Perhaps the most important requirement for effective advising is reliable
communications. Consider your advising day. Educational advisers may
receive inquiries in fields ranging from circus technology to deep-sea
mineral farming. Information and communications problems emerge. Where
can you quickly find the information you are asked to provide? How can
advisers verify the accuracy of information for fields in which they have
never before consulted? And with the increasing demand to provide more
specialized information more quickly to the growing numbers wishing to
study abroad, how might advisers more efficiently distribute their new
knowledge to their clients?
The answers to such questions are being found more frequently through
"telematics," the convergence of telecommunications and computerized
information technology. Put simply, "telematics" means using the personal
microcomputers and ordinary telephone connections with which most advising
offices are already equipped to obtain, verify, and distribute information
more quickly and less expensively than through traditional manual methods.
Telematics is a freely-available resource with immense potential for
educational advisers. Electronic mail (E-mail) enables rapid and flexible
communications networking with colleagues at home and abroad. Telematics
is also a research tool, enabling one to search databases and electronic
library catalogues around the world. Information can be retrieved from
remote computer archives, integrated into your documents, and swiftly
relayed to clients. Information technology and advising requirements are
a perfect marriage of supply and demand.
Personalized telematics could be one of your most powerful and
cost-effective resources. More importantly, telematics will be vital to
the future information needs of advising work.
NAFSA and OSEAS Support for E-Mail in Advising
International advisers are among the exchange professionals most able to
benefit from computer technology, and organizational support is
increasingly becoming available to enable advisers to use telematic
resources. Since 1988, the Overseas Educational Advisers' "Professional
Educators' Group" (OSEAS) in NAFSA: Association of International Educators
has appointed regional liaisons to assist with the computerization of
advising offices. Local computer training workshops have been sponsored.
The theme of the 1989 OSEAS-Europe Conference in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia was
technology in advising work. Of primary interest already then was
electronic mail. The telematics theme will be expanded in the 1991
OSEAS-Europe conference. E-mail was also featured in the 1990 conference
of the European Association for International Education (EAIE) in
Amsterdam, and an extensive schedule of E-mail and other computer training
sessions is being planned for the May 1991 NAFSA Conference in Boston.
E-mail is a technology of the present, not a dream for the future.
Many advisers are already enthusiastic users of electronic mail. In
1990-1991, NAFSA's MicroSIG group, which provides advice and training on
the use of microcomputers in international offices, aims at increasing the
E-mail capacity of a broader proportion of the NAFSA community, and assist
those already on E-mail to use electronic resources more productively. A
NAFSA electronic forum called "Inter-L" is entering its third year, and
has established an increasing value as a rapid communications medium for
the field of international education.
How can MicroSIG and Inter-L help advisers? How can advisers benefit from
electronic mail? The following reviews how E-mail may be used for messages
to individuals or groups, queries to electronic discussion forums, and
requests for documents from remote computer archives. It describes the
equipment needed to use E-mail, and shows how advisers may use
individualized telematics to obtain, verify and distribute information.
What Is Electronic Mail, and What Can I Do With It?
Electronic mail (E-mail) is the core of telematics. E-mail is basically the
sending of a message from one computer to another. It may be a brief memo
typed directly on an E-mail system, or a lengthy document composed earlier
with a word-processor and "uploaded" from a micro to an E-mail system for
E-mail is always in digital, or computerized, format. E-mail is sometimes
confused with Telefax. Fax communication, where data on sheets of paper
is transmitted by telefax machines through telephone lines, is not
"E-mail," though the technology may seem similar. Electronic mail is more
versatile. E-mail can often be sent to a fax machine or telex terminal,
for offices who are not yet on E-mail but do have a fax or telex. A fax
machine can only transmit to other fax machines.
