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Voices of the Global Community

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Tiffany LeDonne-Smith and Jackie Keith, Oakland University

LeDonne-Smith & Keith.jpgSince March 2020, the environment of academic advising has been constantly changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Advisors have had to be flexible in adapting to the current environment when it comes to meeting students' needs. Along with many others, our office in the School of Business Administration at Oakland University was forced to transition from a face-to-face environment into a completely virtual, and now hybrid, format. Challenges of the pandemic, although forcing some abrupt changes, have also provided some unique opportunities to re-evaluate accessibility of advising within one's institution. At Oakland, we’ve learned that now more than ever, flexibility is key in effectively meeting our students' needs. Not only is this flexibility beneficial to students, but also to advisors in creating more work-life balance.

There has been the phrase “living within a new normal” which had us wondering what that would look like for advisors in the future. We questioned whether or not our current practices at Oakland were working for our student populations and what the future of advising at could potentially look like in a theoretical post-pandemic world. We’ve seen the pros and cons with virtual advising and wanted to take a deeper look into our students' thoughts and perspectives. A survey was sent to over 1,500 students from our academic unit in the School of Business Administration. A summary of our results and recommendations are highlighted here in hopes to share what we’ve learned to educate others on the possibilities moving forward in a hybrid advising environment.

Pre-Pandemic

Oakland University is a public university that consists of 88% commuter and 27% non-traditional students. In our personal advising experiences in the School of Business Administration, neither of us had previously participated in an advising interaction virtually. In a pre-pandemic world, it was rare at our institution to offer appointments in a modality other than in-person. Our office was open from the standard 8:00am-5:00pm and closed for the 12:00pm-1:00pm lunch hour. Most appointments were held during the times of 9:00am-11:00am and 2:00pm-4:00pm with occasional evening, in-person advising appointments from 5:00-7:00pm. We also held large group orientations where sessions were a 12:1 student to advisor ratio. 

Transition to Virtual Advising

Over the past two years almost all of our advising interactions in the School of Business Administration have been conducted fully online. While we have since returned to offering in-person advising, our advising interactions have by and large been virtual. Despite the return to in-person classes, there continues to be a high demand for the virtual advising format. We're now able to offer virtual options for both evening weekday and Saturday morning advising to better meet the needs of non-traditional students. In addition, orientations that were previously held in a large group format are now done one-on-one with students, providing them with a much more personalized experience.

What Students are Saying

The authors of this article created and sent out a survey in Summer 2021 term in hopes that the results could influence our advising practices during the upcoming academic year. The survey was sent to 1,789 students in the School of Business Administration who had an assigned School of Business Administration academic advisor. The results from the survey were collected over a three-week timeframe and yielded a response rate of 25% with 448 students completing the survey.

Of the students who completed the survey, the majority of respondents had both in-person and virtual experiences during their time in college thus far with only 33% having only virtual appointments. A very small number had only in-person appointments or reported never meeting with their advisor.

  • 47% of students surveyed were equally satisfied with virtual and in-person advising
  • 20% were more satisfied with virtual advising
  • 15% were more satisfied with in-person advising
  • 15% were neutral
  • 2% never met with their advisor

In addition to student preference, we also were able to collect data on factors outside of an advising appointment modality. During the transition to virtual advising, the majority of students reported,

  • Advisors were more responsive to emails, including after business hours
  • Advisors were more accommodating and flexible with dates and times to meet virtually

Regarding follow-up from advising interactions, the survey asked students a series of questions related to their actions after their advising appointment. It was reported that most students agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements:

During/After my last virtual advising meeting,

  • If I were tasked with something, I did it immediately after meeting with my advisor.
  • I felt I better understood the curriculum and program requirements.
  • I was glad to have set up the advising appointment.

In the survey there were several open-ended questions offered to provide students the opportunity to voice their experiences related to virtual advising.

