend the socials, being invited in the first place was appreciated. Further analysis of the feedback is underway. Results from the full quantitative analysis of the What I Wish I’d Known programme randomised control trial will be available in the coming months, once students have completed their re-enrolment for the 2017-18 academic year.

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[1] Behavioural Insights Team (2013). Applying behavioural insights to charitable giving. Cabinet Office.

[2] Hausmann, L. R., Ye, F., Schofield, J. W., & Woods, R. L. (2009). Sense of belonging and persistence in White and African American first-year students. Research in Higher Education,50(7), 649-669.

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