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Bret Hirsch, University of Louisville

Bret Hirsch.jpgEffective documentation of advising appointments is critical to building strong relationships with students, but is also important for the advisor to provide documentation of the advising encounter.  Folsom (2008) states, “Advising-session notes create a history of advisors’ interactions with students.  Notes enable advisors to recall salient discussions, actions, and decisions from previous student sessions, and protect both students and advisors by providing documentation of important decisions, actions, and referrals” (p. 337).  Academic advising notes have traditionally been the advisors assessment of the student’s progress, goals, and notes of importance that can later be used to validate or invalidate a student’s claim of misadvising as well as highlighting certain aspects about a student for the advisor to mention during the next encounter.  Additionally, the documentation process competes with the time advisors have available for students as advisors are using the end of the day or lunch hours to catch up on appointments for the day.

Unfortunately, advisor’s notes are often limited to a one directional analysis.  The use of collaborative note writing changes the one directional aspect of advising notes while staying true to the original purpose.  Bill Schmelter of the National Council for Behavioral Health (as cited in Claireb2013, 2014) argues that collaborative documentation benefits both the client and counselor.  He argues that notes written after an appointment, away from the client’s eyes, separate treatment and documentation.  Schmelter says the same is true for advisors and students: “Our ‘paper life’ is divorced from our ‘clinical life’” (para. 11).  This division causes notes that lack real meaning and are used to meet minimum requirements rather than provide a valuable resource.

Collaborative note writing is rooted in the mental health profession but can easily be transferred to academic advising.  One of NACADA’s guiding principles is that advising is “a teaching and learning process” (NACADA, 2006).  Collaborative documentation is a way to expand on that concept.  According to Crookston (as cited in Appleby, 2008), “The similarities between the instructional paradigm and prescriptive advising and between the learning paradigm and developmental advising are clear.  The learning paradigmatic teacher interacts dynamically with students to create opportunities for them to actively discover, evaluate, and synthesize knowledge” (p. 90).  Ramos (1994) provides the most succinct advice, “Think of academic advising as a course offered to your advisees.  You are the instructor or facilitator; the student is a learner; your office is the classroom; [and] facilitating growth along several dimensions is the curriculum,” (p. 90).  To add to Ramos, collaborative documentation is one assessment of that curriculum.  

Collaborative note writing is a process of asking the student to be engaged in the writing of their notes while being guided by the advisor.  Collaborative note writing provides students the opportunity to share their input and perspectives on advising services and the progress they make while also allowing them to focus on outcomes.  This does not mean that the advisor has less responsibility in the documentation process, rather it creates more responsibility on the student and serves as an effective way to know what students receive from their appointments.  As an example, a student and advisor discuss the process for repeating a course for a better grade but when the student is writing their notes they do not mention this process.  This serves as indication to the advisor that they may need to review that conversation so the student is certain that they understand.  Collaborative note writing is also important in that it makes the documentation process transparent for students.  The notes are no longer secret, rather the student is aware of what goes into the notes and thus serves to create a stronger sense of trust in the advisor and the process.  As advisors seek to develop partnerships with students it is important that students be involved at every level of the encounter and follow up.

Collaborative note writing can be initiated in a variety of ways depending on the preference of the advisor.  In many instances, students do not know that documentation of the encounter exists, so the approach must be one for educating students on the purpose of notes as well as seeking to obtain the necessary information.  Some advisors may find that the easiest way to engage the student is giving them the keyboard and asking the student to type a summary of the encounter.  The advisor could then review the note and offer additional information about areas that were not recorded or provide clarification if a note was inaccurate.  Other advisors may find that the better process for collaborative note taking is for the advisor to ask the student to sum up the encounter and then type the note in their preferred, or institutionally required, format for better flow among all students in the advisor’s caseload.

For the student, collaborative note writing can be empowering.  No longer should they feel as though a mysterious file is kept, rather an open and honest body of information that serves to put responsibility for actions back on the student.  It can be a reminder for the student: “I will complete a petition for a waiver,” instead of the current practice of, “Student will complete a petition for a waiver.”  Allowing students to see the information and write it down stimulates the visual learning mechanism as well as repetition for longer memory storage.   Also, effective collaborative notes do not have to be long!  They should be succinct and helpful in supporting the advising process and relationship.

For collaborative note writing to work, the student must be present and engaged in the process.  According to Hirsch (n.d.), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has shared that collaborative documentation can improve engagement and involvement, focus on change and positive outcomes, improve compliance, and save time.  It is important when introducing this concept that advisors remind the students that it is their note, that their advisor wants to be sure to accurately state what they are saying, indicate what they as students are getting out of the time together instead of what the advisors thinks or hopes they are getting, and get valuable feedback about the interaction with them as a student.  This process allows advisors to know what they can do to better their service to that individual student, supporting a person-centered and person-driven approach to advising.  Further, it allows for any other advisor to read the notes and know exactly where the student is in meeting goals and what they understand from previous advising encounters.  When advisors are using the collaboration method, they do not have to rely on numerous quotes to show involvement of a client.

It is important to remember that students will only take away from the advising appointment what advisors are giving.  If they believe that advisors see collaborative note writing as a valuable and interactive experience, they will too!  This is just one more step in ensuring students see their relationship with their advisor as a partnership and are invested in the experience.   

Bret Hirsch, M.S.
Academic Counselor, Sr.
College of Arts & Sciences
University of Louisville
[email protected]


Appleby, D. C. (2008). Advising as teaching and learning.  In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 323-341).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Claireb2013. (2014, June 13). Could collaborative documentation be the next big-and-effective-thing in behavioral healthcare? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://ireta.org/2014/06/13/could-collaborative-documentation-be-the-next-big-and-effective-thing-in-behavioral-healthcare/

Folsom, P. (2008). Tools and resources for advisors. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 323-341). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hirsch, K. (n.d.). Collaborative documentation: A clinical tool [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/mai-coc-grantees-online-community/Breakout4_Collaborative_Documentation.pdf

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/Concept.aspx

Ramos, B. (1994). O’Banion revisited: Now more than ever. National Academic Advising Association Journal, 14(2), 89-91.

Cite this article using APA style as: Hirsch, B. (2017, September). Collaborative note taking. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


# Elizabeth
Friday, October 27, 2017 9:50 AM
I would love to hear some examples of how advisors are keeping advisor-advisee collaborative notes. Google docs? We have an internal portal where advisors and senior team record notes on student interactions, but currently, students don't have access to these notes, nor can they contribute their own. Does anyone have a setup like this where students do have access to their own file and the ability to record their own notes?

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