As the discipline of Counseling runs to keep up with technology and meet the needs of a growing population of students that "come to college" by logging onto the internet, the Counseling and Library Faculty Issues Committee has been contemplating where we are as a system on this matter.
Ironically, it seems that the ability to survey our colleges and to present current information is the most difficult part of the task. As soon as we send out surveys, we hear of changes and find ourselves behind in reporting the activity of the field.
The process for this survey included a letter to all local academic senates, with a request to solicit assistance from the Counseling Services on their respective campuses. Of the 109 colleges in the system, 74 responded about the online web advising services that they offer, with 35 (or 32%) of the colleges not responding. Of those submitting their survey, 35 (or 32%) do offer this support. These services vary from the low-tech email response to the high-tech web procedures and databases that provide a culture of evidence along with support upon student demand. The remaining 39 (or 36%) of the colleges responded that they have no official online or web-advising services, but most added that they do communicate with students via email on a regular basis.
To answer the question "Is this common practice?" we believe that the fact that almost a third of the colleges are responding to student advising needs online predicts that the growth of this practice will be common to all in the near future. What some colleges seem to be waiting for is the direction that the services should take. What the college should include and what liabilities are out there for counselors and students are just two questions that need to be answered.
A number of common concerns were identified in the survey. These pose areas of dialogue for your college. A review of the guidelines presently in place for face-to-face appointments and those established to protect privacy rights for phone conversations are similar distinctions that should be addressed for web or online communications. You may also want to identify differences specific to your college, district, faculty or students; similarly, students would need to know which policies or regulations apply to all students throughout the district. An example would be the probation standards, which would probably be the same for your college as well as other colleges in your district. Students that only connect by distance education or online may have no idea that your services are "district-wide" and this may prevent enrollment with other colleges in your district.
Another common concern is the definition of terms. Although we have professional associations that help us to identify the differences between "advising" and "counseling," our students don't come to us with that ready knowledge. You may choose to use the "counseling" term for all forms of the service if that is the campus culture (a rose by any other name is still a rose). It may be more appropriate to list your limitations of service for online assistance or alert students to when they would need a face-to-face appointment to answer their particular question. Others may be directed to phone calls with a security option to ensure that counselors are indeed talking to the appropriate individual.
Disclaimers, clearly addressing the confidentiality (or limits of same) during online advising, and statements of "information subject to change" are both needed for student understanding. As with all communications, counselors can only respond to questions that are asked and if a student's information is incomplete or time passes before a student takes action, your advising may have unexpected consequences for the student.
Many of the websites developed a set of FAQ's for the student to access during the use of online services. Respondents recommended that schedules be included with the availability of online counselors or timelines for email responses. There were no recommendations specific to 48 or 72 hours being better, but students could make better choices if they knew they would receive an immediate response or would have to check back at a later time for an email response.
Recording this online activity is another area to focus on. Will you keep manual logs of the activity? Or can your college IT system offer the support for a web-based intake? The more sophisticated the system, the better you may be able to accommodate the growing need or use; however, these options require ongoing discussions with your college or district technology committee so that your needs can be advocated for and met.
For additional assistance with code of ethics, standards of practice, or guidelines for electronic communications, check with the American Counseling Association (www.counseling.org) or the National Career Development Association (www.ncda.org), two resources that colleges have already used.
There are also a number of technology resources that you may find helpful. The CVC Online Training has developed a comprehensive student support services resource that you can access at http://training.cvc4.org/ssservices. The login: studserv and password: studserv should allow you to access the information.
An electronic journal, ijournal (June 2004, no. 8; Retrived May 2005 from http://www.ijournal.us/issue_08/ij_issue08_MeyersAndOstash_01.htm), includes Paul Meyer's article "Pulling the Pieces Together: Comprehensive Online Support Services." And finally, many of the colleges referred to training on distance counseling that was provided by Readyminds. You can access their services at: http://readyminds.com/training/dcc_cert.asp
So if you believe that your college is moving into cyberspace and your counseling services don't want to be left behind, what can you do next? You might want to view some of the best practice sites that colleges shared with the committee. If you still have time for some surfing of the Internet, we hope that you check some of these out soon.
https://onlinecounseling.lbcc.edu (Long Beach City College)
http://www.cerritos.edu (Cerritos College)
Both of these sites work with the Region 8 Online Consortium for Online Counseling (Orange County). They have been meeting regularly to develop guidelines for this growing field.
This is a comprehensive online orientation that includes information for students on getting started, FAQ's and distance education for Bakersfield College.
This guideline for counselors at Cuesta College gives examples of canned answers for counselor efficiency when responding to students. It is detailed to the specific environment with CalPoly close by, but gives you great ideas.
The committee members want to thank the colleges, counselors, and local academic senates for your hard work in providing the answers to the field of web advising in the community colleges!
Yula Flournoy, Mt. San Jacinto College (Co-chair); Teresa Aldredge, Cosumnes College (Co-chair); Deborah Moore, Glendale College; Lakshmi Ariaratnam, Butte College; Linda-Rosa Corazon, Skyline College; Micca Gray, Santa Rosa Jr. College; and Gail Conrad, San Diego Mesa College.