Helping Students Understand Insurance

When it comes to insurance, even the most well versed can sometimes struggle with their deductibles, copays, coinsurance, maximum out-of-pocket – and that is all before you start looking at the actual benefits. When you have students accustom to their healthcare system, that uses different health insurance terms, and add a language barrier to that, you have a situation that can be pretty complicated when trying to introduce students to the US healthcare system!

Video Content

Everything we do at ISI is designed to make things easier for students, from easy-to-understand benefit tables, our school requirements database so students can check if our plans will work for their school, and of course our multilingual customer support team.

However, in the summer of 2013, we embarked on a mission to make insurance even easier to understand and the first step was to integrate more visuals into what we do. Our “Overview of the US Healthcare System” was the first step, which is a short six minute video designed to educate student (in a fun way) about how the healthcare system in the USA works. It is perfect for student orientations and for school websites, where it can be embedded (at not cost).

We then set out to create four shorter videos which explain our main products – students can watch the videos to determine which plan is right for them. These videos are available on our homepage and respective product pages. All with the main goal to make insurance easier to understand.

Language Content

The next step in better understanding is to provide more of our content in the student’s native language. With students from all around the world, this is no easy task, but we are excited to announce that our US Healthcare video now has subtitles in seven different languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. And, we expect more to come in the future.

We have also been providing customer support in Chinese and Spanish for some time, and we have now extended this to our website! Students can view the whole website in either language – and then contact us for assistance in those languages.

You can learn more about our language capabilities in our recent press release on the subject.

With the complex nature of insurance, coupled with language barriers and background differences, it is really important to make sure students understand the products they are purchasing and what they cover so they can determine if it is right for them. Hopefully with the videos, and growing language capabilities, we will continue to be an industry leader in helping students understand insurance!

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Back to School Tech 2014

I’ve collected some of the cooler and more interesting tech gadgets that could ease you back into the drudgery of school.

chromecastChromecast – One of the smallest and easiest to use streaming media devices out there. For $35 you get a tiny stick computer that plugs straight into the HDMI port on your TV or Monitor, connect to your WiFi network and then control the device from your cell phone, tablet or computer. You can stream Google’s own movie and music to it, Netflix, HBO’s Go service, Hulu, YouTube and dozens more.

goproGoPro HERO camera – Tough, great video and audio, tons of accessories. You’d better be having fun in college and recording those great memories is something that the GoPro excels at. The HERO3 model adds WiFi connectivity and there is an amazing amount of accessories available for the camera, including waterproof housings, helmet mounts, bike mounts, etc. They are available locally at retailers like Best Buy and Walmart and from online vendors like Amazon. Search YouTube for “GoPro” for examples of great footage that a GoPro can capture.

google cardboardGoogle Cardboard – Cheap virtual reality (VR) with Android phone. One of the coolest things to come out of the Google I/O 2014 conference was Google’s ultra low-budget VR goggles made from a folder piece of cardboard and a few small lenses. Download the Cardboard app from the Play store to your Android phone, slip the the into the front of the device and enjoy VR on the cheap. Buy a kit online or go the DIY route with instructions from Google.

OontZ Angle Ultra bluetooth speakers – Take your party with you with these great sounding portable speakers. A typical charge will last up to 10 hours of playback and the sound is outstanding. Online prices are generally under $45 which makes these portable speakers a great value.

sony sw2Sony Smart Watch SW2 – Leave your Android smart phone in your jacket pocket or backpack but still stay on top of your Facebook feed, text messages, control Spotify, get navigation updates, plus literally hundreds of other apps, all on your bluetooth connected SmartWatch. And it tells time. There are dozens of different SmartWatche’s available and with a street price around $150, the Sony is in the middle of the price range. You can customize the display, from old-school analog clocks to multi-screen digital displays, change out the strap for different looks,

Google Chromebook – Small and lightweight netbooks running the Chrome OS, these tiny netbooks with screens ranging from 10-12″, are some of the smallest and lightest machines available. With the smaller screens and solid state drives instead of moving disk drives, getting 8-10 hours of use before the batteries run flat makes these great for mobile studies. By using cloud storage and online apps, these machines are designed to be online.

Kindle Fire – eBooks, movies, apps, social, email, etc. Amazon has created a line of solid tablets that runs on the Android OS (with some restrictions) and . Prices range from $129 to $199 depending on the screen size, storage size and connectivity options. Amazon also has a special deal for students that give you access to the unlimited instant streaming of movies, tv shows and music for $49 a year. Students can rent textbooks for only the time they need them and carry around a small tablet instead of lugging around a heavy backpack full of books. Save your money and your back.

If you’ve got any other suggestions for tech that would be useful for going back to school, leave me a comment!

