How to Adapt Academic Advising to a Virtual Environment
How to Adapt Academic Advising to a Virtual Environment
Abbe Breiter
Abbe Breiter
Best Practices & Tips

How to Adapt Academic Advising to a Virtual Environment

Academic advisors adapt their approach based on the needs and strengths of individual students.

In some cases, they may use multiple approaches during one advising appointment. But now, as more institutions announce fall 2020 plans for online or hybrid learning, advisors need to adapt their in-office methods to a virtual environment.

The good news is that going virtual is easy with the right virtual tools. Below are a range of advising approaches—from active to passive—with tactics for virtualizing advisor-student interactions.

Proactive Advising: Reach Out Before Students Need Help

Also known as intrusive advising, this approach makes academic support staff responsible for student success. Not only do advisors initiate contact with students, they take the lead in telling students what to do.

Proactive advising is an effective way to help first-year and first-generation students stay on track while developing a supportive, ongoing relationship with someone from the institution. The first step toward proactive virtual advising is proactive communication. Tactics include:

  • Targeted emails and text messages. Keep students informed about relevant deadlines, events, and campus resources. Segment messages for different groups (such as freshmen, graduating seniors, or by area of study) and include targeted FAQS to reduce the number of inquiries flooding your inbox.
  • Standing virtual meetings. Book a virtual meeting with every student in your cohort before next term’s registration deadline. Rather than making calls and playing phone tag, send students the link to your online self-scheduling system. This will give them more control to make and change appointments, while also reducing the administrative burden for your team.
  • Virtual orientations, workshops, and information sessions. In addition to 1:1 meetings, consider hosting synchronous online sessions for groups. Group advising can be paired with proactive advising to keep student cohorts informed and connected with advisors and each other.

As COVID-19 disrupts on-campus learning and services in 2020, proactive advising will be critical to keep at-risk students from falling behind or dropping out.

Developmental Advising: Partner With Students to Achieve Success

Developmental advising aims to help students grow socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Rooted in student development theory, this approach requires advisors to partner with students to identify what they value personally and academically.

As partners, advisors need to track students’ progress from one appointment to the next. They also need to help students develop, implement, and monitor short- and long-term goals. Tactics include:

  • Dynamic student success plans. Use a virtual student services platform to develop an individualized plan for each student that can be monitored/updated by every service group on campus. Your software platform should make it easy to track student interactions with different departments, applying case management methodologies to identify when they may need support or follow up.
  • Interactive virtual tools. During virtual advising sessions, share a virtual whiteboard or Google Doc that you can edit with students in real time. This is valuable for brainstorming, collaborative list making, and zeroing in on students’ personal and academic goals.
  • Virtual meeting archives and chat histories. Make sure your virtual platform archives text transcripts from all virtual meetings and online chats. Being able to reference past discussions is an important way to help students stay focused on their goals.

Whether advising students online or on campus, technology makes it easier to keep tabs on their interactions with other service groups, and to follow their progress.

Advising as Coaching: Help Students Help Themselves

As an approach to academic advising, coaching emphasizes students’ personal responsibility for their success. Advisors are there to help students explore their options and create a plan of action. And, as coaches, they offer feedback and encouragement throughout the process.

To help students help themselves online, advisors need to eliminate barriers by making online support more visible, flexible, and accessible. Tactics include:

  • Interactive contact cards. Embed an online business card on your departmental or course website that gives students the ability to make contact directly from the card. This helps students figure out who they need to contact from each service unit and how to reach out without making a call or sending an email.
  • Virtual drop-in hours. Mirror the on-campus experience by giving students the ability to virtually drop in for appointments. Use your online scheduling system to block out open office hours each week, then post those hours on your online contact card so students know when you’re free for a spontaneous chat.
  • Instant messaging. Make it easy for students to reach out with quick questions via online chat or instant messaging. This is the simplest way to increase students’ access to online support when they need help or encouragement from a trusted advisor.

When it comes to advising approaches, one size doesn’t fit all. But the virtual tactics outlined above can be customized for any approach you use—from prescriptive advising to appreciative advising, and everything in between. To learn about ConexED virtual tools for online advising and support, submit your contact information in the form below.

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