Call Centers in Distance Education

No one would argue that call centers are helpful. Learn how helpful they can be in distance education and distributed learning.
Call Centers in Distance Education

distance_ed1Do you think that a call center be used as a vehicle for academic coaching and advising? There is an automatic separation of the instructor and the student through the elimination of the classroom, if talking about distance and online education. Past practice in distance education has been to prepare detailed and thorough learning packages to guide the students in their study, and to provide tutorial support by mail and telephone. A traditional tutor at Athabasca University is the focal point for student/institution contact, with the tutor answering many administrative queries and relaying marks, as well as directly helping in an instructional role.

The business faculty at Athabasca University in the early 90’s developed a call center model as a one-window approach for its instructional tutoring (see Adria & Woudstra, 2001). Its success has been the development of a groupware call back conference, in which call center staff (called “undergraduate student advisors”) post student subject matter queries they cannot answer, and requests by students to speak to the course academic. Academics field only substantive, course-related questions or problematic administrative issues. Such system can ensure that someone who can answer their questions and discuss the subject matter in depth quickly responds to students. Therefore, the model also allows the separation of the tutoring and marking roles that are combined in the traditional tutor model, and which, we contend, form a bottleneck in the effectiveness and efficiency of the instructional function, by preventing the use of economies of scale in marking and in the handling of administrative queries. In the traditional tutorial model, a tutor is responsible for all contacts for an assigned group of 28 to 40 students, and marks all assignments for this group. Such tutors are generally available in three-hour blocks once per week. Lets take a closer look at the call center model -  students in a given course are not broken into groups; administrative questions are answered by the undergraduate student advisors, who form tier one of the model; an academic expert role exists purely for answering students' academic content queries; and a specialist marker role has been created to handle marking duties.

At the School of Business call center model, students in any course are able to call a toll-free central telephone number five afternoons and six evenings per week. Now the call center provides about 60 hours of access to telephone and e-mail assistance each week to students, and can deal with 80% of the calls directed to it (Adria & Wouddistance_ed_01stra, 2001) referring to call back only the 20% of calls to which the course academic should respond.Today course academics over a broad range of courses are freed from 80% of the calls they (or their tutors) would otherwise receive, and the student's queries are answered quickly, as received, rather than once per week during an academic's telephone contact hours.

Improvement of technology will allow the routing of calls directly to particular agents or academic area experts. Moreover, the knowledge available to and level of expertise expected of selected staff will increase constantly, to allow direct answers to more of the 20% of queries now referred to academic experts. The staff will handle more challenging calls about academic content, as well as providing help with student program advising.

The Following Development >>