Supporting New Students at Varia
Vantaa Vocational College Varia is a multi-disciplinary, practical vocational education and training institution located in Vantaa. With four campuses, Varia hosts more than 6,000 students pursuing around 160 degrees.
The City of Vantaa’s strategic goal is to reduce early school leaving in vocational education and training. Despite the support from student welfare services and teaching staff at Varia, 15-17% of students drop out without completing their studies. While general statistics on youth issues are available, early identification of students at risk of dropping out and the provision of adequate, tailored support have been challenging. The goal is to make learning more meaningful, identify dropout risks, and help students stay on track.
In late 2020, Annie Advisor and Varia initiated an extensive collaboration to develop a support bot that addresses Varia’s objectives. Initially targeting new students at one of Varia’s campuses, a diverse professional group worked together to design a messaging and service flow for the support bot to direct students to different professionals depending on their various support needs. For instance, students facing challenges with coping are referred to a psychologist, while those struggling with distance learning are directed to their responsible teacher.
After a successful pilot in spring 2021, the support bot was expanded to all new students in autumn 2021 and to continuing students in spring 2022. To manage the load on support services, students’ support needs are identified in a staggered manner throughout the academic year, starting from the beginning of their studies.
Customized versions of the support bot’s communication and service pathway were also developed for apprenticeship students and non-Finnish-speaking students.
Annie provides students with a low-threshold opportunity to express support needs that might have otherwise gone unmentioned.
Psychiatric nurse, Varia
Varia found that text messaging lowers barriers to seeking and receiving support. On average, 71% of students respond to messages, and among those, 9% require support. Support needs peak at the beginning of the academic year, with up to 21% of students requesting assistance. The most common support needs include teaching and study planning (18%), general subjects (14%), other academic matters (12%), and well-being and health (5%).
The Annie-bot helped me progress in my studies. The threshold for asking for help disappeared with this Annie-bot. I wouldn’t be graduating as a community nurse now without having had the opportunity to ask for help through this.
Psychiatric nurse, Varia