Justin Gatewood remembers the annoying hurdles he had to jump over to attend an orientation session when he enrolled at Victor Valley College (Calif.). “I had to take time off work and drive over to the campus and sit in a classroom and listen to a counselor for an hour or so and then drive back,” he says. “It had to be all coordinated. It was an ordeal.”
As the college's webmaster, Gatewood had that old experience in the back of his mind when a colleague in the counseling office asked him to burn copies of a DVD that had been produced depicting a mock orientation session to ensure consistent delivery of the sessions by counselors. He suggested that the film be posted online so that new students had the option of attending their orientation in person or completing it over the web.
After getting the go-ahead, Gatewood edited the DVD into two- to three-minute vignettes, with questions inserted each segment so that students could enter answers and be assessed on whether they absorbed what was being presented. He then posted the final product on VVC’s website.
Perhaps it’s not much of a surprise, but people with busy lives—community college students, for example—like online options because they can be accessed 24/7, and from anywhere with an Internet connection.
“As of just the other day, we’ve had over 4,000 students use the online orientation process,” Gatewood says, “and it’s been online for a real short period of time, and we haven’t made a point of really advertising it at all.”
Crowded orientation sessions kept counselors in classrooms instead of their offices and, as a result, the backlog of students seeking help was growing. In addition to placing orientation online, VVC implemented a web-based FAQ system, which allows for more efficient communication with students who have questions, and a searchable, online knowledge base, which allows students to find answers without ever having to submit a query in the first place.
The changes have been extraordinarily well received and helpful. In-person orientation sessions have dropped from five or six a week to one every two weeks, “which has returned a lot more hours to the counseling department to schedule actual counseling appointments with students to help them further their educational goals and move them further along in getting them where they want to go,” Gatewood points out. Wait times to see counselors have dropped substantially. And the online FAQ/knowledge base has been accessed more than 140,000 times since its implementation.
“These two systems together,” he says, “have greatly improved our counseling office’s ability to better serve students and provide a more efficient and satisfying
experience for them.”