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Voices of the Global Community


Maura Reynolds, NACADA Small College & Universities Commission Chair

Author's note: This article explores issues of concern for all faculty-based advising situations (not small colleges alone). May we continue to recognize our similarities and acknowledge (but not focus on) our differences; we have much to learn from each other.

  " A theory doesn't have to be right to be useful" (Grow, p. 127).

This year, I've met with a group of colleagues to discuss Maryellen Weimer's Learner-Centered Teaching. The book has spurred fruitful conversation about teaching. It has also prompted me to consider whether some of its ideas may apply to faculty advising, especially at small colleges.

Weimer distinguishes between student-centered and learner-centered teaching and opts for the latter, "Being student-centered implies a focus on student needs. It gives rise to the idea of education as a product, with the student as the customer and the role of the faculty as one of serving and satisfying the customer. Faculty resist the student-as-customer metaphor for some very good reasons" (xvi). In contrast, "Being learner-centered focuses attention squarely on learning: what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning. The student is still an important part of the equation. When instruction is learner-centered, the action focuses on what students (not teachers [or, I'd add, advisors]) are doing" (xvi).

Weimer's distinction between student-centered and learner-centered teaching is mirrored by Hemwall and Trachte's critiques of developmental academic advising and their adoption of a learning paradigm for advising (1999; 2003). Such considerations are not just of recent interest: the theme of the 1984 NACADA Conference was 'Academic Advising as a Form of Teaching.'

As Grow reminds us (above), situating advising in a learner/learning/teaching-centered framework can be useful whether it is 'right' or not. In the spirit of William Cronon's essay (1999), I suggest these connections:

  • Connecting advising with institutional mission. Hemwall and Trachte (2003) remind us that, while faculty may have looked at institutional mission statements, students may not be aware of them. How do institutional goals and students' personal academic goals connect? With what parts of the mission do students feel most comfortable? Which will stretch them? Using the mission statement as foundation, faculty can encourage advisees to view their education in a larger context as a process with more than private, personal significance (important though it is). In this way, faculty can help bring to life mantra-like phrases--'responsible citizenship' and 'citizen of the world'-- in most mission statements. 'We all long for something we can do that brings us deep joy and meets some significant need beyond ourselves' (Mary Sue Gast, cited in Manning, 1999).
  • Connecting advising with general education. Since they determine and teach the curriculum, faculty should do more than provide a list of requirements; they can talk with students about their rationale. What was written in 1988 rings true in 2004, 'Perhaps the most urgent reform on most campuses in improving general education involves academic advising. To have programs and courses become coherent and significant to students requires adequate advising' (Task Group on General Education, p.43).
  • Connecting advising with self-reflection. Talking about general education and institutional mission is not sufficient. Students need opportunities to integrate what they learn. Advising offers a venue for such reflection: faculty encourage students to look forward to setting or editing learning goals and to look back to see where they've been. Skillful learners grow in their ability to analyze and reflect in ways that lead to accurate self-knowledge (Weimer, 195). This self-awareness involves emotion as well as intellect. While some may rejoice in newly-discovered interests and abilities, others may mourn a future which may no longer be feasible.
  • Connecting advising with complexity. None of these connections involves once-and-for-all-time conversations. Instead, each can evoke richer, more complex thinking each time it is considered. The learning goals students set (as well as those goals colleges encourage them to set) are complex and transcend classrooms and advising appointments. '[A]s with any other human growth, development is not linear, predictable, and exclusively forward' (Weimer, 175). Students may come seeking a degree; we hope they leave understanding that 'education is not something any of us ever achieve.. Rather, it is a way of living in the face of our own ignorance, a way of groping toward wisdom in full recognition of our own folly, a way of educating ourselves without any illusions that our education will ever be complete' (Cronon, 4). Complex, indeed! As students become more complex in thinking, their capacity for empathy and appreciation of difference increases, as does their refusal to take refuge in simplistic views of complex issues (Knefelkamp, 8-9).

Heady stuff. And humbling as well. In their teaching and advising, faculty can create environments to foster learning, but the decision to learn rests with the student-advisee.

When we consider advising in a learner-centered framework, we discover fruitful and challenging opportunities to involve faculty in advising and to support learners. The Small Colleges and Universities Commission plans to offer several sessions about faculty advising at the 2004 conference in Cincinnati. Hope to see you there! Until then, let conversation continue on the small college and university list-serve.

Maura Reynolds
Chair, Small Colleges and Universities Commission


Cronon, W. (Winter 1998-1999). Only Connect: The goals of a liberal education. The Phi Beta Kappa Key Reporter, 64 (2), 2-4.

Grow, G. O. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149.

Hemwall, M.K. & Trachte, K.C. (1999). Learning at the core: Toward a new understanding of academic advising. NACADA Journal, 19 (1), 5-11.

Hemwall, M.K. & Trachte, K.C. (2003). Advising and Learning: Academic advising from the perspective of small colleges and universities. National Academic Advising Association: Manhattan, KS.

Knefelkamp, L.L. (1984). Academic advising as a form of teaching. Keynote address in Proceedings of the eighth national conference on academic advising. Philadelphia, PA, 1-12.

Manning, M. M. (1999). Liberal Education for our life's work. Prepared for The Association for General and Liberal Studies, October 28. Retrieved 2-23-04 from http://www.novalearning.com/Liberal_Education_Final_Draft.pdf

Task Group on General Education (1988). A new vitality in general education: Planning, teaching, and supporting effective liberal learning. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cite this article using APA style as: Reynolds, M. (2004, June). Faculty advising in a learner-centered environment: A small college perspective. Academic Advising Today, 27(2). [insert url here]

Posted in: 2004 June 27:2


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