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Gail Stepina, University of New Hampshire  Gail Stepina.jpg

College administrators and faculty are responsible for making academic, programmatic and financial decisions that can greatly impact an advising program. The practice of academic advising can be misunderstood by those who do not function in an advising role. Thus, it is essential that advisors interpret the ‘story’ of an advising program in ways that are informative and of interest to decision makers.

This article outlines a strategic and thematic approach to communicating the story of an academic advising program and is a summary of a concurrent session presented at the 2006 NACADA Annual Conference (Stepina, Bishop and Wible, 2006). The approach was successfully implemented by the presenters at their institution in 2005.

Differences between Advisors and Key Audiences

Often, higher education professionals do not have the time to become fully aware of the day-to-day work of their colleagues. As a result, information asymmetry may occur, in which two or more individuals have very different information about a problem, situation or relationship (Wible, 2006). This can create a dynamic in which faculty, administrators and professional staff are incompletely informed about each others’ work. Such a dynamic can be problematic for advisors who need key decision makers to fully understand the advising role.

While non-advisors may realize that advisors advise, they may lack a clear understanding regarding the scope and depth of advising activities. For example, while advisors understand that study abroad advising may involve several extended conversations with a student pre- and post- travel abroad, a non-advisor may perceive that a brief meeting to sign forms is all that is required to adequately address the situation.

Professional advisors and faculty may use different professional language and vocabulary, and often have had different academic experiences. For example, faculty and deans are familiar with terms such as ‘teaching, research and service’ that are used to evaluate tenure. However, many professional advisors do not teach in a classroom or conduct research and service in the same way as faculty. While advisors know that advising IS teaching, with its own pedagogy, non-advising faculty may not view it as such.

Components of a Story

The emphasis of a story should be the development of a program overview, grounded in the details of professional activities and functions of the advising program. Professional activities include all work of an advisor, e.g. academic planning, responding to emails, helping students change majors, consulting with faculty, conducting orientation programs. Advising activities will vary depending on the functions of the particular program.

If possible, advisors should enlist the help of key allies. A respected faculty member, for example, can provide additional input and credibility. Ensure that there is adequate time to communicate and gain full support from an ally prior to communicating the story to the audience. It may be helpful to schedule several conversations with the ally in order to discuss philosophy, goals and practice of advisor work. Also, the ally can provide valuable feedback and perspectives on terminology useful in communicating the story. If enlistment of an ally is not possible, seek general input from several individuals within the key audience group. Another alternative may be to seek input from individuals outside of the audience, who may have valuable knowledge.

Utilize NACADA resources, such as the Concept of Academic Advising (NACADA, 2006) and the NACADA Statement of Core Values (NACADA, 2004), to explain academic advising in the educational terms likely to resonate with faculty and administration. Information to consider includes:

  • Academic advising is part of the educational process and has its own pedagogy, which includes interpreting the meaning of higher education, the institution’s mission and curricula.
  • Advising utilizes theories from the fields of education, social sciences and humanities.
  • Advisors use informational, relational, and conceptual skills in their practice.
  • The goals of academic advising are to engage students in learning, promote students’ academic success, foster students’ personal and intellectual growth, promote application to citizenship and lifelong learning.

Provide numerical data about the program since faculty and deans rely heavily on data during decision making. Include the total number of: students advised in a year, internal and external transfers, students advised from areas outside the designated department, and students in each advisor’s case load. Reference Habley’s (2004) work in the ACT study that found that the average advisor load is 285.

Identify aspects to the advisor role in a one page document. Advisor activities can be numerous and varied. This can present the challenge to demonstrate the scope and depth of activities without overwhelming the intended audience. The author and her colleagues designed a tool that clearly, yet simply, communicates an overview of the advisor role.

The tool is a two-sided Excel matrix with 37Advisor Activities listed in the far left column. Activities will vary in number and type related to advisor role and function within the program, but the tool can be utilized with any advising program ( e.g., athlete, international, multicultural, or undeclared). Activities may include: academic planning, changing majors, emails, file notes, consults with faculty, graduation certification, Web site update, staff training, etc. A sample matrix can be viewed at: http://wsbe.unh.edu/WSBE_Advising/advising_graph.pdf.

Listed at the top of six columns are major categories that are analogous to faculty’s teaching, research and service evaluation components. Each advisor activity involves aspects of one or more of the categories: Advising, Communication, Programs, Preparation and Planning, Committees, and Administration. Categories and definitions may vary, depending on the program.

Where activity and category columns intersect, the advisor records the total hours of time spent on each activity during the year. Every advisor in the program must estimate how many hours per year are spent on the activity related to each major category.

The amount of an individual’s work hours during one year may be calculated at 2,000 hours per person (50 weeks of work X 40 hours per week). After estimating the hours involved in each advisor’s work activity, a total estimation can be demonstrated. If two advisors total work time equals 6,000 hours, for example, the data provides evidence that a third full-time advisor position is needed.

A second Excel document, an annual calendar of advising program activities, can provide another view of advisor work in which a yearly and semester pattern can be demonstrated. A sample may be viewed at: http://wsbe.unh.edu/WSBE_Advising/advising_cal1.pdf. For the color legend of the calendar, go to: http://wsbe.unh.edu/WSBE_Advising/advising_cal2.pdf.

Communicating the Story

All of the components should be combined into PowerPoint slides that can be presented in approximately fifteen minutes. Provide copies of the slides to the audience, along with copies of the matrix and annual calendar. The ally should be a visible participant in the presentation. Include separate slides to identify and briefly explain each major category. A concise explanation of the concepts and goals of academic advising should be part of the presentation, as well. Leave time for comments and questions.

Conclusion

The story of an academic advising program is a complex and important one to tell. Advising can be negatively affected by the academic and financial decisions of those who may have limited understanding of advising. It is a time consuming effort to catalog every advising activity completed throughout a year. However, unless this task is done, others may not fully discern the complexity of advisors’ roles. Additionally, the exercise provides advisors with an opportunity to examine their work and program goals. Completion of the task can lead to discussions of methods to increase overall effectiveness and outcomes. Estimations must be carefully calculated so that they appear reasonable to the audience. Some audiences may not trust estimations; however, this is when support of a respected ally can be very important.

The expected outcomes of communicating the story of an academic advising program on campus are:

  • realignment of the perceptions of decision makers,
  • creation of a clearer understanding of advisors’ work and the advising program,
  • increased respect for the advising profession within an institution,
  • appreciation for the complexity and value of academic advisors, and
  • improved communication among advisors, faculty and administrators.

Gail Stepina
Whittemore School of Business and Economics
University of New Hampshire
gail.stepina@unh.edu

References

Habley, W.R. (2004). Advisor Load. Retrieved May 9, 2004, from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web Site:http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/advisorload.htm

NACADA. (2006). National Academic Advising Association concept of academic advising. Retrieved February 24, 2006, fromhttp://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Concept-Advising.htm

NACADA. (2004). NACADA Statement of Core Values of Academic Advising. Retrieved April 21, 2005, from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Core-Values.htm

Stepina, G., Bishop, P., and Wible, J.R., (2006). Communicating the Story of an Academic Advising Program. Concurrent session presented at the 2006 National Academic Advising Association Conference, Indianapolis, IN.

Wible, J.R. (May 2005). A term usually used in relation to Economic models. (Personal communication).

Cite this article using APA style as: Stepina, G. (2007, June). Communicating the story of an academic advising program. Academic Advising Today, 30(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2007 June 30:2

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