What a Comprehensive Academic Advising Website Can Do for Faculty Advisors and Students

Faculty Advisors - Image of a Whiteboard for Designing an Advising Website

On many campuses, professional and faculty advisors work separately and with great disparity in their available resources and training.

by Vivek Shastry (Appalachian State University) 

Vivek Shastry attended our conference "Improving Advising Effectiveness through Interpersonal and Digital Communications" in January 2019. Immediately upon returning to campus, he was able to apply the new strategies and ideas he learned at the event - a testament both to Vivek's vision and commitment to improving academic advising, and to how actionable and practical Academic Impressions's conferences are. (See what conferences are coming up next here.)

In this article, Vivek shares the actions he and his colleagues took after the event - and some key takeaways for colleagues at other institutions.

Why a Comprehensive Advising Website?

Developing a comprehensive academic advising website can help you address the disparity that exists when multiple models of advising exist at an institution. This is important because professional advisors and faculty advisors can have very different needs:

  • Professional advisors are provided, in many instances, with the opportunity to attend scheduled trainings and workshops. Their schedules and expectations enable them to know exactly where to find and interpret academic policies, and they have opportunities to develop skills to climb the advising career ladder.
  • Faculty advisors on another hand, have many other commitments, which may hinder them from attending advising workshops. They may never be introduced to academic policies and may not have opportunities to learn and enhance their advising techniques. After all, advising is just one of many tasks they are responsible for. Faculty need to participate in various campus or professional committees and organizations, conduct research, mentor students, and teach their classes.

Sometimes, also, an institution will have split models in advising, where specific groups of students (such as undecided or undeclared majors) are advised by professional advisors, while students who have declared their major are assigned to academic units or to specific faculty advisors. In cases such as this, a comprehensive advising website is critical not only for the success of faculty advisors (who, in a split model, may advise only 4-6 weeks out of the academic year) but also for the empowerment of our students. A well-designed and thoughtful website can alleviate many frustrations in advising, save both students and faculty time when searching for information, and educate students about how to prepare for an advising appointment - all of which allows students to engage in more productive conversations with their advisor.

How We Set Up Ours - and What Steps to Take

An essential initial step when creating or revamping a website is to seek feedback and ideas from those who will be getting the most out of it – students and faculty. This advice is crucial for success. What good is a website filled with information if the main audience does not use it? A website must be easy to access, navigate, interpret, and be visually appealing in order to be successful.

Prior to August 2018, my college at the university did not have a dedicated advising webpage. Faculty and students did not have easy access to research questions, find policies, learn advising theories, have a crash course into the introduction of advising, or know where to turn to if difficulties arouse. They would have to scour the university's different sites, hopping from page to page, searching for this information. On many occasions, faculty and students would encounter information that was vague and that would lead to additional questions. After an advising survey conducted in the Fall of 2017 with faculty advisors and in Spring 2018 with students from the college, it was concluded that a dedicated advising website was imperative.

Shortly after I began in my role, we took the following steps:

  1. Formed an advising council with faculty representation from each academic department within the college.
  2. Worked together as a council to identify the needs and define the content necessary for this comprehensive advising website.
  3. Create a bullet list of categories and topics to include on the website.
  4. Draw a wireframe of a preliminary design for the site, based on that bullet list. We also developed illustrations to provide a visual concept of what the website would look like, where content would be placed, and how it would appeal to faculty and students.

I took an additional step that I recommend, as well. In order to understand the capabilities of our system and to have complete control over the design and updates, I participated in a workshop conducted by our Web Services Team on campus to learn the system used at our institution. By collaborating with the Web Services Team and the college's Communications Director, we were able to create test pages ourselves where we could check the functionality before anything went live.

What's Included on the Site

After several ideations, we determined on the following items for our comprehensive academic advising website:

  • Expectations set forth for faculty advisors and students
  • Academic Calendar
  • Academic Policies
  • An advising timeline based on students’ class levels on what to think about and conversations to have with faculty advisors
  • Advising FAQ’s
  • Resources and various units on campus that assist students and what they do as well as contact information
  • Information and modules for faculty advisors on advising
  • Request for an advising workshop
  • Graduation Information
  • Infographic for students on how to prepare for an advising appointment
  • Feedback form for advising recommendations
  • Contact Information
  • All items needed such as curriculums, class search function, course catalogs, etc. for a successful advising session

We have received positive feedback. Both from faculty:

  • "The advising resource pages are all helping immensely."
  • "I love the new resources page!!!"
  • "Thanks for the excellent advising site on our college website. It is extremely helpful."

And from students:

  • "Things on the site are manageable and good ease of navigation."
  • "I love it! It’s easy to navigate, to understand and it answers nearly all the questions."

There is still one challenge to address. From an advising survey sent to declared students in the college, we learned that they didn't know about the website until they received the survey. Now, we plan to communicate information about the advising website and how it can help our students, and we plan to do this throughout the semester through multiple modes - emails, departmental newsletters, and word of mouth.

Importantly, though, by compiling resources and putting them into one place, we have already been able to streamline processes, create efficiency, and give students and advisors the resources they need in order to create positive experiences and get accurate and consistent information. And we’re making strides in addressing the disparity in resources available to faculty advisors and professional advisors at our college. You can see the website we've created here. I hope you will share this article (and the site) with your colleagues and open a conversation about whether to create a similar resource at your institution.

Improving Academic Advising at Your Campus

If you've enjoyed this article and found it useful, what's next?

Well, here are some highly-rated webcasts from Academic Impressions:

There is also this book - it's a bestselling, A-Z training guide for anyone involved in academic advising:

We hope you'll find these resources useful!

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Image Credit: Photo above by Kaleidico on Unsplash.