Excellence award for Empathy to Experience project

The Empathy to Experience Project team has received the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Excellence in Student Experience for their collaborative efforts to understand and transform the ACU student experience.

The cross-directorate project team was led by Associate Director of User Experience Ms Liz Moon, Associate Director of Digital Experience Mr Luke Williams, Associate Director of Strategy and Policy Ms Monica Chen, and Associate Director of IT Strategy and Program Delivery Mr Mark Brodsky. The team included Senior Manager Student Transition and Retention Ms Sarah Rose, Digital Operations Manager Mr Christian Prandi, Business Analyst Digital Technology Ms Pei-Lin Ng, User Experience Researcher Dr Alam Kim, and User Experience Designer Ms Piyumi Peiris.

Beyond the core project team, this dynamic project involved members of staff from many different areas of ACU including: Marketing and External Relations, Student Admin, IT, Education Pathways and the Provost Portfolio.

Developing empathy

The Empathy to Experience Project started in 2019 as a deep listening research exercise with 120 students across all faculties, campuses and cohorts to understand the student experience and improve key touchpoints along their journey. The insights derived from that exercise have now been used for a wide range of experience transformation initiatives, making a meaningful difference to the ACU student journey.

“Fundamentally, this project has been about understanding the student experience and turning that into insights that we could apply directly into projects and initiatives,” said Luke Williams.

Members of the project team developed comprehensive student journey maps, a prioritised roadmap of initiatives to enhance the student experience, and a searchable library of insights. These artefacts make it easy for staff to see and understand what students really experience, and what they expect, when they interact with ACU.

“This project was really about providing a high-level end-to-end insight on the experience that students had, from the very beginning when a student is researching what it’s like to come to ACU, right through to when they start to apply and enrol, through learning and teaching, and then ultimately completing their course and then graduating,” said Luke.

“We wanted to understand what all the key touchpoints along the journey are and how our students experience them currently.”

Finding ‘moments that matter’

The team was quickly able to uncover the “moments that matter” in the student journey: the parts that can make or break a student’s experience at ACU.

“These are really critical moments either because they have an emotional impact on the student, or because the activity [students are] undertaking at that time has real implications for them beyond that moment,” said Liz Moon.

“A really great example of this is timetabling, which is critically important to a student. This wasn’t a huge surprise to us, but the stories we heard where those experiences weren’t good had such a strong impact on students and stayed with them through the semester and really impacted how they talked about ACU to their peers.

“Pleasingly, this project has helped guide a major transformation to the timetabling experience to make it less stressful for our students and put them in control of their timetable, which is what they wanted.”

Measuring the impact of our improvements

By using technology that was already in place, the team was able to complete some basic foundational changes quite easily, such as moving requests related to student enrolments online to AskACU and Service Central. This improved turnaround time for students, who no longer needed to contact or follow up with their course coordinators in person.

“We’ve been able to measure quite clearly how we’ve transformed the student experience at ACU,” said Liz. “We’ve had a 91 per cent reduction in turnaround time for some of our forms.”

Another key change made around this activity was in reducing the possibility for making errors when choosing units for enrolment.

“With a fairly straightforward change in our system, we were able to reduce the number of unit errors made for Semester 1 2021 enrolment by 22,000,” said Liz. “This is not just a significant improvement for our students, but also our staff who would then be supporting those students afterwards.” 

Exploring opportunity

Since the research was completed in 2020, the team has continued to engage with academic and professional staff. Through the User Experience (UX) team, they have continued to engage students throughout projects and initiatives through further research, co-design and thorough UX testing. Together, they’ve built the university’s understanding of and empathy for the student experience, facilitated innovation, and used ideation workshops to explore opportunity areas.

The team has been particularly keen to use the project’s rich data and student insights to enhance other student experience initiatives, including: 

  • the Conversion Project, introducing proactive calling to all ACU offer holders
  • a redesign of the Course Browser which was underpinned by the Curriculum Management Approval System project
  • transforming the timetabling experience
  • transforming the enrolment experience
  • transforming student transition and retention
  • developing a student content and communications strategy
  • user experience research and design for ACU Online
  • fully online Open Day, Orientation and Graduation experiences.

According to Luke, being recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award is a great affirmation of the work the team has done.

“It’s nice to know that our colleagues can see the value in this work and in really putting the student experience at the centre of what we do.”

Added Liz, “We’ve been helped by so many different staff across different portfolios of the university. A really core part of working at ACU is how people come together for the common good, and I think this project is an excellent example.”

 Mark Brodsky  Monica ChenLiz Moon Pei-Lin Ng  Piyumi Peiris Christian Prandi Sarah Rose Luke Williams

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