Advice on Advising

10 May 2020 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Dear ECPs,

As a faculty advisor, I am struggling to juggle teaching tasks while helping students register for upcoming semesters. What challenges have you encountered while advising students during the quarantine? Are there any strategies that we can learn from this time to streamline advising practices for future semesters?


Asking Advice on Advising

Dear Asking Advice on Advising,

We understand the uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting enrollment numbers, availability, and format of courses. Dr. Albee Mendoza provides some insights on the challenges of advising relationships during this difficult time. 

Increasing (Efficiency of) Communication

With the social distancing precautions being taken due to COVID-19, many higher education institutions have extended administrative deadlines, implemented new policies, and changed course delivery (sometimes these changes happened more than once!). Communicating these changes effectively with advisees may be a challenge, especially with the higher volume of emails they are receiving on a daily basis. The most important thing is that communication is still taking place, but there are many reasons why both students and advisors are struggling to keep up with email. It may be the case that neither party is intentionally ignoring their growing inboxes but there are a lot more emails to comb through and they may miss messages that need a response.

Tips for streamlining communication:  

·        Make sure that your emails are being recognized amidst the plethora of messages: a concise and clear subject heading (e.g., Graduation Petition Due TOMORROW!), a body with bullet points and spaces, a short message, and a call to action at the top of the email can help the students digest important information. You could even specify [Response Requested] in the subject line to make expectations clear.

·        Set clear expectations (perhaps in an email autoreply) about expectations for timely communication (for both you and the student).

·        Cut down advising emails substantially by creating a course on your school’s learning management system for your advisees only. Advisees can check that course site for announcements about campus-wide deadlines (e.g., virtual graduation video due tomorrow) as well as departmental deadlines (e.g., internship application due tomorrow). 

·        Consider using GoogleForms (or a similar service) to collect and organize key information about your advisees (e.g., Are you interested in an internship? What minors are you pursuing?). Though you may have to remind them to complete the survey, you will then have key information housed in a single spreadsheet instead of lost to your email archives!

·        Create a GoogleDocs FAQ for your advisees and update it with any new information that applies to multiple cases. You can organize the topics using Headings (which will appear as a table of contents on the left) to make it easily navigable, and clearly indicate new information with the date it was added. Having a source of information with live updates cuts down on lots of back and forth emails!

Increasing Productivity

With so many emails, you might decide talking live may be better so that there is a set time and date to discuss issues. Due to social distancing, advisors have had to move away from paper signups taped to the hallway or drop-in office hours. 

Tips for increasing productivity of advising meetings

·        Use an online calendar (via email like Outlook or Gmail) or service (like Calendly, YouCanBookMe, SignUpGenius, or Doodle) to schedule advising meetings - you’ll be amazed at how much back and forth email this cuts down! 

·        Hold virtual sessions using school-based platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. You can also use chat functions on these platforms - no video necessary! Even after the quarantine, you may find that having virtual advising hours can be helpful to certain types of students (e.g., commuters, nontraditional students, etc.), so think of this as a great opportunity to learn the tools that will help lots of people in the future. 

·        Get the same questions repeatedly about how to find a resource, how to navigate the school catalog or degree audit, or how to calculate a GPA? Make FAQs, resource guides, or even how-to videos (Loom and Screencast-O-Matic are easy to use and have free options) to share with your students to cut down on email and make actual meeting times more productive.       

Prepare for these meetings by checking out the advisee’s unofficial transcript or course history and consider filling out the major and/or minor checklist electronically. Whether a graduation checklist or degree audit is consulted, the strategy of reviewing them together can help both advisors and advisees so they can check/double-check what classes they took, what classes need repeating, and what classes are needed for graduation. An electronic completion of a checklist may be time-consuming to set up, but it will be a great resource for the future. 

Typically, advising meetings are focused on what courses to take or drop. In the current climate, this may be difficult if students do not show up for their appointment. It can be tempting to just make a plan for the student to expedite the process, but this takes away their autonomy and a possible learning experience. Less time in meetings can be spent building a schedule or reviewing basics (especially if you create resources as suggested above) and more time can be spent on how to find classes that meet both the graduation requirements and future goals. As an overarching benefit, advisees will gain the knowledge and confidence to find classes on their own if a class is full or if there is an overlap of class times. The advisor’s role is to double-check their efforts and perhaps more time in the meeting discussing major-specific advantages (e.g., opportunity for internship, scholarships available, interest in departmental student organizations). After the meetings, advisors can type up their advising notes for an electronic summary that they can save and/or send to advisees.

Increasing Empathy

The Class of 2020 is being dubbed the Class of COVID-19, and many graduating seniors are feeling the grief of not being able to participate in an important developmental milestone (not to mention the anxiety about entering the job market at this time). Those who were fortunate celebrated ‘fauxmencements’ before they were forced to return home. This is an unprecedented time for everyone. As faculty advisors, we may see underclassmen not return to our institutions as they reflect on this semester. Perhaps they want to be closer to home or they need to now pitch in financially. It is okay that advisees are upset and anxious about this new normal. The article available here provides some strategies to promote emotion-focused coping, connectedness, self-care, and optimism.

Be healthy, be safe, and be well,

Your STP Early Career Psychologists Committee

Albee Mendoza, Ph.D.

Daniel Storage, Ph.D. 

Janet Peters, Ph.D.

Karenna Malavanti, Ph.D.

Molly Metz, Ph.D.

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