During these unprecedented times, ensuring the continuity and effectiveness of academic advising can be a difficult thing to do. After all, the last thing students would want to do in the midst of an ongoing global health crisis and intensifying social unrest is to complete digital worksheets, accomplish coursework and sort out their educational plans.

Nonetheless, it is still the responsibility of academic advisors to ensure that students continue to learn (at least as much as they can) during these trying times.

Stock image of a young female teacher instructing on zoom.

The use of connected devices and the internet in academic advising is nothing new, but it doesn’t make it any less challenging — especially since current circumstances have not only eliminated student-advisor quality face-to-face consultations, but also introduced unique circumstances that could gravely affect one’s educational journey. For instance, international educator Zachary Cohen emphasized how some students are “trying to replicate the entire school experience from their homes” and, understandably, having a hard time.

When students are not only dealing with sad realities beyond their control but also trying to facilitate and manage their own learning, it is crucial for academic advisors (who are also having a hard time adjusting, as well) to apply the right techniques to appropriately support learners.

Keep students informed about office hours

Stock illustration of a clock.

With classes moving into the digital space, it only makes sense that advising will also follow suit. However, you shouldn’t assume that students know that online advising is an option. After all, important changes such as these should always be formally communicated and properly announced. Furthermore, it would be best for advisors to take the first step in maintaining communication with students who might be too preoccupied with pandemic-related problems to inquire about the available options.

At my institution, our scheduling software doesn’t allow students to schedule an online appointment, so some students aren’t even aware that the option is available to them. If that reality also applies to your institution, then make sure that your students know that online advising is now available. There are many ways this can be done. For instance, you can use your institution’s social media pages to post announcements or the website to make a bulletin.

To make sure that each student is informed, send out an initial email informing them about the availability of the new advising option. Inside Higher Ed outlines how important it is to send this email to let your students know that you are there for them. Then, send a separate email that details how they can schedule an appointment. Be as specific as you possibly can, include tips on how to get familiar with the platform that will be used for online advising and set “office hours.”

When homes are also inevitably becoming places of learning and working, it is all the more important for students (as well as advisors) to have something that can help them separate their school life from their home life. For instance, advisors and students alike can turn some of their home space into an area solely for working or studying. In addition to having a designated workspace, it would also be in the best interest of learners to have a schedule that accommodates learning, as well as other equally important activities.

Digital nomad James Gonzales explains how establishing office hours can add structure to your and your students’ day and helps your advisees set proper expectations. To help your students abide by your set “office hours,” try using an online platform that can help them with scheduling. When picking out a platform, go for one that is familiar to many like Google Calendar. It would also be a good idea to make use of applications that are specifically designed to create a schedule such as Asana or Calendly.

Consider a platform that can be shared with other users and notifies students about upcoming events and appointments.

Be flexible

Stock illustration of a winding path

When it comes to academic advising, the mantra “meet students where they are” is more relevant than ever before. In the coming semesters, online and video meetings will be the students’ best friend. And while much of the available platforms on the internet for such activities are dynamic, intuitive, free and easy to use, this doesn’t necessarily mean that students will not encounter challenges when using such platforms for learning. As an advisor, it is then your responsibility to take the time to learn which platform works best for your students.

Given the multitude of available video conferencing platforms out there, picking one for your students can be quite a challenging task. To make this task easier for you, determine which factors matter to the students most and use them to devise a criterion for choosing. To know what these factors might be, consider making an online survey. Include a section where students can enumerate some of the technical difficulties that may get in the way of their learning. This will help you pick an application that is accessible to all.

Aside from the factors determined by the students, Business2Community also suggests considering costs, group size and available features. Is the platform free? How many users can it accommodate? Will the students be able to chat, share screens, use background images and record? It is also highly recommended to check if the platform you chose allows for seamless application integration such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Additionally, check for reviews and do a quick Google search to see if the platform has security issues.

Go out of your way to extend help to your students and be flexible enough to take the time to learn about new things.

Now, more than ever, students are in need of advisors who can help them plan for their education during this time of great uncertainty. By being flexible and keeping your students informed about your office hours, you are effectively helping them adjust to the new normal and continue on with their educational journey in spite of everything that is happening in the world.