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Voices of the Global Community


Heidi Koring, Chair, Advisor Training and Development Commission 

Training and development of advisors becomes ever more central to the effectiveness of the advising process with the increasing diversity and complexity of our students' environments. While there is no 'one-size-fits-all' method for advisor training and development, case studies are among the most useful items in the trainer's tool box.

Case studies are an effective part of the training process whether advisor training takes place as a single workshop, or as series of continuing in-service meetings, or in formal presentations or informal discussions. The use of case studies was pioneered by the Harvard School of Business faculty in the late 1960's. Currently used to enhance skills development of a variety of populations, case studies add richness and complexity to advisor training, reflecting the complex environment of contemporary college students. Case studies not only help advisors come to grips with the ambiguities and complexities of student development, but aid them in improving human relations and problem solving skills. Case studies can be used as exemplars of carefully defined problems, providing advisor with opportunities to practice analysis of an advising situation. Presenting a platform for addressing differences in advising styles, case studies stimulate personal and professional growth and reflection. Cases can be used with advisors at all levels of experience, engaging them in discussion and simulating problem solving in real life situations.

Good cases are realistic and personalized to the advisors' milieu. They are dramatic enough to engage the participants and ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations. To prepare effective cases, collect anecdotes from advisors throughout the academic year. Asking advisors to reflect in writing on difficult situations can yield rich material for case studies. When turning the raw material of experience into cases for training, it is wise to assemble a team of stakeholders to read the anecdotes and discuss the issues addressed in each. Simultaneously, develop a list of resources that could help advisors address each case. Work from the issues creating composite cases that address one main question and at least one subordinate issue. If you are working from real experiences, make sure that details are changed so the persons involved in the original anecdote are not recognizable. Divide cases into categories by issue for use when planning training events.

Since the traditional case study approach uses small or large group discussion, begin with advisors enumerating the issues presented in the case. Discourage any tendency to find easy closure by encouraging participants to consider the case from different characters' points of view. Ask 'what if' questions. Consider locus of control and responsibility issues. What aspects of the case are within the advisor's locus of control? What aspects are not? Ask probing questions about each character's motivation. Look for hidden agendas. Use a team approach to problem solving by encouraging the exploration of resource and referral possibilities. Discuss how college confidentiality policies would affect each case. If appropriate, ask if the gender or ethnicity of characters affect the outcome of the case. Explore several related cases to develop the best practices or procedures for dealing with a particular advising challenge, at your institution.

Less traditional delivery methods can be used when approaching cases. Enlist the cooperation of theater or broadcast majors to make videos acting out specific cases. At some colleges and universities, faculty and student organizations are eager to produce case study vignettes as projects. The NACADA faculty advisor training video contains eight brief vignettes, six of which show a developing relationship between a first year student and a new faculty advisor and two scenarios exploring the needs of adult students. If the training event includes trainees who are comfortable with each other, have participants role play cases. Begin an advisor training electronic list which features one case a month for discussion.

To stimulate your use of case studies with advisors, here's a scenario that can be adapted to your institution for advisor training:

Lisa is a first year student from a neighboring state. She attended a competitive 'magnet' school with a 90.3% average and 1200 SAT's (27 Composite ACT). During orientation she tells you she's considering a pre-veterinary science track because she loves animals. Her midterm grades are B's and C's in calculus and biology. When she meets with you at midterm, she slumps in her chair and doesn't make eye contact. She's lost a lot of weight. Through her hesitant replies, you learn that math and science are tougher than she expected. She says she's dumber than she thought. She has a lot of headaches and sleeps a lot. She's missing classes because she says it doesn't matter if she goes. She tells you she's thought about going home, but is sure her family would just say she's a failure. Besides, her parents are getting a divorce and she's not sure where she would live. She says she knows you can't help, so maybe she'll just 'give up.'

  • What specific problems or issues are raised by this scenario?
  • What additional information might you need to handle the scenario? How would you get it?
  • What problems or issues would you refer? How?
  • What problems of issues could you address yourself? How?

Want to know how others are using case studies? The new monograph, Advisor Training: Exemplary Practices in the Development of Advisor Skills, features several Exemplary Practices utilizing case studies. 

Heidi Koring
Lynchburg College

Cite this article using APA style as: Koring, H. (2003, December). The justification for case studies in advisor training and development. Academic Advising Today, 26(4). [insert url here]


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