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Leigh Cunningham, NACADA Executive Office Research Committee Liaison

Janet Schulenberg.jpgOn October 5, 2015, during the 2015 NACADA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, a lively “Common Reading” discussion took place surrounding the 2008 NACADA Journal article, “Advising is Advising: Toward Defining the Practice and Scholarship of Academic Advising.”  Sponsored by the NACADA Research Committee, the event was led by Research Committee Chair Ryan Tomasiewicz and article authors Janet Schulenberg (pictured, right) and Marie Lindhorst.jpgMarie Lindhorst (pictured, left). More than 50 conference attendees engaged in a spirited conversation, which included discussion of the definition of academic advising, advising as a “high impact” activity, and the need for sustained scholarship within the field.

As noted by the Common Reading Committee in the event handout summary, Schulenberg and Lindhorst sought to advance the profession of academic advising by challenging all who have advising responsibilities to define academic advising as a unique field of practice and study. They argued that academic advising has emerged as a distinct interdisciplinary field and profession, but the description of its key characteristics has relied on analogies and metaphors (e.g., coaching, mentoring, teaching, friendship), obscuring its unique role and scope within higher education.  Those well-intentioned efforts to explain advising practice mask the importance of the scholarship that underlies and supports its practice. Schulenberg and Lindhorst argued that the “scholar-practitioner model must be nurtured for all who engage in academic advising and for a distinct scholarly identity for academic advising to be established within higher education” (Abstract).

Event participants were asked to contemplate what Schulenberg and Lindhorst implied by encouraging readers to consider academic advising as a unique field of scholarship and practice, where its purposes, value, and outcomes are made explicit to students, advisors, and other stakeholders.  What arguments could be made for its importance?  Have there been any changes in the field since the article was written in 2008 to bring greater clarity to the explicit purpose, value, and outcomes of the field?

Some participants contended that little has changed since the article was written.  Some felt that discussion has focused on terms that serve to justify the importance of advising to higher administration rather than defining advising as a profession.  One participant suggested that advisors themselves will need to provide a meaningful definition, and the definition will not be a job description or a description of the advising process, but instead will detail what advising is.  Lindhorst agreed that regardless of the specifics of the population, location, or program, advising is fundamentally the same. Schulenberg proposed that advising professionals need to take ownership of this defining process.  Other participants suggested that advisors need to identify what language will resonate and that, while there may be utility in employing metaphor (which can be particularly beneficial in helping young advisors understand what advising is), progress ought to be made in developing a unique language to define the field.

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Event attendee Marc Lowenstein shared that after he wrote his 2005 NACADA Journal article, “If Advising is Teaching, What Do Advisors Teach?” – which is frequently quoted in advising publications and presentations – he thought he “had it knocked” until he heard Schulenberg and Lindhorst present on “Advising is Advising” at a NACADA conference the following year.  Lowenstein said that after reflecting on their presentation, he “went back to the drawing board” and changed his approach to these issues.

NACADA Assistant Director of Resources Marsha Miller, who is the association’s representative to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), stated that there is little understanding of what academic advisors do in higher education at large and that a theory of advising needs to be developed.  She suggested that an article be chosen for the 2016 Common Reading that could aid the process of answering this call.

One possible article that might be considered for this purpose is Lowenstein’s (2014) recent publication on the topic, “Toward a Theory of Advising,” which is the result of his long reflection and many conversations with advising colleagues following the publication of his 2005 piece.  This article was written following a 2013 NACADA Webinar, Emerging Issues in Academic Advising Theory, during which Lowenstein, Schulenberg, and colleagues Peter Hagen, Sarah Champlin-Scharff, and Hilleary Himes considered a variety of questions, including What theories of advising are represented in the most important literature on the subject? and What will a successful theory of advising accomplish?

In his 2014 offering, Lowenstein discusses theories of advising versus theories in advising, considers whether a “unified theory” of advising is possible or even desirable, and explains the goals and criteria for a theory of advising.  Fundamentally, he states, a theory of advising should be tied to a philosophy of higher education, identify elements common to all advising, distinguish advising from other activities, identify what advisors do and show why advising is critical, imply a standard for what can be expected from advisors, and inspire advisors to reach for a vision of excellence. 

