Managing Electronic Communication Technologies for More Effective Advising
George Steele, The Ohio Learning Network
Anita L. Carter, Wayne State University
The adoption of electronic communication technologies over the past decade has changed the nature of advisors' daily work. Voice mail, e-mail, and Web sites were introduced with the promise of helping us connect to our students. Judging from the flood of student contact these technologies produced, it can be said they have been successful. Most of us are drowning in incoming e-mail messages with overflowing inboxes and blinking lights on our voice mail. Responding effectively to student inquires requires an integrated managed use of these technologies.
Good advising has many elements. Over the years advisors have learned that the ability to cheerfully and accurately repeat rules, procedures, course sequences, etc., is an important and necessary part of our work. To assist in this effort, advisors and institutions have created a plethora of bulletins, publications, and brochures to answer common student questions regarding curriculum, course registration, policies and procedures, etc. These efforts provide effective ways of answering common student questions, so advisors might have greater time to answer students' more personal or uncommon questions.
Whereas in the past, most student contacts entered through our office doors, now they arrive electronically in digital formats. Advisors are expected to use a greater repertoire of electronic communication devices and thus information management has become even more critical. Referring students to printed bulletins or brochures is not a viable option. In today's environment it is imperative that we focus on how Web pages, e-mail and voice mail technology can be integrated to address repetitive or common student inquiries thus helping advisors establish better and more effective communication.
Frequently Asked Questions Web Pages
Moving the content of what was found in yesterday's bulletins and brochures to the Web is critical. Frequently asked questions (FAQ's) web pages allow students to locate the answer to questions without having to speak or write to a particular advisor. It is an information source they can access at any time of the day or night without waiting for a response. For FAQ's to be truly effective, it is important that they address and answer questions that students most often ask.
Compiling your FAQ's will take a concerted effort and collaboration among the staff. Start by asking staff members to submit questions they have been asked during the previous months along with their responses. (Find FAQ's examples in the Clearinghouse by following the 'Read More About It!' link at the bottom of this article.) Once these questions and answers have been compiled, convert them to a Web page with the assistance of the information technology staff, making sure that students can access them through your department's home page. Providing an e-mail link to a 'generic' e-mail address at the bottom of all of your 'FAQ responses' would also be very helpful so students who don't get the answers they seek can contact your office for additional assistance. Assigning the responsibility for answering questions that come in to the generic e-mail address to one or two advisors might be appropriate.
Template Responses for E-mail
The e-mail software packages of Eudora, Netscape, and Microsoft Outlook all have capabilities that permit advisors to write and store template responses. Template responses are written replies that answer specific questions that can be easily saved and retrieved. For this reason, they are best used for repetitive questions similar in nature to FAQ's. By having them in their e-mail repertoire, advisors can easily access and use them in responses to the numerous common e-mail inquiries that they receive. Writing template responses is rather simple and offers advisors an opportunity to create many specialized messages. This is an effective step to e-mail management that can immediately improve advisors' work effectiveness.
Voice mail is often promoted as having one's own receptionist. Depending on the configuration of your voice mail system, it can take your calls when you do not want to be disturbed, record messages from callers when you are unavailable and screen your calls. Advisors are familiar with the flow of work in their offices. There is a time for registration, schedule adjustments, and special events. By tailoring voice messages to these traditional periods, accurate and timely information can be relayed to students. Referrals can be given to other electronic resources that can provide greater depth than what can be recorded in the limited allocation of space provided on your voice mail response.
Integrating your electronic response to answer common student inquires provides an excellent opportunity for advisors to use their collective wisdom in brainstorming and deciding responses. By keeping a focus on how these three technologies can be used in collaboration with one another, an integrated approach can be developed to better serve students and reduce advisor stress to an overflow of common inquires. Working collectively can also improve the quality of responses to students as advisors use more polished and well-crafted responses, as opposed to quickly considered replies.
Technical training of advisors will be critical to effective implementation of these responses. Administrators and advisors must weigh various software and communication technologies not only by cost, but also by the effectiveness of each in providing for management of student contacts. These small, but practical steps can help advisors improve their immediate work effectiveness and sanity.
