The Big Picture
Since Burns B. Crookston’s article on “A Developmental View of Advising as Teaching,” academic advising has been seen as a way of helping students to integrate their studies into the larger lifeworld of their experiences and goals. Crookston argued that students should be viewed as complete human beings for whom studies are just one part of a developmental process. Seen from this perspective, academic advising is a form of higher order teaching that enables students to build coherent knowledge, plausible career goals, and personal integrity out of disparate learning experiences. Academic advising helps integrate study into life.
More recent literature tends to focus on the integration or synthesis of studies within the academic context rather than integration of studies into the larger lifeworld. For instance, Marc Lowenstein argues that advisors enable students to construct the “logic of the curriculum.” And Peter L. Hagen argues that advisors help students to create “the story of their education.”
One central idea that guides all of this literature is that learning processes are inherently idiosyncratic. The individualized nature of learning is obvious in programs that involve lots of student choice. But even in fully pre-planned curricula where every single student goes through the same set of classes, each student can and should make connections between classes in different ways. If university study is to be more than a collection of discrete classes, each student must individually integrate their studies into a coherent intellectual whole, a story-line, and/or a professional profile. And, from this perspective, integration of studies is a central task of higher education that must be undertaken in an individualized setting like advising because it cannot be strictly standardized.
An important corollary of this idea is that academic staff are ideally or even uniquely suited to the task of advising. Against the view that advising is primarily a form of personal counseling, Crookston’s phrase “advising is teaching” has been used to explain and defend advising as a specifically academic kind of work. To the extent that university academic staff are experienced knowledge workers who have struggled to integrate their own lifelong learning process, their value to students goes well beyond their field of expertise. They are practiced at finding connections, making distinctions, and maintaining perspective through the messy process of synthesizing learning.
Hence, when academic staff take on the role of advisors, they already have the necessary skills to assist students in their own process of knowledge integration. They do not need to be re-trained to become counselors or therapists. Instead, advising training can be akin to teacher training that focuses on activating students’ own learning process.
Crookston, B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17
Hagen, P.L. (2018). The power of story: narrative theory in academic advising. NACADA The Global Community for Academic Advising.
Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65-73. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-29.1.123
Tools and Practices
Community is an elusive concept, and even more so when we add the adjective ‘academic’: glorified as the pinnacle of intellectual and scholarly collegiality providing a safe space for critical thinking and free inquiry, it is also questioned and challenged for its potential elitism and exclusivity. Looking at it from the perspective of student engagement however, few seem to doubt the value of frequent and meaningful interactions between students, and between students and staff. Classics in the field, even if they do not use the term ‘community’ very frequently, are Alexander Astin’s Four Critical Years (1977) and What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited (1993) and Vincent Tinto’s Leaving College (1987). While Astin talks about “environmental variables” and Tinto about “social and academic integration”, both point to the importance for students to feel recognized and included within their community of peers and staff. Especially interacting with staff in various roles enhances what is often referred to as the ‘affective engagement’ of students (see e.g. Fredricks et al. 2004) – the feeling that people know who you are, that you are not just ‘a number’, and that the institution takes a sincere interest in what and how you are doing.
The role of teaching staff who engage in advising or personal tutoring is of particular importance. If done well, conversations with students about what they have learned and how they have studied are a natural extension of the conversations in class about theory and method, facts and figures. Both constitute ways of facilitating learning, and further the focus and agency of students. At the intersection of learning about a particular subject, learning to see the big picture, and learning to assume responsibility for bringing those two together, teachers can be pivotal. Advising is a form of teaching, as Marc Lowenstein (2005) suggests: “[…] an excellent advisor does the same for the student’s entire curriculum that the excellent teacher does for one course”.
The impact of faculty advising on the social and academic integration of students is obvious: by offering the opportunity for students to sit down with a member of the teaching staff and have a conversation that is essentially about them, institutions show they take an interest in their students that goes beyond matriculation and graduation rates. The fact that substantial parts of those conversations will be about or triggered by the subject matter that students and teaching staff share will elevate that sense of community above the level of ‘being seen’ as a student to being recognized as an aspiring scholar and member of an academic community.
By the same token, advising provides teaching staff with valuable insights into the student experience, how the content and form of their teaching affects students – as individuals and as aspiring scholars.
Astin, A.W. (1977). Four critical years. Effects of college on beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge. Jossey-Bass
Astin, A.W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. Jossey-Bass.
