The Curriculum of Academic Advising: What We Teach, How We Teach, and What Students Learn

Proceedings from the Fifth Annual Professional Development Conference on Academic Advising, September 27–28, 2006, University Park, PA

A Learning-Centered View of Advising as Teaching Marc Lowenstein, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Recently a number of us have proposed new “normative theories” of advising, as Peter Hagen calls them, “philosophies” of advising if you prefer. Normative theories don't describe or explain what advising is, but instead what it ought to be, what it ideally might aspire to be. I don't think the philosophy called “developmental advising” offers a compelling account of these things. Advising needs to focus much more clearly on the enhancement of students' academic learning rather than on their more general “intrapersonal” development.

It's difficult to prove that one philosophy is better than another, in advising just as anywhere else. What should a philosophy of advising do?
  1. It should inspire. It should offer an appealing vision of excellence.
  2. It should distinguish advising and its role in a university from the various other services provided there, identifying for advising a unique role that no other service provides.
  3. It should capture the essential core of advising, as opposed to things advisers may do that are incidental to their role.
I start from the notion “advising as teaching,” a phrase from Crookston, an early advocate of developmental advising. The phrase suggests that one task we would like to understand better, advising, can be explained in terms of another that we understand better, teaching. But Crookston and his followers have not defined either teaching or advising in a way that distinguishes them from other functions, such as counseling, since the focus on students' development should be common to everyone who serves them.

I explore some features of excellent teaching, in the hope that they will shed light on excellent advising. Briefly, an excellent teacher facilitates students' learning by focusing on the organization and progression of material, helps them distinguish main points from details, guides them to discover the ways of knowing peculiar to the discipline, encourages them to relate it to their prior learning, and helps them discover relationships between concepts or phenomena covered in the course. I sum this up by saying the excellent teacher helps students understand the structure or logic of the course.

How does this illuminate advising-as-teaching? 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. The adviser helps students see how courses complement each other, lead to each other, perhaps contrast with each other. I sum this up by saying the excellent adviser helps students understand the structure or logic of their entire education.

This philosophy of advising has the characteristics listed above that a philosophy ought to have. And it has interesting implications for such questions as: About the Presenter

Marc Lowenstein, Ph.D., is dean of professional studies at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where he has served in a variety of positions since 1976. Dr. Lowenstein supervises the college's professional programs in such areas as business studies, computer science, teacher education, and various health professions, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. He earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy at Colgate University and master's and doctorate at the University of Rochester. He taught philosophy at the college level for twelve years before moving into administration. In recent years, Dr. Lowenstein has published several articles and made a number of conference presentations about academic advising.

Published in The Mentor on February 12, 2007, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
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