Lowenstein (2014) then furthers the discussion by proposing the normative Theory of Advising as Integrative Learning, which may be summed up briefly in the following six points.

  1. Advising is an academic endeavor.  Its purposes are specific to institutions of higher learning.
  2. Advising enhances learning and at its core is a locus of learning and not merely a signpost to learning.
  3. The learning that happens is integrative and helps students make meaning out of their education as a whole.
  4. The student must be an active rather than passive participant in the process.  The student has the task of constructing an education with the advisor serving as facilitator.
  5. Advising is transformative, not transactional.
  6. Advising is central to achieving the goals of any college or university.

This proposed theory, Lowenstein concludes, “offers a plausible and comprehensive statement of the essential nature of advising that sets academic advising apart as a distinctive area of practice and thought” (Conclusion, ¶2).  He completes his article by welcoming feedback and further conversation.  A future NACADA Common Reading session might be an excellent setting for such a conversation.

NACADA members who were unable to attend the Common Reading session at Annual Conference were given a second chance to engage in the conversation with Schulenberg and Lindhorst when, on October 27, 2015, the pair came to the NACADA webinar venue for an online NACADA Reads session.  Led by NACADA Associate Director Jennifer Joslin, Schulenberg and Lindhorst shared the article’s origins in their efforts to make sense of the advising profession’s struggles to define itself and the language surrounding how we describe what we accomplish through advising.  They discussed their response to Lowenstein’s (2005) “If Advising is Teaching…” article and their desire to build upon his important contribution, as well as the numerous “Advising is…” metaphor pieces that followed his work.  They considered the importance of taking care in selecting the language we use in discussing the work that we do: how we describe the role we play in the university, study it, advocate for it, and let people know who we are and what we do.  They contend that it is critical that the way we define advising adequately describes everything that we do, the full purpose and value of academic advising, and the effect that advisors have on students and institutions through this work, for the way we describe what we do affects the way we approach our work and the strategies we employ to engage in it.  Advising, they argue, can be defined as “engaging students to think critically about their academic choices and make effective plans for their educations” (Schulenberg & Lindhorst, 2008, p.43).

Prompted by Joslin, Schulenberg and Lindhorst also discussed ways that advising cohorts can create an environment of inquiry in which advisors can be critically reflective about what we do, be expected to converse with each other about our work, be focused on assessment of student learning as a result of our work, and be encouraged to take a collaborative approach to our work. They concluded by encouraging all educators who engage in the work of advising, whether they be new to the profession or well along in their careers, to take ownership: get involved in the conversation, make meaning, write and reflect, and contribute back to the scholarship of the field.

Readers who were unable to attend either the on-site or on-line Reading events still have the opportunity to prepare to join the next round of this ongoing conversation by reading the articles and viewing the recording of the NACADA Reads webinar (now available on the NACADA Reads webpage), as well as the Emerging Issues in Academic Advising Theory webinar (available on the NACADA YouTube channel).  We encourage you to use these resources for professional development in your advising unit in the coming year, and we hope to see you at next year’s Common Reading session at the 2016 NACADA Annual Conference in Atlanta.

Leigh Cunningham
Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
[email protected]

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Hagen, P., Champlin-Scharff, S., Schulenberg, J., Lowenstein, M., & Himes, H. (2013, September 25). Emerging issues in academic advising theory. NACADA Webinar Series. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VId0PiLrXA&feature=youtu.be

Lowenstein, M. (2014, August 12). Toward a theory of advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal.   Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2014/08/toward-a-theory-of-advising/

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65-73.

Schulenberg, J., & Lindhorst, M. (2008). Advising is advising: Toward defining the practice and scholarship of academic advising.  NACADA Journal, 28(1), 43-53.

Cite this article using APA style as: Cunningham, L. (2015, December). Advisors discuss: Advising is advising. Academic Advising Today, 38(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.