Read More About It! Find specific directions for each technology by checking the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources.
The Ohio Learning Network
Wayne State University
From the President
Betsy McCalla-Wriggins, NACADA President
On behalf of the NACADA Board and all the members who attended our recent national conference in Salt Lake City, a big thank you to John Mortensen from Utah State University, chair of this year's meeting, and his committee: Debra Bryant, Darlene Severeid, Patti Sanchez, Maria Squire, Wade Oliver, Katrina Green, Sandy McLelland, Raylene Hadley and Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski. These people dedicated many, many hours to making sure that this professional development opportunity was top rate. A special thanks is also in store for Nancy Barnes and Rhonda Baker from the Executive Office. Every year these two women provide support to the national conference committee and handle thousands of 'behind the scenes details' that make conference planning seem effortless. And the hotel... what a magnificent facility. So, to all of you... again, we say thank you!
Sunday night the conference opened with special presentations to some of our award winners. Kathryn Martin, Chancellor of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, received the 2002 Pacesetter Award. This award recognizes Chief Executive Officers, Provosts, and Chief Academic or Student Affairs Officers who exemplify a commitment to academic advising and are true advocates for advising, students, and advisors. Eric R. White, Executive Director, Division of Undergraduate Studies at Penn State was named as the winner of the Virginia Gordon Award, which recognizes excellence in the field of academic advising. The Service to NACADA Award was presented to Manuel 'Buddy' Ramos, Client Executive, Peoplesoft.
Our opening speaker, Kermit Hall, President of Utah State University, spoke of the value of academic advising from a university president's perspective. Trudy Banta, Vice Chancellor for Planning and Institutional Improvement at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was our second keynote speaker. She emphasized the critical need for additional research in assessment as it relates to academic advising.
The NACADA board meetings held at this national conference were also quite significant. Over the past 30 months, members participated in a comprehensive process to restructure our organization. Through many, many face to face as well as online discussions, a plan was developed which we presented to you last summer. You overwhelmingly approved the by-law changes that set the stage for the implementation of this new governing structure. So, it was with a great deal of emotion that we transitioned from one structure to another.
We owe a great deal to those members and leaders who created this wonderful association. We are very proud of our past. It is the foundation upon which we will move into the future. On behalf of the NACADA Boards, past and present, we appreciate your support as we seek new ways to serve you and your students.
From the Executive Office
Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty, NACADA Executive Director
What a conference! Thanks to the many volunteers who worked so hard to deliver an outstanding professional experience for conference participants. The conference evaluations indicate that the sessions were top-notch, the facilities were first-class, the city was exciting, and the overall conference experience was much appreciated!
In addition to the conference, many association meetings were held in Salt Lake City, including the inaugural meetings of the NACADA Council and new Board of Directors immediately following the conference. Along with the other leadership entities (Divisions - Commissions, Regions, and Committees), the operational details, roles and responsibilities will evolve as issues arise. However, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the original Organizational Restructuring Task Force and the Implementation Task Force members for their vision and diligent work that propelled us to this new level of operation as a growing and vital organization.
The leaders of the three operational Divisions have already begun to work on new initiatives and have defined their respective governing structures to involve more volunteers. I encourage you to check out the new governance structure on the NACADA website or in this newsletter, and to contact the leaders of areas in which you would like to get involved. The new structure limits terms in office and highly encourages the involvement of new volunteers so that the organization can benefit from new ideas and continually revolving leadership, so we need you.
The Board of Directors will be reviewing the Strategic Plan, the Council will be reviewing the proposals from the Divisions, and the Divisions will be recommending strategies for meeting the needs of the members. An overarching role rests with the Professional Development Committee as they strive to put together a comprehensive professional development plan for the association that identifies the professional development needs of our various audiences and makes recommendations on what we might develop to meet those needs. In cooperation with the Task Force on Certification/Professional Recognition, they will soon be asking for your feedback on a set of advising 'competencies' for each 'audience' toward which we would direct our professional development offerings. Your input is vital. Please respond when asked. It is hoped that NACADA offerings addressing these competencies will then provide an opportunity for recognition of participation, and later an assessment of competencies gained for additional recognition.
