Katie McFaddin, Brandeis University (formerly University of Oregon)
Becca Schulze, University of Oregon
Editor’s Note: The following article was developed from a presentation given at the NACADA Annual Conference in Orlando, October 2010.
Since 2009, the Office of Academic Advising at the University of Oregon has maintained an advising-themed blog designed for undergraduate students in academic jeopardy. In this article, we share what we have learned over the past two years about blogging in advising, beginning with our inspiration for the project.
The Office of Academic Advising includes ten advisors and three support staff who work together with faculty to advise the University of Oregon’s 19,534 undergraduates. Each term, the Office of Academic Advising electronically notifies students whose term GPA places them on academic warning, probation, or disqualification. The emailed letter outlines the terms and limitations of academic standing and invites students to make an appointment with an advisor.
The idea for a blog evolved from a discussion after a particularly emotional appointment with a student who had just received notice she was academically disqualified. The advisor was struck by the student’s vulnerability and confusion when, with tears running down her face, the student asked, “Does anyone ever come back?” In a 2009 NACADA podcast about working with students in academic jeopardy, Shelly Gehrke and Jeanette Wong explained, “As advisors, we should understand the various emotions and feelings that the student [on probation] is experiencing—and we should be prepared for the likelihood that the student will be feeling embarrassed, disappointed, vulnerable and judged” (¶ 34). After the appointment we brainstormed ways to reach students, especially students in academic jeopardy, in a familiar but more personal manner than an official notification email.
First we discussed familiar media – Facebook© and our office website. While Facebook is interactive and easy to update, it is designed for quick messages and content is not searchable. Our office website allowed for lengthier content, but we had only minimal control over the structure and look of the site. We each had personal experience with blogging and determined that it best combined desired qualities: searchable content, the ability to insert tags, and blog creator control of the look, structure, and content of the site. The most popular blog hosting sites (e.g., Wordpress, Blogger©) are free and feature user-friendly templates and site visit tracking.
We spent part of our lunch breaks over the next couple of weeks developing the idea; first with notes on paper, and then by actually playing around in Wordpress. It didn’t take long to create the framework and write a few posts. Part of blogging’s appeal is that content can be created in a relatively short time and is immediately accessible. When we pitched the idea to our supervisor, we had a tangible product in hand; we were able to say with certainty how big (or in this case, small) of an investment in time and money it would be. We were fortunate that our supervisor, NACADA President-Elect Jennifer Joslin, embraces innovation. In a 2011 interview with Eric Stoller on Higher Ed Live©, she said, “Sometimes whether you’re in student affairs or academic affairs you can really benefit by a supervisor who says, ‘Go for it! This sounds great – let’s try something.’”
While developing the blog, we kept in mind two main goals: create original and relevant content, and provide a welcoming and empowering virtual space to help students academically succeed. We first created an “About Us” page to introduce ourselves and tell stories of our own academic challenges. We also included a page with descriptions and links to important campus resources. The main blog page is updated once or twice a month with posts about study skills, favorite academic resources, and current student stories. As we grew more comfortable with blogging, we experimented with multimedia, using podcasts and vodcasts to add voice and video to the posts.
Since the start of the blog, we have tracked visits and clicks, and while they have been steady and significant, they are not our most powerful success indicators. Rather, we are encouraged and inspired by the student from another institution who emailed us for advice on how to overcome disqualification, the mothers who mention the blog as a source of comfort, and the student with repeated semesters on probation who was empowered to meet weekly with an advisor featured on our blog.
For readers new to blogging but interested in using this format on their campuses, our top four tips for building and maintaining a blog include:
Tip 1: Be a blog lurker
Follow a handful of blogs over the course of a couple months. Bookmark the sites and check them often, or subscribe to an aggregator (i.e., Google Reader), which collects updated posts from selected websites/blogs and presents them in one place. Pay attention to which blogs become favorites and keep notes on preferred aspects of the blogs.
Tip 2: Develop a brand
Use the notes to develop a vision for the blog. Who is the intended audience? What is the blog’s purpose? What tone will the writing take? What will be the source for content? Create a blog name and logo that accurately reflects this vision (call upon colleagues with graphic design experience to assist with the logo).
Tip 3: Get behind the wheel
Check Back Soon.” Start experimenting with the tools, tracking features, and widgets, then draft a few posts. Ask friends and colleagues for feedback on everything from the blog’s name and logo, to the length and content of the posts.–Until the blog’s web address is shared, practically no one will come across it. On the rare chance that someone does, type a short post to the effect of, “Site in Progress
Tip 4: Provide original content not found elsewhere
Avoid creating the digital version of a crowded college bulletin board - quick re-posts of deadlines, reminders, and dates. We call this the “info-dump phenomenon.” Although it may take longer to create original content, which may mean posting less frequently, readers will appreciate it. Some of our favorite creative projects included a podcast interview with an academically disqualified student who had recently been reinstated to the university and a series of vodcasts highlighting UO’s Teaching and Learning Center.
When we talk about this project with fellow advisors, the most common response is, “I would love to try something like that but I’m not much of a tech person.” Let us be clear – we weren’t either – but we adopted a “learn as you go approach” and took advantage of NACADA resources such as pre-conference technology workshops that featured hands-on learning. We hope that our experience encourages other advisors to reach beyond their comfort zone when brainstorming solutions to meet student needs.
Academic Advisor, Academic Services
Academic Advisor, Office of Academic Advising
University of Oregon
Gehrke, S. & Wong, J. (2009). Students on academic probation. NACADA Podcasts [Audio Podcast Transcripts]. Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/advisingissues/prob-podcast.htm
Stoller, E. (Producer). (2011, June 8). Academic advising. Higher Ed Live. Retrieved fromhttp://higheredlive.com/academic-advising-acadv/
Cite this article using APA style as: McFaddin, K. & Schulze, B. (2011, September). Build better relationships through blogging. Academic Advising Today, 34(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]