Joshua M. Larson, University of Utah
I recently applied for the position of Coordinator of Technology in Advising at my university. For the interview I was given the presentation topic, How Technology Complements Academic Advising to Impact Student Success.Initially, I was sure there would be lots of ways technology used in academic advising impacts student success. But after talking with others, writing down my ideas, and creating a storyboard using a flip-chart and crayons, I reached the conclusion that advising technologies do not impact student success.
Isn’t it amazing that students have access to the same information we do? They can see major requirements, the Credit / No Credit policy, withdrawal procedures, success tips, degree audit reports, and so much more. So how does this access to information complement advising and impact student success? Do students ask us better or different questions? Do they contact us less? Are they getting more from advising? Are they graduating quicker or with fewer problems? Are they more self-confident or self-sufficient? In general, the answer is “no.”
I thought this might be an anomaly, so I sought another example. Has the 24/7 access to technologies, (e.g., email, Twitter™, Skype©, text, or Facebook©) done anything to impact student success? Are students doing more internships, going to career services more, appreciating general education more, or petitioning less? Again, I could not conclude that these technologies complemented academic advising or impacted student success.
At a loss for my interview, I reviewed the definition of the word “impact”. The Encarta dictionary (2001) defines the word “impact” as “a powerful or dramatic effect” (p. 722). This means that technology must make a real difference. I wondered, when presenters stopped using markers, flip-charts, whiteboards, scissors, and glue and moved to PowerPoint®, did this technology make presentations more powerful, dramatic, or more successful? Did all presentations become more interesting, more to the point, or more relevant? No. Poor presentations are as poor as ever and good ones are still rare. Sometimes technology may actually hurt, distract, confuse, or be an obstacle to success. After thinking about the definition, I could not say that technology has a “powerful or dramatic effect” and was left with the conclusion that technology does not impact student success.
This could not be true. I had given presentations on technology in advising, advocated and used technology in many more places, and regularly received requests to discuss technology in advising. Yet I was going to walk into my interview and say, “Technology doesn’t complement academic advising to impact student success.”
…but then I took a broader view and asked, “Why are students successful?” Using the PowerPoint example, I asked, “what makes a successful presentation?” Good presentations take hard work, creativity, motivation, and inspiration. Presentations are a success because the presenter has acquired skills and behaviors that make the presentation good; the technology is only a tool. So, how do advisors assess whether students are successful? We use Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs).
Technology only complements academic advising to impact student success when it is used as a tool to achieve a SLO. It is important that technology is used within an assessment rubric because though technology is ubiquitous in today’s institutions, I could find little evidence that technology impacts student success.
When a student sits at my computer and, with my guidance, generates his DARS report, explains his report to me, and decides what he needs to do to graduate, the student meets an advising SLO using technology. When the student asks about a job after graduation, I refer him to the Career Services webpage and he makes an appointment. The student again achieves a SLO. When we teach students how to access and use information themselves via technology, we use the technology tool to achieve the institution’s academic advising SLOs (e.g., student is proactive, student can generate a DARS report, student knows where to find graduation information, student has investigated career opportunities, and student values advising). If, at the end of a session we review and agree on the appointment notes, and I send the notes and all documents to the student, we use technology to achieve the SLO for the student and advisor for keeping accurate, up-to-date, and relevant records of all academic appointments. Finally, because the student can use technology to find information, I can expect more from the student in preparation for a second appointment: “Now that you know how to generate and evaluate your DARS report, bring a list of the requirements you still need to fulfill and the courses you want to take to fulfill those requirements. Because you are interested in internships, be prepared to show me two opportunities you want to know more about.”
Because technologies are nearly an infinite resource in today’s world, finding cool technologies is easy but relatively unimportant to student success. It is more important that advisors understand how, why, and when to implement technology in advising. Implementation of technology can be effortless when advisors understand that technology complements academic advising when used as a tool to achieve Student Learning Outcomes. When we view technology as a tool, great innovation is not in the technology itself but in how it alters or impacts how we advise. Thus, the greatest impact technology has on academic advising is that it leads us to find new ways to achieve our outcomes and help students succeed.
Joshua M. Larson
Athletic Training Education Program Manager
University of Utah
Soukhanov, A.H. (2001). Microsoft’s Encarta College Dictionary. New York City: St. Martin’s Press.