Technology won’t replace advisors, but it can help us do our jobs better

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Technology won’t replace advisors, but it can help us do our jobs better

How technology supports academic advising

I admit it. I can no longer parallel park without a camera.

While that wasn’t the way I was taught, I now depend on that grainy image of my bumper accompanied by a series of beeps to tell me that I am in danger of making a mistake.

And so it is with academic advising. Technology gives us an extra set of eyes as we guide students along their path to graduation.

Tech moves advising from transactional to relational

While many advisors see the advantages of easily accessible data to inform our work with students, I have also sensed fear from the higher ed community. Some people worry that technology will track students, informing them that they won’t succeed in their intended program. Or worse, that higher ed leaders may cling to data trends and prevent students from having a chance to enter the programs of their choice, compounding the already daunting equity gaps.

In a recent blog post, one piece of advice offered was to move student interactions from transactional to relational. I see technology as a valuable way to do that. As one advising leader told me, “Navigate pulls information that would have demanded 10 screens in our SIS.” Her time is now spent talking to students to better understand their hopes and fears about college, and listen for cues that might suggest an unanticipated obstacle.

Technology-enabled holistic advising

Students feel that genuineness as well. When I conducted interviews for my dissertation research, one of the most insightful comments came from a student who had this description of her advisor: “She has my back. I feel like whatever I tell her, she will help me come up with possible solutions.”

That work cannot be done in 15-minute appointments when the advisor is frantically navigating 10 different screens in a Student Information System (SIS) to better understand the student sitting in front of her. With technology, the advisor can instead talk to the student: about the withdrawal on her record, when she served in the military, and how she enjoys the English class she is taking. 

Student success management technology is a way to ensure that students are informed about their options and have insight into what they need to do to achieve their goals. It’s not telling a pre-nursing student who earned a C in biology that he is a terrible fit for nursing. It’s about the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about the importance of biology for healthcare workers and whether the C reflects his ability. It’s a chance to encourage him to evaluate whether to re-enroll in the biology class to build a stronger foundation or to buckle down in anatomy and physiology to prepare for the challenges he will face in the nursing program. Without technology, it can be difficult to quickly determine whether students are hitting key milestones toward their goals.

Benefits beyond the advising office

Technology serves a larger purpose, too. It unites the campus into a coordinated care unit. Faculty raise early alerts, rallying advisors to reach out to students. Technology, at a glance, can show advisors what specific concerns faculty have about students, if students’ GPAs are trending downward, and whether our college is at risk of losing a student. It allows a team of experts to intervene and provide the right resources at the right time to keep these learners progressing towards their academic goals.

Artificial intelligence is a necessary component of higher education today. It gives advisors the opportunity to lift their heads from their computer screens and learn more from their students, so their advice is targeted and reflects students’ goals. It provides the chance to ask students about their accomplishments, so advisors and students can celebrate hard-won grades or a recent campus activity.

Advising is so much more than telling students which class they should take next or how long it will take them to graduate at their current pace. Let’s leave that to artificial intelligence and enjoy building deeper relationships with our students. That way, when they do encounter the inevitable curveball that life throws, they know their advisor is there to serve as their ally as they navigate the challenges ahead.

Technology won’t replace advisors, but it certainly can help us do our jobs better.