Microcomputers can also be fitted with "fax boards" which enable the micro
to both send digital faxes to, and receive them from, other fax boards and
dedicated fax machines. Microcomputers can combine communications modes
which would otherwise require separate, costly equipment. Micros are
E-mail has two basic functions. An E-mail note may be information for a
person using the computer at the receiving end, or it may be a command for
the receiving computer itself to perform a task automatically. The latter
might be an E-mail retrieval command sent to a remote computer on which
documents have been archived. You might tell the computer to send you one
(or all) of these documents. First, if you were not already familiar with
the archives, you would probably tell it to send you a list of what
documents are available for you to get.
How to Retrieve a Document From a Remote Computer Archive
A remote computer archive is one of the services that has been provided by
NAFSA's Inter-L since 1988. This service exists now, is free of charge,
and is instantly available to any adviser with an EMail connection to the
"Internet" the worldwide network of interconnected E-mail systems. How
does it work?
The "home" of Inter-L is "VTVM2" a computer at Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, near Washington,
D.C. VPI&SU has generously helped NAFSA develop its E-mail communications
network. Anyone who sends the three-word E-mail message, "Get Inter-L
Filelist," to VTVM2 will receive in return (normally within 2-3 minutes
from Finland) a complete list of all document files which have been
archived for automatic retrieval from Inter-L.
You would see that one of the files on this list is "NAFSANET Directry"
(filenames may have only 8 characters!), the electronic mail addresses of
NAFSA members, catalogued by institution and country. If you wished to
have a copy of this directory, you would simply send the message "Get
NAFSANET Directry" back to VTVM2, and in a few minutes you would have
received in your electronic mailbox the entire directory file.
Messages can be sent at any time, independently of local working hours,
holidays, or international time zones. VTVM2 operates 24 hours a day, 365
days a year. Whenever it receives a message, it will automatically
respond. No human assistance is necessary. Whatever files you request
will be sent to your own electronic "mailbox." The next time you check
your mailbox (which may be minutes, hours or days later), you will see a
note saying "You Have 'X' Mail Messages." You may then proceed to read
your E-mail at a time convenient for your schedule.
Advantages of Electronic Mail
Several of the advantages of electronic mail might already be apparent.
One is that it is extremely fast, particularly for communications with
other countries. A second is that it is largely independent of different
world time zones. One no longer has to worry about staying late to phone
someone 11 time zones away, only to find the person you want still asleep
or in the shower. With E-mail, you send the message when it is convenient
for you, and the recipients read and respond when it is convenient for
From my office in Finland, I often E-mail requests for information to the
U.S. at the end of the day. Finland is 10 hours ahead of California. My
request would arrive before the beginning of the working day in San
Francisco. A reply might be sent from San Francisco during the day. This
response would be waiting in my electronic mailbox when I arrive at my
office the next morning.
But the advantages of E-mail are greater than simply speed and convenience.
One of the most important benefits is that letters or documents received
via E-mail are useable with one's own word- processor. E-mail files arrive
in digital (computerized) form, just like the files we create with our
word-processors. Unlike with faxed information, where we would need to
re-type the data in order to use it in our own documents, an E-mail file
can be retrieved into a word-processor, any necessary editing done, and a
revised document printed minutes later.
The reverse applies for sending E-mail messages. To send a long
word-processed document I have produced, I do not have to print it first,
and then spend half an hour feeding pages into a fax machine. I can E-mail
the digital file directly from my computer, with significant savings in
both my time, and paper and printing costs. I also save the cost of the
E-mail is also ideal for quick and inexpensive mass distributions: it is as
easy to send an E-mail file to 100 persons as it is to send it to one. The
E-mail "address" I use may be that of a single user, or it may be a special
"list" of an unlimited number of users which I have created and saved. By
E-mailing a file to either an individual address or an individual list of
many addresses, I can distribute it to either one or many recipients, with
no extra time or work.
E-Mail Can Provide Remarkable Cost Savings
E-mail is remarkably cost-effective. As one is actually only sending and
receiving small units of electricity, there is an immediate savings of
postal costs for paper, envelopes, and stamps. One saves on Fax costs by
eliminating printing time and cost, and gaining in the "useability" of the
electronic file. Moreover, the telephone connection for E-mail access is
usually only a local call, compared to the cost of a direct long-distance
or international call required for Fax access.
