The Technologist's Advising Curriculum

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Restructuring advising is a critical part of completion-oriented reform efforts. The use of new technologies and integrated systems is helping us to rethink how advising is best delivered and experienced. A modern, high functioning advising program must now develop, implement, and evaluate a wide range of both technology-mediated and in-person interventions if it is to have measurable impact on student performance and progress.

This seems to be a good moment to review all of our available delivery strategies as they relate to core advising functions — not only to understand what interventions make a difference, but what combination of coordinated interventions might be most powerful, and potentially most transformative.

Now more than ever, advising is under pressure to produce a variety of outcomes. Some advising professionals have had mixed experiences with integrated systems, and in the early phases we do not yet see a full transfer of service-oriented advising functions to systems, as systems' reliability, caseload, and institutional readiness for adoption have been issues.

Even when reliable and adopted, iPASS functions might not yet have the capacity to assume enough of the 'informational' yet still complex advising functions. As a result, we currently expect advising to be simultaneously a) service-oriented by pushing out information to 'passive' students, as well as b) learning-centered and developmental (Winston, Ender & Miller, 1982) by pulling information from students through the 'active', dialog-based discussion needed for student development. Given our increasing expectations of advising, it would be useful to look at every possible form of advising intervention — both 'push' and 'pull' — and to view integrated systems as only one of the possible interventions that make best use of technology and people.

Ultimately, the goal of any technology is to free valuable advising face-time for richer exchange. Perhaps too much has been expected of integrated systems to deliver or support the transformative experience, and an alternate focus should be placed on the development of an advising curriculum that instead blends multiple technologies and points of coordinated 'informational' and 'interactive' contact.

Seeing the Big Picture in Advising

Many of our virtual interventions were developed and deployed as they became available and now co-exist with or are beginning to be supported by integrated systems. Because of this, not much time has been spent understanding how all of our available and new platforms could be leveraged holistically to create a truly comprehensive and dynamic advising curriculum. We tend to use all avenues for all things when in fact, some platforms and systems are better for some efforts than others.

Push advising platforms do an excellent job of 'telling' and 'showing' by pushing out information on static resources such as necessary requirements, rules, and regulations. They can be used to address the most critical informational needs like describing requirements, clarifying policy, providing instructions, alerting students to approaching deadlines, informing students of new opportunities, inviting students to events, and even in some cases, helping to orient new students to campus.

Integrated systems help, as they give us yet another way to expediently push out information through planning, tracking and early alert capabilities. In addition, some forms of social media can do an excellent job of reminding students of deadlines, while other online platforms can be used to describe requirements (webinar and even podcasts), to clarify policy (website), and to inform students of new opportunities (email). If these push platforms are coordinated and used consistently, they can perform a critical role in delivering basic content (freeing the in-person interaction for deeper exchange).

Pull platforms do a better job of providing personalized attention by putting the student in the active learner seat. For example, these platforms can be constructed to provide opportunities in a number of ways:

  • for dialog and reflection (through in-person appointments, advising courses, group workshops, advising homework);
  • for community building (Facebook and other forms of interactive social media);
  • and in support of the deeper work of personalizing the educational experience (academic counseling).

If 'push' and 'pull' platforms are working in tandem, an organized advising curriculum consistent with the dual functions of the continuum takes shape as seen below.

pull/push continuum schematic

This new construct is more deeply learning-centered because it effectively balances and coordinates the 'push' and 'pull' activities of advising and offers greater opportunities for introspection, connection and meaning-making during the now (mostly) free-of-housekeeping-chores (fingers crossed!) in-person interaction.

This much more organized, balanced and even elegant form of delivering advising — combined with powerful analytics that help us identify students who need extra attention at the right time — can help us determine where we must focus our valuable resources and have greater potential to transform advising. New opportunities for expanding under-developed but potentially rich platforms like advising courses and related reflective 'homework' that does a better job of pre-and post-appointment preparation and integration of in-person interaction also begin to emerge. In addition, the student will have a much better sense of what advising has to offer and where to find important information if we map it for them, in ways that makes it easier for them to manage both simple and complex needs.

The Road Ahead: A 'Win-Win' for Students & Institutions

Successful advising programs no longer begin as a simple question of how well-integrated systems and individual, in-person sessions are working; rather, it involves a significantly more complex task of developing and coordinating multiple, tiered technology-mediated and in-person interventions.

I remain an optimist about the potential of integrated systems to create a more informed and self-directed student, and to provide better analytics so that earlier, more highly differentiated interventions become possible. I am also deeply optimistic that most advisors want to use their time for developmental work as opposed to service-focused transaction. I also see that there are a growing number of powerful advising tools becoming available and that the coordination of these tools is the challenge of the modern, complex advising unit — not the development of a single 'do-it-all' intervention, either in-person or technology mediated.

The issues that impact progress are complex, and the methods for addressing those challenges must also be complex if they are to be most useful.

Elizabeth Wilcox serves as Senior Consultant for Advising at the University of California at Berkeley.