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II. DELIVERY

This chapter treats subjects linked to the guidance services’ delivery through the web. It gives an overview on the potentialities and considerations on pros and cons of web-based tools compared to traditional guidance services, then it presents the types of guidance services which can be delivered through the web and the difference to traditional guidance, and it focuses on the skills needed by the guidance practitioner who uses web-based tools in his/her practice. Finally, the chapter presents some considerations on the monitoring and evaluation processes and the way they can be done by using web-based tools. The chapter ends with a checklist summarising the key issues one has to take into account if delivering web-based guidance.

 

II.1. Web-based guidance services

The number of people surfing the Internet is increasing and this tool is increasingly used as an alternative way to search and find information. This can be done from home, or from public places such as the local library or internet cafés. The web site is a source of information which never closes and it is fairly easy and immediate to use. Whilst some guidance services are more developed than others (such as the provision of databases for a wide range of users) it is important to acknowledge that the use of web-based tools in guidance is still developing.

 

In general, guidance delivery primarily involves a relationship between the guidance practitioner and the user, where the former places his/her expertise and skills at the disposal of the user, in order to help him/her in deciding his/her career management. This “help”, generically defined, may consist of general information about training pathways, labour market information, professional opportunities - local, regional, national or international level, all chosen according to user needs. The user may need more in-depth help with career management and so the guidance and counselling relationship can vary in duration and intensity.

 

Technically mediated careers guidance delivery embraces a range of media including audio, video, CD-ROMs, websites, email and telephone help. Up until recently, computers, television and telephone were commonly delivered through separate analogue streams. The technical developments within digital technology and bandwidth can now comprise these 3 streams into a broadband river. These technical developments will permit a far greater level of customisation and of interactivity (Negroponte, 1995).  This means the practitioner can use these technical possibilities to tailor guidance delivery more closely to users’ needs.

 

In the guidance field, web sites are usually extra tools that constitute a back-up to the services traditionally provided by specialised guidance centres which, historically, have had a presence in one-stop shops and information centres. The web-based guidance services are often delivered through structured web sites containing a range of interactive and static services. Practitioners should be aware about the possibilities given by these new tools and how to manage them, considering their impact on the guidance relationship.

 

II.2. Reasons for web-based guidance

The guidance practitioner can use web-based tools in addition to traditional face-to-face communication with users. In some cases very specific services (such as call centres) can be only delivered though Information Communication Technology (ICT). Using the web, guidance practitioners put a virtual space at the users’ disposal. This space offers information and services with constant access. Sometimes access is restricted to set times, such as the use of chat facility for real time interaction between the guidance practitioner and the user.

 

Compared to a real careers centre a web site will hardly be able to offer the full range of services.  Nor can it be a substitute for real time guidance, given the complexities of face-to-face interactions. Substitution however is not the goal. We must remember that there are people who, for a wide variety of reasons, find computers off-putting. They might have difficulty surfing the Internet; not feel comfortable with the process, or prefer to talk to a guidance practitioner because of the complexity or sensitivity of their situation.

 

So it is important to establish the purpose of the guidance “meeting”: What do you intend to accomplish? Do you simply want to convey information? Messages that are overloaded with too many ideas are difficult to comprehend, and are potentially confusing. It is necessary to establish clear objectives for each guidance episode in order to achieve coherence.

 

Nevertheless, the web poses real challenges for guidance: traditional guidance must develop in this context, where information delivery and communication takes different forms.  These different forms offer the opportunity to develop web-based tools. Web-based guidance and tools offers another way of reaching and empowering the user. It fosters the development of self-help autonomy and client-centred practice. It is arguable therefore that creating web-based tools can create the potential for a new understanding of the constructivist value of the client as expert of his/her life.

 

II.3. Types of web-delivered guidance services

As a working definition, we propose that a guidance website is a tool that offers services both at a general and at a customised level.

