Welcome to our continued celebration of 2021 WOW awardees! We’re joined today by Connie Johnson and Ellise Farber, both from Colorado Technical University, who were nominated this year for the Messenger app via CTU Mobile, which provided real time communication opportunities and help to struggling students.

Frontiers is currently hosting our annual blog post series featuring posts from our 2021 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award Winners.

This year we took a slightly different focus and asked for stories that described the intensely hard work that WCET member institutional staff, instructors, administrators, and students heroically stepped up with to the meet the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to the 2021 WOW awardees:

  • Colorado Technical University.
  • Miami University Regionals E-Campus.
  • University of Alabama.
  • University of Louisville.
  • University of North Dakota.
  • University of Texas at San Antonio.

Congrats and thank you to Colorado Technical University and the digital learning heroes highlighted in today’s post. Stay tuned for the rest of this blog series as we lead up to this year’s WCET Annual Meeting!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

A registered nurse who wanted to further her education, Susie Student was thrilled when she was accepted into Colorado Technical University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Her first few classes went well. However, in early 2020, Susie found herself struggling to balance her schoolwork along with working increasingly long hours at the hospital battling the front lines against COVID.

Battling on the Front Lines – While in School

Between the stress of the global pandemic and exhaustion from double-shifts, it was very difficult for Susie to participate in class and she found herself completely overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Susie had access to CTU’s mobile app and could quickly message her faculty member, through the two-way Messenger tool, to let her know why she was having trouble getting her assignments done. Not only was her faculty member able to help, but Susie’s outreach through Messenger and mention of COVID raised flags in CTU’s reporting systems, which helped Susie’s broader support team identify that she was struggling. Her student success advisor could then proactively reach out to Susie with specific tools and information to help her with time and stress management, including connecting her with peers dealing with similar problems.

example of messenger app with a new message conversation
CTU Mobile App – Messenger Conversation

Real Time Communication and Help

Susie is just one of the more than 20,000 CTU students who use CTU Messenger every month to connect directly with their faculty, university staff, and their classmates. While CTU has many ways for students to provide feedback about the challenges of today, a growing number of students do not respond to email, phone, surveys, or other traditional methods of outreach. CTU is delighted that the use of Messenger, accessible through CTU’s mobile app as well as its Learning Management System, is a widely-used mode of communication between students and faculty and staff. CTU Messenger provides an avenue for real-time communication about coursework, technology challenges, or any other issues related to the pandemic, natural disasters, and family and work challenges.

…thanks for reaching out. No, everything isn’t alright. I’ve been battling with COVID and just received my phone last night…

In 2020, more than 80 percent of CTU’s population used Messenger to send 240,000+ conversations and nearly 3.3 million exchanges. These conversations provide a vast reservoir of insights into the issues that students face which prevent them from successfully completing their degrees.

Finding the True Impact

Recent data from a representative sampling indicates that faculty messages sent to students through CTU Messenger are opened an average of 83 percent of the time.

We at CTU wanted to understand more about how the Messenger tool was being used. We gathered the messages sent through Messenger to see if there were overarching themes or issues we could address.

To collate the messages into themes, as well as actionable data, CTU’s marketing and academic teams uses Kapiche, a text analysis-reporting tool that utilizes machine learning and natural language processing algorithms, including Google Sentiment Analysis, to discern sentiment, trends, and themes in student comments. Given the size and complexity of text data, due to the volume of students using Messenger, this reporting is critical to identifying and responding effectively to student issues.

…apologize for slacking, I’ve just been super sick with covid for about a week now. I will get caught up this week. Thank you for checking in on me.

For example, when the pandemic began in early 2020, CTU mobilized Kapiche to identify how students talked about the pandemic and the challenges it was causing to their lives. If a student messaged to say that they, or a family member, were in distress using identified language concepts such as hospital, illness, economic hardship, or job challenges, faculty and student advising were equipped to reach out in real-time and offer support. Academics also used insights into what students were experiencing to enhance faculty outreach and communication expectations, as well as to adjust a number of academic policies for students impacted by the pandemic and to provide additional communications to students each session. More specifically, faculty responded to messages by working with the university to adjust late policies for student work and incomplete policies for courses. Referrals to student advising for support in scheduling, time management, and stress management also increased during this time.

Kapiche COVID Concept Mapping
Kapiche COVID Concept Mapping

When CTU first developed the Messenger app, the university believed this communication tool would help increase communication between the University and CTU students. What we could not foresee, however, is that Messenger’s accessibility on mobile and on the Learning Management System would lead students to increase and deepen their engagement with the University.

CTU Messenger has engaged CTU’s academic, student advising, and marketing teams to help thousands of students just like Susie with real-time assistance during the pandemic. An additional benefit is to build off this strong foundation for ongoing, targeted student outreach through the development of new tools designed to address specific student needs. We are excited to see what the future brings!


Connie Johnson

Immediate Past Chancellor, CTU. Consultant, Monarch Strategies, LLC

Ellise Farber

Director of Marketing, Colorado Technical University


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