The University of Southern Queensland’s Social Hub keeps its far-flung students in touch with what’s going on, as well as offering essential life skills.
S tudent newspapers were once the only way undergraduates could find out what was going on at their university. As well as their typically poor typography, shocking photo reproduction and infantile humour, uni rags were often referred to as being “hot-beds of political activism”. Conservative prime ministers and pompous academics were ridiculed mercilessly and drawn with devil’s ears. Politics students wrote poisonous propaganda to get elected on the next student council. Eighth-year arts students wrote esoteric short stories to fill the spaces in between.
If the University of Southern Queensland’s Social Hub website is any indication, times have certainly moved on for the better. And it’s not just the publishing platform that’s changed, either – USQ’s comprehensive site is just as much a guide to living as it is a guide to uni life.
Under the mission statement “Engage. Educate. Empower”, the USQ team produces a rich range of mobile-friendly content that helps on-campus and distance students keep in touch. The digital student magazine, HeyU, makes use of nice design and interactive software, and features short and sharp pieces that introduce or explain significant USQ people and places.
USQ Social Hub includes blogs, videos, slide shows and articles that offer a spectrum of “life hacks”. “Jess” nominates “five moving out problems and how to solve them”, “Jack” has five hints for those keen on a Malaysian student exchange and “Penelope” has a recipe for decadent, healthy chocolate crackles. (By the way, most writers and subjects are only known by their first names, which makes them instantly familiar and obscure at the same time.) Meanwhile, award-winning poet Steve Armstrong offers tips for any budding Bruce Dawes.
Social standards are a Social Hub staple. A slideshow on “how to embrace the awkward” has advice on what to do if you forget someone’s name or run into a lecturer while picking up the groceries. Blogger Alex Johnson stars in a series of short videos that help anyone avoid fashion faux pas.
The university marketing team has also recently launched its own monthly podcast – The Study Buddies Show. “Corben” and “Tom” chat about a topic (procrastination, for example) and talk to guests about issues that may impact on USQ students anywhere. In 2016, the USQ “S.W.O.T” webinar series will have specialists discuss issues such as leadership, study strategies and creating a good first impression.
USQ is an unusual university because three-quarters of its students study via distance or online. Many of them might not have picked up a textbook for decades, or are trying to gain a degree while holding down a job or bringing up children. This may present a problem to administrators wanting students to feel part of the university scene but HeyU, Social Hub and other USQ content helps provide an awareness of community and shared purpose.
Helen Nolan, USQ’s executive director of marketing and student attraction, says the university needed to help students find a sense of belonging. In her presentation at the Universities Australia Marketing Communications and Development Conference 2015, Nolan used the Social Hub’s mission statement to offer advice for universities wanting to follow USQ’s lead. “Have a two-way conversation (engage), repurpose to influence transformation and conversion (educate), and let your advocates chip in (empower).” She added a fourth one, which is like the “special sauce” in USQ’s approach: “Make these conversations last more than 24 hours (entertain).”
Who would have thought a student publication could ever be this entertaining?