Mark Vegter, Illinois State University
Developing a one credit hour course that teaches students to take ownership of their professional/career goals and develop academic plans of study to meet those goals seems like a dream. This is a dream which can be made real by taking the practice of “advising as teaching and learning” directly into the classroom to establish a foundation for subsequent advising sessions after students have completed the course.
Such a dream is reality in the English department at Illinois State University where in fall 2008 a course was developed, primarily by English department advisors with the guidance and support of the department’s undergraduate curriculum committee. The course is called English 102, Introduction to English Studies Proseminar. This course is the companion to the introduction course to the discipline called English 100, Introduction to English Studies. Taken concurrently with English 100, students are introduced to the complex intellectual and professional aspects of the degree in English Studies and its ensuant careers. Students explore how the English major develops a content base of knowledge and practical skill sets that can be applied to a myriad of occupations. They research and develop personal and career goals, elucidate their plan of study to incorporate their newly developed career goals, and learn how to synthesize their goals, plan of study, and major skill sets to achieve their post graduate objectives.
This structured proseminar is a blend of a freshman year experience course, transfer year experience course, career exploration course, and academic advising. All newly admitted students, regardless of class, are required to take this course which is also a pre-requisite for most upper division major classes. The course is divided into four primary units which start with academic success strategies. Students work on success plans which detail how they intend to achieve success by balancingcoursework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and free time.
The second unit focuses on learning about themselves through a series of personal inventory instruments which help delineate their strengths, interests, and work values. Students then connect inventory results to the skill sets they will learn by completing a degree in English as outlined in the Department of English Goals Statement. They then engage in several career research activities to work through which jobs meet the desired criteria for English majors while also matching their own work values and personal interests to those careers. The culminating assignment for this unit is crafting a professional goal statement which details their post graduate goals and how they came about establishing those goals through their research.
In the third unit students create a comprehensive plan of study which details everything they need to do to complete their Bachelor of Arts degree in English and the order in which they will take the classes. Students also research the English department’s faculty and course offerings to ensure the major electives they choose, roughly half the hours in the major, are appropriate courses to help them achieve their professional goals. For example, students going into law may include English 283, Rhetorical Theory and Applications in their plan. This course helps students learn the art of persuasion, constructing arguments, and how to apply rhetorical theory to contemporary culture and media, all important skills for lawyers. The beauty of this assignment is that the focus is on the process of developing a plan, which advisors know will change as students proceed through their program, and not on the end result of the plan itself. Students learn how to substitute courses to meet both degree requirements and their overall professional/career goals without panicking when a course in the original plan does not work out.
The fourth and last unit includes three components focused on developing a positive online presence. First, students learn to write effective cover letters and resumes. Second, students investigate their chosen profession by interviewing professionals in the field, learn about professional organizations, or job shadow in careers they described in their professional goal statements. Third, students learn how to use online utilities (e.g., blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter©, Facebook©) that can enhance or harm their online presence. After conversing with professionals in the field, they revisit their professional goals to make sure their interests, work values, and skill sets are a match for what employers want and need. If necessary, they revise their plans of study to match their updated goals. The culminating assignment for this unit asks students to develop action plans for developing a positive professional online presence.
Since all enrolled students are English majors, once class is complete, English department advisors continue to work with them through graduation. The English 102 course has directly affected advising services activities within the department. Student traffic the first two weeks of each term has dropped 75 percent from the pre-English 102 time period. Pre-English 102, most student traffic dealt with adding and changing courses, skills students have learned to do in an informed way through the course. Advising appointments throughout the year are much more fruitful as the focus is elaborating upon students’ professional/career goals and discussing academic success strategies rather than on the rudimentary practice of advisors as course schedulers. Even so, students still come to us with the idea that advising is course selection. In fact, some are annoyed when we teach them how to develop a plan of study as opposed to doing it for them. A key element to a course like English 102 is that we teach students to become a community of diverse learners in an advising/career context. This course counters the notion that students are consumers and advisors are customer service agents who only do what is necessary to make their clients happy, in this case pick classes for them.
As we live this dream in advising practices, the time before we taught English 102 seems like a distant nightmare.
Assistant to the Chair
Department of English
Illinois State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Vegter, M. (2011, December). Advising as teaching: Putting theory into practice. Academic Advising Today, 34
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