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Julie Traxler, Rutgers University 

Julie Traxler.jpgVirginia Gordon (1992) advocated using the telephone as an advising tool, noting that "adviser and student contacts happen in as many settings as many times as the student's needs and the institution's calendar dictate" (p. 63). Since then, Web-based technology has expanded where and how advisors can connect with their students. Media articles have made much of the new phenomenon of the social networking site Facebook © (www.facebook.com), concentrating particularly on privacy, security concerns and bad behavior (Bugeja, 2006; Finder, 2006; Mullin, 2006). With over 10 million users across 40,000 college, high school and work-based networks, Facebook is clearly a large part of students' lives and their connection to our campuses. Few discussions, however, have included how advisors can use Facebook as a tool to enhance advising efforts and the advisor-student relationship.

Serendipitously, Facebook was launched in 2004, coinciding with the publication of advising research that reinforced what many of us suspected all along: students are more concerned with advisor style, including the willingness to develop a relationship, than with specific advising style (Mottarella, Fritzsche & Cerabino, 2004). In 2005, students who were tickled by my questions about Facebook became my guides to the site. When they showed me that new students who had not even registered for classes had created Facebook profiles, I began to wonder how the site might actually expand traditional advising efforts. Below are examples of how I and other advisors have begun to use Facebook and its features to inform, organize, educate and connect with students.

Inform.  Facebook offers two direct profile-to-profile communication options: My Messages for private conversations and The Wall for public postings. I use Messages like email to answer questions about requirements or request that students come see me. I find that students respond more quickly because they check Faceboo k more frequently than their email accounts. Wall messages are public, so they are useful for quick reminders. One new student posted a Status update saying she was feeling overwhelmed by college, so I wrote on her Wall to ask how things were going. We continued the conversation face-to-face, but Facebook had given me access to information about her feelings and an easy way to connect.

My Events is a free option for advertising advising programs, like our recent 'How to Succeed in Business.without a Business Major' panel. Events can be sent as invitations to students in my friendship network and are open to all students browsing for campus events. A new Flyers option is not free, but at $5 for 10,000 postings, costs less than ads in many campus newspapers. Online flyers post along the left side of Facebook pages and can celebrate a birthday, advertise a program, or announce the campus-wide launch of a degree audit program.

Organize. Facebook's Groups function allows anyone to organize participants by a common experience, association or interest. A Group listing includes information about the group, upcoming events, access to discussion boards, and the ability to message group members. Advisors on my campus organize student groups in Facebook to enhance regular group meetings. For tour guides who meet rarely as a full group, the site allows communication for switching tours and answering difficult questions. On campuses with large groups of distance or nontraditional students, an online group organized by major, career interest, or class could help students connect with each other, get questions answered, and feel more connected to the campus community. Many of our Transition seminars for transfer students organize Facebook groups to help those students settle into a large university community.

Advisors can also take advantage of Groups that emerge spontaneously from student interest. By June, over 500 new students to my campus had created and joined almost 10 different Class of 2010 groups: two months before move-in day! Students were posting questions on message boards about placement testing and class scheduling. Who better to answer these questions than an advisor? I also use the Search function to find student profiles and send details about orientation programs to those who had not registered. In October, I revisited the Class of 2010 groups to post information about academic advising opportunities for spring registration.

Educate. Advisors have an obligation to help educate students about the consequences of what they post online. These conversations come more naturally when students know that their advisor is part of their Facebookcommunity. I wrote to one student after reading an online note detailing in harsh language his argument with a coworker. I sympathized with his frustration but pointed out that his posting was not the face that he wanted to present to the community. He responded well to the message and removed the posting. In fact, advisors' presence online may encourage students to self-censor. If students are concerned about what I may see on their profile, then they may think more intentionally about their postings. Since employers are increasingly viewing students' profiles (Finder, 2006), introspection and self-censorship are important lessons.

Connect. Advisors gain an opportunity from Facebook to know and be known as part of the campus community. Interests and hobbies on the profile link to others who share those interests; many students have mentioned our shared love of a book or movie. Others have written to ask about my research interests or my kids, who often appear in my pictures. One colleague announced her son's birth on her Facebook profile and many students posted congratulations on her Wall. Given the time constraints of many advising sessions, this type of connection and knowledge can serve to enhance the advisor-student relationship, a core component in effective developmental advising.

Technology like Facebook can be a tremendous resource for cash- and time-strapped advisors. The uses described above supplement traditional advising for little to no extra cost, but they greatly expand advisor-student contact by bridging distance and time. Virtual sites will never replace face-to-face advising, but if they enable students to connect with advisors in ways which make us more of a resource, we should not ignore this opportunity to expand our educational mission.

Julie Traxler
Rutgers University
traxler@rci.rutgers.edu

The author wishes to thank Jenn Grimm, Annie Seery and Elena Tamanas, the chief architects of her interest in Facebook.

References

Bugeja, M. J. (2006, January 27). Facing the Facebook. The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. C1, C4.

Finder, A. (2006, June 11). For some, online persona undermines a resume. The New York Times. Retrieved on June 12, 2006, from http://www2.csusm.edu/fangfang/Teaching/HTMmaterial/Fall07/Online%20Persona%20Undermines%20Resume.pdf

Gordon, V. N. (1992). Handbook of academic advising. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Mottarella, K. E., Fritzsche, B. A., & Cerabino, K. C. (2004). What do students want in advising? A policy capturing stud. NACADA Journal, 24 (1&2), 48-61.

Mullin, Jenine (2006, June). Facebook and disposition assessment. Academic Advising Today 29(2).

Cite this article using APA style as: Traxler, J. (2007, March). Advising without walls: An introduction to Facebook as an advising tool. Academic Advising Today, 30(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2007 March 30:1

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