In general, students reported:

  • “I really enjoyed the flexibility it offered to my schedule and the ability to plan ahead. I also liked that after each meeting, I could immediately begin working on or looking into what was discussed.”
  • “I could be flexible with the times I could meet. I could take my lunch break at work and meet with my advisor. I could use my time more efficiently.”

While there were a lot of students who had positive things to say about their experiences with virtual advising, there were some comments indicating that students preferred in-person interactions.

Common themes of students who were not in favor of virtual advising stated:

  • “Internet reliability/data usage. I live in an area with limited internet availability and limited data allowances. Exchanging paperwork is also trickier with email although my advisor helped this situation by being very organized.”
  • “I am more engaged in any situation when in-person and I find in-person interactions more beneficial to communicate.”

Overall, the results from our survey showed a higher preference for virtual advising compared to in-person. This could be due in part to student demographics in the School of Business Administration and the specific majors we advise. Comparably, a survey completed by Wang and Houdyshell (2021) showed split views of students’ preferences with in-person and virtual academic advising. With that, we believe it’s important to identify the needs of your own student voices when making decisions about modifying advising practices for the future.

Implications for Advising Formats at Oakland

While it’s important to note the students' perspectives in virtual advising, it’s also important to look at the data as it relates to the appointment modality that is being utilized.  With the ability to offer virtual advising as an option, our advising office has been able to be more flexible with advising appointments, meeting the needs of more students.

  • Fall 2019 (no virtual advising) vs Fall 2020:
    • Saw 116 more students in Fall 2020 with virtual advising as an option and had 55 fewer no-shows.
  • Winter 2019 (no virtual advising) vs Winter 2021:
    • Saw 559 more students in Winter 2021 with virtual advising as an option and had 30 fewer no-shows.

With virtual advising, students are able to attend more appointments and receive the assistance they need from us without other time constraints, although students who never experience an in-person advising interaction might not be getting the full benefits of the advising and college experience. Wang & Houdyshell (2021) describe that the new normal in the world of Academic Advising will likely continue to offer a mix of both in-person and virtual modalities. “RAA (Remote Academic Advising) should not only become more popular, but also change the academic advising landscape in higher education” (Wang & Houdyshell, 2021, p. 50). There are pros and cons to both advising experiences, which is why it is even more important to continue providing opportunities for serving students in a hybrid format. 

Recommendations and Hopes for the Future

The results of our survey at Oakland show that students express a high level of satisfaction with virtual advising, and more of students' needs are being met. To best meet the needs of all students and preferences, it’s our recommendation as authors that whenever possible, offer students a hybrid advising environment by giving them the option to choose to meet virtually or in-person.

As advisors, we’ve also seen that having the flexibility to work virtually from a remote location has strong advantages impacting employee satisfaction and retention. The authors of this article both identify as working mothers who have seen firsthand the importance of working remotely when trying to establish a healthy work-life balance. The opportunity to flex our schedule and offer early morning or evening appointments while advising from home not only meets the needs of our students, but also meets the demands of a working parent. Working from home not only benefits one's work-life balance, but it also saves time commuting, which reduces the carbon footprint and provides cost savings on gas and mileage.

Our hopes for the future and for our own professional work-life balance is that working remotely and virtual advising will remain an option regardless of the state of the pandemic. It’s our belief that this will allow for greater advisor and student satisfaction which will then increase both advisor and student retention.

Tiffany LeDonne-Smith
Academic Advisor
School of Business Administration
Oakland University
tledonne@oakland.edu

Jackie Keith
Academic Advisor
School of Business Administration
Oakland University
jaclynkeith@oakland.edu

References

Wang, C. X., & Houdyshell, M. (2021). Remote academic advising using synchronous technology: Knowledge, experiences, and perceptions from students. NACADA Journal, 41(2), 40–52. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-20-27


Cite this article using APA style as: LeDonne-Smith, T., & Keith, J. (2022, June). Academic advising is a virtual environment: The pros and cons from an advising and student perspective. Academic Advising Today, 45(2). [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2022 June 45:2

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