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Zack Underwood and Ryan Underwood, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Zack Underwood.jpgRyan Underwood,jpgTechnology usage for advising can be categorized into the same two styles often used to describe advising: prescriptive and developmental.  The type of technology utilized in advising can make the advising appointment more or less efficient.  Technology type may also meet students’ needs differently depending on the situation.  Musser and Yoder (2013) suggest “seeing, understanding, and appreciating the elements that make up the total advising endeavor” to improve advising.  Technology offers a way to reach students efficiently in today’s connected world.

Prescriptive Technology

Students have a variety of backgrounds, and each student’s needs vary per meeting (Robbins, 2012).  Prescriptive technologies save time, such as email or a URL.  A short email could replace an entire appointment.  Information shared through prescriptive technologies includes unchanging terminology such as course descriptions or academic policies and procedures.  

Prescriptive advising as defined by Crookston (1994) is a relationship similar to that of a doctor and patient.  In this context, the advisor disseminates information to students similar to prescriptions.  With prescriptive technology, advisors point to a four-year plan, a preset academic plan, or core curriculum.  For instance, study abroad questions are easily answered through prescriptive websites detailing quick information such as cost, length of trip, and destinations.  For certain majors, this type of advising is a perfect fit and acts as a business-like transaction between the advisor and advisee.  Similar to Lucy in the Peanuts comic strips, it appears that the advisor is “in” and able to dispense information to the student, when in reality, it is the computer or technology.  Advisors should not be worried about losing their jobs, because of the sheer amount of information.  Similar to a library and librarians, students still need assistance to find their answers.

Thanks to proper training, advisors know about their institution’s advising websites, degree audits, student information systems, and transfer articulation systems (Leonard, 2008).  If advisors are utilizing the following tools, then they are generally engaging with prescriptive technology:

  • Articulation or equivalency websites for transfer courses
  • Course catalogue
  • Course planning information
    - Core curriculum, major/minor requirements, four-year plan or two-year plan
  • Course restrictions
  • Degree audit
  • Email (short, concise answers)
  • Entrance requirements for a college or department or for graduate/professional school
  • GPA calculator
  • Tutorial videos
  • Websites with prescriptive information or .edu websites

The technology influences advising and may stifle development or be beneficial depending on the situation of the student.  Utilizing prescriptive technologies may lead to one-sided conversations regarding class requirements only (Shaffer, Zalewski, & Leveille, 2010) and limit the advisor’s ability to assess student needs.  Prescriptive advisors live within the walls of .edu websites and specific institutional information.  While these technologies could supersede the need for direct interaction, they can also empower students to problem-solve autonomously, which is an important area of development for students (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  Additionally, in today’s society of “I want it all and I want it now,” students are able to push a button to receive the needed feedback through prescriptive advising technologies (Rosen, Carrier, & Cheever, 2010, p. 48).  

Developmental Technology           

Instead of focusing solely on requirements and checkboxes, developmental technology focuses on the student beyond the here and now, including their livelihoods after college.  Frost & Brown-Wheeler (2003) define developmental advising as “a system of shared responsibility in which the primary goal is to help the student take responsibility for his or her decisions and actions” (p. 234).  Developmental advising and technologies both rely on students to become empowered by navigating broader possibilities for major decision and future professional goals.  Developmental advising technologies may include personality inventories, internship opportunities, goals, or even potential major options (McWilliams & Beam, 2013).  Instead of consulting with three different advisors, a student may be able to utilize a technology that will persuade them of the correct decision or keep them on task.

With first-year students, advisors play a role as a mentor to help students “negotiate their own way through our often byzantine, labyrinthine curriculum, process, and hallowed halls” (Drake, 2011, p. 9).  With developmental technology, this involves guiding a student towards a group of resources as opposed to giving them an exact answer.  This will also include exploring beyond the ivory tower walls of the institutions’ website.  This also suggests students are actively engaged in their technology, so they are utilizing information from a prescriptive resource, such as a four-year plan, to ask questions about internships or applied learning experiences that need answers from developmental technologies.

