Developing a Model Advising Program at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama: Part I

As a part of the curriculum assignment for LS 590-990, Issues in Librarianship: Project Management, a team of seven students was assigned to design a model advising program for the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at The University of Alabama. The purpose of the project was to develop an academic advising program at SLIS that would encompass all elements for a comprehensive advising process. Library Worklife will publish the full paper in two parts. This first installment describes the group’s effort to create communication channels; their consultation with the SLIS Director; their discussion with University of Alabama faculty; and their evaluation of existing information and services.

To achieve their goal of designing a model advising program for the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information studies, the authors consulted with the director and faculty at SLIS, explored the advising Web sites of all institutions with ALA-accredited MLIS programs, evaluated existing students’ e-Portfolios and institutions’ plans of study and proposed a model advising Web site. A new model advising program has been proposed, which could serve as a communication network for advisors and advisees.

Introduction

Academic advising is an essential function of any educational program. This service is not only valuable for students and faculty but also greatly beneficial for the institution by helping ensure everyone is able to gain the most from his/her education.

The School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at The University of Alabama assigns academic advisors to all admitted students. SLIS advisors utilize their experience and expertise to recommend courses, internships and career options. Few students, though, fully employ all the resources of the advising program. To increase its visibility and the services at SLIS and to meet the needs of a diverse student population, the director of SLIS suggested the development of a new advising program.

The students in the LS 590, Issues in Librarianship: Project Management, course were assigned the task of developing such model advising program. The project was started on June 9, 2006, and was completed on June 30, 2006. On July 1, 2006, the results were presented to both the instructor of the class, Sybil Bullock, and Dr. Elizabeth Aversa.

At the beginning of the project, the class established the following goals:

  • Create effective communication channels within the team.
  • Consult with Dr. Elizabeth Aversa.
  • Consult with faculty within the School.
  • Discuss the SLIS advising process at our meetings.
  • Evaluate information and services from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA).
  • Examine advising programs at different universities and prepare an outline.
  • Review students’ e-Portfolios at different universities and design an e-Portfolio template.
  • Create plans of study that outline suggested courses for particular career paths.
  • Propose an advising Web site that will allow for the implementation of all recommendations for a new advising model.

Communication Channels

To reach the goals, the group established multiple communication channels to raise communication within the team including regular meetings and e-mail. Additionally, the team members took advantage of the latest technological developments and created a password-protected WIKI through website PBWiki. The WIKI was an effective virtual communication network where members posted news, progress reports, useful information and a link to the proposed advising Web site for consideration and discussion.

Consultation with the Director of the SLIS Program

According to Dr. Elizabeth Aversa, the advising process should facilitate the successful completion of the program and prepare students for their transition to the professional world. Therefore, it was very important to develop an advising model Web site that would meet the needs of a diverse student population. Dr. Aversa desired that faculty information such as policies and procedures be included along with important deadlines. The site should also provide easy access to the university and graduate school Web sites. An important aspect for the students would be information about professional associations, internships and employment opportunities. To further aid in the advising process, course schedules and a tentative schedule of courses rarely offered would be beneficial. Included with the schedules would be an outline of the core curricula and plans of study for the following specializations: public, academic and special libraries; school media; and book arts. Finally, the implementation of e-Portfolios as an advising tool and record of progress would help both advisors and advisees in this overwhelming and time-consuming process.

Discussion with Faculty within the School

Several faculty members at SLIS shared their visions for the advising process. Faculty members felt that the information that would most help them in their advising capacity would be general admissions data, including education history, completed courses, employment history and the student’s field of interest in librarianship. Much of this information is currently available to the advisors through different Web sites, but the authors recommended that it should be centralized for easier access.

The faculty members indicated that it was imperative for the students to have the following in an advising site: a cycle of courses, which is a list of courses and the proposed semesters each will be taught; the relevancy of courses to a student’s intended career path; the sequence of courses; current library career opportunities and general career advice; explanation of the university’s “rule of nine” policy governing transfer and waived credits; graduation information, such as necessary forms for graduate candidates to complete and the due date for theses forms; and specific contact personnel for particular areas of interest, such as internship opportunities and school media questions. In addition to the above, faculty stated that certain esoteric data should be available, such as information about the Praxis exam for school media specialists. All members agreed that the most important information for students within the SLIS program is the process to register for the school’s list serve, SLIS-L, which acts as the primary communication channel for the people in the program.

Also, the faculty provided suggestions for improving the advising process overall. The first was to require students to meet with their advisors either each semester or once a year, preferably before registration. The second was to provide accessibility to electronic and print advising resources. The authors discovered that such information is available through the university and graduate school Web sites as well as through the National Academic Advising Association’s (NACADA) and The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) Web sites. However, the faculty reportedly need a centralized location for all advising information and services. Therefore, the authors highly recommended redesigning the current school advising site to meet this need.

The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)

The authors evaluated information and services from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). NACADA delivers authoritative sources of information to advisors, counselors, administrators and students since 1977. The association’s Web site provided access to information regarding advising issues such as distance education advising, advising high-achieving students, health professions advising, peer advising and mentoring and study-abroad advising. The site also included many useful resources such as NACADA leadership nominations, campus advising awards, core values of academic advising, NACADA publications, CAS advising standards, Academic Advising Inventory (AAI) and funding opportunities for research related to academic advising. NACADA offers many services to the academic institutions. For instance, NACADA’s Academic Advising Consultants and Speakers Service (AACSS) provides assistance in the review, establishment, development, or reorganization of advising services and offers on-campus advisor development workshops. Providing an easy-access link would be beneficial to improving the level of advising within the school and at the university as a whole.

Part II in next month’s Library Worklife, v6n7

The second part of this two-part article will explore students’ reactions to the prospect of an advising process; advising model programs at other universities; and the advising program the authors ultimately devised, which incorporates e-portfolios, plans of study and an advising website.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Dr. Elizabeth Aversa, adjunct instructor Sybil Bullock, Dr. Gordon Coleman, Dr. Margaret Dalton, Associate Professor Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Professor Michael Malinconico and Dr. Tonyia Tidline for their discussions and helpful comments on the advising process at SLIS.