Managing Electronic Communication Technologies for More Effective Advising
George Steele and Anita L. Carter
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. This article offers suggestions for advisors seeking to better manage these electronic technologies while responding to their students' often times repetitive requests.
Good advising has many elements. One of these elements is the ability to cheerfully and accurately communicate the same message over and over again. Working in bureaucratic structures has ensured that this characteristic of our work will always be present. Most advisors recognize that the repetition of stating the rules, the procedures, the course sequences, etc. is an important and necessary part of our work. Long before the latest necessity of using technology in advising, advisors sought a variety of ways to present answers to commonly asked questions. Advisors and their institutions created a plethora of bulletins, publications, and brochures to answer students' questions regarding curriculum, course registration, policies and procedures, and general advice. The idea was to write, print, store and distribute information when it seemed appropriate.
Less than a decade ago, student contact for many advisors, was mainly through appointments or walk-ins. At this personal level of contact, advisors had many types of printed information at their disposal. Providing this printed information was an integral part of most advising interactions. If the student needed additional clarification, the advisor was there to assist. If the student was satisfied with the information received, then the advisor and the student could move on to other topics. These earlier efforts where undertaken by advisors because they sought more effective ways of answering common questions from students, so they might have greater time to answer the more personal or uncommon questions.
With advisors being expected to use a greater repertoire of electronic communication devices, their management has become even more critical. Whereas in the past, most student contacts entered through our office doors, now they arrive electronically in digital formats. Referring student to printed bulletins or brochures is not a viable option in these cases. In today's environment, focusing on how Web pages, e-mail and voice mail technology can be integrated to address repetitive or common student inquiries is imperative for helping both the students and advisors establish better and more effective communication.
Frequently Asked Questions Web Pages
Moving the content of what was once 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. FAQ's also serve as a point of reference for advisors addressing common student inquiries. The URL of the FAQ's Web site is a handy bit of information for advisors to keep ready in their e-mail replies to students. 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. A good starting point is by asking staff members to submit questions they have been asked during the previous months along with their responses. Once these questions and answers have been compiled, they can easily be converted for Web use with the assistance of the information technology staff.
Once these FAQ's have been posted, the next step is to ensure that students access them. One way to do this is to provide a link to the FAQ's from your department's home page, add it to a quick index web page from your home page, and provide a link to your FAQ's at the bottom of all your web pages labeled Questions. Examples of FAQ's are found in Table 1.
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. 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. They are similar in nature to FAQ's. By having them in your 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. Once you become familiar with the technical process, which will be addressed shortly, you will need to compose and save the responses. The topics of the templates should reflect your replies to the most common student requests you receive. Some of these topics might be:
- process to add or drop a course;
- a URL link to an open course Web page;
- campus resources grouped by a common categories such as career or study skill resources with the necessary contact information;
- procedures for making an appointment;
- your e-mail policy;
- reminders regarding departmental course offerings, or specialized services;
- referrals to FAQs;
- or, phone numbers and explanation for leaving clear voice mail messages or directions to your FAX machine.
'I got closed out of two of my classes this semester. I need to sign up for two more real quickly to be full-time. Can you help? - Pete'
Your response to the student, compiled from your template responses might be:
Access to adding a course is still open. You can call 555-5555 to register by phone. If you have difficulty with this process, directions are found at http://www.howtoregister.html.
Open courses are listed at http://www.opencourses.html. You have access to the system. It is in your best interest to act as quickly as possible.
If you are having difficulty knowing what courses to take, curriculum guides for your major are found at http://www.curriculum.html.
If you have any difficulty with these steps, please set up an appointment to see me by calling 555-1111 or e-mail me back as soon as possible.
In this example, each paragraph of the advisor response can be a separately saved template response. Each of these can be saved under the file names 'adding open courses,' 'open course list,' 'curriculum guides,' and 'invitation for an appointment.' In compiling this response, only the student's name needed to be added.
Template responses are not meant as a substitute for good advising. In the example above, the advisor might well be aware that 'Pete' needs special attention before registering. A special template message can be developed for this contingency and the file named 'intervention'.
1. Why should I see an academic advisor?
2. I already know what I want to major in and what courses I need to take; what could an advisor do for me?
3. What do I need to do to make the most of my advising session?
4. What can I expect from my advisor?
5. May I contact my advisor via e-mail if I have questions?
6. Why do I need to take courses in the liberal arts and sciences?
7. Do I have to have a major to graduate?
8. How do I change my major? What is the procedure?
9. What major is recommended for students who wish to pursue medical school or law school in the future?
10. I am enrolled in the College of Engineering. Who do I contact to help me select my classes?
11. How do I find information on what CLEP scores are accepted for subject exams?
12. I registered for my classes today. What about books? When should I expect my schedule to be mailed?
13. How will I know if I am in academic difficulty? What can I do?
14. How do I compute my academic average - GPA?
15. What are my options in fulfilling the English Proficiency requirement?
16. I am dissatisfied with my Math Qualifying Exam score. How do I go about re-taking the exam and improving my placement?
17. What courses does the Math Qualifying Exam place me into?
18. I have completed calculus. Have I met the Math proficiency requirement?
The Ohio Learning Network
Anita L. Carter
Wayne State University
Cite this resource using APA style as:
Steele, G. and Carter, A. (2002, December).Managing electronic communication technologies for more effective advising. The Academic Advising News, 25(4). Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Managing-Electronic-Communication-Technologies-for-More-Effective-Advising.aspx