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Hangout with Hiram College – Results from a Google Hangout

On July 30th, 2014, InternationalStudent.com held a Google Hangout with Hiram College. It was hosted by Victoria Troupe from International Student and featured Frank Bowman, the Director for International Recruiting at Hiram College and Jihyuk Yim (Estaban), an international student from Paraguay studying economics at Hiram. During the Hangout, prospective students from around the globe had the chance to learn what it is like to attend Hiram College and then to ask questions to Frank and Estaban, which were answered live during the hangout.

Hangout with Hiram

This was our first live Hangout that we hosted with multiple presenters from multiple locations. We ran it from our studios in Neptune Beach, while Frank and Estaban were on campus at Hiram College (Learn more about the technical aspects on our Tech Blog).

We began to market the event on Monday, July 28th through an email that we sent to our newsletter subscription list, reaching roughly 200,000 subscribers. We also sent a reminder the day of the event.

Email

We also complimented the email with social media marketing through Google+,Facebook and Twitter as well as a blog. This was all done in a effort to drive students to attend the hangout and learn more about attending Hiram College.

The great thing about a Hangout is that it lives on forever on the internet. It is on their Featured School profile, in the Hangout section on InternationalStudent.com and on our YouTube channel. So the stats will continue to grow. Here are some of the initial results from Monday, July 28th through the live event on July 30th:

    • Hiram’s Featured School Profile views increased over 800% from the previous month receiving over 2,200 views for the month with 2,100 over the three day period.
    • Hiram College received over 45 inquiries from their Featured School profile as a direct result of the Hangout and the marketing around it. That is a 400% increase.
    • 183 international Students attended the event with over 300 saying they were going to attend.
    • 220 people have viewed the event on YouTube since the event ended.

 

All early indications say this event was quite a success. Do you use Google Hangouts to reach and recruit international students? Contact us if you are interested in learning more about how we can host a Google Hangout for your school.

 

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New NAFSA Data Reveals International Student, Advisor Disconnect

Cartoon businessman shoulder debt box488222725Thanks to new survey data that made its debut at the recent NAFSA conference there was something more concrete for the assembled academics to talk about than usual. The new data gave clear form to the motivations behind international student retention and what it reveals will alternately confirm and confound the expectations of their advisors.

Same Page

The survey, which asked both students and their advisors about the main sources of dissatisfaction for international students, revealed that both parties cited financial concerns as the most pressing concern. 36% of the international students polled in the survey, for example, cited affordability and another 34% cited the availability of scholarships as their main sources of dissatisfaction. A parallel survey indicates that, by and large, international educators and advisors are on the same page: 64% cited “financial difficulties” as the main reason for student attrition – and, again, the student data seems to bear this out. The student survey separated students by “transfer status”* and found that those who do not plan to transfer were twice as likely to report that institutional aid or scholarships are their two principal sources of funding than are students who plan to transfer.

Money Better Spent?

What does all this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the single greatest contributor to international student retention would appear to be the flipside of their greatest reason for dissatisfaction: funding. Unfortunately, despite their aforementioned awareness of this concern, the educators surveyed did not put this issue on the forefront of their list of student retention best practices. Instead international education advisors put far more emphasis on international student life activities, orientations, and academic tracking. This would suggest that they money spent to improve such programs could be better spent by helping students financial. Indeed, correcting such a disparity might go a long way toward increasing international student retention far more effectively than anyone in administration might have expected.

* That is, already transferred, plans to transfer, will not transfer.

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Hangouts On Air with multiple presenters

This year we’ve started using Google’s Hangout On Air (HOA) tool to connect to our student visitors and help them find the information that they are looking for. We’ve done Hangouts for finding scholarships, using your contacts to find a job after school, how international student can build credit, choosing the right health insurance plan, among others.

hoa

One of the challenges to doing a HOA with multiple presenters is making the technology easy to use and robust enough to work almost anywhere. We decided that the easiest solution to implement would be to ship a Chromebook computer directly to the remote location, along with a headset, so that the remote presenter only needs to login to Google with our pre-configured account. Other than connecting to the local WiFi network and plugging in the USB microphone, there is almost no other configuration needed on the remote side.

New software and hardware to improve the quality and features of the presentations:

  • Acer C720 Chromebook – inexpensive yet powerful Chromebook netbook with built-in webcam. This is the computer that we ship to the remote presenter, along with the mic and headsets. We ended up purchasing the 16GB model as we knew local storage would not be required and it fit nicely into our budget.
  • vMix – Video mixing software that we use on our end to help create the Hangout. With this tool we are able to add chromakey effects, do high-quality screen shares, integrate PowerPoint presentations, display pre-recorded videos and more.
  • Sparkocam – I’ve talked about this software in a previous post but it’s the software we use to create a virtual webcam with our Canon t3i DSLR.
  • Green Screen – Bright green fabric that’s clipped to the wall. You want make your talent look like they’re on a sandy beach, the moon or the other side of the world? This is the stuff you need. Our needs are a little more mundane, we display the company logo and the logo of the school we’re working with.
  • Listen only earpiece headset w/3.5mm plug – This headset allows the on-air presenter on our side to hear the remote presenters. We use headsets in our studio to reduce echo and feedback into our studio microphone. It also has the added bonus of making the presenter feel like a secret service agent.

