Yisi Zhan, Associate Professor, Tsinghua University
Wuriyeti (Harriet Wu), NACADA Global Initiative Committee Member, Tsinghua University
Editor's Note: Dr. Zhan was honored as the 2021 recipient of the NACADA Leading LIght Award.
Encouraging professional development of its members is a key mission of NACADA. Since NACADA officially became the Global Community for Academic Advising in 2013, NACADA has been trying to provide cross-cultural programs to develop the professionalism of its global members from non-US countries, including hosting international conferences, establishing the global glossary of terms (NACADA, 2019), translating NACADA’s website and some publications into different languages, global insight publication, working with allies (UKAT, ELETSA), and promoting the VAP and Friend Networks among global members.
However, the language barrier and diversified cultures are unavoidable challenges in the cross-cultural context. For example, unlike in the US, whether academic advising is a professional field is still being discussed in China. Based on collectivism in traditional Chinese culture, each college student is assigned to a fixed class with one tutor and one head teacher. These differences in systems reflect the various needs for professional development among global members. Therefore, a diverse cultural training program that is tailored to the target group is worth exploring.
This article will take the Tsinghua-NACADA training program as an example of a successful cross-cultural professional development trial. The following section explains background, curriculum, pedagogy, and evaluation of the program. Suggestions and insights for future cross-cultural professional development are discussed.
Increasing Need of Professional Development in China
In the past five years, academic advising has played a more important role in higher education. As one of the first universities offering learning support and academic advising in China, the Center for Student Learning and Development (CSLD) at Tsinghua University received colleagues from over 60 universities who wanted to learn from Tsinghua’s experience. They were all eager to get help from CSLD on establishing their own academic advising system. However, the rest of the 2,738 colleges and universities in China also need assistance and support (MEPRC, 2020). To be more efficient, advisors from Tsinghua decided to host a nation-wide conference and build a professional network among different colleges.
Meanwhile, the increasing role of academic advising in China has brought new management pressure. The most concerning topic is the management of academic advising. Chinese colleagues ask questions, such as: Is it necessary to establish an academic advising center in our university and why? How do we manage a center to attract student visits?
In addition, Chinese advisors are also facing professional challenges. Most of them have an academic background in psychological or career counseling. Therefore, they often ask what the differences are between academic advising, psychological advising, and career advising. They also want to learn what kinds of tools or techniques they can apply or if there is any standard solution for certain types of questions, such as how to help students who have already failed course exams. In response, collaborative support should be given, which led Tsinghua University and NACADA to work together, providing training and sharing opportunities to global members for their ongoing development.
Tsinghua-NACADA Academic Advising Training Program: A Successful Trial
This program was launched in early November 2019 in Beijing China. In total, 41 participants from 29 universities attended this program, including Zhejiang University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Tongji University, Sichuan University, Beihang University, Beijing Institute of Technology, etc. Most of them were full-time advisors, and some were administrative staff working in the Student Affairs Office.
As shown in Table 1, CSLD structured two full-day training sessions with not only basic theories and principles of advising, but also down-to-earth strategies for assessment and research, to satisfy the needs of both front-line advisors and management teams. Anyone who completed 80% of courses and submitted a case study report was awarded a joint certificate by Tsinghua and NACADA.
Conference Session Schedule
Before the training, all participants were required to attend a one-day seminar on Academic Advising in Chinese Colleges and Universities. During the seminar, high-level officials from Tsinghua, Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, and the Ministry of Education gave very important speeches, which brought confidence to advisors in the audience and pointed out the direction of advising in higher education to Chinese advisors. Some university representatives also shared their experiences and many universities in China have been making great efforts to explore the mode of academic advising with Chinese characteristics.
The tool for assessing learning outcomes of this program is writing a case study report. All reports should be scored from the following four aspects: theory, innovation, interrelation, and writing ability. In total, 28 reports were submitted. Program team members marked up and commented on every report carefully, giving suggestions and exchanging ideas. In the end, CSLD issued Best Report Awards to four reports which were quite a good combination of theory and practice; for example, the author of A Case Study on Academic Advising for Undecided Students helped a student declare her major with effective tools and strategies, such as MBTI and relation building.
Collecting subjective feedback is used for evaluating the program itself. The program team not only heard positive responses from Chinese colleagues, mainly expressing their sincere thanks for Tsinghua providing such a good platform for self-growth and helping them find a sense of belonging, but also received high praise from a NACADA representative, who was amazed by the engaged students and strong organization skills. CSLD even did a survey one year later to see if there was any further effect. One colleague said they had developed new advising programs in their learning center by turning ideas in the case study report into reality.
Implications for Implementing a Similar Program in China and Other Countries
This Tsinghua-NACADA collaboration model could maximize strengths of both parties. Tsinghua is experienced in program management and has a great brand reputation among Chinese peers. NACADA is known for its professionalization. NACADA not only has systematic professional knowledge about academic advising, but also gathers experts who can effectively transfer knowledge and capabilities to new advisors.
However, this project requires a relatively large financial investment which should cover costs like consultant fees, travel expenses, management fees to other parties, etc. Labor cost should be also considered. To ensure the smooth running of this training program, CSLD assigned 1 full-time staff and 3 part-time students. Besides, communication cost cannot be neglected. The most challenging part of international collaboration is that you need to bridge many communication gaps. For this program, CSLD sent 75 emails to NACADA back and forth and spent a couple of days on internal communication with different departments on campus.
This type of program deserves to be promoted to other places, but from the following feedback from our participants, it is clear that there is still much room for improvement.
- “NACADA's theoretical system is very perfect, but for me, a freshmen in academic advising, the Chinese localization of these theories will attract us more, including how [the] learning center of Tsinghua University appl[ies] these theories.”
To make it localized and pragmatic, NACADA could train and authorize local speakers to deliver the training. Chinese advisors can be certified as NACADA Consultants & Speakers by completion of this training program. The certified Chinese consultants can add local experiences and case studies when delivering training to other universities or colleges in China. To benefit more colleagues, a Chinese textbook based on case studies of academic advising in China can be published.
- “It can strengthen the interaction among peers in this training program, especially there can be a more practical case analysis for everyone to discuss. This kind of active discussion will improve everyone's professional development.”
Participants need to get prepared before the training program. They should learn some background information beforehand. Assigning some preview tasks might be effective. Then there will be more time to discuss among peers.
Cooperating with NACADA, Tsinghua University has been probing a new path for international professional development in the cross-cultural context. This successful trial has overcome language barriers and challenges from culture difference. This cross-cultural training program was a good start and it could bring more possibilities for global members from different countries who are willing to improve core competence effectively.
Yisi Zhan, Ph.D.
Associate Director/Associate Professor
The Center for Student Learning and Development
Wuriyeti (Harriet WU), MA
Academic Advisor/International Student Program Coordinator
The Center for Student Learning and Development
MERC: Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. (2021). 2020 national education statistics. http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/202103/t20210301_516062.html
NACADA’s Global Initiatives Committee (GIC). (2019). Global glossary of terms [PDF document]. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/Events/International%20Conference/documents/Global%20Glossary%20of%20Terms.pdf?ver=2019-09-20-104306-82
Cite this article using APA style as: Zhan, Y., & Wu, H. (2021, December). Probing a new path for international professional development in the cross-cultural context. Academic Advising Today, 44(4). [insert url here]