 

The general level includes those services which, because of their characteristics and aims, can be delivered to a general target-group (e.g. adults in general) and/or to defined target-groups (e.g. women) and which meet particular needs (e.g. access to information on training/educational courses offered in a given locality). This type of information cannot be customised. It is provided as answers to general questions, rather than specific responses to an individual request. As a rule, these services are designed for users to access independently and require no specific interactions between users and practitioners. The provision is unmediated.

 

Customised services include those services which, because of their characteristics and aims, are designed for individual users and/or well-defined user groups. These services (information, tools, etc.) are likely to include a more or less articulated and lengthy interaction between user and guidance practitioner often require customised services and require consideration of confidentiality and data protection. Such services include: information on specific subjects; information on training and employment opportunities; customised information advice; advice on job hunting techniques; counselling or testing.

 

1I.3.1. Information delivery

By this, we mean a service supplying information both of a wide interest and also addressed to specific target-users:

Training and job opportunities available at a local, national and international level;
Information about education and courses;
Types of contracts, financing/incentives/special terms, local and national working standards and access to training opportunities;
Job-market, productive sectors, occupations; Territorial centres for information, education/training and advice (addresses, opening hours, access and contact modes).

Such information is selected and presented on the basis of:

Needs analysis, based on the most frequently asked questions from specific target-groups (e.g. young people; adults; women; disabled people); The duty of service provision; The results consist of a preliminary dataset, with some degree of detail, offered to an unspecified number of people.

 

I1.3.2. Information advice

This service supplies more detailed and customised information on the basis of specific requests addressed from a single user or by a limited and well-defined user group.

 

I1.3.3. Guidance training

 This service offers support for users to develop career guidance competencies, including: research and decision-making, and job hunting techniques. This service can be set either for a general supply of self-guidance by preparing some materials (i.e. technical forms and guides) or for more customised actions set on the basis of specific needs of single users or of a limited and well-defined group of users. In the latter case, autonomous guidance materials (i.e. self-assessment questionnaires, simulations) are integrated with other tools which require a closer interaction between guidance practitioners and users.

 

I1.3.4. Career counselling

This is a customised service for single users, involving the development interactions of the user’s action planning.

 

 

I1.3.5. Self-assessment questionnaires

This service offers evaluation and/or self-evaluation tools for attitudes, skills and knowledge relating to specific training/educational pathways, professional profiles and domains, vocational-guidance skills and professional expertise. The use of such tools can include the interaction between the user and the practitioner (e.g. the user completes a questionnaire, the guidance practitioner evaluates it, and the user receives feedback). If the tool has been designed for self-assessment, no such interaction is needed.

 

II.4. Methods for delivering effective web-guidance services

Through the web it is possible to deliver generalised services which include information and tools available to all users. Eventually, more detailed information can be supplied if the contents are addressed to a specific target group: the classification/organisation of resources facilitates the user’s navigation, thereby enabling to single out quickly what can better answer his/her own needs.

These services are available in a range of media including:

Web-pages available on-line such as information forms ;
Documents which can be downloaded such as rules and standards, information forms;
Structured hyper-textual paths such as on-line guides;
Databases which can be interrogated, such as training/educational courses;
Audio-visual tools.

These modes can be employed to supply information on more or less specific themes: writing action plans; employment contracts; training/vocational courses, or to present useful models (how to write a curriculum vitae, how to address a job interview).

 

This mode also offers online self-evaluation questionnaires and forms. It is very important to complete these tools with a clear explanation about aims, usage, and interpretation. Displaying the results should be automatic. Through the web it is also possible to deliver more customised services by the use of specific web tools.

 

I1.4.1. Request forms

 A website can offer customised information or consultancy. The basis for this is specific requests from individual users by means of simple forms. Personal data, including name, address, position, is collected on-line. Questions and relevant answers can be put online or individual private responses can be sent to the users. To assure service transparency and quality, it is recommended to state on the website the name of the experts who answer the questions and indicate their qualification to respond. In any case, it is important to state whether all answers are given by qualified guidance practitioners working at the centre which masters the website, and to indicate the delay between posting a question and receiving an answer. Issues of confidentiality are discussed further under Ethics.

