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Lisa Youretz, John Fenelon, and Karen Wrench, Marquette University


Incorporating technology into advising practices that are meaningful to students can be challenging. Challenges are even greater when an institution’s student population consists of non-traditional learners juggling a multitude of roles and responsibilities, whose age range spans forty years, and whose technological skills range from a minimal understanding of basic computing to coordinating corporate networks. How can advisors effectively integrate existing technology to communicate with students, build community, provide timely information, and establish a non-threatening environment for learners? Advisors should consider their institutions’ online course management systems.

Friendster, Second Life®, YouTube™, wikis, blogs, and vlogs have become familiar terms. Online social networking sites such as Facebook© and MySpace® are now the norm among traditional-age students. Contrary to popular belief, some sites actually attract more mature participants. Jacobs (2006) indicated that 68% of all visitors to MySpace are 25 and older, while Friendster’s attraction is even higher at 71%. These findings dispel the misconception that online social networking is the exclusive domain of teenagers and young adults (Jacobs, 2006).

Community-Building, Networking, and Retention

As we adapt and explore innovative possibilities to deliver academic advising, online social networking sites (SNS) are an attractive tool to bridge generational gaps, introduce new technologies, and make connections. Carter (2007) suggested that “social networking sites may be appropriate for adult learners as they attempt to balance multiple life roles with academic responsibilities…in a convenient, flexible format” (¶7). Since public sites are often plagued by inappropriate behaviors and security risks, advisors should think about utilizing their institution’s virtual learning environment (VLE). This approach allows advisors to monitor online postings and add resources that can help non-traditional students feel connected to campus and to one another.

Transforming a virtual classroom into an advising site can aid in the never-ending quest to increase student retention. Tinto (2006) noted that it was once thought that students needed to break away from their past communities of friends, families, and employers in order to be involved in their academic pursuits. Not anymore. Tinto (2006) found that, in many cases, links to students’ previous communities were essential to their academic persistence. When students feel supported—whether from peers, faculty, or the institution itself—they become more involved and invested in the educational process, resulting in the tendency to stay in school (Ashar & Skenes, 1993; Tinto, 1998, 2006).

From home or work, VLEs can maintain students’ links to personal communities while integrating their support network of fellow learners who understand the challenges and pressures of higher education. Students utilizing VLE discussion boards can also:

  • Interact with peers
  • Raise issues and concerns
  • Provide feedback on courses and instruction
  • Dialogue with faculty and advising personnel
  • Swap or sell textbooks.

By monitoring and participating in online discussions, advisors can get a pulse on students concerns. “Lively [online] discussions on hot topics,” according to Sotto (2000), “can provide a sense of group connectedness” (p. 255). Advisors can also organize synchronous (live) chats that can provide immediate feedback. Private email conversations can occur via paging capabilities that allow students to communicate with an advisor or a peer instead of the entire class list.

Utilizing Existing Technology

Not all students are comfortable with new technologies; some non-traditional students may need to learn basic computer skills. The Sloan Consortium (2006) noted that after a five year growth in online learning, institutions are likely to continue to expand virtual classes and programs. Modifying a campus VLE is a natural progression to provide first-time learners advising-related information that can help familiarize students with an e-learning format. Using a VLE provides students a safe environment to navigate the virtual classroom at their own pace without the pressure of earning a grade.

Adapting an institution’s VLE may make the most economical sense for cash-strapped programs. Because online delivery systems are already in place, implementing an advising “course” requires no additional costs, consulting fees, or funding. The greatest investment advising administrators may face is effectively training staff to manage the site and budgeting time into advisors’ schedules for regular updates and student interactions.

One-Stop Portal

Another important benefit of a customized VLE is that it provides a convenient, one-stop portal to advising information. Traditional office hours do not meet the needs of students in our 24/7 world. Extending office hours may not be feasible but access to interactive resources can be only keystrokes away including:

  • Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Academic forms
  • Campus events
  • Degree requirements
  • Handbooks and bulletins
  • Historical syllabi
  • Internal and external Web links
  • Internships
  • Newsletters
  • Orientation materials
  • Podcasts
  • Policies and procedures
  • Scholarships
  • Student organizations
  • Study skill strategies.

An advising VLE can facilitate information retrieval, provide reminders about upcoming deadlines, and help students discover available resources while remaining sensitive to students’ needs and their varying technological comfort levels (Sotto, 2000).

Other Practical Aspects

Steele and Carter (2002) emphasized that managing these tools—and our time—is now even more critical; utilizing Web pages, emails, and VLEs can assist in addressing “repetitive or common inquiries” and “establish better and more effective communication with advisees” (¶4). Instead of mailing, emailing, or faxing forms, students can access information at any time. The VLE offers advisors additional time to prioritize daily demands and empowers students to be more self-directed, independent learners. A VLE can be tailored to meet the needs of a department, student population or institution including:

  • Save/reduce costs associated with printing and mailing
  • Supplement or offer orientation sessions
  • Implement non-graded quizzes to assess student understanding of policies and procedures
  • Administer Web-based exit surveys for continuous quality improvement
  • Enhance connections between students and peer/alum mentors


An online “course” site is not intended to replace one-on-one interactions with students; instead it adds another dimension that enhances the relationship between advisor and advisee and opens a world of information. When advisors integrate existing technologies, we can effectively communicate with students, build rapport, and establish a safe environment for first-time online learners. Customizing an institution’s VLE is a win-win situation: institutions save money, advisors save time, and students feel connected and informed. All of this via a virtual classroom.

Lisa Youretz
Marquette University
[email protected]

John Fenelon
Marquette University
[email protected]

Karen Wrench
Marquette University
[email protected]


Ashar, H., & Skenes, R. (1993). Can Tinto’s student departure model be applied to nontraditional students? Adult Education Quarterly, 43(2), 90-100.

Carter, J. (2007). Utilizing technology in academic advising. Retrieved February 28, 2008, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Technology.htm#tech

Jacobs, D. (2006, October 7). Different online social networks draw different age groups: Report. Retrieved September 12, 2007, from the International Business Times at www.ibtimes.com/services/pop_print.htm?id=9560&tb=bh

Sloan Consortium, The (2006). Online nation: Five years of growth in online learning. Retrieved February 28, 2008, from www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/online_nation.pdf

Sotto, R.R. (2000). Technological delivery systems. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, & Associates (Eds.). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Steele, G., & Carter, A. (2002, December). Managing electronic communication technologies for more effective advising. The Academic Advising News, 25(4). Retrieved February 28, 2008, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/electronic.htm

Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously. The Review of Higher Education, 21.2, 167-177.

Tinto, V. (2006). Research and practice of student retention: What next. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 8 (1), 1-19.

Cite this article using APA style as: Youretz, L., Fenelon, J. & Wrench, K. (2008, June). 'Classroom' advising: Adapting the virtual learning environment. Academic Advising Today, 31(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2008 June 31:2


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