Combating info overload/folder fatigue

Posted on September 16, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Everyone who has ever working orientation knows the pain of stuffing endless information folders for students and parents. This summer I stuffed more than my fair share and I’m sure that factors into my feelings on the matter. I understand that departments and offices on campus want to get the message out about the services and programs they offer, however I question how valuable/retain-able this information is to orientation students in its current form. All told SJSU students receive 33 seperate documents (many two or more pages a piece) in their student folders and parents receive a similar number. While a handful of the information is specifically referenced during the two day program, most of it is information that we expect them to take home and read. I am very skeptical about how many of them do this and more concerned about how many of actually retain the information they are given. Ultimately, I think it is time to take a look at this process of information dispersal and revise it for the new NetGeneration students. These students are not in the habit of reading through a sea of papers to become completely aware of every program and service the university provides. Instead the majority of these students wait until they have a specific question and then go on-line to search for an answer. Therefore it may be more beneficial to give them a tutorial on the web directory and how to access various offices’ websites.

My other concern with having paper heavy orientation folders is that the information that is most relevant and important is often overlooked simply because it is swimming in a sea of supplemental materials. For example, one of the documents we provided was a guide to being safe on campus. Not only did this packet address an area that wasn’t covered enough during orientation it also provided info about something many students don’t proactively seek out. On the other hand, we also included a brochure about the bowling center in the student union. I did not think this was a proper venue for this info because students who were truly interested in this service would look it up on their own and most of them would find their way into the union for other activities and therefore learn about the bowling center.

I am quite certain that orientation folders will not go away anytime soon and support the idea that they are a good way to get out information about certain things to new students. I am equally convinced that orientation staff members must be more intentional about what they put in these folders and spend a bit more time considering the logistical nightmares associated with stuffing endless packets. While Michael Scott may believe in providing “unlimited paper in a paperless world”, I do not think that universities should follow suite.

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3 Responses to “Combating info overload/folder fatigue”

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I understand that departments and offices on campus want to get the message out about the services and programs they offer, however I question how valuable/retain-able this information is to orientation students in its current form.

I think that the majority of the items probably end up either being recycled or going into a landfill.

It sort of ties into my recent article on technology and student affairs.

Student Affairs is still very much a paper-based culture while our students, like you mention, use the web to find information. That’s why I am a huge proponent of re-purposing content. Feed one bit of info out to your website, your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter status, etc. It’s more efficient and environmentally friendly. It’s also more accessible as paper handouts cannot be viewed by students or family members who have visual impairments.

This isn’t to say that I believe that all of our students are savvy web searchers. The digital divide is still very real.

Thanks for posting.

Tiffany and I discussed this a few weeks ago when we got an e-mail from UHDS inviting us to submit brochures, fliers, etc. that we might want included in packets place in all of the residence hall rooms across campus. Tiff recalled her days in Housing and bluntly said, “I saw a lot of brochures in the recycling shortly after the students moved in”. We ultimately opted for other avenues to relay messages about the ASC and UESP.

This would be an interesting discussion to have with Kris and Leslie, as they are fresh off folder stuffing as well. I agree with Eric that many in our profession on overly dependent on paper (myself included) and are hesitant about a shift. In theory, it doesn’t seem like that dramatic to move toward more efficient and effective means, but in practice, implementing the change can be alarming to an office entrenched in process that historically has worked. I think about this all the time relative to UESP. Once you start interning here, I’d be interested to get your thoughts on our processes.

Kerry, I would love to talk more about this once I start working and will try to engage Kris in a similar conversation soon. The interesting thing is that shortly after writing this entry, I found out that our office is starting to use a new database that overtime should drastically cut down on the amount of paper that we use. Before long the police reports and banner sheets that we typically read through before hearings will be uploaded and we will simply access to them from a laptop computer during our hearings. While time will tell whether having instant access to these documents is truly wonderful or not, it seems like the new database will save Resa, a lot of time and energy (once we all know how to best use it). Plus it allows anyone connected to conduct or the CIRT team to have access to critical information on the spot. All and all I’d say that the paperless function is less important than the time saving and information condensing features, but it still goes to show how quickly the tide is turning.

I do wonder whether this change would be much harder in a large office. With only three people, Resa, Dan and I can constantly be talking and figure out what works and what doesn’t and adapt quickly. Other offices might not be so lucky. In addition, I’m a bit weary about confidentiality of information. While it makes sense that information is safer in a password protected, technology encapuled, university approved database than in a file cabinet in an office, I also think that people looking to misuse that info are more likely to be looking online than wanting to physically break into an office.


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