As an academic advisor, it may feel as if your world has been turned upside down.
You probably never expected to be meeting with students from your home office (or in the case of my studio apartment, my bedroom floor), and it’s brought some puzzling challenges.
So, here are some of my top tips for making your online advising sessions efficient, effective, and supportive of students.
1. Make your smartphone (and laptop) smarter
3CX has been my saving grace during the transition to work-from-home advising; it connects my work landline to an app that I’ve downloaded to both my cell phone and my personal computer.
This way, I have the same number my students have always known. The number dials out as my office number, and there’s less mental-clutter of having to dial out *67 or be both on my computer and cell phone at the same time.
If your institution does not have a landline-to-cell-phone connection option, Google Voice is another great way to call students. The free service provides you with a unique phone number that’s not your cell phone number, helping you retain some work-life balance.
2. Make templates your best friend
My inbox has been bombarded with COVID-related questions from students regarding graduation, the fall semester, textbooks, financial aid, withdrawals, pass/fail requests, final grades, summer courses, and so much more.
If a student asks a question that is not super specific to them, I can safely bet that other students will be wondering the same thing. So, my rule of thumb is that if I receive the same question twice, I’ll make a response template so I won’t have to go searching for specific dates or information again.
I have many professionally drafted emails ready to go, saving time and reducing the risk of providing inaccurate information.
3. Remote-in to your work computer
If your campus is like mine, COVID-19 has necessitated a shutdown whereby staff and faculty can only enter a building if it’s an emergency and they’ve obtained permission from campus safety.
And if you were not given much advance notice that you would be working remotely, you may have forgotten to take home certain advising documents.
This was the exact conundrum I found myself in; I had packed up my track sheets but not my substitution forms. Luckily, I was able to work with my IT department to be able to remote-in to my desktop at work to my computer.
There are a number of free or subscription remote-in software tools for businesses available, including Webex, Teamviewer, and RemotePC. You should work with your IT department to find out if your institution already has a subscription to one of these tools.
4. Get tech-savvy and go green
Advisors tend to use lots of paper handouts, forms, and track sheets. Working from home, I have tried to cut down on my own use of paper, saving myself on costs and waste.
Find a PDF or document editor that works with your advising needs and encourage students to do the same. My personal favorite is DocHub, as it lets me write on PDFs and save them as templates for future use. It even allows users to create hand signatures to upload through a smartphone.
I’ve saved not only paper and ink but also time spent printing and scanning — which I have then allocated to more important parts of my job, such as one-on-one interactions with students.
5. Have a notification system
COVID-19 has led to everyone forgetting what day of the week it is. Fortunately, many virtual meeting platforms have a notification option available to remind both the meeting hosts and their guests when their scheduled time together is approaching.
Research your preferred platform to see how you can make sure students are remembering to attend your advising session. I recommend setting up alerts that will go out at least one hour before each meeting to provide ample time for students to check their emails.
6. Don’t close your tabs too quickly
Advising from home has made me keep a million tabs open on all my devices. However, it seems like every time I close one tab, thinking I’m done, I soon need to open it back up.
If you’re working on a task that requires absolute focus, open that task in a new browser window, and send Tutortrac, Starfish, Student Admin, or whatever program you’re working on, to another page.
7. Avoid multitasking
Despite all of your open tabs, remember to always be present with your students. We are all experiencing these confusing and draining times together, and it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, it’s the students whom we need to continue to support most. (Well, besides yourself.)
Practice mindfulness to focus on the student on the screen in front of you, be aware of your role in the relationship, and block out other distractions to engage in a meaningful, constructive conversation with your students.
8. Make time for team communication
Social distancing doesn’t mean we need to be socially distant — at least not mentally. So, make time for your work family to connect, not only on the latest departmental updates but also on how you’re all dealing with remote work.
Also, don’t forget to frequently check in with newer employees. As someone who started my new advising job just months before the pandemic began, I would be lost right now without my workplace mentors.
Find creative ways to virtually connect over things besides work. For example, my department holds a friendly 15-minute trivia competition every Monday morning to get the week started on the right foot.
Remember to be inclusive when coming up with ideas to connect and avoid programs, such as physical challenges, that won’t be accessible to all body types. Also avoid gatherings with a heavy emphasis on alcohol consumption or social events that may lead to micro-exclusions in the workplace.
9. Utilize do-not-disturb mode
Now that you’ve got your computer and cell phone connected to a work phone number, remember to turn it on do-not-disturb during lunchtime and after your set work hours. Maintain your work-life balance by utilizing this feature. (But don’t forget to turn it off on Monday morning though! I’ve been there, done that.)
I’ve also found the do-not-disturb feature to be useful in preventing my device from ringing while I’m on calls with students.
10. Follow up
The last, but certainly not least, important tip is to always follow up with students after a virtual advising appointment.
Although meeting virtually has its conveniences and perks, students may miss important information due to interferences from their other mobile devices, distractions in their home, or from simply not paying as much attention as they should have been.
At the end of an advising session, I always send a recap of what we discussed to the student’s email. That way, we’re both on the same page.
Through a successful virtual advising session, students can connect with you in a comparable, if not enhanced, version of in-person meetings.
I know that holding advising sessions online isn’t always ideal. But with creativity, intentionality, and utilizing best practices, you can build constructive advising experiences that support student achievement.
What additional tips do you have for virtual advising sessions? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.