Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Advising Woes

 Like many other campuses, NWU has moved to a system of centralized advising, with students having faculty advisors assigned rather late in the game, and not having any perceived "need" to contact the faculty advisor.  All their registration codes come through the central system advisors.  And those advisors are really pushed to get students through in four years and to keep them as happy as possible in that customer service sort of way.

But they seem really easily riled.  Mostly, this seems to come from a lack of understanding about how departments work.  And, no doubt, from pressures to keep students happy.

So, for example, there's a senior special basketweaving course that some majors absolutely need, about 26 a year.  Ideally, this would be taught with a max of 20 students per section.  And that's what we do.  But that means there are often sections with 12 to 15 students, and that feels like a problem in some ways.  First, it means we have an instructor teaching a small student contact hour load, and that feels unfair to the folks whose senior courses are packed full constantly, and who also teach bigger lower division courses.  And it means that the faculty member can't teach a bigger lower division general education type course.  And the administration wants us to offer lots of those.

So, we've talked about whether we can move to teaching the special course once a year, only in, say, fall.  But for next year, the plan is to teach it both semesters.

But holy cow, the central advising folks had a massive panic and were trying to get permission for students who aren't ready for it to take it this spring, because they can't possibly graduate without it and blah blah.  I think I've written them three or four emails trying to calm them down, and they seem calmed now.  But they needn't have gotten panicked anyway.

My best solution would be to teach it three of four semesters, but I'm not sure that will happen.  If it does, then doing a good job advising students will be vital, and I'm not sure our advisors can handle the complexity.

Then there's also the patterned basketweaving major.  It's super popular, and students need to take five special courses in patterned basketweaving, starting with a second year course, two third year courses, and two fourth year courses.  But students can take two of these at the same time.  So, if they don't get into the second year course until their fourth year, they can take the other required basketweaving and general education courses, and then take two third year courses in one semester, or two fourth year courses in one semester.  

Almost all students who have to delay a bit still get through in four years.  

This situation is nothing new, of course.  We've never been able to offer so many patterned basketweaving courses that all students get to take them the first semester they want to.  

And in the old days, all the faculty advisors knew that, and advised students not to panic, and things worked out just fine.

Now, though, there's major panic over in the advising center, and they're upset because an instructor with a course for spring that already has a full waiting list suggested a student (who contacted him about the course) talk to their advisor.  What else should they have done?  (They're not a TT person, and so aren't expected to do advising, and so they don't know the advising stuff, quite naturally.)

And they're implying that the basketweaving department doesn't know what it's doing and is purposefully scheduling too few patterned basketweaving courses.

The thing is: NWU hired 30 plus advisors, and that means, say, we didn't hire 15 faculty members across the university.  Those 15 people could make a whole lot more classes happen, couldn't they?  (Even though I don't think there'd be another patterned basketweaving hire.)

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