The new Advising Administrators' Institute is the first development resulting from the initial meeting of the Professional Development Task Force earlier this year and the Faculty Advising Commission is preparing a workshop for faculty advisors to be delivered in 2003 as well. The Advising Administrators' Institute filled and in response to this demand, a second Institute has been planned for Feb. 15Ð17 in San Antonio. The Academic Advising Summer Institute closed two months prior this past summer, so we will be offering two Academic Advising Summer Institutes in 2003 (one in San Diego and one near Chicago) in an attempt to meet that growing demand. In addition, five regional conferences will be piloting Administrators Pre-conference Workshops this spring.
So, as you can see, the excitement from the national conference continues as NACADA grows to meet the needs of those in the advising field who are so critical to institutional vitality and student success!
Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty
NACADA Executive Director
An Important Resource for Improving Advising on Your Campus
Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook
Edited by: Virginia Gordon and Wes Habley
This 452 page comprehensive guide to academic advising examines the advising issues facing colleges and universities today. Thirty-four contributing authors examine the issues and make recommendations that will impact the effectiveness of advising and retention on your campus. Administrators and faculty will find the handbook invaluable as they strive to enhance advising on campus, and professors will appreciate its comprehensive examination of the issues as a text for graduate classes in higher education administration, student personnel administration, counseling, and related areas.
Also available at www.nacada.ksu.edu are
- Consultants Bureau
- Conferences and Institutes
How to Thrive, Not Just Survive, As a New Advisor
Marsha Miller, NACADA Research Coordinator
Whether you come to advising as a new hire or as a veteran faculty member, the first few weeks advising students can be overwhelming. It can be a challenge to organize the various demands so that you will not only survive advising, but thrive doing it. Since students' academic futures depend upon your advice, you need to understand what students expect from you.
A look at advisor evaluation tools shows that students expect you to be proficient in three critical areas: they expect you to know the college; they expect you to be able to help them solve problems; and they expect you to be able to communicate effectively.
One of the first things any new advisor should do is become familiar with the campus culture. Who are your students? What needs do they have? Ask advisors working in your specific field or at the same level (freshmen, graduate students, etc.) what issues students typically bring to advisors. Then connect these issues to the applicable campus services. Walk around campus and meet the people in each service area. Write down names, office locations and contact phone numbers.
Advisees expect you to know your institution's academic programs, policies and procedures, such as how to read placement scores, who helps students explore different majors, how a student drops or adds a course. Read the catalog. Talk to faculty and staff members. Target topics germane to your situation and have the director of advising or an experienced advisor walk through the advising folders of students who have been successfully helped with issues in each area.
Advisees also expect you to help them solve a wide variety of problems such as how to balance their course loads with life responsibilities, what courses should or should not be taken simultaneously, etc. Know where to find answers.
Finally, advisees expect you to know how to communicate effectively. This is much easier if you are already familiar with a student's advising folder. Take some time before the student arrives to review the folder. Be friendly and focus on the student, minimizing distractions such as phone calls. Use the student's name. Learn to say: 'I don't know but let's find out.' Don't send the student on a scavenger hunt for a nameless, faceless office; pick up the phone and call your campus contact. Helping the student make a referral appointment will increase the likelihood of follow-through.
Remember that many students come to an advising session on one pretext when the real issue is something completely different. Learn to hear the real reason for the visit. Help the student identify the problem and brainstorm potential solutions. Don't dictate, but empower the student by letting the student decide which course of action is best.
At the end of a session, ask 'what question haven't we answered today?' Leave time to deal with these issues and, if needed, schedule a follow-up session to evaluate the outcome of any planned actions.