While prescriptive technologies give yes or no answers or specific information about course scheduling, developmental advising and technologies provide more depth. King and Kerr (2005) suggest that “effective academic advising is clearly much more than scheduling and registration” (p. 320).  Developmental technologies are similar to Alice’s rabbit hole with answers leading in multiple directions.  Developmental technologies include broader options such as the following:

  • Career assessments
    - Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Kuder Journey, Holland Code, Strengths Finder
  • Communication
    - What-if scenarios on degree audits, open-ended questions/answers in email, instant messages, open-ended chats, Skype
  • Goal setting websites or apps
    - Websites such as Lifetick and Joe’s Goals or apps such as Any.do and Golden Scale
  • Google searches (or search engine searches)
  • Occupational outlooks
    - Websites such as Bureau of Labor Statistics or What Can I do with a Major in Website
  • Options for graduate/professional schools
    - Websites for graduate/professional schools
  • Reflection opportunities
    - Blogging or status posts on social networks
  • Social networking leading to decisions and social opportunities
    - LinkedIn, Twitter, Internship Search Engines

Think of developmental technology as making students “more self-aware of their distinctive interests, talents, values, and priorities . . . to see the ‘connection’ between their present academic experience and their future life plans” (Cuseo, n.d., p. 10).  A student can research what it means to be a social worker, as well as engage in the community through joining a future social workers group on Facebook.  This means embracing the idea that students potentially Google their future careers to find their major, because today’s students embrace technology as a guiding light for their decisions.  Even if the advisor is not offering all or any of these resources within the advising session, guiding students to these opportunities can allow them to explore information that may widen their outlook after the session is over.

Communication gives advisors the ability to help students “explore the meaning of college, the challenges of the first year, their strengths and weaknesses, and how the college curriculum may influence their success in the first year” (Darling & Woodside, 2007, p. 14).  Students are also exploring these decisions with their friends online.  Advising conversations could be taking place between friends via social networking and these conversations could influence student decisions towards their major or career.

Through engaging in developmental technologies, today’s students could become “creative, curious, compassionate, concerned, and caring human beings, citizens of the world” (Bain, 2012, p. 220).  Developmental technologies offer students a chance to engage in a global community of learners through common dilemmas such as choosing a major, a career, or even the right roommate (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008).  Advisors are able to utilize developmental technologies as a starting point and a continual conversation with students to help them reach their goals.


In regards to choosing the correct technology to use in a given advising office or learning situation, Nutt (2004) iterates that academic advising is shaped by two questions: “What does our institution value about academic advising?” as well as “What is the purpose of academic advising at our institution?” (para. 3).  To teach students about opportunities in leadership, internships, research, and study abroad through advising, advisors need to use an intentional mix of prescriptive and developmental technologies.  For example, students could potentially find out about a study abroad trip from a prescriptive website or email, but need the developmental aspects of technology to verify if the study abroad aligns with their major or professional goals.

Similar to the best instructors, an extraordinary advisor uses the best tools to teach a student about their circumstances (Lowenstein, 2005).  This means that using mainly prescriptive technology may be the right solution for a certain advisor, but some advisors may use a mix.  “One lens cannot be used to view the experience and skills of all students” (Campbell & Nutt, 2008).  “There is no one right way to organize and deliver academic advising for first-year students” (King & Kerr, 2005, p. 321).  With tightening budgets and growing technology, it is important for advisors to reflect back on which technology they utilize to advise and which technology is appropriate for each advising situation.

Zack Underwood
Academic Advisor
University College
University of North Carolina Wilmington
[email protected].

Ryan Underwood
Academic Advisor
Department of Biology and Marine Biology
University of North Carolina Wilmington
[email protected]


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Cite this article using APA style as: Underwood, Z. & Underwood, R. (2015, December). Technology’s evolving role in prescriptive and developmental advising. Academic Advising Today, 38(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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