INTRODUCTION:  As coordinator for advisor at our campus, I’m responsible for creating and conducting a one hour advisement preparation session for all new incoming students in order to prepare them for an individual advisement session with their faculty advisor.  The purpose of this prep-session is two-fold.  First, to provide them with the information they need to play a more active, informed role in their academic planning, and more specifically, in the creation of their first semester schedule.  Second, to give the students a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of both student and advisor in the advisement process.  In the past, a handout was given listing the expectations for each role, and the presenter would review this handout briefly, but the main emphasis was always on the content of academic information.

PURPOSE: Fresh from the On Course I Workshop this past summer, I re-thought the past model used for the Advisement Preparation Session. I wanted to revise the model and place more emphasis on helping students become more responsible for their advisement experience.  All too often students would come to the individual advisement session wanting the faculty member to “take care” of them.  Although providing the content of advisement information is important, it is equally important to provide the context of how the advisement process works.  The purpose of this case study was to have students discuss student responsibility in the advisement process and to become more aware of the expectations of the student in this process. 

SUPPLIES AND SET-UP:  I created a case study (appended below) to dramatize common student behaviors in the area of advisement.  When I showed it to one of our current students for feedback, he laughed and said, “I know about ten people who this sounds like.”  I also showed it to three faculty advisors who felt it was a realistic composite of behaviors common among unprepared advisees.

PROCESS: Each Advisement Preparation Session hosts between 25-40 students in a fairly large lecture hall.  Since this was an orientation session, and no group identity had been formed, I decided to ask for volunteers as students were coming in to make the reading of the case study flow more comfortably. I was also under a very tight time constraint, and knew I had to complete this exercise in less than twenty minutes and wanted to use each minute wisely.          

After the volunteers read the case study, students were asked to rank the characters in order of their responsibility for Amy’s poor advisement experience.  As students were doing this, I went around the room and assigned them to groups of four to five students each.  (I also passed around a tray of candy to the volunteer readers to thank them for their assistance – a small show of appreciation that was very well received!)  When the rank ordering was complete, students were asked to get into their groups, compare their responses, and see if they could come to a group consensus for each ranking, making sure they could justify their responses.  They also had to elect a presenter in case other groups challenged their ranking.  Because of time limitations, I asked three groups to present their rankings, allowing for challenges from the floor.  

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: At the first session I held my breath once I gave out the instructions.  There was no group context for these students and I worried that they would not “buy into” the process (my inner critic was panicking!!).  Overall, the students were great. As they shared their rankings, the room was filled with the sound of quiet discussion, debate and even laughter. I gave them about ten minutes to work towards consensus, breaking in after five minutes to review their charge (some were getting off course) and to remind them of the time.  I noted that at each session there were some students who held back and a few who clearly were not going to involve themselves in this group effort.  When I saw this happening, I would casually join the group for discussion and ask the reluctant and reticent members for their input.  Sometimes this would work to draw the student in, and sometimes I got an indifferent shrug in response.  At that point, I would draw the conversation back to the larger group and have them continue.  To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, “You can get all of the students involved some of the time, some of the students involved all of the time, but you can’t get all of the students involved all of the time.”

After allowing students to discuss their rankings, and allowing for point-counterpoint debating, I drew the discussion to a close, summarizing their comments.  Almost every group saw Amy as most responsible for her advisement experience, and the few times that groups did not initially choose Amy, they were quick to change their minds once other students challenged their reasoning.  Nicole and Eric shared the ranking for 2nd and 3rd  fairly equally.  I pointed out to students that they would likely encounter “Nicoles” and “Erics” in their lives as students, and they would need to make wise choices in these situations.  Interesting, on paper, students were not willing to place the blame on either of the professors.  I reminded students that while it seemed obvious to them that the professors were well within their rights to make the choices they did, it sometimes seems less obvious when they are the student in that situation.  I always end with congratulating the group for choosing not to be Amy, and for making the wise choice to attend this Advisement Preparation Session.

LIFE LESSONS:  It is so tempting for me to lecture to large groups when I have lots of material to cover.  In the past I wanted to make sure that students left the Advisement Preparation Session with all the information needed to create a strong academic plan.  I realize now that information alone doesn’t guarantee anything.  It is far more important to help students see themselves as responsible for their academic planning, and then the behaviors will follow.