E-mail is also more precise and cost-efficient than telephone
conversations. More (and more accurate) detail can be sent in written,
machine-usable form, without the normal telephone time wastage of getting
the right person to the phone on the other end, waiting while he searches
for the information you need, and then listening to inquiries about the
weather or your health while your phone bill is rocketing ever upward.
Sound too good to be true? What in fact does E-mail cost, and what
equipment or other resources does one need to use it?
Equipment Needed For Electronic Mail
Beginning an E-mail connection is often simple. If you now have a
microcomputer and telephone in your office, you already have most of what
you need for E-mail. Only two things are missing: a "modem" to connect the
computer and telephone, and "communications software" to send and receive
messages. Both modems and software are easily and inexpensively
A modem connects your computer to the telephone system. "Modem" is an
acronym for "MOdulate/DEModulate." The modem modulates ("changes") the
digital signals from your computer into precise sound-signals which are
transmitted over a telephone line. At the receiving end, another modem
will "demodulate" these sounds back into digital form for the receiving
One can purchase internal modems (which fit inside the computer) or
external modems (which stand outside the computer). Both work the same.
You connect your modem to the computer, and telephone to the modem. All
telephone signals will then go through the modem. The phone will work
normally except when you wish to use the modem. Your computer does not
need to be turned on for the phone to work normally. You only need to
turn on the modem when you wish to use it.
Most modems today have speeds of either 1200bps or 2400bps, with "bps"
meaning how many "bits, or pieces of data, per second can be transmitted.
A 2400bps modem is preferable for three reasons. At full speed, the
transmission time is sigificantly faster and more cost-effective. Even at
less than full speed, (2400 bps modems automatically switch to 1200 or
300bps if the "receiving" modem is slower), 2400bps modems have greater
accuracy due to their more advanced technology. And the technology of
2400bps modems allows them to operate with both the U.S. "Bell" and
international "CCITT" telephone standards, for which separate 1200bps
modems might otherwise be necessary.
High-quality 2400bps modems are available in the U.S. for as low as
$150.00. Prices may be higher if purchased outside the U.S., or if
special models are needed to match your computer or telephone system,
though standard modems are usually readily available for all common
computer models and telephones.
The communications software enables your computer to use the modem, and
allows you to transfer E-mail files between computers. One of the most
common communications programs, the "Kermit" software developed by
Columbia University in New York, is free, and may usually be obtained from
your nearby university computing center or local computer users' group.
Commercial communications software includes such names as "ProComm,
"SmartCom," and "BitCom." Communications software is often included in
the purchase price of a modem.
Connection to an Electronic Mail System
Once you have the necessary hardware and software, you will need to
subscribe to an electronic mail service system. Such systems are the
physical structures which connect all the different computers and
individual users into a unified network, just as telephone company
services connect individual phone users. Depending on your country and
institutional affiliation, there may be a variety of systems and costs
from which to choose.
The backbone of international electronic mail systems is the "Internet," a
combination of thousands of different, individual E-mail systems which use
the same technical standards and may all exchange messages with each
other. Since the Internet is predominately a university-based network for
the exchange of teaching and research data, university-based advisers will
usually be able to establish an E-mail connection very easily. In
principle, anyone in a university may obtain Internet access just by
asking for it (if you already have a computer to connect), and the service
is completely free. E-mail users do not have to pay for either incoming or
One's electronic mailbox has a unique name on one of the systems connected
to the Internet, such as Bitnet/EARN, NetNorth, GulfNet, Arpanet, or
UUCP. Sometimes mailboxes have alternate "names." My mailbox address is
"Hopkins@FINFUN (FINland; Finnish University Network)" on EARN (the
European Academic & Research Network), or "Hopkins@CSC.FI" (CSC =
Center For Scientific Computing, the Finnish National SuperComputing
Center; and FI = Finland) on the Internet. The "@" sign means "at" in
E-mail addressing. "Hopkins@FINFUN" means (and is pronounced as) the
mailbox of "user" Hopkins "at" the FINFUN computer.
