Book Reviews

Book by Peter Wolf, Julia Christensen Hughes
Review by Maura M. Reynolds
Director of Academic Advising
Hope College
Holland, Michigan

Academic advising, based in the teaching and learning mission of higher education, is a series of intentional interactions with a curriculum, a pedagogy, and a set of student learning outcomes (NACADA, 2006). 

As we reaffirm the role of academic advising as integral to the teaching and learning missions of our institutions, books written by our faculty colleagues about teaching and learning may suggest approaches that will help us strengthen the connections between academic advising and learning.

Michael Galbraith’s College teaching: Developing perspective through dialogue begins by focusing not on the class, the teaching, or the learning, but rather on the teacher: What does the teacher believe and value?  Understanding ourselves, he writes, is “the core of being a good college teacher (page 1).”  Such advice is not unlike what we heard in the NACADA Webinar (Ensuring Advisor Success:  Mastering the art of advising through the first year of advising and beyond, April 17, 2008) and read in NACADA’s monograph The New advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year of advising and beyond about the importance of developing a “philosophy of advising.”  Galbraith (page 9) simplifies this somewhat daunting task by suggesting we consider five prompts [quoting P. Filene (2005)]

• I bring to teaching [advising] a belief that ______________.
• In the classroom [advising session], I see myself as ____________.
• I believe students are ____________.
• I seek to foster in students ____________.
• I think learning is _____________.

Apart from this helpful tidbit, Galbraith emphasizes that college teaching is about learning, not merely about the transmittal of information, and suggests that we address two questions as we set learning goals: “What will the learners understand and do [because of academic advising]?” and ”How will you and the learners go about achieving these goals?” (page 15). Keeping these questions in mind as we construct learning goals for advising will be useful.  Galbraith’s book is notable for devoting a chapter (Part 8) to academic advising; his is one of the few handbooks for college teachers even to mention, much less devote a chapter to, advising.  This chapter would have been strengthened greatly, however, if Galbraith had focused his learning-centered lens on advising as he does throughout the rest of the book; instead, much of the chapter is devoted to personal and technical skills and qualities advisors should possess. 

Peter Wolf and Julia Christensen Hughes’ Curriculum development in higher education: Faculty driven processes and practices explores curriculum reform and draws from the experience of faculty from several Canadian universities. While much of this edited volume describes specific initiatives, there are a few take-home points for advisors. Harry Hubball and Neil Gold (page 8) encourage faculty to recognize that modifying individual courses without dealing with “the scholarship of curriculum practice” may result in fragmented, unconnected courses (each with a fine set of learning goals, perhaps, but not integrated with other courses).  As we strengthen learning-centered advising, are we focusing on such integrated learning?  As Marc Lowenstein (2007) has reminded us, “An excellent adviser does for students' entire education what the excellent teacher does for a course: helps them order the pieces, put them together to make a coherent whole, so that a student experiences the curriculum not as a checklist of discrete, isolated pieces but instead as a unity, a composition of interrelated parts with multiple connections and relationships.” Hubball and Gold further remind us that we need to inform students about our learning goals and that “cookbook approaches” to curriculum [advising] reform are ineffective; what is needed is scholarly practice (page 9).

The title of Robin M. Smith’s Conquering the content:  A step-by-step guide to online course design accurately reflects the subject matter of her practical and hands-on paperback.  Like Galbraith and Wolf and Christensen Hughes, Smith encourages us to alter our mindset from “teaching” to “learning” (page 11).  Some learning goals for advising may be met through the use of technology (web-based information or course management systems, for example).  Smith suggests that we can break this sort of learning into modules or chunks “what advisees need to know”, “tools to help advisees learn”, “what advisees need to do” (adapted from pages 50-51). Perhaps important learning goals like teaching advisees how to read a schedule or calculate a GPA or run a degree evaluation can best be accomplished using technology.  Smith realizes that teachers (and advisors) try to do it all, to “cover” everything.  Instead, she encourages us to put learning goals into a priority triangle--what must be done (the largest section and base of the triangle); what should be done; what would it be nice to do (the apex of the triangle and its smallest section) (pages 55-56).  Smith often relates her own experiences (both positive and not-so-positive) creating and teaching on-line courses; her honesty is refreshing.  To those who worry that their on-line courses may not have all the “bells and whistles,” she replies, “Whether the course [advising website, course management system]  is appealing is secondary to the need for the learning principles to be in place…Most [students] are not looking to you for their artistic enlightenment for the week” (page 56).

Judith Grunert O’Brien’s The Course syllabus: A Learning-centered approach is a classic, updated in 2008 by Barbara Millis and Margaret Cohen.  I’ve used the first edition working with faculty who were preparing to teach for the first time, and the book has been a wonderful aid as I composed syllabi for the classes I teach. While most advisors may not produce a formal syllabus, the focus on learning goals encourages us to consider how and when our learning goals can be met; how we can effectively support student learning through advising; and what advisees can expect from their advisors--all important pieces of a formal syllabus. How, for example, do students on our campuses learn when and why they should (or must) meet with their advisor? How do they learn about what they might gain from meeting with an advisor? How do advisees and advisors know that an advising session has been “successful”?  Whether we opt for a formal syllabus, a web page, or some other means of communicating learning-centered information, Grunert O’Brien, Millis, and Cohen suggest we include these items (adapted from pages 21-25):

• Who is the advisor?
• How can the advisor be contacted?
• How can appointments be made? Are walk-in times available?
• What is the purpose of advising?
• Why might a student want to meet with an advisor?
• What happens in a typical advising session?
• What learning goals has the advisor set?  Why?  How will they be reached?
• What are the advisor’s responsibilities?
• What are the student’s responsibilities?
• What resources are available--apart from the advisor?

The benefits of giving this information to students (and perhaps to their families as well, especially for traditionally-aged students) are great: students and advisors may understand more clearly their roles and responsibilities; advisors have an early contact with their advisees; students may be more likely to seek out their advisors; students and advisors can measure whether learning goals have been met. Academic advising, especially learning-centered advising, can have a powerful effect on students and their academic success. When students are not aware of what they can learn from advising or when they believe that advising involves class scheduling only, the promise of learning-centered advising cannot be achieved.  

While these four books offer insights helpful for learning-centered advising, none merits a place on advisors’ bookshelves. Instead, I recommend resources at the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources, especially Holly Martin’s Constructing Learning Objectives for Academic Advising.


Filene, P. (2005).  The Joy of teaching. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.

Lowenstein, M (2007).The Curriculum of Academic Advising: What We Teach, How We Teach, and What Students Learn, The Mentor, February 12, 2007, retrieved May 20, 2008, from

Martin, H. (2007). Constructing Learning Objectives for Academic Advising. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

NACADA (2006). National Academic Advising Association, Concept of Academic Advising.  Retrieved May 20, 2008 from

Curriculum development in higher education: Faculty-Driven processes and practices. (2008). Book by Peter Wolf, Julia Christensen Hughes (Eds.). Review by Maura M. Reynolds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 128 pp., $29.00. ISBN# 978-0-470-27851-2
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