Competing for Student Attention: Sign-Ups vs. Attendance

by Nicole Downing

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It’s the first week back for our law school community. It’s an exciting time as faculty, students, and staff all return to campus. It’s also a time when students have multiple activities competing for their attention. In the library, we would like a piece of that attention! Every year, we hold a short series of workshops. In the past, we have faced a problem we are working to solve this semester. The problem isn’t lack of initial interest and sign-ups– it’s follow-through attendance. After the reminder emails are sent out the day before a workshop, I get the inevitable flood of emails in response – I double booked, I hadn’t anticipated my class load, I just can’t make it anymore.

How do we hold the students’ attention? At our law school, we have a central rotunda where students gather and socialize between classes. It’s also where any organization can set up a table. We set up a table. We put out flyers. We send out emails. We blog. We Facebook. And students sign up! But how do we ensure they actually attend?

We’re trying a few different strategies this year. The first one is to change the timing of the series. We have pushed the workshop series back later in the semester. We did that in large part so we could push back our marketing efforts. We hope that we can let this initial competition period die down – the time at the beginning of the semester when everyone is making announcements and drafting students into events. It’s also the time when students are most enthusiastic. We may be missing out on some of that enthusiasm, but hopefully the students who sign up will be genuinely interested in the workshops and have a better idea of what they can manage with their schedule.

The second strategy is to schedule around popular law school events to limit competition. By scheduling the workshops a bit later in the semester, we do not need to pick exact dates and book rooms until later in the semester. The hope is that other groups on campus have scheduled some of their big-ticket events by now, and we can avoid them by viewing the school calendar. We don’t want to compete with Career Services events. In fact, we want to work with them since our events help students with their future careers! We also don’t want to compete with the Pro Bono Program. Their events gather large crowds and the program itself does fantastic work that we don’t want to detract from. If we can avoid these events in our scheduling, we can help eliminate some of the over booking obstacles to attendance.

Finally, we have decided to launch a fresh slate of workshop topics. We know the attendance we received with last year’s topics. We think we can do better, so we have decided to try all new topics to gauge the interest level in these other topics. We’ll see if they get a higher attendance retention rate – and even better would be overall higher attendance.

At the end of the day, students will always sign up for things they won’t attend. We can plan for that, but having 20 students sign up for a workshop and having 6 attend? That’s just bad odds. We’re changing things up this semester, and we’ll see if that attendance rate improves!

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