 

If the service includes an on-line publication of all answers, it is recommended to present it to users as a service providing information on themes of general interest, and to exclude personal aspects. Furthermore, it is likely that limited space will rule out lengthy answers. Such a service can integrate the information already offered on the website. A positive aspect of the online publication of questions/answers is that the information addressed to single users can be useful also to other users having similar needs. For this reason, online questions and answers can be used to design special areas on the website named FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

Additional services/support can be offered as follows:

Email to the user’s personal email account;
By phone;
In person, by inviting the user to the centre for a meeting.

The website can include some reserved access areas, customised  with communication such as forums and chat-rooms.

 

I1.4.2. Thematic mailing lists

 The website can include a mailing list system, which is a regular service of information sent to lists of users on request. Users can enrol for the service by filling in a form which includes personal data and their own email address. In order to increase the level of customisation, it is possible to offer a list of themes that users can select by their own needs and interests. This type of service is useful for supplying information requiring constant updating (i.e. job opportunities; scholarships; public events).

 

I1.4.3. Customised mailboxes

Customised services can be offered on the website through user-reserved and dedicated personal password areas. Password protected space is allocated to a single user who logs in at will. Users can add personal information and data to the space and use it also to receive and store documents and information from the guidance practitioner. Due to its privacy, this service is particularly fit for consultancy services as it enables the user and guidance practitioner to work on guidance issues, such as guidance, job hunting, feedback on form filling and so on.

 

I1.4.4. Reserved web areas

Customised services can be offered in reserved areas that only a limited group of users can access, through reserved login and password. This permits a close and customised relation between users and guidance practitioners. For instance, even the information pages can be tailored to the users, according to their geographic and social-economic context, as well as to their specific requirements. Reserved areas also support the use of interactive systems such as, forums, chat-rooms and mailing lists, for finer service customisation.

 

I1.4.5. Chat-lines

Chat-lines allow a highly customised relationship between the guidance practitioner and the user. With this tool, both partners communicate directly onscreen one to one in real time, by using the keyboard. Web technologies also now offer a chat-line system where audio and video communication can be used in addition to written communication.

 

I1.4.6. Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing permits long-distance communication and maintains some of the characteristics of direct (face-to-face) dealings: speakers can see one another and talk to one another in real time. These two factors are important, because they provide conversation which incorporates the emotional and contextual aspects minimised or excluded by ICT communication i.e conference calls, the Internet, email, and web chat. Owing to its particular characteristics, video-conferencing can be particularly useful in specific circumstances such as:

Communication with people who are geographically or physically isolated;
Overseas study and work information exchange between practitioners and users in different countries;
Setting up long-distance meetings between practitioners in foreign countries, to find out about innovative experience in different national situations;
The chance to "view" another country's guidance centre, without usual overseas study visits.

According to the type of conference desired, communications can be between:

one practitioner and another practitioner;
a practitioner and a user;
a user and a user via a practitioner.

 

 

II.5. Necessary skills for web-guidance practitioners

Whatever the application of information and communication technology, new skills are needed to deal with them. Communication, both written and oral skills, the use of IT equipment and effective team working will be in demand. Much of the rhetoric assumes that both practitioners and users are equipped to deal with digital technology, and are predisposed to do so. But this is only an assumption. Not everybody can leap in, not everybody wants to work in a virtual environment. The level of frustration and impotence we have all experienced in the face of ICT non function can be acute – how do we manage this within a guidance encounter? Is ICT an intruder or a facilitator?

 

Given that technologies are tools facilitating the delivering of guidance services it is thus necessary for the guidance practitioner to have some knowledge and skills regarding the use of computer and of main software. He/she should be able to surf the Internet and to understand its communication logic.

 

Communication is often taking a written form (web pages, emails, chats, etc.), it is asynchronous and with no visual connection. Therefore, it is important for the guidance practitioner to be able to express him/herself appropriately in writing. Using email to receive and send messages demands of the guidance practitioner the capacity to read users’ requests attentively and focusing on what is expressly required and without suppositions. The practitioner should be able to seek additional information in order to give an effective and useful answer. Reading on the screen is generally slower and more difficult than on the printed page. Practitioners who compose on screen responses must take this into consideration. Writing needs to be clear using simple linguistic structures and highlighting key messages. These considerations are developed further in the Design chapter.