Most OSEAS advisers currently on E-mail are university-based, and have free
access through an academic network. However, a number of Fulbright
Advising Offices have established "guest" accounts through a nearby
university, which provides the account to the Fulbright Commission either
free of charge or at very low cost.
If your advising office works closely with local universities or the
Ministry of Education (which often subsidize national university E-mail
networks), it is worth checking whether a guest account can be
established. This may be the simplest and least expensive way of
connecting into an E-mail system.
Commercial Electronic Mail Services
There are also commercial E-mail services, available through private
corporations or national Postal and Telecommunications Authorities.
Regardless of who provides the service, as long as it has a "bridge" to
the Internet, it should function perfectly for all E-mail functions. The
only differences will be user cost and ease of operation.
The services of telecommunications corporations such as MCI Mail, Telenet,
and CompuServe are also available outside the U.S. One might subscribe,
for example, to CompuServe, which would provide you an individual
electronic mailbox on its international network for a small subscription
fee (currently $10 monthly outside the U.S., free inside the U.S.). You
could connect to this mailbox to send or receive E-mail, using your
computer and modem, from almost any telephone in any country.
CompuServe and other such corporations may offer "on-line services" in
addition to basic E-mail. One may access databases and special-interest
bulletin boards, make airline reservations, purchase goods to be delivered
by mail to your home from on-line catalogs, or check international news
and weather or the latest currency exchange rates. Educational resources
such as the Peterson's College Guides are also available on CompuServe;
the Guides can be searched and the desired information retrieved.
Each such service would have an on-line fee, billed monthly to your
account, based on the number of minutes you used it. On top of the
user-time charges and basic subscription fee would be the cost of your
phone connection to the service itself.
If one only uses electronic mail, and not the on-line services, the costs
are low. One pays only for the outgoing messages that one sends, not for
incoming messages others send to you (or documents which you request to be
sent). Costs of outgoing messages are low, pennies per page.
E-mail messages may take many forms. Basic E-mail may be sent to persons at
other electronic mailboxes to read, or to computers as requests to send
you something. Some systems also allow E-mail messages to be sent to fax
machines or telex terminals, for offices who are not yet on E-mail but do
have a fax or a telex. E-mail communications are amazingly adaptable.
Your national Postal and Telecommunications Authority (PTL) can advise you
what E-mail systems are available in your country. Nearby university
computing centers and local banks, businesses, and computer users' clubs
may also be of help.
MicroSIG, though a project with the International Office of the University
of Michigan, is currently cataloging E-mail connection information for
countries outside the U.S., and this catalog will be made available to
NAFSA and OSEAS.
The NAFSA "Inter-L" Electronic Forum
Once you have established an E-mail connection, you may wish to subscribe
to the "Inter-L" electronic forum run by MicroSIG for NAFSA. Inter-L is
completely free of cost, and open to any international educator or
adviser, whether or not a member of NAFSA or OSEAS. And what is
"Inter-L," you might ask?
xInter-L is a "list-server" running on the Bitnet/EARN system on the
"VTVM2" computer at VPI&SU. A list-server is a computer program that
automatically manages the distribution of mail to a certain "list" of
subscribers. The E-mail address of the "listserver" itself is
"Listserv@VTVM2" (remember, 8 characters, thus no "e" on "Listserv"). The
list-server software can manage dozens of different lists simultaneously.
The E-mail address of the Inter-L list is "Inter-L@VTVM2".
To join the Inter-L list, just send a short E-mail message to
"Listserv@VTVM2" saying "SUB Inter-L your name." The VTVM2 listserver
software would then automatically add your name to the Inter-L list. From
then on, any message sent to "Inter-L@VTVM2" would automatically be
distributed to ALL subscribers on the Inter-L list (currently over 400
Recipients of your message may choose to respond only and directly to you
(your E-mail address is automatically provided by the system when you send
a message) or else back to the list, in which case all 400 subscribers
(including you) would get the response(s) as well as the original message.
