What does good academic advising look like?

  • Evidence from research at Oxford Brookes on effective advising

    There is much research evidence to show academic advising can work very well and provide benefits for students. It also has a positive impact on retention and success (Malik, 2000; Yorke, 2004; Stephen et al., 2008). Furthermore, it is a highly rewarding role for Academic Advisers if it is working well.

    A recent study of student support at Oxford Brookes (Sharpe, Deepwell & Clarke, 2013), explored students help-seeking strategies at the University. In this study, the research team identified some of the characteristics shown by effective Academic Advisers, and present these here to help you benchmark your own practice.

    The quotes on this page are taken from this study. 


    Well prepared

    As an Academic Adviser, you need to know what is expected in the role, who can help you, and what are the regulations and structures of your advisee's academic programme. Do you know how to navigate a student's PIP page, for instance, and calculate a final grade?

    The Academic Adviser understood what my PIP records showed, had contacts in Faculty and with Student Central, and was aware of points of referral. Now I always go to my Academic Adviser first if I have any issues.

    Student

    One aspect of your role is to write a reference for your advisees, which could be for a future course, or for employment. By getting to know your advisee, hearing about their academic and social involvement, and reviewing their progress periodically, you are in a far better position to write that reference when the request for it comes through.

    HOW?

    How can you ensure you are thoroughly prepared?

    1. Check the programme handbook to know the expectations of your role as an Academic Adviser.
    2. Update yourself on the latest programme regulations relating to your advisee's course of study.
    3. Ensure you know the structures of the programmes your advisee is taking, including compulsory modules and prerequisites, and check the advisee's PIP page.
    4. Read the latest groupwork policy.
    5. Identify a strategy to use to help students identify where they are heading and how to succeed in getting there.

    You may find it helpful to look at an Adviser checklist for the first meeting with students from the Physiotherapy team in Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

    I liked the fact that my Academic Adviser was well organised. She contacted me to make an appointment at the start of term to discuss how the previous year had gone and what I planned to do when I finished.

    Student

    Proactive

    It is important to establish connections with all of your advisees from early on in their academic careers. The two touchpoints per year should be seen as a minimum engagement with you. You should encourage advisees to see you in your open office hours (maybe via Skype if they are not on campus).

    I set up a quiz session in induction week which did a lot to break the ice. We met our students and had a laugh with them, so it's not so scary for them to sign up for an appointment or just drop in.

    Academic Adviser

    Consider arranging group meetings for advisees so that they can get to know each other, and you, and make connections across the programme. In these meetings, you need to show an active interest in the advisee's progress and be proactively supporting them to make the most of the learning and development opportunities that are available to them.

    HOW?

    Key ways in which to be proactive

    1. Meet all of your advisees during their induction, or orientation period.
    2. Check and follow up with advisees who don't reply to your emails, and monitor their attendance on modules (by emailing Module Leaders).
    3. Ensure all your advisees have made appropriate module choices at each relevant stage.
    4. Check PIP records after results are issued (plus exams letters) and write a personalised email.
    5. Offer extra coaching if you see an advisee is struggling.
    6. See them before the end of semester 2 to explore what they will be doing next.

    I support a buddy system for First Year and Second Year students including a 'bring and share' welcome lunch.

    Academic Adviser

    Available

    Availability here means being in your office when you say that you will be there. Students report their frustration when they go to seek guidance or require a signature and their Academic Adviser is unavailable and there is no evident way to reach them. You can improve this situation by letting your advisees know when and how to contact you. It is also important to find a way to share this information with other relevant colleagues in your Department so that they are able to assist an advisee who is looking for you.

    I like the way my Academic Adviser listed the times she was available for 'drop-in' time. It made me feel she was there for me.

    Student

    By setting out your availability clearly at the outset, and informing advisees of any changes as the year goes on, you make yourself available to them. Advisees will know that you are there for them at these times, and through these means, which promotes awareness of the professional relationship you have with them.

    HOW?

    How can you make your availability known?

    Whenever l need the help l often get it from my Academic Adviser because she is readily available either online or physically.

    Student
    1. Make sure your office hours are clearly visible and up-to-date on the door, and keep to them.
    2. Keep the information on your Virtual Office Door in PIP equally accurate.
    3. Make time to meet advisees on days when you know they are on campus.
    4. Let advisees know how you prefer to communicate and how quickly you aim to respond to queries.
    5. Where possible, schedule office hours for when part-time students are on site, if relevant.

    It is also important to share this information with other relevant colleagues in your Department so that they are able to assist an advisee who is looking for you by keeping your office door (virtual and real) up to date.

    Caring

    The relationship you have with your advisee is based upon the series of regular interactions planned into the semester timetable, whether one-to-one or in group settings. These regular interactions help to deliver the supportive learning environment that encourages persistence at university, and improves engagement. Also highly significant is the level of attention and care you pay to what your advisee says in meetings, or in other forms of communication. Here are some simple strategies which help you to show that you have a caring attitude:

    I had some issues that were largely affecting my course and work and when she [my Adviser] saw me in the street, she came over to ask if I was OK as she hadn't seen me or a while. Furthermore she seemed very genuine too, which then prompted me to begin to seek help.

    Student

    HOW?

    How can you show that you have a caring attitude?

