If you’ve ever held a round of academic advising sessions, you may believe the struggle of getting every student to show up is just the nature of the beast. That some students are simply lost causes–either too forgetful, or not invested enough in their education to meet with you.
To a small degree, this may be true.
But what if the primary reason students fail to attend advising sessions is that the current process doesn’t meet their needs?
As students more and more rapidly adopt new tech platforms, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet them at their level without also integrating new technology into the process. And many schools struggle to keep up.
Of course, adapting to students’ needs doesn’t mean haphazardly signing up for every shiny new app or social media platform. After all, technology is only a tool, not a solution in and of itself.
But it does mean taking a critical look at the friction points currently preventing students from participating in the advising process, and experimenting with new methods until student engagement increases.
Try the five tactics below to increase attendance rates of your advising sessions. If so much change at once sounds too overwhelming, start with one, measure its success, then move to the next. Eventually, you’ll find the mix that works best for you and your students.
1. Allow students to schedule a session on their own time
If students can only make appointments by calling the office between 9-5, or by coming to your building in person to fill out a signup sheet, a percentage of them will simply be unable to comply.
Between classes, work and (for off-campus students) daily commutes, squeezing in an extra phone call or trip to your building is extremely difficult–doubly so for non-traditional students, who often juggle family responsibilities, as well.
So it’s important to give students access to your schedule during *their* free hours–often early in the morning, or late at night after the office is closed.
You can share a Google Calendar directly with students to do this, or use Calendly to keep the rest of your calendar events private and prevent students from accidentally booking a time outside your office hours.
2. Make your availability extremely easy to find online
Just as repetition and patterns are key elements of classroom learning, they’re also useful in this real-world scenario.
The more frequently students see your schedule, the greater the chance they’ll remember to use it.
To leverage this, include a link to your schedule in every communication channel you use, preferably alongside an action phrase like “Click here to schedule an appointment” or “Schedule your advising session at this link.” Places to display this could include:
- Your email signature
- The top of your syllabus, both hardcopy and online versions
- Any other platforms you use with students (campus software, Facebook groups, your Twitter bio, etc)
Brian Cohen, Union College’s Director of Advising, sends a mass email to his advisees at the beginning of each advising period, reminding them to book an appointment using his scheduling link. With two dozen advisees to manage each trimester, this saves him about 300-400 emails back and forth with students annually.
3. Send a reminder beforehand to minimize no-shows.
A short email stating “Remember, we’re scheduled for tomorrow at 4pm” is an easy way to curb student forgetfulness.
If you use Google Calendar, you can send a reminder to each student manually by opening your calendar, clicking a student’s appointment and selecting “email guests” (see #13 in this list of Google Calendar tricks).
Alternatively, Calendly can automatically trigger a reminder email to each student shortly before their appointment, so you don’t have to constantly click through your calendar and type out each message.
4. Give students the option to meet remotely
Maybe you’re scheduled to meet with a nontraditional student, but their child has come down with a fever.
Maybe a student has just picked up a few extra hours at work, so they no longer have time to drive to campus before their shift.
Maybe it’s February, the temperature is 2 degrees fahrenheit, and neither of you want to step outside.
Whatever the situation, virtual advising sessions remove many of the unexpected barriers life throws at you and your students. And with the screen sharing, recording and file sharing capabilities of most online meeting platforms, remote advising can be equally as productive as in-person sessions.
5. Set a clear process for cancellations or rescheduling
Even with reminder emails and remote options, the occasional cancellation is inevitable.
But–like the original scheduling process–the more restricted students are in when they can notify you, the less likely they are to do so at all. Which results in a chunk of your time wasted on a no-show, when you could have otherwise invested it in helping another student or getting other work done.
To minimize this, make canceling/rescheduling as straightforward as the original scheduling process, and empower students to be as autonomous as possible.
If you use Calendly, your students can cancel or reschedule directly from the confirmation and reminder emails they receive, without having to go through you. Otherwise, you can add your own cancel/reschedule instructions to the reminder emails you send, or display the instructions underneath your scheduling link in your syllabus.
Again, technology is not a silver bullet. It’s useless to adopt every shiny new platform without first talking to your students and understanding their needs and setbacks.
But used strategically, it can help you develop a more effective advising process that enables more students to succeed.
How do you decide what new apps and platforms to use with students? Which have been most helpful recently? Let us know in the comments.