Virtual Residence Assistant Answers Students’ Questions

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For students living in residence, residence life staff provide a vital source of information and a connection to the university. Now U of G students have a new way to contact a residence assistant (RA) that is unique among Canadian universities: the online Virtual RA.

“Students today have multiple digital devices and they are more likely to text a friend than actually talk to someone on the phone,” says Lindsay Winger, acting associate director, Residence Life. “They’re used to communicating this way.”

The Virtual RA is a live-chat service available daily between 8 and 11 p.m., with the possibility of expanded hours in the future if the service proves successful. Student RAs post notices on their doors when they’re unavailable, referring people to the Virtual RA website. Those responding to student questions online are members of the RA team who have been trained for the virtual program.

The Virtual RA expands the Student Housing live-chat service currently available for general housing questions. It also acts as a crisis line for students in addition to other avenues of support, such as front desk staff and other residence life staff.

Before introducing the Virtual RA program, Winger and her team consulted with other groups using similar live-chat concepts. She says the staff at Kids Help Phone were especially helpful about giving tips and suggestions. “They deal with a slightly younger audience but have found the live-chat service to be overwhelmingly popular,” Winger says. “It’s an easier way to ask a question that they might feel they can’t ask in person.”

Questions for the Virtual RA so far have included: How do I make a noise complaint? What do I do with my garbage? What resources are there on campus for students like me?

Winger says the staff have been very positive about the new service. “Our RAs are enthusiastic about connecting with the students, and this is one more way to help that happen.”