Student advisement 2.0
By Craig Brandhorst, CRAIGB1@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3681
In case you haven’t heard, USC is overhauling its entire advisement system.
In response to student critiques of the current decentralized system, the administration formed the University Advisers Network to standardize procedures and empower advisers and advisees. Formed in May, the network includes representatives from each college and from other university divisions who meet monthly to brainstorm ways to improve the advising process.
Improvements already under way include the implementation of a common email system, advisement checklist and scheduling system. The network is eager to replace USC’s outmoded IMS registration system with an academic planning software system called Banner and a graduation planning service called Degree Works, with full implementation expected by the fall of 2013.
“By having standardized practices for advising, students can spend the time with their adviser talking about more things than a checklist of classes,” said Vice Provost Helen Doerpinghaus, who also serves as co-chair of the new advisers’ network. “We can start to talk about beyond the classroom experiences. We can talk about USC Connect. If we make it easier for students to keep in touch and easier for advisers to advise, then we can have more time for more meaningful conversations.”
Major changes and second opinions
Standardization notwithstanding, students changing majors will always have distinct advisement needs. Enter the Cross Campus Advising program at USC’s Student Success Center, which provides supplemental counseling to students contemplating significant academic changes.
“A business adviser is an expert on everything to do with the business curriculum—the coursework, the policies and so on,” said Dawn Traynor, coordinator of cross-campus advising. “But if a student comes in and says, ‘I’m thinking of switching to journalism,’ that business adviser may not know all of the requirements for that other major. We help students consider all of their options so they can make informed and intentional decisions.”
Cross Campus Advising visits have jumped from approximately 70 per semester to more than 1,500 since the program started in 2009.
“We ask the tough questions to get students thinking about things that they may not have considered—about themselves, about what’s important to them,” Traynor said. “We want students to know their options and spend time thinking about their own strengths and values. We also want them to make use of all the great resources we have on campus, from the career center to USC Connect. We take everything and help them make sense of it all.”
School of Journalism and Mass Communications adviser Art Farlowe doesn’t know whose idea it was for his office to use Skype when advising study abroad students. He only knows he likes it, and that it works.
Prior to last year, Farlowe’s office conducted sessions with study abroad students the way it had for years, via email, but that system had obvious drawbacks.
“As we all know, one email question leads to 20 more, especially when someone’s in the Czech Republic trying to figure things out,” said Farlowe, who also sits on the new University Advisers Network. “Meeting with one student would take more time than seeing five. The average was 10 emails per student, just to answer all of their questions.”
Now when journalism students study abroad, Farlowe simply sends out one email during the second week of the semester containing his Skype name and a reminder to make an appointment online, the same way the student would on campus. It’s hardly a technological revolution, Farlowe said, but that doesn’t diminish the results.
“We’ve gone from 10 emails to one, maybe two,” said Farlowe. “And they get that face-to-face time to tell us what they’re doing. They’re excited to share their experiences—‘this is where I’ve been,’ ‘this is what I’ve done,’ ‘this is what I’m taking.’ It makes it much more personal, and it makes it easier, too.”
Videoconferencing also makes long-distance advising more effective, because advisers can gauge a student’s reactions through facial expressions.
“You see if they really understand something,” said Farlowe, who recommends the method to fellow advisers. “If you tell them something and they think it means one thing, but you mean something else—you see that on their face. In email you don’t get that.”
All systems go: new software, new possibilities
Of all the changes coming to advisement and registration, the move from IMS to Banner and Degree Works may have the biggest positive impact, according to Loren Knapp, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the University Advisers Network.
“Students should have very little trouble with the new system,” said Knapp, who has already taken Banner for a test drive. “The other nice thing is that the adviser, no matter which college he’s in, will be able to get online and see very similar if not identical sets of information to what students are seeing.”
Knapp describes Banner as the easiest planning system he’s seen but is even more enthusiastic about how the university can further improve advisement going forward.
“We’ll have all of the new things like Banner and Degree Works alongside the infrastructure of the advisers network,” said Knapp. “That means we can easily work out the kinds of changes we need to make our system even better.”
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