    1. When meeting in your office, always turn the phone off/ignore it/blank the screen when your advisee is with you.
    2. Listen carefully to what your advisee says, ie give them time to talk and ask questions that show you know them.
    3. Follow up on issues they raise, including contacting the relevant Module Leader or Student Support Co-ordinator as appropriate (with their permission).
    4. Keep the continuity going, and maintain contact even if you, or your advisee, is away or absent for any reason.
    5. Make sure you know how, and when, to refer on.

    I had a serious family crisis just before my exams, and was away. But my Academic Adviser kept in touch via email, and followed up when I returned to campus and has continued to provide an important level of support which has got me through.

    Student

    Student-centred

    Your concern with the advisee is one that considers their academic progress on a programme and supports them in making sound academic decisions. Whilst you know elements of that programme because you may be directly involved in delivering part of it, you need to ensure that your advice is impartial, and based on your knowledge of the whole programme.

    My Academic Advisor emailed me regarding a meeting with her. Talking through any issue with my studying so far with the subject. We discussed about issues that occurred. She was very patient to listen and explain. I was very happy to listen to her.

    Student

    Where possible, you should get advisees to demonstrate what they know in relation to a current task, for example by sketching out an essay plan, describing a procedure, setting out an argument, reading a balance sheet, or talking through a past assignment to make sense of the feedback. Your response or advice is then sensitive to their level of understanding and can support them in addressing the academic challenges they face at that time. Over time, and together with the advisee, this will also help you to build up an understanding of their strengths, interests and aspirations for the future.

    HOW?

    Race et al (2010) recommend ten ways in which Academic Advisers (called Personal Tutors, in their institution) can support their advisees (Tutees). From this good practice booklet published by Leeds Metropolitan University, it is worth considering the following five ways, which exemplify how you can be encouraging your advisees to:

    • become ready for assessment: from within the discipline, you can help advisees understand what is expected, what do the learning outcomes mean in practice
    • see the importance of becoming better at learning: advisees being able to set their own targets and evaluate progress is a lifelong skill
    • manage their time: getting started in their tasks (in your sessions with them if possible) and keeping on track
    • become better readers: developing strategies, such as basing their reading around finding answers to questions they have prepared
    • get their revision act together: focusing on what is important for the assessment (based on the learning outcomes) and have them practise answering questions

    At the start of the term I had an appointment to discuss how the previous year had gone and what I planned to do when I finished.

    Student

    Self-reflective

    You need to be aware of your own strengths and limitations in the role. As with teaching, you can develop greater awareness of your performance through monitoring advisee progress, gathering feedback from your advisees, and personal reflection on this using any of the recognised models . The intended 'outcomes' from your advising role is that your advisees become independent learners with a set of effective problem-solving strategies, so how far have your advisees travelled along this route?

    I really appreciated the one-to-one coaching sessions with my Academic Adviser which helped build up my confidence to face a troubling assessment.

    Student

    You need to be aware of the limits of your own knowledge and your responsibility. You are a significant influence on your advisees and therefore need to pay particular attention to the words of advice and guidance that you give. This applies in a number of ways. The programme advice you give must be accurate, because of the implications for your advisee's programme, including when they are able to graduate. Therefore, you must check the regulations before agreeing to changes such as adding or deleting modules.

    Responsibility also applies to other forms of information, such as advice relating to careers. Here you should find out the qualities that employers are looking for, in general terms, as well as disciplinary knowledge and attributes.

    HOW?

    How can you develop self-reflection on your advising?

    1. Are you familiar with the data on graduate and postgraduate destinations from your programmes?
    2. Do these jobs accord with the ideas that you have been discussing with your current advisees?
    3. What opportunities have you encouraged your advisees to take up? Has this been done equitably?
    4. Are there group or peer support activities that you can involve students in?
    5. What use have you made of non-directive, or coaching-style questions?
    6. What do students say about you?
    7. Are students attending when requested?

    The intended 'outcome' from your advising role is that your advisees become independent learners with a set of effective problem-solving strategies, so how far have your advisees travelled along this route?

    References

    Malik, S. (2000) 'Students, tutors and relationships: the ingredients of a successful academic support scheme', Medical Education, 34(8), pp. 635-641.

    Race, P. and Leeds Metropolitan University Teacher Fellows (2010) Making personal tutoring work. Available online at: www.leedsmet.ac.uk/staff/files/100705.7240.LoRes.pdf. Last accessed: 1 June 2013

    Sharpe, R., Deepwell, F. and Clarke, P. (2012) Evaluation of faculty-based student support (2012) AESC Committee Paper, Oxford Brookes University. Last accessed: 1 June 2013

    Sharpe, R., Deepwell, F. and Clarke, P. (2013) A developmental evaluation of the role of faculty-based Student Support Co-ordinator, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 5 (2013)

    Stephen, D., O'Connell, P. and Hall, M. (2008) ''Going the extra mile', 'fire-fighting', or laissez-faire? Re-evaluating personal tutoring relationships within mass higher education', Teaching in Higher Education, 13(4), pp. 449-460.

    Yorke, M. (2004) 'Retention, persistence and success in on-campus higher education, and their enhancement in open and distance learning', Open Learning, 19(1), pp. 19-32.