Advising on academic study

  • As an Academic Adviser, you are there to help your students to take an overview of their course and to contextualise module themes and perspectives within the overall programme.

    This is particularly important in a modular programme in which students will be attending a range of modules led by different tutors at different times in their studies. You can also help students to reflect on their own academic strengths and challenges and to plan a coherent pattern of study which enables them to get the most from their course in academic and personal terms.

    Berry O'Donovan, Academic Adviser to students on a Combined Honours programme in the Faculty of Business, talks about the importance of a 'density of interactions'.

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    Leander Reeves, Academic Adviser in the International Centre for Publishing Studies, talks of her role as an 'academic cheerleader'.

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    Knowing the programme

    There will be points during the course, most notably at the start and end of each academic year, and between semesters, when students may benefit from advice on their module choices for the forthcoming academic year or semester. This may mean giving students advice on which modules academically follow on from previous areas of work. This information is set out in the programme handbook, so it is important to make reference to this when you advise students. The student's choice will be best informed if you can encourage the student to reflect on their pattern of progress to date and to talk though their ultimate goals from the course so that, within the regulations of the course, they can identify the selection of modules that will be of most benefit to them.

    Knowing the student

    Key to a student's future progress is the skill of reflecting on study experiences they already have; this may be learning experiences prior to starting at University or reflecting on the modules they already have taken. Although students are understandably very conscious of the summative marks they have received at the end of modules, one of the significant aspects of the Academic Adviser role is to help advisees make the best use of all the feedback (and not just the mark) they have received on their performance from module leaders.

    This applies to students who are already doing well, as well as those who may be struggling. It might also be appropriate to alert the student to other forms of University support such as Upgrade or the International Student Advice Team (ISAT), as shown in the Academic Guidance Framework.

    Helping the student to get to know themselves

    Dedicating time to meet with advisees between semesters to review their feedback across a number of modules can form a valuable platform to help them to identify areas where they are already strong and to focus on what they need to do to further develop in their subject knowledge and approach to studies. This may also involve more personal aspects such as the student's organisation of time. Encouraging the advisee to be self-reflective is likely to work better than summarising the feedback as a list of "to do's". Establishing some clear goals at the end of such feedback meetings is helpful. More valuable still is actually devoting just a few minutes of the time together to start one of the tasks on that list, maybe a re-drafting of an assignment or sketching an essay outline.

    Suggest to your tutees that they set their own deadlines for assignments and revision at least a week or two ahead of necessity. It is a great boost to their confidence to feel ahead of the game and confidence breeds success. (Race, 2010)

    Did you know...

    In the NUS Charter on Academic Support, research commissioned by the National Union of Students suggests that academic support is most effective when the process:

    • nurtures supportive peer relations
    • fosters meaningful interaction between staff and students
    • develops students knowledge, confidence and identity as successful higher education learners
    • encourages in-depth engagement by being relevant to students' interests and future goals.
    Academic advisers can play a significant part in helping us to achieve this measure of academic support.