 

Guidance practitioners must know the particular system in which clients are communicating in order to be aware of the “rules” of that system. They have to be aware of them in order to avoid conveying an improper message in improper terms. They have to be aware of the relevant socio-economic-cultural system and its norms to be effective. It is important that the guidance practitioner has access to technical staff that are specialised in the maintenance of hardware and software and can offer technical support.

 

II.6. Impact on the guidance practice

In his classic study about communication, Mehrabian (1972) estimated that the total impact of a message may be represented by the following equation:

 

Total impact = 0.07 verbal + 0.38 vocal + 0.55 facial/body

 

This shows that the impact of facial/body communication (what we call non-verbal communication) is the major part in the impact of face-to-face communications.

 

Web-guidance is complicated by the fact that we do not meet the client in person. We do not know the users, their self construct, their context, their world view or their socio-cultural context.  Whilst it is true that using ICT diminishes the impact of face-to-face communication, nevertheless ICT permits a different relationship, one that is not necessarily reductive. The impact on the relationship between the user and the practitioner, as well as on that between the user and guidance services is clear.

 

Without any doubt a positive aspect is the service’s wider approachability for an increasing number of people. This access is of course determined by their time and choice of ways, and from places chosen by users, setting a limit to access and its connected costs (Offer, 1999). Moreover, web-guidance allows us to reach people who may feel uncomfortable about going to the guidance centre in person. In this specific case the technological mediation and the absence of a direct contact between practitioner and user provide the effect of enlarging services’ approachability and encouraging the contact with the practitioner.

 

In this framework it is important to distinguish between general services, i.e. services  addressed to a wide range of users (even if defined for a particular target group) and personalized services which are characterised by a one-to-one relationship between practitioner and user.

 

General services are offered on a user-access self–help basis, and they do not necessarily require feedback from the users. In these cases the service aims at providing general answers to general questions within a specific target group (women, workers, young jobseekers, etc.). It is clear that this type of service can work with those users who already have a precise idea of what they need, who are autonomous, who have the ability to search for information and to use specific on line tools.

 

Personalised services, such as the exchange of specific questions and answers through email or chat, can be developed to replace the one-to-one relationship, even where interactions are written. This demands that the practitioner develop fine skills in comprehension and expression in terms of reading and writing.

 

As for the impact on both the task of and the organisation of professional services the following have to be considered:

Using distance delivery for information and services can reduce the number of users who personally go to a guidance centre: this could focus practitioners on users who prefer a face-to-face relationship;
The email tool allows a better use of practitioner time and reduces user waiting time in the centre;
Previous answers and information can be easily stored and used again for new identical  requests;
ICT demands greater practitioner involvement in selecting the appropriate medium, in constant updating of materials and therefore in their continued professional development.

 

Annex 1 offers a detailed comparative analysis (SWOT) of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

 

II.7. Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of services delivered through ICT gathers important information which can be used to develop, specify and improve services to users. This process is also important in organising the practitioner’s work more effectively way. The type of quantitative and qualitative data which can be collected varies according to the type of tool and method of delivery.

 

For those on-line service aimed at self-access, and which do not envisage any feed-back or direct contact between the user and the guidance practitioner, it is impossible to know who the individual user is. It will however permit an overview of service usage, including:

The number of hits to the home page address (URL) ;
The starting domain of hits (this datum can identify the provider’s nation and, so roughly, that of users) ;
The duration of connection time ;
The most and least visited web pages ;
How long the hit lasts (percentage datum on overall hits);
The most searched keywords (where the web site has an internal search engine);
The provenance of the hit (e.g. from another web site, from a search engine, etc.) and which browser has been used.

 

If all these data are recorded daily they provide statistics and comparisons to evaluate the service as a whole: if and how services are used; if there are peak periods in the year; if there are users visiting the web sites several times in a certain length of time, and if there are critical aspects to be solved.

