The project group leading the project Coordinated Communication to KTH Students has researched existing material and conducted in-depth interviews, workshops, and surveys. Part of the experiences and needs expressed by the students are reoccurring. These are important insights to carry forward in KTH: s work to develop its communication to KTH students.
Starting at KTH
Difficult to absorb the information given at the start of studies
Students describe that it is difficult to absorb information during their initial time at KTH. Reasons are the many new impressions and that students’ primary focus during this time is to get to know other students. Much of the practical information, for example during information sessions, is difficult to remember. Many students are in need of accessing this information later in the semester when they are more receptive to it.
There was a lot to take in at the same time. I don’t think that many students remember much from the presentation about how to use the KTH-account or access card. After which, we went to the D building and the roll count where the study counselor informed us about the log in, Canvas, the KTH-account and access card. However, I don’t remember almost anything of that because then there was the reception and the day was also very long – it started at like 8 and finished at 5. On top of that there was also a BBQ.
The reception is appreciated, but students’ not participating risk missing out on an important introduction
The majority of students participating during the reception are very pleased with it and say that their start of studies was better due to the reception. There are students who choose not to participate because they don’t feel comfortable with the arrangement of the reception. There are also students who cannot participate because of work commitments before the start of the semester. These students, who either cannot or chooses not to participate, risk missing out on being part of the community since study groups and introduction have already been held during the reception weeks.
The transition from upper secondary school to university is a great adjustment.
Some students receive a chock when attending their first lectures. Students leave these lectures experiencing fear and worry and question whether KTH is the right place for them. For some of these students, this is due to being told stories from staff or older students about the rapid study pace and required previous knowledge. For others, it is due to the transition from being a student at an upper secondary school to becoming a student at a technical institute is requiring an adjustment.
I did not receive any help from KTH to find study techniques. I learned through talking to other students. Someone told me to check old exams and someone else told me what to prioritize. Then you could use the other material as a complement, but everything is not necessary. I was very aware that everything was one’s own responsibility. This was the message we got from our course responsible and lecturer. If I said that something was difficult I received the answer: You are adults, you need to take your own responsibility.
Finding and understanding information study-related information
Differences in course communication complicate students learning
Students say that they, for every new course, have to learn how that particular teacher has chosen to structure their course. There is no familiarity with previous courses or another way for the student to predict how the teacher will inform their students during the course. Much of students’ time and energy is spent administering the course and learning how communication works instead of learning.
It is insane that all teachers use Canvas differently. Completely unreasonable that the system is so inconsistent and chaotic in an institute of KTH:s caliber. Get it together!
Important information is missed due to an overload of information and unclear notifications
Students say that they receive large amounts of information and need to spend a lot of time sifting through information to find what is relevant. Students are notified of new information through notifications from different systems (e.g Canvas, Ladok and the Programme web). Students say that these notifications are inconsistent in their design, unclear about what part of information that has been updated and not necessarily relevant for the student.
There is often an avalanche of information (multiple emails on minor changes on canvas, multiple webpages for similar or even the same topic, etc.) increasing the likelihood that important information will be missed or lost.
Information is scattered and communicated through too many channels
Information from KTH is scattered and communicated through too many channels. Students explain that there is similar information in several different channels, where some information isn’t updated or s from channel to channel. It is difficult for the student to understand where to turn to in order to find correct and current information. This leads to them turning to their teachers or study counselors with their questions and sometimes receiving varying answers depending on who they ask. Students request one place where all information concerning their studies is collected, correct, current and accessible for everyone.
It is generally very confusing when different people give different answers to students’ questions concerning their education, therefore try to make sure that everyone has access to the same information.
Support during studies
Not clear what type of support is available to maintain wellbeing and manage studies
In Student survey within the project Coordinated Communication to KTH Students (2021) approximately 40 % of the students that information about support to manage studies and feel good during the studies is very or quite unclear. At the same time, we know that many students are in need of support, 38% of respondents in the “Mellanårsenkäten” (2019) have experienced their study situation so difficult that they have needed help.
Different opportunities to receive support outside of KTH
Students have different opportunities to receive support in their studies. Students with parents that have academic background can often turn to their families for help. Students whose parents lack academic backgrounds are more dependent on their fellow students and the support available at KTH.
I experience that teachers talk about that these [fellow students] are your colleagues, that you should help each other and do things together, but they do not offer tools, resources, nothing. I have not needed any help with planning and structure because I am really good at that, but rather, the assignments because I lack a technical frame of reference and have not understood what they [teachers] mean. In these cases I have relied on help from friends in order to find out what is expected. It became clear for me that I would not have managed my courses during the fall had it not been for my social network. I view this way of teaching as wrongful, it’s a way to weed out people who do not have access to outside help.
