Published on 2014/10/29

Automation: Moving Communication Management Into the 21st-Century

Automation: Moving Communication Management Into the 21st-Century
Finding systems to automate the organization of critical tasks can allow staff and faculty to focus on high-value communications that make a difference to students.
Until this past year, much of the advising and communications work completed in the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies was performed through a myriad of spreadsheets maintained independently by various offices (admissions, academic affairs, department advising). Each office updated its own spreadsheets and used these to communicate with students in ways specifically suited to their unique needs. While this system worked adequately, it fell short in two key areas: First, it placed a heavy burden on staff to maintain updates and accurate data, and second, the spreadsheets did not allow for consistent and shared communication among offices that were working with the same students across their academic careers.

We recently moved to a new communication management system that connects to our admissions office, the university student information system, and our individual offices and departments. This integrated system allows us to tag and group students for more focused, targeted communications. For example, instead of pooling information from various spreadsheets, we can now tag first-year students centrally to send them information about new policies, advise students who are on academic warning and notify students about graduation and commencement procedures specific to their degrees and academic programs.

The best feature of this shared system is that it allows offices to track and share communication chains with each other while being customizable enough to create differing levels of access for deans, directors and advisors. Thus, staff have access only to information that is directly related to their roles. If an admissions advisor recommends that a student take a course as a pre-requisite, the student’s academic advisor can see that information and confirm it when they meet. When the academic affairs deans notify students that they are on academic warning or probation, the students’ advisors can also see that information and follow up with them individually. We know that advising errors infrequently happen at all levels, but when they do occur, this system also allows us to document and correct those instances much more quickly and efficiently.

This new system is not infallible or a communications panacea. We devoted a full year to reviewing information in our systems and coordinating the codes and tags that we would use uniformly across the school to input data, and we still depend upon the accuracy of those initial data entry points to make the system run well. If a student spells their name incorrectly on an application (it happens), or if an advisor inverts a student’s GPA, then the student’s record and email address can start off incorrectly as well. This system also depends on our offices and departments using it regularly as their primary (although not single) communications tool. If an advisor emails a student outside of this system, for example, then it is not included in the shared communications trail.

For any institution thinking about moving to an integrated communications system, I would recommend:

  1. Reviewing the data collection points and working towards a consistent system and nomenclature to allow for uniform tagging and grouping of students;

  2. Inviting staff into the conversation early to review the kinds of communication systems available and to listen to their recommendations;

  3. Developing a shared communications calendar tied to cyclical events (admissions deadlines, orientation, registration, academic reviews, graduation) so that students are not overwhelmed with messages;

  4. Providing training and support to staff throughout the implementation of the system and beyond;

  5. Understanding that this kind of system is but one communication tool, and its utility still depends upon students opening and reading their email. Incorporating social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), as appropriate, for general communications can still add value, even if you occasionally use them to ask students to check their accounts.
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Readers Comments

Terry Altman 2014/10/29 at 9:38 am

What a great example of actually putting technology to work in a practical way. It must be such a relief to everyone (students included) to not have to remake file after file of the same information to ensure everyone who needs access to it has it.

Surat J. 2014/10/29 at 12:20 pm

Do admin really use social media to let students know to check their email messages? That seems a little intrusive to me, not to mention time consuming to search out and add students on various platforms.

Walter Rankin 2014/10/29 at 1:40 pm

We have social media accounts for each of our programs. Some programs are more active than others, and students can choose to join them. It’s not perfect, but it has given us another means of reaching them through media that they actively use. Our Public Relations program has over 1800 followers on their Twitter account, for example.

Ian Mulder 2014/10/29 at 3:37 pm

Just curious, how does security play into a system like this? Would something like this be easier to hack to steal student info than the traditional system? Does cross-referencing to improve access make info less safe?

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