Becky Ryan, 2009 NACADA Summer Institute Faculty Member
Advising is a multifaceted profession with a multitude of personalities, perspectives, philosophies, and needs. It should be no surprise then that there is much variety in how we define our roles and design our programming. While there may be much discussion among advisors regarding the “what,” “why,” and “how” of advising, there is agreement on one point: there is a greater demand for advising than there are advisors to meet it. That, combined with the very real economic challenges facing most institutions and growing advising caseloads, finds advisors considering alternative ways to meet student needs. One popular approach for dealing with this challenge is group advising.
Often the most cost effective methods of academic advising can be delivered via group methodologies. The use of multiple delivery methods offers additional ways for meeting student needs as well as increasing student retention. Nutt (2000) noted that using groups in advising also offers the advantage of connecting “students to a peer group and a mentor. These connections are invaluable in establishing a student’s sense of belonging to the institution” (p. 235). Nevertheless, group advising presents unique challenges for advisors.
Working with Students in Groups
Group advising should not be a phenomenon driven solely by expediency. Much has been written about the positive nature of using groups. Richard Light (2001) stated that 'to learn from one another, students with different backgrounds and from different racial and ethnic groups must interact' (p. 190). Group advising may have a strong normative influence. That is, it has the potential to bring students on the extreme of various continua toward a safer middle ground on attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs regarding their education. Especially with first-generation college students, there is a tendency to have extreme attitudes toward educational goals: extreme vocationalism, extreme individualism, or extreme disengagement. Group advising provides these students with the opportunity to interact with students who have less extreme viewpoints, listen to their questions, and view their interest in learning about academic options. This can provide a positive experience that can never be achieved within individual advising sessions. “Students who participate in group advising appreciate the opportunity to interact with peers as well as with an advisor. The feeling of not being alone is a powerful by-product of the group experience” (King, 2000).
Whether the decision to use a group approach is driven by necessity, content, variety, or the need to build community, group advising, when done well, can offer an excellent addition to the advising “tool box” of programming. The “advising as teaching” model logically connects to working with groups. Certainly, many advising events lend themselves ideally to a group process: orientation, freshman seminars, capstone courses, freshman interest groups (FIGS), learning communities in residence halls, pre-enrollment meetings, and common reading discussions, to name a few.
Discover the Advisor Within: How to be effective when working with groups
Advisors can learn to be effective when they advise students in groups. The benefit of groups is that the very thing that makes them challenging can also be their greatest asset: the broad application of what constitutes ‘group advising’ means that virtually anything can fit here. Big or small, informational or relational, advisors are only limited by their imaginations. This means that in order to be effective with groups, we must understand our strengths. That, paired with a solid understanding of our preferred ways to present information, are the two most important ‘tools’ needed. The question becomes do we prefer meeting around a small table with groups of five? Or, do we shine when standing on a platform in front of 1400?
The good news for experienced advisors is that we can naturally distill the experiences gained from individual advising into an understanding of what we must cover in the group process. We also know when a student response or question is typical or atypical and can respond accordingly. The less encouraging news for inexperienced advisors is that group advising will be more challenging than individual advising appointments. Inexperienced advisors should enlist the help of more experienced advisors before embarking on their first group advising mission (Woolston and Ryan, 2007, p.119-123).
To best utilize a group approach, advisors must consider a few key elements:
- Incorporate the principles of developmental advising.
- Choose material that is concise, engaging, and will be helpful to the student.
- Identify the purpose of the group advising event. Is it intended to be informational? Or does the event fall under the relational category where discussions, team builders, and lots of hands on activities characterize the general approach?
- Use a student-centered process that emphasizes shared responsibility.
- Select a time for the event. There is some magic involved in selecting times for group type activities. Tap the planning experts on campus, e.g., student activity organizers, to find out what times to avoid or consider.
To help ensure success:
- Involve the right constituents for planning. These could be advisors, counselors, administrators, faculty, students, guest speakers, entertainers, and more!
- Enlist allies for promotion, collaboration, and feedback.
- Decide on the size of the group. Consider the material to be covered and the amount of activity and/or one-on-one advisor access needed. These will be helpful when establishing group numbers.
- Select a central location large enough to hold the group and any break-out sessions needed.
- Build in interaction activities so that students participate in the process.
- Select a time for the event that takes into consideration student patterns.
- Remember that students like food. Often the presence of food is cited as a main consideration whether students attend a group meeting. (Note: Woolston and Ryan provide a step-by-step guide for planning group advising sessions on p. 120 of The New Advisor Guidebook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year and beyond.)
Group advising is not a replacement for traditional academic advising, but rather should be used to enhance an existing program. Using groups presents the opportunity for advisors to intentionally provide information in a most efficient and time sensitive way. Deciding to use groups is easier said than done.
While most can agree that groups could play a proactive role in an advising setting, doing groups well takes a different kind of magic. There is a wide range of considerations involved in choosing how and when to use groups. Advisors must have serious discussions regarding how to utilize groups in their situation. Advisors in small or solo units should discuss group advising options with colleagues in similar positions at their institution or with colleagues on one of the NACADA sponsored listservs.
Ultimately, the success of any group advising program is dependant on multiple variables but advisors must include an honest assessment of their personality styles, knowledge of the material, and confidence levels if a group advising event is to be a success. But even considering all of these variables, group advising is an important delivery method that can allow advisors to manage student contact and information delivery in efficient and effective ways.
University of Wisconsin
Note: The author would like to acknowledge Jane Larsen, North Island College, BC, Canada for her useful insight and support for this article.
Folsom, Pat and Chamberlain, B. (Eds.). (2007). The New Advisor Guidebook: Mastering the Art of Advising Through the First Year and Beyond (NACADA Monograph No. 16). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.
King, Nancy. (2000). Advising students in groups. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, and Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A Comprehensive handbook. (p. 236). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Light, R.J. (2001). Making the most of college: Students speak their minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
National Academic Advising Association. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Concept-Advising.htm
Nutt, C.L. (2000). One-to-one advising. In V.N. Gordon and W.R. Habley, Academic advising: A Comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Woolston, D.C. and Ryan, R.J. (2007). Group advising. In Folsom, P. The New advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year and beyond. (pp. 119 – 123). Manhattan, KS: NACADA.
Cite this article using APA style as: Ryan, B. (2010, March). Integrating group advising into a comprehensive advising program. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]