With the winter semester coming to an end and COVID-19 still affecting students and their education, a new online tool developed by the U of M has been launched this week in order to assist students and their concerns more effectively.
The Virtual Advising Help Centre (VAHC) is an online help service staffed entirely by students — with the exception of co-ordinator Heather Nicolson — working seven days a week to answer any questions either by phone, email or online chat.
The student services navigators will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We’re hoping that this new service is […] going to take some of the transactional advising traffic away from the advising offices,” said Nicolson.
The service aims to answer “those really quick-to-answer questions, clarifications that students often need […] nothing that really needs an in-depth meeting with a student advisor, but more those quick and snappy questions.”
Nicolson explained that by doing this, they hope to clear up the large email queues and long waits students face in advising offices, and allow for the student advisors to more efficiently offer and focus on in-depth meetings.
“We’re also hoping we can provide students with that point of contact, like we can be a place to start when they’re feeling lost and confused about U of M services.”
“This of course is really important right now during times of separation.”
Nicolson added that regardless of the pandemic, the new service would have a significant role for students based on the fact that the U of M is a commuter campus and that a lot of students go to campus simply to go to class.
Currently, a work day at the VAHC is simply responding to any questions that they receive, however Nicolson’s plan for the summer term is that the Virtual Advising Help Centre can expand and host educational activities for students as well.
“Instead of just being reactive to whatever the question of the day is, we’re going to try and do a little proactive educational work,” said Nicolson.
If interested, the student services navigators are also working to develop and run an educational workshop and, when the time comes, present it to the student body.
Nicolson brought attention to the fact that for some students, it is easier to talk to another student about their questions, and that could be intimidating to ask an advisor for various reasons.
“Hopefully we can ease some of that and help out where we can,” she said.
“I think our main mandate is just to try and be a point of connection for students.”
She continued that the centre realized during times of COVID-19 the importance of “extra points of human connection and communication.”
“They were always important,” she said, “but we’ve come to realize just how important now that COVID has hit.”