Three Penn State advisers pilot course on principles, scholarship of advising

Sean Yoder
November 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three Penn State advisers are working to better help faculty understand the principles and scholarship behind academic advising.

Earlier this year, they piloted a 150-person self-taught course, and published some of their findings through a national advising organization. Receiving recognition for publishing their results in “Academic Advising Today” were Terry Musser, associate director in the Division of Undergraduate Studies; Julia Glover, academic adviser and liaison of academic advising and Student Disability Services at Penn State World Campus; and Dawn Coder, director of academic advising and Student Disability Services, also at Penn State World Campus.

“Academic Advising Today” is the quarterly electronic publication of NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.

While the course was created for faculty advisers, the three said colleagues across the University in other career roles are also taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more about academic advising.

“All too often, academic advising is construed as scheduling classes and checking off graduation requirements,” the authors wrote. “Faculty members fill many roles at the institution, but while they are experts in their field of study, they typically receive little training or preparation to serve as mentor, coach or adviser to students.”

To better help their colleagues understand the “conceptual, informational and relational components” of academic advising, the three provided an optional non-credit course through Canvas. The one-month, self-taught course was first offered in March 2019 and again in April through Penn State World Campus.

At the time of publishing in “Academic Advising Today,” a total of 150 people enrolled in the pilot, with 67% reporting their knowledge about advising increased and 100% saying they planned to apply what they learned.

Musser, Glover and Coder also reported a diverse group of participants across the two months of the pilot. More than 54% of participants said they were engaged in faculty roles at Penn State, while another 23% were office directors, coordinators or managers. Participants came from 16 of the 21 Penn State campuses and 26 different administrative areas.

The authors said surprisingly there were nine administrative assistants enrolled in the course, “demonstrating the desire for academic advising support and training by staff who interact with and provide information to students on a regular basis.”

Musser said as of now, however, 400 people have participated in the course.

“This was well beyond our greatest expectation,” Musser said.

Coder said the course helps people to understand the shift “from a transactional model to a more developmental and proactive model.”

“Many times, academic advisers are the one constant contact for a student; which means a positive relationship must be built with intentions of helping students to persist,” she said.

Now the three are working to develop an intermediate course on Canvas for faculty advisers which will focus on advising students from specific populations, Musser said. The course will include modules for populations such as veterans, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, international students and more. The new course will also be instructor-led instead of self-taught, giving participants the chance for discussion.

Musser said they hope to have the intermediate course up and running in late spring 2020 and ready for a summer 2020 offering.

“Eventually, we hope to provide enough courses relevant to academic advising that anyone who completes certain ones will receive a certificate that can be used as evidence of advising excellence for annual review and maybe even promotion and tenure,” Musser said.

David Smith, associate dean for advising and executive director of the Division of Undergraduate Studies, said it was important to invest in the professional development of academic advisers in order to better help students.

“This course is an exceptional example of collaboration across units to build a course with valuable content that will improve the work of academic advisers at Penn State,” Smith said, “Ultimately, it is our students who will benefit most from this effort, so it is an honor to have colleagues that collaborate and serve the larger community of academic advisers.”

The Division of Undergraduate Studies is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated November 22, 2019