Sunday, October 02, 2011

Don't Believe in Tinkerbell

Remember the scene in the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan when Tinkerbell is dying because we may not believe in her enough? And Peter turns to us and says “Please believe. Tell Tink you believe!” And we do. Well, maybe more of us need to leave that belief in the theater and not apply it in customer service issues in college.
Generally, it appears too many colleges use a set of beliefs and not facts to form their understanding and thoughts about their students’ knowledge of how the college works as well as how to navigate through it. There are so many assumptions made about the students, their abilities and understandings of what we all know as our college, its rules, and folkways. We assume they will somehow know them too. After all, we do, and aren’t we all at college together?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. They do not know, and we must supply the directions. Having had experience with public educational structures and systems does not mean they know how to be intelligent, competent users of a college. They need clear user instructions not just on the academic and administrative regulations but on everything starting with how to get from the dorm to their classes or to the administrative offices. Just as when you first moved to an area and everyone assumed you knew how to get around. “Sure, the super market. Well, just go down 104. Take a left at State Road 5. It isn’t marked like that but you’ll know it when you see it. And when you see the Catholic Church, take a

left. Now the Catholic Church is near the Last Evangelical so don’t be fooled. If you miss the Catholic Church, you’ll know it because you’ll soon come up on the Jewish synagogue. It’s just after Dave’s on the right. Good hamburgers there by the way. Good luck.”
Uhh, how do I get to 104?
Good customer service demands that the customer, the student, knows how to use the services provided and required. Ever tried to assemble a gift or use new software that had poor or almost nonexistent directions with parts and abbreviations that the technician knew but did not explain to you? Sure you have used an outdoor grill or HTML based webs, but that does not mean you know how to put a grill together or use web site building language. The result? If you were not afraid to look stupid, you asked for help. If not, the grill was returned and the software not used. In any case, you likely became frustrated and angry and swore off, or at, the manufacturer.
Students are no different except they are even more tentative than you or I, and they may not ask for help. They do not want to look stupid after all. They will become aggravated, angry and blame the college thus becoming a potential attrition statistic.
And navigating academic rules? Forget it. Just give it up. Most students plagiarize because they do not know what it really is nor do they understand it is not acceptable. The web is an anonymous research tool so anything there is available for the copying. Moreover, they have, after all, grown up in the Doris Kearns Goodwin/Laurence Tribe/Stephen Ambrose period. The one in which it is okay for some to plagiarize but not others.
Add/drop? Not done at many schools simply because the students are not made aware of the process. Financial problems? A bursar informed me recently students generally are not fully made aware of what all the acronyms mean – FAFSA, Pell, Stafford, and the bursar’s office is too busy to explain to “people who should know”.
But why don’t they know all this? Partially because of the Tinkerbell Theory.

The Tinkerbell Theory is most clearly elucidated in the belief colleges have that their students know how to be students. Actually, too many schools have a misguided belief in Peter Pan and fairy dust. They believe that somehow magic occurs on the stage in the local school auditorium at high school graduation. An immature high schooler starts across the stage, and with him or her walks all the ways of thinking and attitudes ingrained over 12 long years. These are the same very characteristics that made the soon­to-be high school graduate have to prove he or she was capable of succeeding in your college. Then, he or she stops and just as the high school principal hands over a diploma, a small, invisible maturity fairy flies overhead and sprinkles magic knowledge dust on the graduate. POOF!! You’re a college freshman! What was a latent college student suddenly sheds his or her immature ways and is suddenly metamorphosed into a mature college student ready and capable of meeting the demands and dictates of college!
And if for some odd reason the fairy dust did not complete the transformation, the next ten weeks of summer vacation complete the transformation. After all, that freshman is no longer a high schooler. He or she is a freshman at Neverland U and all our students know how to be students. After all, they are here at college.
But this is far from the truth. Peter Pan was fictional and so is the belief that incoming students are college students upon walking on campus.
It is important that colleges educate their students on how they are to be students. How they can become intelligent users of the college. It is not enough to give someone a catalog. A college I work with recently found out from its State authorities that simply because something is in the catalog does not make it automatically qualify as fully informing students. The school believed that if it was printed in there, it was law. Not so said the State. The college had an active obligation to make sure the students were fully aware of the school’s rule. Even worse, the upset students were even stronger in their frustration over a lack of understanding of the rule in question. The State informed the college it was wrong. That led to contrition. Some students became angry and that led to attrition.

Another college posted its dates for registration for the next semester on its student website. Then the school was very upset when some students did not show to register. The college officials believed the students should have known from the website. But they did not instruct students clearly enough on how to get a password, the how to navigate the site and finally the need to check the front page on a regular basis. Besides, the reality was, and is for most all schools, students do not use the portal and if they do, they do not use it as the college or university intended. Students at the college thought the site was just for getting their final grades, checking their bills and other administrative bothers. They were not aware they needed to check it for announcements.
Besides, in high school if they missed a registration date, or even an assignment, they just did it late. No penalty. How would they know the rules were different at the institution if the college did not inform them?
Who is to blame? Not the customer. It was the provider who assumed that everyone knew how to use a website, had a computer and went to the college portal. But that is not a safe assumption. Not every student has that knowledge, and if they do it may be about Yahoo or Google, not your college (which, believe it or not, will lose out to their own email, IM and gaming sites). Moreover, we have found that your college or university portal is not where students start their hours of web browsing every day. The college portal loses almost every time if the student is using his or her own computer.
A major problem in the appropriate use – and thus the effectiveness of a service or product – is that it is supposed the user will understand how to use it or do something because I do. Do not assume the students of a college will understand the institution’s assembly and operation instructions simply because you know them or have them and may have printed them in a flier or brochure. If you believe something is important, it must be explained and made clear if students are to be able to use the college correctly.
Good customer service calls on the service provider to vigorously
and aggressively educate the recipient and/or user of the services
on the proper use and operation of the services. Tell them once.
Then tell them again, and finally tell them you just told them. Then make sure they heard you.
Create a user guide for students. Put it together as if you are telling someone how to assemble a toy or piece of Ikea furniture. For dropping a course for example, it could start with:
1. Determine if this is a course you can drop
a.            Is it a required course in your curriculum?
b.                        Are the skills and knowledge from the course needed in those that follow it?
c.            Can it be taken out of sequence?
Note: If a, or b is answered yes, reconsider dropping the course.
2. Do you have an add drop form?
a. If no go to ______ or get one online at
___________ .
3. Complete the add drop form. Be certain
a.                         The course to be dropped is correct and has the correct course code
b.                        If adding a course, be certain it has the correct course code and the new course fits in your remaining schedule
4. Obtain any and all required permission signatures
a.            To drop: faculty of the course being dropped
b.           To add: faculty accepting you in the new course
5. File the add drop form with the____________ office
by (date)
6. Check with the business office for any adjustments that will have to be made in your tuition and fees.
This is an example, of course. The exact steps at a particular institution may well be different. If so, the How to Drop information will have to be changed to reflect the actual procedure.
This format can be used for almost any administrative or other action students may have to take. Determine what students are doing incorrectly or to their detriment, and create a How to Guide for that situation. Then make certain every student gets the information. One way to do that is to be certain to review it at orientation and information sessions. The information can also be effectively distributed by sliding sheets under dorm doors and hang them in the bathrooms above or in the stalls. Also leave stacks in the entrance area to the bathrooms. Students will read them there.
And to be safe, don’t believe Tink. Do the same for administrative, faculty and staff bathrooms. It always amazes me and others how much we do not know about our own schools.

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