Pro-Tips

  • Create a script for everyone to work from. Get everyone involved the script. The on-air talent needs to know what to say and the producer will need to know what shots and elements will need to be broadcast. Even an informal Hangout will need some structure and the end results will be better with a plan in place.
  • Rehearse the script you just wrote. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before the show starts.
  • Test, test, test everything. Cables break, batteries die, drivers fail to load, lights fall over, things happen. Test everything multiple times till it runs like clockwork.

Results

From our small sample set of completed HOA’s with remote presenters, the results have been very impressive. For our first HOA, the featured school profile for Hiram College received 10x the visitors and leads as a regular day. HOA’s have become a very effective tool for us to connect to students and with a little planning and a reasonable investment in tech resources, you can achieve impressive results.

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The Envisage International Video Series has Launched

As promised, the Envisage International video series has launched. Back in June, we blogged about a new video series that we would be starting in July that would be tailored towards best practices for schools that are marketing their institutions and programs online. Since then, we have introduced our first in a series that we hope will serve as a true resource to any school that is currently using online marketing as a recruiting tool or those that are considering it. In our video series, the videos will be produced by us, but will be case studies of how our partner schools are effectively marketing themselves online and will show you how they are following through with their marketing efforts to establish effective campaigns. If done right, an online marketing campaign can be a very effective way to cast a large net across the globe to find the students that are a good fit for your school. However, it takes more than just putting your school on the web.

Picture1

In our first video of the series, “Turning Inquiries Into Real College Enrollments”, we highlighted our Featured School partner, Felician College, and explained how they take inquiries through the enrollment funnel and turn them into completed applications. This does not come without challenges. Felician is a small, private Catholic college, located in New Jersey. They are looking for a very specific student. One that wants to study in the NE US and is comfortable studying at a small school. While they don’t need to be Catholic, they must be comfortable studying at a religious school. Being a smaller school, Felician’s international recruiting team is also faced with limited resources to manage the inquiries that come in through their online marketing efforts.

Take a look at the video and see how Felician does a great job finding the right prospects, turns them into inquiries and then into applications. The Envisage International video series has launched. Stay tuned as we continue to show how our school partners are successful marketing their schools online. Does your school do a good job with online marketing and the follow through?

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Bringing our Blogs to Life – New Video Series

I recently got evicted from my office. The last time that happened… Well, never mind. This time is different. I was evicted from my office because we transformed it into a video recording studio. We are now able to produce high quality white board presentations, hangouts and videos all from the comfort of my old office. We are now going to bring our blogs to life, starting with a new video series tailored towards the best practices for managing student inquiries.

Envisage International's Studio

Envisage International’s Studio

Our new video series will start next week with our first in the series, “Best Practices for Managing Student Inquiries.” It will be followed by “Timely Follow up is a Must” and “Putting Together and Effective Communications Plan.” These videos will be tailored to our current Featured School partners that we are generating inquiries for through their Featured School profiles on InternationalStudent.com. They will also benefit anyone that is currently receiving student inquiries from their own efforts or through third parties, like us.

The new video series is part of our new initiative to assign a dedicated account consultant to all of our Featured School partners. The account consultant is to act as a resource to ensure the success of each campaign, from developing effective marketing via our online resources, generating quality student inquiries, and nurturing those leads into enrollments. We believe that the success stories of our partner schools can help other schools be successful. This is what we are hoping to accomplish with our new video series.

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Internationalization & Content in Multiple Languages

One of our big focuses this year is the internationalization of our content, allowing it to be understood natively in multiple languages and appeal to a wider audience. There are many factors to consider when creating internationalized content, from choosing a URL strategy to ensuring that your SEO is protected from duplicate content issues. If you do it right, you’ll be able to provide an excellent service to your user base and still keep all the search engines on board.
Continue reading

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Creating Video Content – Nuts and Bolts

One of our goals for 2014 has been to create new and compelling content to attract visitors. Google has been heavily promoting the Hangouts On Air for live video conferencing/presentations and we’ve started using them to connect with international students and answer their questions about financing their studies, choosing the right schools and a host of other topics. Video content in general has been very effective at building traffic and visitor engagement so we started producing our own whiteboard/blackboard presentations plus professionally produced animations to explain things like insurance for international students and the US healthcare system overall.

