Technology Role in Advising Students Continues to Evolve
Technology has taken a greater role in many functions of life, including some that seem to be outside common perceptions. Take, for example, the evolving technology role in some facets of education, including advising. The Community College Research Center, part of the Teachers College at Columbia University, recently released research detailing this shift.
Technology-mediated advising reform
According to the CCRC research, many higher education institutions have understaffed advising teams – not exactly news to suppliers and users of the services. But the issue is serious: Understaffing limits the ability of staff to truly help; many adviser are relegated to helping students register for classes and little more.
In response, institutions are considering the use of technology to streamline the process with the help of software companies. Creating a technology role to redesign advising and support offerings is sometimes called Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success or e-advising.
More than 100 companies have released products related to the advising process. The three primary categories are:
- Counseling and coaching – Provides tools designed to improve student access to support services.
- Education planning – Provides tools to help students select courses and programs, facilitate degree mapping, and give students and advisers the ability to easily track progress toward completion of a degree.
- Risk analysis and intervention – Provides tools to alert faculty, staff, and other stakeholders to possible indications that a student is struggling.
The ideal technology role is for educational institutions to find a system that integrates all three.
New technology role could benefit staff and students
The goal of this and other forms of education technology is to improve student success. Specifically, advising software is designed to offer students a more personalized and intensive experience while simultaneously reducing administrative duties and the workload of advisers.
Nate Parsell, an academic adviser at Otterbein University, notes that many students have difficulty seeing the bigger picture of their course selections. Those with highly structured degrees in fields such as engineering, nursing, and education have little choice in the classes they take and can feel stifled without the ability to see how each course leads to the next.
Students with liberal arts majors can find the lack of structure overwhelming and may find it difficult to make decisions that create a cohesive degree plan. He explains, “Being able to show them all their options and how course selections affect their future decision-making and planning assists them in having control over their educational experience.”
Challenges in implementation
One of the biggest challenges is getting everyone vested in the new technology. According to Alan Gibson, adjunct faculty member at Shepherd University and cofounder of Potluck LLC, a video-chat startup, “Integrating technology takes time to catch on. A successful rollout in a new school generally follows a solid buy in by the institution’s relevant stakeholders at the outset.”
The report indicates three areas that need to be addressed for a successful transition of advising to a technology model.
- Structural – The fundamental role of advisers must be reimagined. Advisers would stop working with students primarily in peak periods, for registration purposes, and for troubleshooting. Instead, they would foster sustained relationships with personalized interactions at regular intervals utilizing tools throughout the year to proactively assist students.
- Process – Advisers would focus less on selecting upcoming courses and rudimentary academic planning. They would become mentors and teachers, working with students to help identify long-term goals for their academic studies and careers. They would additionally monitor student progress for signs that the student is at academic or emotional risk and then facilitate an integrated intervention.
- Identification – Frequently advisers are considered little more than registration clerks. By implementing the technology role for some advising, human advisers would become part of a holistic student support system and engage with other staff.
This type of radical change in the role and function of academic advisers in higher education faces numerous challenges. Another report by the CCRC discussed the conditions needed to effectively redesign the field of academic advising.
The authors of the report assert it is not enough for a school to implement new technology; the culture of the school must be fundamentally redesigned.
This can be accomplished, they say, by clarifying the goals and mission of the changes. The institution must encourage stakeholders to be a part of the decision-making process and promote a culture that advocates change and technological advancement.
Another part of readiness for an enhanced technology role is to have the right tools. The IT software, hardware, network, and support staff must be capable of adequately supporting the new structure with a level of stability that does not compromise the experience for staff or students. New systems must be integrated with existing systems to work seamlessly, and all stakeholders must be fully trained.
The technology role for all aspects of higher education will continue to evolve, or course. The latest push toward technology-assisted advising will be an informative case study in the areas of scalability of technology on campus and adaptive technology implementation.