Fredricks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C. & Paris, A.H. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59-109.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college. Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Conceptualizing and Contextualizing Academic Advising - CREATES Workshop for Advisors
Academic advising is not easy to define, and its manifestations and forms of implementation are diverse. Even if the idea of promoting student success, agency, and self-realization provide a sense of direction, there is no one, uniform practice that can serve as a model or prescription for developing an effective advising programme. Whether or not an advising programme is a relevant and effective component of a university’s infrastructure depends to a large extent on what characterizes that university. The process of creating or revitalizing an advising programme should be guided by the immediate goals of the people involved as well as the mission, vision, and values of the institution as a whole.
Ask yourself why
Advising programs usually start in response to a perceived need that is local or specific. Before you turn your attention to the mission, vision, and values of your institution, you should define or describe your own goals in developing your advising programme. What is the need for it, as you perceive it? If you already have an advising system, what would you like it to do better? Designing and maintaining an advising programme is a challenging undertaking, so it is important to have a clear set of intended outcomes before you begin.
Advising programmes are not well suited to tactical interventions on single issues (e.g., retention, completion, student well-being), because advising is about seeking and creating connections between many aspects of the student experience. Once implemented, advising is likely to affect many parts of your study program or institution (e.g., student expectations, institutional culture, academic community). Analyse the urgent issues at your institution as well as their interconnection, seeking to identify what you think your advising programme is likely to accomplish in the short-, medium-, and long-term.
Know your context
Once you have critically examined your own rationale for setting up an advising programme, it is essential to establish how such a programme can be embedded in its institutional context. Many institutions of higher education have statements about their mission, vision, and values. Even if the institution does not have explicit statements, members can usually articulate their expectations and assumptions about the institution and its identity. Sometimes an advising programme is seen as a way to amend or redirect an existing culture, so some initial soul searching will help make explicit connections between existing commitments and new aspirations.
Whether they are formalized or not, effective institutions have a mission, vision and values with which your advising programme can align.
Mission statements are about the present. What needs, purposes, and communities does the institution currently serve and how does it do so? Typical missions in higher education might be, for example, training students in specific disciplines, pursuing excellent interdisciplinary research, fostering engagement between university and society, or employability.
Advising normally contributes in concrete ways to the current goals and purposes of an institution. Advising may be a good way to help correct a weakness in an institution’s fulfillment of one of its core purposes. Or it may enhance a current strength.
Vision statements are about the future. What ideal situation or long-term goal does the institution aspire to create for itself and its environment? Higher education visions might be, for example, becoming a leader or model in a particular field, creating an inclusive community, or developing the social and economic resources of a region.
Since visions are often purposefully grand or aspirational, it may be harder to articulate how the mundane practices of advising (e.g., regular one-on-one meetings, administrative procedures) contribute directly. Nonetheless, introducing advising does create new futures, and it is worth reflecting on which ones your programme will enable or make more likely.
Values both inform and follow from mission and vision. They are the commitments and priorities that surround, support or enable the outcomes announced in the mission and vision. Naming and acknowledging the values of an institution - which are often tied to a specific place or history - helps orient decision-making and guide behavior. Higher education values might be, for example, commitment to critical thinking, respect for tradition, selfless service to the community, an appreciation for diversity, or admiration of professional excellence.
Advising is a very direct way to practice and role model the core values of your institution. Both advisors and students are confronted with how to interact with each other, for instance, with respectful professionalism, appropriate familiarity, or collaborative collegiality. These interpersonal practices will help cultivate and perpetuate the priorities you and your institution have.
Clearly, there can also be tension between institutional expectations and the intentions of those who initiate and maintain advising programmes. But an advising programme may also lead to new perspectives on the institution’s goals and help create an institutionally shared approach to the student experience.
Making explicit and comparing your own ideas and aspirations for advising with the the mission, vision, and values of one’s institution serves several essential objectives
- It creates a vocabulary and frame of reference for your design process.
- It clarifies the standards for strategy and implementation decisions as well as criteria for evaluating success.
- It enhances your understanding of the implicit and explicit resources your context has as well as the challenges or resistances you may encounter there.
Tools and practices
Conceptualizing and Contextualizing Academic Advising - CREATES Workshop for Advisors
UCF LAS Advising Handbook - especially Section 1: The Goals of Academic Advising
UCM Academic Advising Handbook - especially Section 1: UCM and academic advising