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High-Tech, High-Touch Academic Advising
September 3, 2012 - 6:22pm

Prior to last year, I had never heard of KCTCS. Thankfully, I didn't have to resort to using my higher education acronym decoder ring. In September, a representative from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) contacted me about an intriguing academic advising project. Having been referred by NACADA, KCTCS wanted me to assist with revamping their Learn on Demand Program's academic advising structure. Learn on Demand (LoD), as featured last month on Inside Higher Ed, is a completely web-based learning experience. Fortunately, the components for an online-only academic advising structure were already "on order." All we* had to do was assemble everything a la the "Avengers."

Speaking of a small, nimble team of superheroes, I should note that KCTCS recently hired a 6-person team of LoD-specific "success coaches." They're academic advisors in form and function. Now, it should be noted that there have been academic advisors for LoD students. However, their focus wasn't solely on online-only students. The LoD success coaches/advisors are dedicated to working with web-based learners. The outcome of this project is to utilize high-tech components in the context of a high-touch academic advising model. After spending a day in August training the LoD advising team, I can honestly say that the high-touch aspect will not be an issue. With a strong ethic of care, and a stated goal of student success as the driving force for advising, the biggest challenge facing KCTCS's advisors will be the high-tech component.

The main issue that we kept talking about was the concept of advising as teaching. Because of this professional mantra, the LoD advisors will have to be vigilant in teaching their advisees how to benefit from the variety of technologies that KCTCS has employed. In a "traditional" academic advising environment, advisors meet with students face-to-face. The focus is less on technology and more on interpersonal skills, active listening, empathy, and resourcefulness. With LoD, we've strived to keep that same focus. Advisor-to-Advisee interactions are the primary focus and it's secondary that the conversation just happens to be taking place through a webcam.

In terms of tech tools, LoD advisors will (as of this post, certain systems are not yet online) have a plethora of solutions at their disposal:

  • The communications hub for LoD advisors/advisees is Blackboard Collaborate. With a stated goal of having the majority of academic advising appointments through Collaborate, students will be able to work with their advisor using a combination of audio, video, and screen sharing.
  • Scheduling appointments, early alerts, and advisor notes will be handled through Starfish CONNECT. Integrated with Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Outlook, advisors will be able to manage their appointments and notes. Having worked as an academic advisor in a paper-based environment, I can say that this is a major advancement. In fact, advisors in any environment (web and/or brick-and-mortar) could benefit from this system.
  • The hardware that the advisors will be using is made up of "loaded" laptops, iPhones, dual LCD monitors, USB microphones, and HD webcams. With audio being absolutely critical to the majority of LoD advisor appointments (students with disabilities will be accommodated by KCTCS), USB mics (Samson and/or Blue make great USB mics) will be used instead of built-in laptop mics. My recommendation for a non-laptop-based webcam was the Logitech C920. With HD-quality video and high-quality audio, all that is needed is a high-speed connection to the web and the LoD advisors are ready for high-tech, high-touch advising.

Numerous for-profit institutions deliver online-only instruction. However, I have yet to see very many for-profits (or non-profits for that matter) that conduct online academic advising in the same way that non-profits conduct it in on-campus settings. As a non-profit that's delivering online-only education via Learn on Demand, KCTCS is striving to deliver high-quality academic advising that embraces the core concepts of the National Academic Advising Association.

*Full disclosure: I have been working as a consultant for KCTCS since the start of 2012 and have been working in conjunction with their Learn on Demand administrative team. We will be presenting our work at this year's KACADA Conference.


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