 

Studio LightingThe lighting for our blackboard and whiteboard presentations are basically the same, reflections from the whiteboard are a little harder to compensate for our as our production studio (really, an unused office) is quite small and we don’t have the room to move the lights further away from the board. We have had the best luck setting up our lights with softboxes/diffusers at the side edges of the whiteboard to fully illuminate it, a third light off the side that illuminates the presenter and a fourth light that is positioned in front and above the presenter.

 

Quality audio is one of the key aspects of a good video. We’ve tried a variety of microphones; from the camera’s built-in mic (passable) to a shotgun mic and clip-on lavalier microphones. We use Audio-Technica ATR-3350 mics and have had mixed results. When they work, the sound is generally very good. The batteries are hit or miss and the connections inside seem fragile and prone to breakage. The included cables are quite thin but they are 20′ long. If you’re careful with them and keep a ready supply of batteries on hand, you should be able to get decent sound. We also have started using a shotgun mic mounted on the camera to reduce the cables needing to be run around the studio and as a backup to our lav mics.

 

Magic LanternThe camera we decided on for our video production is a Canon EOS T3i/600D DSLR. These cameras are very reasonable priced and have a huge selection of lenses, batteries, microphones and other accessories available to us locally and online. For our purposes the video quality is outstanding, it can film in full HD, 1980 x 1080 at a variety of frames per second. With the Magic Lantern firmware additions we have access to really high-end features like focus peaks and exposure zebra stripes. We use 32GB class-10 cards to keep up with the high volume of data that needs to get stored, slower cards could cause problems. We also added an extended battery grip that can hold two batteries at once, extending the time we can shoot without needing to swap out batteries. We also picked up extra batteries and a few more chargers so when we do need to swap things out, we’re back online quickly. We’d tried a very cheap tripod but quickly found out that even though we’re not moving the camera around very much, we still needed something with rock-solid stability. The Weifeng tripod we settled on has three stage legs, a bowl mounted fluid head and can get our camera almost 6′ in the air.

 

We do a minimal amount of editing to the videos after they are shot, mostly just some minor color correction and sometimes some tweaking to the audio. Adobe Premiere is a heavyweight video editor and is overkill for what we need but we’re anticipating more complex videos in the future and it’s power will come in very handy. For the Hangouts we’ve been doing we wanted to use the same camera so we needed software to bridge the Canon T3i to the operating system and have it appear as a regular webcam. SparkoCam fills this need and has several options for us to work with so we’ve got the optimal resolution for Hangouts without wasting any bandwidth on pixels that won’t get displayed.

Hardware:

  • Camera – Canon T3i/600D w/ 18-55 kit lens with Magic Lantern firmware add-on
  • Transcend 32GB class-10 SDHC memory cards
  • Extended battery grip, spare batteries and chargers
  • Lighting – 5 x 1000 watt lights with softboxes plus hairlight on boom
  • Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavalier mic / VidPro XM-55 on-camera shotgun mic
  • Weifeng WF-717 tripod with fluid head and three stage legs
    • Sold under various brand names, but available on Amazon and eBay for around $130-150

 

Software:

  • Editing – Adobe Premiere
  • Music – YouTube has several royalty-free selections to choose from and there are many resources available on the net for music that can be used under the Creative Commons license.
  • SparkoCam software to allow the Canon 600D to act as a webcam for Google Hangouts.

 

Here are a few of the videos and Hangouts we’ve done so far:

 

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Envisage International launches 5 new Featured School Partners

We are pleased to announce the launch of 5 new Featured School partners on InternationalStudent.com. These new additions provide our visitors more opportunities to easily find a school that meets their educational needs. Our new Featured School partners offer a variety of different programs and degrees that are ideal for diversifying our site and our resources. We are excited to introduce them to our community of international students.

Each new Featured School will have an enhanced profile that has unlimited content, including campus photos and videos, student profiles, program descriptions and their schools social media feeds right into the profile. They are also integrated into the USA School Search that will give them a top listing when a student’s search matches criteria that the school offers. Students can then inquire directly to the school to receive more information, using the form located on the Featured Profile.

Fisher Blog

The new Featured Schools include:

New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies – NYU’s SCPS is looking for exposure to their MS in Translation degree, wanting to reach students across the globe.

Fisher College – Located in the heart of Boston in the Black Bay Neighborhood, Fisher offers a variety of certificate programs, two year Associate Degrees and Bachelor Degree programs.

Valencia College – Located in Orlando Florida, Valencia has students from 79 countries from across the globe. They also offer guaranteed admission into the University of Central Florida for those who successfully complete their AA Degree.

Community College of Philadelphia – The Community Colleges of Philadelphia has four campuses located throughout Philadelphia and offers AA degrees to international students with several transfer options.

Hiram College - Located in Tifton, Ohio, Hiram college is a diverse campus with students from over 30 different countries and represent more than 25 different religions. Hiram College offers a wide variety of Bachelor’s degrees to international students.

You can view their Featured School profiles here. How does your school reach and attract international students?

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