Students left this first experience at college with an opportunity to think about the role they were about to assume as a student, and about the responsibilities and expectations that went with that role.  With this foundation, the material I presented on academic regulations, etc., had a meaningful context.  Without this foundation, the material often becomes information overload.

I will definitely use this case study model again.  It encouraged student interaction where before there had been none.  It encouraged student reflection about the role and responsibility they were about to assume.  It allowed for active learning where there once had only been one-way information flow. It was a great experience watching all these nervous students, strangers to each other, soon become actively involved in discussion and debate. I don’t want to suggest that some mystical bonding experience happened, but just to see students turn to each other, make eye contact and have a meaningful conversation was very gratifying.  A few even continued chatting after the session ended, which brought a smile to my face.

One of my life lessons was to trust my inner creator.  I truly believed this model would work, but when I showed it to a colleague the day before I was going to use it, he voiced his reservations and questioned whether students would join in to the activity.  Looking back, I realize that this concern came from his own experience with students, but I have to admit I did get a quick case of “cold feet” hours before I was going to present this model for the first time.   Fortunately, the students quickly confirmed my Creator’s voice.

I will implement two changes when I use this case study next year.  First, I will follow up with advisors to see if they noted any change in student responsibility. I will also make sure that all advisors get a copy of Amy’s Advisement before summer advisement begins, so they are aware of what students have discussed. Second, I will ask students from one of the freshman orientation courses to give me feedback about the case study, and ask them to come up with any changes or suggestions for future use.  For example, since Amy was unanimously seen as being most responsible, I wonder if I “stacked the deck.” Was it too one-sided?

Here is the case study:

AMY’S ADVISEMENT

When AMY received her college acceptance letter she was thrilled.  She felt ready to start her college career and get her degree in Information Processing.  The night before her Advisement Preparation Session, her sister NICOLE called asking if Amy could baby-sit for a few hours.  “I promise we’ll be home before midnight. It’s a going away party for Danny’s boss and we really need to be there.”  At 3:30 in the morning, Nicole arrived home to find an exhausted and angry Amy.  “Don’t blame me.  Danny got into a heated conversation and I couldn’t get him to leave,” shrugged Nicole. 

The next morning, it was all Amy could do to get to the 8:00 Advisement Preparation Session.  Arriving 15 minutes late, she slipped into her seat and tried to catch up with the group. “Are there any questions about the placement results or anything else we’ve covered?” asked the presenter.  “Plenty,” thought Amy, but she felt too embarrassed to ask.  “I’ll ask Eric to explain them to me tomorrow.”

ERIC, Amy’s boyfriend was happy to help Amy.  “Why don’t you just make the same schedule as mine?” he suggested “We can drive together and save money on gas.”  “What about the pre-requisites I need?” asked Amy, reading through the materials in her folder.  “Oh, you don’t have to worry about them.  I can help you do the work since we’re in the same classes.  Trust me, I’ve been through this before.  I know what I’m doing.”  Unsure of what she needed, Amy took the schedule Eric gave her when she went to meet with her advisor.

“I’m confused about this schedule you’ve selected,” said her advisor, DR. SMITH.  “You really don’t have many of the courses you’ll need for next semester.  Since we only have a half hour meeting today, we’ll need to spend our time talking about program requirements, your placement results, and the kind of courses you need to take in order to be successful.  I’m on vacation next week, so you’ll have to make another appointment after that so we can actually create a schedule and register you for classes.”

By the time they were able to meet again, one of the courses Amy needed, and wanted, was already closed.  Dr. Smith called PROFESSOR HIGGINS to see if Amy could get permission to get into the class, adding that she needed it for her program requirements. Professor Higgins refused, saying, “I have a strict policy and never take additional students in my classes.

Disappointed, Amy came home and thought, “Why do things never work out the way I want them to?”

* * * * *

Listed below are the characters in this story.  Rank them in order of their responsibility for Amy’s poor advisement experience.  Give a different score for each character.

MOST responsible — 1  2  3  4  5  — LEAST responsible

__Amy, the student                __Dr. Smith, her advisor                __Nicole, her sister

__Eric, Amy’s boyfriend         __Professor Higgins, the instructor

–Robin Middleton, Counselor, Jamestown Community College, NY

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