Advising at a distance - transcript

  • Marion Waite, Academic Adviser

    Senior Lecturer, Brookes Teaching Fellow

    Subject Co-ordinator, course leader MSc Nursing Studies

    Department of Clinical Health Care, Oxford Brookes University

    In my academic adviser role I draw on knowledge from my own discipline in health care. The Neighbour Model (2004) was developed to support communication between doctors and patients and in particular shared decision-making. There are five checkpoints, which work very well for one-to-one communication these are:

    • connecting

    • summarising

    • handing over

    • safety netting and

    • housekeeping

    My personal AA role pre-dominantly involves supporting PG students who are studying part-time, online and at a distance.

    In this resource, I will explain each of these check points and how I have adapted the Neighbour model to an AA role in my context

    Connecting (rapport building) - An important opportunity to outline the AA role is at induction or the first point of contact. The remit of the role can be revisited at subsequent meetings. For online students contact points require anticipation, for example there is not a set induction session or day. Personally I try and incorporate the use of technology such as Skype at the outset to make the first connection. A real time interaction provides an opportunity to pick up on verbal & non-verbal cues and explore fears and expectations at the outset of a programme of study and discuss how the AA role can be facilitative and how an individual programme of study may be best planned. It also a good opportunity to discuss individual needs such as language support, disability and study skills and importantly to negotiate access to future real time contact points. I personally offer a blend of Skype office hours and Google chat and e-mail as follow-up contact points.

    I always back up the first connection with some written information and web links such as guides to PIP, the library, Moodle and use of University IT systems

    Summarising (Listening & eliciting). You will note that the advice given by the University about listening skills, draws on theory from coaching. This fits very well with the second checkpoint of the Neighbour model, which involves both listening & elicitation of thoughts feelings and issues.

    A typical example of this is clarification or further discussion about feedback on assessed work especially where the advisee doesn't undertand the feedback or is disappointed with an assessed grade. A personal rule of thumb is always to enable the advisee to speak first. Summarisation involves listening to the advisee interpretation of the feedback and then summarising and paraphrasing this into jargon free language, which is repeated back to the advisee thus communicating an understanding of their perspective.

    Handing-over (communication skills) Once an advisee has presented an issue then it is important to reach a negotiated mutual decision on a potential action plan. Each party will have their own knowledge and beliefs and it is important for the academic advisor to be able to understand and communicate how they might be further influenced by University or Faculty rules and regulations. A recent example was when an advisee presented where English was a second language and wished to employ a personal proof -reader for assignments, and sought the opinion of the academic advisor.

    The academic advisor established the University regulations on the use of proof readers for assessed work and communicated this to the advisee. The decision to go ahead with this personal strategy was therefore handed over to the advisee with clarity about potential outcomes if the regulations were breached. Another similar example is communicating and handing over options for mitigating circumstances and where information and support may be found.

    Safety-netting ( predicting) Once a decision has been handed over to an advisee there may be situations where it is impossible to fully guarantee a predicted outcome. There may be positions of uncertainty for the adviser and it is always important to be aware of your own limitations. You will note the University advice about when to refer academic advisees to other agencies and of course it is up to the advisee whether or not they wish to pursue a suggested referral.

    A recent example was an e-mail from a distance learning student to an academic advisor, who was aware of being behind with online work on a module including participation in online forums and group work which involved the use of a WIKI. This was accompanied with the disclosure of having dyslexia. In this situation the academic advisor liaised with the module leader who were both transparent with the advisee that this was a situation where a self-referral to dyslexia student support services for further advice would be beneficial to all parties.

    The advisee followed this course of action and the outcome was an action plan of reasonable adjustments, which were easily understood by the advisee, academic adviser and module team.

    Housekeeping ( the academic adviser taking care of themselves)- The academic advising role is not without stresses of its own, so it is important to consider opportunities and situations where you can de-brief with colleagues and in some situations your line manager. For example there may be conflicts of interest in your academic adviser role if you are also the subject co-ordinator or the dissertation supervisor for the student. It is therefore important to discuss and reflect on your decision-making processes with colleagues and team members. It is of course important to maintain confidentiality between colleagues during these conversations

    A reflection of what you have learned in a particular situation may prompt learning for others. For example, the scenario of the distance learning student with dyslexia prompted a much wider discussion at programme and faculty level about dyslexia issues and online distance learning.

    Personal reflection on your academic advising role can help you identify any future personal development needs, which you may wish to discuss with your line manager or during your PDR.