Oscar van den Wijngaard, Maastricht University (Netherlands)
While never oblivious to the world outside the US, over the last few years NACADA leaders have actively pursued the idea of a “global community for academic advising.” Clearly this raises the need to find common ground between advisors from wildly varying backgrounds. As Yung-Hwa Anna Chow and others reminded us in the September 2010 edition of Academic Advising Today, once we start looking across borders we are confronted with the challenge of a complex kind of diversity. Acknowledging “cultural differences” requires us to recognize and understand how diverging approaches to advising cannot be separated from major differences in education systems. This acknowledgement in turn challenges us to reflect upon often age-old ways of thinking about society and the individual, about what constitutes learning, and about the role and purpose of education.
These differences may be very obvious, but they can also be subtle – particularly between cultures that seem to have a history and tradition in common. From a Dutch perspective, for instance, I would say that even though the Dutch share many of the same values regarding democracy with the US, the traditional American idea that a primary goal of education is the fostering of a sense of citizenship is much less prominent in the Netherlands. On a different note, even though the Dutch may have a reputation for being frugal -- and definitely want “value for money” just as any assertive American consumer – it is unclear what this means for student satisfaction when tuition in the Netherlands is about one fifth of what American students pay. In turn, although Americans may be known as highly individualistic, the average Dutch student will look much more reservedly at any institutionalized group activity, be it a campfire sing-along or a group advising session (I will however, make an exception for soccer!).
And yet, I can say without exaggeration that “discovering” NACADA at a 2007 Summer Institute has made a huge impact on the way we at the University College of Maastricht University think about and organize academic advising. UCM is one of the first liberal arts colleges in the Netherlands; we have what is called an “open curriculum” where students, to a large extent, are responsible for determining their academic focus, including deciding which courses to take. We employ a model of advising that fits the description of many “faculty advising” systems common in the US. The basic teaching method is Problem-Based Learning (PBL), and students can choose courses offered by our college or within other university departments.
People tell me I’m spoilt: only 700 students and close to 60 academic advisors in a teaching system based on small-scale (12 or fewer students) sessions with a lot of student-teacher interaction. I don’t feel a strong urge to disagree… Yet in all my contacts with NACADA colleagues, I have been relieved to discover that we at UCM share many issues and struggles with advisors in similar institutions across the US – and sometimes our solutions aren’t so bad. Despite our differences, apparently there will always be faculty who are slightly more reluctant to take on advising responsibilities than others, or students who think that the difference between core courses and electives is negligible, or that showing up for an appointment on time is so 2009…
This “advisors anonymous” function (backed by a host of practical information and support) is one important benefit NACADA offers. At a more fundamental level, what makes NACADA a “connector” between advising traditions and methods across the globe is its invitation to advisors to reflect on why we do what we do, and how we should be doing it. Advising should not be a matter of prescribing to one fixed methodology. We have not transcended from prescriptive advising for all students to reintroduce it at the institutional level. The NACADA core idea that “advising is teaching” is a motto that could easily be discarded as a sales pitch, particularly in an environment where everything American is looked at with some level of suspicion. But it inevitably raises questions. How would I summarize my philosophy of advising? What actually characterizes the way we teach at our institution? How does the way we teach relate to the way we advise? Does my philosophy affect the way I advise – or the way we organize advising? If advising is teaching, then what do advisors teach? Marc Lowenstein’s response to that question in the NACADA Journal (Fall 2005) has become part of an advising canon from which a set of questions emerges that must be asked by anyone who sets out to advise or design new advising programs. The answers to these questions are relevant and crucial in all cultural contexts where facilitating learning is the goal.
When we claim that advising is teaching, we must be aware of the purpose and outcomes of our curriculum, the expectations that our students, institutions, and society have regarding knowledge, skills, relevance, and success. There is a risk that these things are taken for granted, particularly since they are seldom seen as part of an integral whole: the student’s study experience. There is probably no other place where this interconnectedness is more tangible than in advising. Or at least it can be, once we as advisors have asked ourselves the kinds of questions that the NACADA maxim invites us to consider.
It seems as if most of the time cultural differences are about answers, not questions. Comparing notes between colleagues from across the globe will no doubt show that while we may be driven by the same questions, our answers may be very different; there is no “global best practice”. But when we use NACADA as the means to engage in this exchange with an open mind, the gain in ideas and insights promises to be huge.
Oscar van den Wijngaard
Coordinator Academic Advising
Faculty of Humanities & Sciences
University College Maastricht
Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal 25(2), 65-73.
Cite this article using APA style as: van den Wijngaard, O. (2010, December). Global community: Don't tell, but ask. Academic Advising Today, 33(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]