The names and E-mail addresses of all persons subscribed to the list can be
retrieved from the listserver at any time. By selecting from these
individual addresses (or those of others who are on E-mail but not on this
list) you are able either to mail separate messages to individual(s) on
the list, or mail one message to the entire list.
Inter-L can be very useful for advisers' questions. A client may ask for
advice on a field which is new to you. "Where can one study this? What
are the requirements and costs?" The answers are not in your reference
books. Your client needs the answers quickly. Where do you turn for
You could send these questions to Inter-L to be distributed to the
entire subscription list. The chances are good that some of the 400+
Inter-L readers, who are experienced exchange advisers with different
specialties, would know the answer and respond. The next day you may have
15 responses to your questions, from which you can compare and combine the
results, and pass them on to your colleagues and clients. Should you wish
to verify your synthesis of the different responses, one command could
relay your interpretation back to the 15 "experts" for comment.
Such querying of a list of "electronic colleagues" may often be the only
practical means of determining or verifying quickly information that is
new or recently-revised, or details which are unavailable in standard
educational exchange references. Further, the value of such rapid
networking for planning regional workshops or publishing (electronic?)
newsletters is obvious.
Standard Services Provided by Inter-L
What standard services does Inter-L provide? Each week NAFSA prepares
for Inter-L a "Weekly Update," a summary of governmental activity related
to international exchange, pending legislation, proposed and actual
changes in immigration and visa regulations, news from the USIA and State
Department, and interpretations of and answers to often-asked government
regulations questions. These Updates arrive in Inter-L subscriber
mailboxes seconds after they leave Washington. Much of the information
will not be published, for reasons of time and cost, in paper forms such
as the NAFSA Newsletter.
U.S. State Department Travel Advisories are posted and updated regularly
for countries where travel may be endangered. Inter-L is also a forum for
job openings, announcements of forthcoming conferences, calls for grant
proposals, and other information of general interest to NAFSAns.
But perhaps the main value is the rapid information "networking" enabled
by E-mail and the Listserv. Advisers may ask about credentials
equivalencies, check the status of "unknown" institutions, receive news of
personnel or fax number changes the different universities or sponsoring
agencies, or relay information quickly in emergency situations, such as
with China in June 1989, or more recently with Kuwaiti and other students
from the Persian Gulf area.
Inter-L also archives dozens of reference documents in a broad range of
international education fields which can be retrieved at any time of the
day or night. These include the NAFSANet and NAFSAFax directories,
taxation guidelines for foreign students and scholars, and contact
information for some 500 overseas advisers in the OSEAS Advisory Database.
Further documents of general interest are being added continuously.
An electronic archive such as Inter-L's also would be very useful for the
specialized subject-field and other advising documents in demand by
advising offices worldwide. It is possible that the near future will
include an "OSEAS-L" list, or a series of lists specialized by advising
fields or geographic regions.
E-Mail and Telematics in Future Advising
Electronic mail is the foundation of telematics. E-mail is a powerful
resource, yet simple and inexpensive to use. By helping advisers obtain
and distribute more information more efficiently, it enables the advising
profession to serve more capably.
More importantly, telematics is vital to the future of advising. Resources
such as the TRACE (Trans-Regional Academic Mobility and Credential
Evaluation Information Network) database, which is already in operation,
assume (and require) an E-mail capability for access. Powerful telematic
resources of the future, such as the NAFSA "KnowledgeBase," may be
available only by direct electronic connection. E-mail is already of
significant value for advisers, but in future an increasing amount of the
best and quickest information may not be available except by E-mail.
Electronic mail and telematics are tools on which much of our future
advising work will be based. Our preparation for this future should begin
in the present, by enabling E-mail to become one of your most effective