The Meaning of Student-Centered Advising: Challenges to the Advising Learning Community
E. R. Melander, Penn State University
Penn State's President, Graham B. Spanier, has put the goal of becoming a student-centered university before higher education institutions in general and, specifically, before the advising community as well. (See his essay in the AprilJune 2002 issue of The Mentor.) While he presents definitions of student-centered, he recognizes that considerable dialogue is needed in order to transform our historic mission of teaching, research, and service into a forward-looking agenda of learning, discovery, and engagement, as suggested by the Kellogg Commission in its monograph on the engaged university.
Most faculty, administrators, staff, and students are not certain what student-centered means. No one, including Spanier, seems to be suggesting that the university should become less research-centered or less service-centered. To many, focusing on the student is what we already doand do wellso what is to be different?
Spanier's response to this point of view quite likely would be something to this effect: to be student-centered does not necessarily mean more effort or resources are to be aimed at students; what it does mean is that we do what we do better, as measured in terms of impact on the student. The key is to focus on the studenton his or her learning and development, well-being, and retentionsuch that our programs and services are delivered in ways that are demonstrably in the student's best interests.
Learning must be at the core of how a student-centered university defines itselfi.e., a student-centered university is learner-centered. Not only must faculty be focused on learning outcomes, but so must all others who have responsibilities for delivering programs and services in the learning environment. It takes a whole community to educate a single learner. The whole community must be engaged in learning and must measure its performance in terms of impact on or outcomes for the learner.
So how does all this relate to advising and the advising learning community? I shall try to address four questions:
What is implied by student-centered advising?
- What is implied by student-centered advising?
- What is the expanded role of the student-centered adviser?
- How are information and communication technologies best utilized to help deliver advising that is student-centered?
- To become more student-centered, what does the advising community need to address?
To be student-centered, advising can no longer be merely passing on information or advice; rather, it becomes focused on coaching the student toward the development of attitudes, skills, and behaviors as a learner, decision maker, and community participant, with success measured in terms of learner outcomes.
Student-centered advising enlarges the domain of concerns beyond basic student decisions about the formal curriculumi.e., beyond questions of what major to choose and what courses to take. The overarching question for the student becomes what activities and experiences should I program to develop my understandings and capacities as a learner? The path chosen can be thought of as the student's development curriculum, and it should be the centerpiece of the adviser/advisee relationship.
Student-centered advising should focus on providing a syllabus and learning resources for guiding the student's discovery, understanding, and decision-making abilities regarding learning and development opportunities in the formal curriculum and the community engagement curriculum of the university. Student-centered advising should also shape the student's own capacities for
What is the expanded role of the student-centered adviser?
- self-assessing learning strengths and development needs,
- identifying opportunities for learning growth and development,
- planning learning and development strategies,
- deciding on learning and development actions,
- reflecting on learning and development experiences and outcomes, and
- initiating adjustments in learning and development strategies and action plans.
The professional adviser develops rapport with the learner, forming a personalized relationship with each advisee. The relationship is that of a mentorbuilt on trust and operationalized through personal interactions with the advisee. The adviser's professionalism lies in providing both expert knowledge and practiced skills: knowledge of learner development models and formal and informal curricula, together used in establishing syllabi to guide development of individual learners and, additionally, practiced skills in individualizing interpretations and assessments and motivating student engagement.
In delivering advising, the adviser functions to
How are information and communication technologies best utilized to help
deliver advising that is student-centered?
- establish and sustain a relationship with each adviseeto help inspire, motivate, and guide advisees as they enter the university; identify learning and development goals and plans; and, over time, make decisions, assess progress, and adjust learning, development, academic, and career goals and plans
- manage that relationshipkeep rosters, send out announcements and reminders, request appointments or advisee planning and assessment worksheets
- pass on and point to sources of information about programs, courses, and careers, as well as tools for advisee self-assessment
- monitor and provide feedback to advisees regarding academic plans or implications of past performances
- conduct one-on-one chat sessions with individual advisees or open chat rooms for groups of advisees
- receive and respond to advisee requests
- conduct surveys and analyses to assess effectiveness of advising policies and practices
There are many difficulties and challenges to overcome in delivering advising: uninterested advisees; high ratios of advisees to advisers; slow or uninitiated communications; outdated or inaccessible information; prescriptive, not individualized advice; attention focused on how to checklists rather than the why of the curriculum; lack of goal-setting and planning; and the unrecognized role of self-discovery and reflection.
Information and communication technologies offer the promise that advising can be provided more effectively and more efficiently. By connecting the advisee via the Web to all types of informationgeneral and individualizeda large number of advising interactions can be conducted via telecommunications in a Web-based environment.
But can the relationship between adviser and advisee be established and sustained if all interactions are conducted via telecommunications? (Here, telecommunications includes e-mail, online chat sessions, online information access, or online assessment protocols.) My guess is not typically. Just as basic medical diagnoses and treatment plans are best conducted in face-to-face physician/patient sessions, the developmental needs and action paths of the learner are best diagnosed and planned in face-to-face adviser/advisee conversations.
There is no formula for determining the proper balance between face-to-face contacts and technology-mediated interactions in the adviser/advisee relationship. As the university-wide learning environment becomes increasingly based on technology-mediated interactions in support of teaching, advisees will be more comfortable withand more demanding ofgreater use of technology in their interactions with advisers.
In teaching/learning environments, technology is used by instructors to manage interactions of students with course syllabi, learning resources, assessment protocols, and peer learners. For example, Penn State uses software called A New Global Environment for Learning (ANGEL) to help faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants to enhance their courses with Web-based materials without having any knowledge of the Web. Perhaps similar technologies can be used to manage student engagement in the learner development meta-curriculum through the adviser/advisee relationshipi.e., through use of an ANGEL-like advising management system. A correspondence may also be drawn between the direct use of technologies to support student knowledge construction activitiessay, through e-course portfolioswith the use of similar technologies to support advisee development activitiessay, through e-development planning and assessment portfolios.
One approach to forming each adviser/advisee relationship might be to begin with a substantial face-to-face interaction intended to get to know each other's expectations and patterns and to establish a sense of openness and mutual commitment, and then to leave subsequent interactions to whichever formatface-to-face or technology-mediatedthat either participant chooses to initiate. When the advisee reaches key development decision points such as deciding on a learner development plan, choosing a major, or making planning adjustments as the result of reflection on developmental outcomes, these might be times when either the advisee or the adviser initiates a meaningful interaction through a face-to-face dialogue.
To become more student-centered, what does the advising community need to
Open and shared dialogue is needed around these questions, at the university level and, in turn, within each unit of the learning and advising community. Learners in the communityfaculty, advisers, studentsshould be expected to develop specific goals, strategies, and action plans (to transform their understandings and to develop capacities as learners or learner-centered professionals) and, in turn, to demonstrate development and learning outcomes.
- What is meant by becoming more student-centered? How can we measure our impact on learner outcomes?
- What actions do we need to takeas individuals, as units, and, collaboratively, with othersso that our programs and services become more student-centered?
- Do we need to better understand the cause-and-effect relationshipsincluding interaction effectsof our programs, services, and communications with the learning outcomes of students?
- Do we need to transform our professional competencies to include better understanding of how students learn, strategies and environments that foster learning, and ways that learning outcomes can be assessed?
About the Author
E. R. Melander is faculty associate, Center for the Study of Higher Education, associate vice provost emeritus, Undergraduate Education, and professor emeritus of Quantitative Business Analysis at the Pennsylvania State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Mentor on November 27, 2002, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at dus.psu.edu/mentor
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