6. Developing websites as effective means of information sharing
Replacing paper handbooks, websites have become the primary repositories of advising-related information. Institutions utilize websites in a number of different ways, from describing the structure of advising to providing information for self-advising and creating an easy link to the advising office.
Boston University’s centralized advising website includes one page that explains BU’s team approach to advising and breaks down the roles and types of advisors, and another that emphasizes the role students play in their own advising experience. The site supports students in self-advising by providing simple tools such as a printable roadmap, which illustrates the process for long-term course planning, and provides guidance on topics relevant across schools of enrollment (e.g., questions about taking an incomplete or transferring across schools).
Other universities have sought to offer more information directly to students, rather than to encourage a connection with an advisor as information intermediary. For example, Purdue displays short lists of tasks recommended for students in each year of study (e.g., plan to study abroad, attend a career fair), along with links and short explanations of the importance of each task. The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon has developed standardized maps for each of their majors. These maps describe the area of study, list common associated career paths, and highlight special course planning concerns or co-curricular learning opportunities. The maps are all available from one concise webpage and information for each is displayed within the same simple template.
Regardless of the structure, most websites offer opportunities for students to directly ask questions through chats, email, or other communications channels. Recently, it has become common for institutional websites to feature chatbots (see example here, in the lower right corner of the site for Michigan’s Newnan Advising Center and here, on NOVA’s site). 16 Though similar to each other in appearance, these bots perform a variety of functions. Some chatbots are built on an AI infrastructure. They answer questions automatically, without human staffing, by drawing on a database of structured information and FAQs, sometimes offering the option to be connected with live staff if the AI is inadequate. Other chatbots are simply windows that allow a site visitor to send a brief question to staff during working hours. These chatbots are familiar to students, as they look just like the customer service tools one would encounter when shopping online for shoes or cell phones. Instead of an add-on chatbot service, Oregon’s Tykeson College and Career Advising utilizes Microsoft Teams to answer questions by chat during office hours. Schools thus rely on technology to assist with simple/transactional tasks such that advisors can focus on more complex guidance – see point #3 above about relational as opposed to transactional advising.