Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More thinking about advising and evaluation

Not long ago, Dean Dad was kind enough to address a question I had about evaluating advising here. Basically, I asked for suggestions about how to evaluate advising. Dean Dad suggested that one could look at the professor's keeping of office hours, filling out basic forms, and so forth, and acknowledged that keeping office hours wasn't a great measure because it didn't say what happened in the session, and in fact, while it might have included advising, that advising might be misguided.

I posted a kind of summary and response here, and got some more helpful responses. (I was going to try to summarize all of the responses here with proper attributions, but it filled up the page FAST, so I cut it. Sorry folks!

Obviously, I'm not the only one thinking about advising and evaluation; in fact, it's been a subject of some discussion at NorthWood U. So I've been listening and learning from other faculty and administrative types here.

One of the things that's struck me is how important it is to make a distinction between process and outcomes. Most of the stuff Dean Dad suggested is process oriented: do we "do" something. BitchPhD (who suggested an outcomes assessment of student success measures) turns to something FAR harder to measure, but hits for me what's important: does the advising work.

The first step, then, is to think about what I (or we) want advising to do. Personally, I want advising to help teach students to think critically, to plan flexibly and think about the future, and to make thoughtful decisions, recognizing that there are consequences to each decision, and opportunity costs. I really don't care if a student takes five years to graduate, decides to leave the school or become some other major. Good advising might lead to those acts.

But measuring, especially over the course of a college career, how much a student has matured about planning and decision making is pretty nigh impossible. And to measure how much advising contributed to that maturation (in addition to all the other things we're doing at NWU which are supposed to basically contribute to student growth in all sorts of ways) has to be even more difficult. Yet that's the task, I suppose.

My objectives in advising probably differ from what my students at least initially think should happen with advising; so using student evaluations might not actually evaluate what I (or other faculty members) think is important. I don't think choosing basic courses and filling requirements is a big part of advising. A college student should be able to do that. I'm there to do more, to challenge him/her to take different courses, recognize opportunities and costs, plan ahead, and so forth.

I also don't think it's my job to counsel students about personal issues. My training is in Shakespeare, for gosh sakes! If I counsel based on my training, we're going to have a rash of people killing kids and feeding them to their moms, jumping on swords, or looking for asps in all the wrong places. (I point this out because some advising evaluation methods on our campus ask students about such things.)

I'm generally happy to see my students happy, but I don't think of myself as a hand-holder in their journey through college. If there are body parts involved, I generally think my foot/their arse are the most operative parts.

Here at NWU, we do have an advising award. It seems to dramatically favor professional and pre-professional programs, primarily because the outcomes of those programs are SO dramatically easy to measure. In our nursing program, for example, if a nurse makes it through and gets a job, the program counts a success. In social work, a job might count as success, or a graduate program placement. These programs also demand very close supervision from faculty advisors, as does the education program, which means that the relationship between student success and faculty mentoring/advising is readily apparent to students and graduates. (Is it an accident that these programs are also likely to have faculty trained in counseling by non-Shakespearean methods?)

But how do you measure advising success in an English program? Surely NOT by graduate school placements! We aren't a "find a job with your professional degree" type program. Rather, we're a liberal arts, learn to learn, think critically program. And those things are hard to measure and hard to document. They're also not tied to advising in the same readily apparent way that networking for job X is in the nursing program.

Our exit interviews DO ask questions about advising, though for the purpose of department assessment, and NOT for faculty evaluation. I'm told by He Who Knows that when there are specific complaints, HWK contacts the faculty and takes action.

As I look at my senior advisees, I really can see evidence of serious intellectual growth in their abilities to make good decisions, plan for the future, and so forth. For one thing, most of my senior advisees tend to drop in to chat about their plans and get feedback. They don't expect me to plan for them, but rather I'm a sounding board. I'm there to point out problems, suggest alternatives. So something's working. I can't be sure that something has anything to do with MY advising, though.

It's time for a new advising letter of the month soon; I think I'm going to bring up the issues to give them something fun to think about! Yeah, pass off the hard stuff to someone else!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:11 AM

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