Different degree of challenge in asking for help
Some students find it easier to ask for support than others. Many students have always been top-performing in their upper secondary education and are not used to being in need of support. However, studies at KTH are challenging and most students need support at some point during their studies.
Many students say that a sense of support and community with fellow students is the most important thing when managing one's studies and wellbeing during studies. Difficult assignments are made easier by students solving them together and motivating each other along the way.
Yes, it is a red thread, me accepting the help of friends. Perhaps I didn’t email study counselors, but I always accepted help from friends.
Unclear where students should leave complaints
More than one-third of the respondents in Student survey within the project Coordinated Communication to KTH Students say that KTH: s information about student’s opportunities to have an influence on their education is very or quite unclear. Even more of the respondents, almost half, think that it is very or quite unclear where the student should turn with complaints concerning their studies or study situation.
Lack of feedback on what KTH does after receiving students’ complaints
Some students feel that KTH do not care about complaints from students. Students feel that there is a lack of feedback on what is done after they hand in their complaints or course evaluations and the reasons for why some complaints are left without apparent action. KTH needs to communicate that students have an influence in the development of education and the reasons behind KTH: s different decisions.
It seems that some teachers do not accept feedback, but instead keep to the same format year after year. This is sad. What is the point of the evaluations and receiving constructive criticism from previous students just for the teacher to keep on doing their thing?
Part of the students’ experience that the requirements for courses are unclear and arbitrary
A majority (59 %) of the respondents in the Student survey within the project Coordinated Communication to KTH Students say that the information about the requirements is very or quite clear. However, some of the free form field answers show that some students who experience that the requirements change on short notice and differ from student to student.
Then there is also different decisions from student to student. This is something I don’t get. Does this mean that the entry requirements only apply to some? It also seems that some requirements changes with short notice. One moment one needed have completed the Calculus in Several Variables in order to take Applied Thermodynamics and Differential Equations, but in the next moment they have removed that requirement again. When you try to ask about other qualifying courses you get the answer that they have not reached a decision yet. Attempting to set up your course plan and keep on studying in total uncertainty is incredibly frustrating.
Communicating with students, as a member of the School's offices of student affairs
Need to find communication solutions
The staff members at the School's offices of student affairs at KTH:s respective schools (e.g study counselors, master- and international coordinator) are responsible for providing students within their school information concerning their studies. It varies between the schools what type of support the School's offices of student affairs can receive from the school’s communication officers. Most often information is communicated through the programme web, information sessions and e-mails. Many of KTH:s operations seek to inform students and request that the School's offices of student affairs use their channels, for example, the programme web to communicate their information. It can be very difficult to determine what type of information that should be communicated and in what way. A lack of coordination and common work procedures results in everyone making up their communication solutions to the best of their ability.
We receive a lot of information and need to determine what the students need. It takes time to communicate through the programme web. If you have a lot of different programmes, you have to publish information the respective programme web. So a lot of time is spent only on publishing things on the programme web
Frustration that students choose not to read the information
Many express frustration that the information channels do not work and that some students do not understand that they have a responsibility to keep up to date with information from KTH.
It can be frustrating when students miss information. It is so unnecessary that they miss information when it is so important. It is a shame since it can really cause trouble for them to miss it and then you wish that the course of information worked well. It could be avoided if they received the information, given that you are 100 percent certain that they did receive it. That is the most frustrating part”.
Individually adapted communication is important
Most members of the School's offices of student affairs agree that it would be favorable if part of the common information from KTH was coordinated, although they emphasize that part of the information needs to be adapted according to the individual needs of the student.
Communicating to students, as a teacher
Many administrative questions that has been already answered in the Course PM
It is clear from the interviews with teachers that they have to spend a lot of time on administration and answering administrative questions from students.
Many students seek information about course registration during the first week. I then direct them to their study counselor. After the first week it is common for students who has missed the start of the course to show up to say “I wasn’t’ there, what is happening?” Many emails concerns communication issues, for example students having difficulties reaching their lab partners. There are many questions concerning the course PM and the start of the course as well as how students’ best should prepare for it.
Teachers need support to ease their workload
Teachers with great commitment for teaching have difficulties finding time for everything, especially during certain periods.
Start-up is a bit hectic because many students need help getting started. After that, it goes on quite well. At the end of the study period, there is the examination, which makes things difficult.
Many teachers say that they require easier, smoother support in their work when it comes to everything from system support in Canvas to administrative routines. However, it is important not to add more obligatory work tasks and decrease flexibility since this leads to fewer opportunities for teachers to work on course development and communicating with their students.