posted on December 01, 2002 01:01
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
Anita L. Carter
Wayne State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Steele, G.. & Carter. A. (2002, December). Managing electronic communication technologies for more effective advising. Academic Advising Today, 25(4). [insert url here]