The Group Advising Playbook

Anjie Almeda, Illinois State University Academic Advisor

You know the feeling that something is a good idea and you should probably try it, but you just don’t know how to go about it?  I feel that way about yoga.  I hear wonderful things about it and I see lots of people on their way to class every day, but I just don’t have the confidence in myself to try it.  Group advising, on the other hand, didn’t worry me.  It’s true that advising students in small groups is a relatively new approach in my advising practice, and it’s true that switching from individual appointments to group meetings requires  preparation leading up to the few weeks each semester when this becomes the norm in my office.

We know that our students typically have a lot on their plates.  Consulting with an advisor about their academic plans a month in advance of registration is a lot to expect.  Advising offices become extremely busy when students are enrolling for the upcoming term.  In my experience, this is not the time when students are most amenable to discussions about careers, long term goals, co-curricular activities and professional growth.  It is at these times when advising appointments become problem solving, fact-finding, confirmation-providing exercises in reassurance.

Several years ago, in an attempt to reduce the number of students waiting in the hallway outside my door, I set up small group sessions to take place during the two busiest weeks of registration.  I offer multiple half hour meetings for each major per week.  The groups are no larger than 8 students.  We meet in the computer lab. Each student is seated at a computer so they can see their progress toward degree, plan of study and current courses.  I move from student to student and speak to each of them one at a time.  The focus stays on registration.  Other advising concerns are saved for individual appointments.

You may ask how this is better than walk-ins.   I’m not sure that it is better, necessarily.  It’s just a tool that has worked nicely for me.   I find small groups to be less stressful for the students and for myself.  With group advising, the students don’t need to camp outside my office like I’m going to release a new version of the iphone.  I can see more students in a day and be less exhausted doing it.  I like utilizing the computer lab for these appointments, because it is an opportunity to be sure the students are able to access the resources provided there.

I much prefer the times during the semester when I can concentrate with my students on their progress and on their goals.  However, the crunch time of registration is a reality.  Utilizing small group advising has made it more productive.  There’s a flow to the semester now.  Early in the semester, my appointments with students are focused on goals and plans. Registration is devoted to group advising in the computer lab.  Late semester is again focused on more developmental and teaching activities.  I haven’t yet gathered my confidence to try yoga, but I have realized a certain peace from taming the stress of registration.  One thing at a time!