 

In addition, it is possible to envisage tools/mechanisms such as online questionnaires which can collect the opinion and evaluations of users regarding the website and/or certain services included in the website. As, generally, they are tools used by users on a voluntary basis it will not be possible to obtain systematic quality data on users’ satisfaction towards the service. Such data can also be obtained when services delivered through ICT include the direct contact between the client and the guidance practitioner (such as email, chat or videoconference). These procedures enable a more detailed and qualitative knowledge of the individual user and of his/her requests, on the type and number of answers received, whether the relationship has followed more traditional procedures. One of the advantages of ICT is the facility where all exchanges are stored and can be easily interrogated for evaluation and reporting.

 

It is very helpful to plan and implement some system which lets the site owner see, with a greater or lesser degree of regularity, the results of the service provided on the Internet. Examining the results is important for any service, but it becomes strategically so for a website since this is a tool used by visitors who are practically located "somewhere else". Some of the most widely-used systems for site monitoring are:

Hit-counters: predetermined parameters are chosen to measure the quantity and quality of "hits." Automatic counters can forward periodic reports on the number of hits to the home page address (URL), where the visitor goes next, and how long the hit lasts. These data, when properly interpreted, can be a useful method for seeing how efficient the site is and how popular the information given on it appears. Moreover, it can also show which the most popular web pages are, where people stop longer, or which pages are merely skimmed over. Such information can be useful while modifying, reshaping, and improving online services.
Popularity feedback, which provides user opinions about the site. A form can be put on a page for filling in, or an email address published. The form can contain specific questions, to find out whether visitors find the service useful, sufficient, complete, and quick and easy to use, etc. These data, too, can help to understand where the service needs to be improved.

 

 

II.8. Checklist


 

Criteria

Questions

Notes

1

Reasons

Why deliver guidance through the web?

Can the website substitute for the physical Careers Centre?

It offers a virtual space always at users’ disposal. Many people use computers and surf the Internet.

The website offers new ways of developing self-help autonomy and the client-centred practice.

It’s not a matter of substitution, it’s a matter of integration

2

Services

What kind of approach?

What kind of services?

General services answer to generalised needs and customised services answer to well-defined needs.

§         Information delivery on different subjects

§         Information advice

§         Guidance training

§         Career counselling for single users

§         Self-evaluation questionnaires

3

Effectiveness

What kind of tools permit these services to be delivered in an effective way?

Tools to deliver general services: Information forms; documents to be downloaded, online guides, databases.

Tools to deliver customised services: request forms, thematic mailing lists, customised mailboxes, reserved web areas, chat-lines, videoconferencing.

4

Skills

What do the practitioners need for the delivery of guidance services through the web?

To have good communication skills, both written and oral, considering that the relationship can be carried out in a distance, in an asynchronous way and with no visual connection.

To be self-confident in using ICT.

To be able to surf the Internet and to understand its communication logic.

To be able to select the appropriate medium for delivering different services.

To be updated on ICT development.

5

Impact

How does web guidance impact on the professional practice?

It can:

§         Reach a wide the number of people

§         Give users more choice in using services

§         Encourage access to services thanks to anonymity

§         Reduce the number of users who go to the centre

§         Allow storage of much information

The lack of face-to-face communication:

§         Can reduce the impact of the communication itself

§         Makes it more difficult to know the social-cultural context of the users

6

Monitoring Evaluation

What kind of feedback can the practitioners have about the services delivered through the website?

Quantitative and qualitative feedback, in direct or non direct ways.

Non direct, by the use of hit-counters. These data can be stored and used to create periodical reports.

Direct, by the use of forms and email addresses. It can provide users’ opinions on voluntary basis so it’s difficult to have systematic data.


 

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Last update:  15:59 18/06 2004

Foreword
Abstract
I. Users
II. Delivery
III. Design / Developing
IV. Theory
V. Ethics
References
Annex 1
Annex 2
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GRUNTVIG - European Cooperation Projects in Adult Education
This project has been carried out with the support of the European Union in the framework of the Socrates program
The content of this project does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, nor does it involve any responsibility on the part of the European Union