While the first few weeks of advising are filled with challenges, taking time to address these vital areas can establish you as an effective and trusted advisor. Want to read more about this critical advising issue? Check the 'Critical Issues' section of the NACADA National Clearinghouse for Academic Advising
NACADA Research Coordinator
Women's Issues in Higher Education Administration
Alice G. Reinarz, Advising Administrators Commission Chair
Unlike our grandmothers, most women currently in administrative roles were reared with a social message that 'you can do anything you want.' While that message has brought many exciting opportunities, many women have found that the unpredictable challenges can outweigh the opportunity. This is particularly true if one is 'the first woman' or 'the only woman' in a particular role. Therefore, it becomes essential that women in administration be active mentors to others in our community.
Women are painfully aware of the impact of gender in positions of power. Even though most administrators (both men and women) are aware of the pitfalls in gender labeling, there are many examples of differences. For instance, a strong assertive male leader is respectfully known as the 'boss,' a woman with those same traits may be described with an altogether different label.
Among the challenges often mentioned for the woman administrator (particularly a novice), we might include:
- understanding the unwritten 'rules' of the academic/campus culture
- developing her communication skillslearning to use power and advocate for resources
- grasping budget information and financial consequences of decisions.
There are additional dilemmas that particularly complicate roles for women leaders.
- Balancing work and family. While family responsibilities influence the careers of all parents, women (particularly those with newborns and preschoolers) may have disproportionate work in care of children/home.
- Taking work too seriously. Depending on personal style, this tendency may create problems for anyone. But it is possible that criticism directed at a woman leader may take a more personal tone than that for a man.
- Difficulty finding a mentor. Particularly at the beginning of a new assignment, the administrator needs the guidance of a seasoned role model. Volumes have been written and spoken on the necessity of mentoring. We have all seen examples in which the lack of an appropriate mentor has had significant negative consequences.
- Too little representation of women in administrative ranks. Depending upon the role and institution, a woman administrator may be one of such a small group that all her actions are scrutinized more than those of her male colleagues. In these cases a woman in administration may have no trusted person in whom to confide for the purpose of venting frustration.
Women in administration must seek out resources in a paradoxical environment. Trained in an academic discipline, our first natural inclination would be to learn by researching the topic. But there is a problem. While there is a wealth of leadership literature with parts tailored to women, there are few sources that address these issues for women in higher education administration, and virtually nothing specific to academic advising.
By focusing on concerns that may be unique to gender, there is no intent to oversimplify. Further, there are circumstances in which many factors like race and ethnicity, religious choice, and sexual preference may affect the work environment for the administrator. Whatever the concern, the solutions can be the same. Colleagues provide these suggestions:
- Write down your personal and professional priorities. Review these periodically to remind yourself of what is truly important.
- Be diligent finding mentor(s). Don't limit your search only to someone like yourself or only to others in your field. Identify one or two trusted confidants on your campus (who may or may not be personal friends) that can serve as a sounding board.
- Hook into a network for advice beyond your campus. In developing your network consider the resources NACADA makes available to support those who share our core values and common goals. These include:
- Presentations and workshops at national and regional meetings, as well as state drive-in conferences. These provide a chance to share information, build self-confidence and find rejuvenation.
- The new Academic Advising Administrators' Institute
- Contacts made through sessions at the Summer Institute
- Conversations within the NACADA Advising Administrators Commission and listserv that provide opportunities for administrators to link for networking and resource suggestions. Consider joining the commission listserv.
- Explore opportunities available through organizations, such as Leadership America, that are devoted to enhancing the knowledge base and confidence of its women members. Additionally check out training programs offered through graduate schools of higher education as well as one-on-one skill development sessions with independent consultants, although this option can be expensive but quite helpful.
To specifically assist women advising administrators in finding more information and guidance, we are developing a list of helpful leadership literature from both the popular press and scholarly references. The beginnings of this list are available on the NACADA web site through a link in the posting of this article within the Advising Resources of the Clearinghouse for Academic Advising. We need women administrators to suggest materials that have been useful in addressing these concerns. Send reference information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding the needs of advising administrators is multifaceted. While the challenges faced by women administrators can be unique, the methods of addressing these challenges are not. Exploring a variety of support opportunities can help all administrators find workable solutions.
Alice G. Reinarz
University of Michigan