An Upstream View of Advising

As of November 1, 2014, the Learning Center, Advising and Career Services, and the Registrar’s Office have been successfully transferred from Enrollment Management and Student Affairs (EMSA) to Academic Affairs.  While there are details still to be worked out, I want to thank all involved for their mutual respect and collaboration during the transition.
You might ask: How will this change allow us to better serve students? What about this change makes it possible, as one colleague put it to me “to realize opportunities to elevate and improve advising practices?”   
Allow me to use a metaphor and a few examples to share some of my thoughts about advising.

Advising is one of many successful student retention and student success strategies at PSU. Advisors help students navigate the rapids, rocks, and still water in the long journey down a complex river. They give advice on the equipment a student needs; they call out when there is danger, help correct course, and yes, even sometimes provide the bucket for bailing when the boat takes on too much water, ride it when it capsizes, or toss out a life preserver when someone goes overboard.
We have recently provided advisors with powerful predictive analytics to give them hidden insights into the patterns of academic success. But I see advising as more than guiding, navigating and tossing out a life preserver.  We have the ability and opportunity to change the characteristics of the river our students travel by constantly examining and adjusting the quality, content and delivery of our curriculum.
Think about it, advisors have a holistic view of a student.  An advisor knows how well (or not well) a student did in not only Professor X’s class, but in subsequent courses the student had with Professors Y and Z. Through our powerful data analytics an advisor can see that even though many students earn a B in Professor X’s class, a majority of them fail Professor’s Y class.
With this knowledge a department can ask: Is Professor X an easy grader? Is Professor Y too hard a grader?  Is there a gap in the curriculum between what Professor X teaches and what Professor Y expects students to know?  Do Professors X and Y have such different perspectives that what a student learns from Professor X is refuted by Professor Y?  The latter resonates with me.  When I was an undergraduate student one of my professors believed in the emerging theory of plate tectonics (and yes, it was an EMERGING theory at that time!) and another thought it was rubbish.  What I learned in one class was considered “wrong” in another.
Imagine a steady flow of information coming from advisors feeding into curricular conversations that faculty members have in their department or between departments. Imagine not merely calling out to a student when there is a rock or a rapid ahead, but getting rid of the obstacle or calming the dangerous waters through curricular change. Imagine an advisor being able to focus attention on how a student makes a smooth trip down the river rather than a rough one.
Advising, while an activity in and of itself adds value by guiding students, is a powerful tool to help us see how faculty might change and innovate the curriculum—a means by which we can make sure that we are not responsible for creating the rock, rapid, or conditions that capsize the boat.
I certainly would be interested in your thoughts on this topic.

One thought on “An Upstream View of Advising

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