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David B. Spight
, The University of Texas at Austin 

David Spight.jpgSometimes our more creative ideas occur in places like the shower, or maybe at a coffee shop. In this case, it came to me on a city bus riding home at the end of a day filled with advising undecided students. It was January 2005, and I was trying to find a way to present some of the basic relational skills involved in advising undecided students, and yet, have it fit with the theme of the upcoming NACADA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. My mind kept wandering to the image of 'advising' dice. Then, it hit me. Grabbing an envelope that used to hold one of my monthly bills, I began to scribble furiously. This is what in the end came of my chicken-scratched envelope.

At the Annual Conference, my University of Texas colleague Vonya Baldridge and I presented a session entitled, They can't win if you don't play: Why undecided students need advisors who gamble.  It was our hope that we could encourage advisors to gamble more often on their undecided (and decided) students. By gambling, we meant: taking risks to build a strong rapport, pushing advisors through their anxieties about talking 'with' a student instead of 'to' them so they could engage in a dialogue, and simply asking more questions so students could come up with more answers themselves.

After a very brief presentation of the types of information advisors need to know and understand, participants were asked to play a dice game known as MACAO (Maximizing ACademic Advising Outcomes). This game is intended to help advisors practice one of the more important relational skills: the skill of asking questions. The game of MACAO involved rolling a six-sided wooden die labeled with the question words: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Based on the question word rolled, participants attempted to write as many questions as they could think to ask 'Jamie,' our fictional student, during a 3 minute round. Jamie is described as follows:

Jamie is a first-year first semester undecided student. Jamie is very undecided about a choice of major and believes that the purpose of attending college is to prepare for a future occupation. Jamie is concerned about not having a choice, but at the same time, is worried about committing to a choice. Jamie claims, "I have no real ideas about what I want to do with my life. I guess I want to be a part of something where I can help out." Jamie has already asked peers and family for assistance.

Participants were divided into smaller groups. Each group played 3 rounds, at the end of which a count was taken and those with the greatest number of question ideas were awarded a prize. But the real winners were the students, as these advisors were now more prepared to gamble on their own campuses. Participants were also given their own little MACAO Advising Die to place on their desks as a reminder to ask at least one more question.

Pages and pages of questions were compiled and categorized to provide advisors with questions that could be asked of undecided students in the process of choosing a major and career exploration. An offer to send out copies of these questions went out on a list serve after the Conference and surprisingly, over 300 of you asked for copies of the questions. Still, the list of compiled questions is nowhere near exhaustive, since it only pertained to one fictional student at one point of the exploration process.

Some examples of the questions participants generated included:

  • From whom do you want respect?
  • What is the worst that would happen if you change your mind?
  • When do you remember having a powerful learning experience?
  • Where would you go if you weren't in college?
  • Why is talking to your family about career choices important to you?

The significant number of requests for the compiled lists brought up a couple of questions advisors should also consider asking themselves:

  • How many times could we ask at least one more question during an advising session, even during high traffic times? Asking a question takes a few seconds, and the response but a minute or two more. Yet, the question and response can create an interaction that could significantly impact the student for a long time to come.
  • How much could information gleaned from the question help us assist students to help themselves? The more we know about students, the better we can assist them. The more they know about themselves, the better prepared they are to make a crystallized decision.
  • How often do we prepare questions, maybe even play a round of MACAO, before a student comes into our offices? We often ask or expect students to prepare questions for their sessions with advisors or other campus and community resources. Would not a moment of considering possible questions make for a more intentional and purposeful meeting?

Granted, during high traffic times it is easy to argue that there just is not enough time to ask one more question. But, I challenge you, the next time you are in one of those brief appointments, ask yourself if you could squeeze in at least one more question. Take a chance, take a gamble and start asking more questions. You will be surprised how much you impact students and how much their answers impact you.

And, on a related note, try riding the bus sometime. You may be surprised how creative you can be. Just be sure to have plenty of envelopes available for writing, just in case.

David B. Spight
The University of Texas at Austin
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Spight, D. (2006, September). The game of MACAO: How riding the bus led to rolling the dice in Vegas. Academic Advising Today, 29(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.