By Tim Fricker, Mohawk College
The annual NACADA Region 5 Conference occurred from April 6-8, 2016 in Toronto. It was an excellent event that brought together about 370+ advising professionals from across Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario. I had the privilege to present twice, one of which was a pre-conference workshop, which is the focus of this blog post.
The other presentation was related to some advising research I am leading on my campus that is supported by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) through the Access and Retention Consortium. A report on the first phase of the research should be available on the HEQCO website soon.
In this blog post I will summarize the results of the pre-conference workshop, which was called: “Advising in Ontario: Roundtable discussion about the Current State of Advising facilitated by OAAP, CACUSS and NACADA.” With the support and participation of Jennifer Hamilton (Executive Director of CACUSS), Shea Ellingham (Co-Chair of the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising Community of Practice with CACUSS), and Diana Bumstead (Chair of the OAAP Steering Committee) I facilitated introductions to the work of each association/group, a short presentation on the literature and state of advising in Canada today, and provided participants with an opportunity to network, share ideas, and propose objectives for each of these associations. The discussions were focused on themes that emerged from the results of the recent Advising in Canada survey, which is summarized in a webinar on the CACUSS YouTube page and in an article published in CACUSS Communique. These themes were based on the top priorities identified in this survey (specifically question 27), which included: networking, communications; professional development; association partnerships; and research. Below is a summary of the results. Feel free to view the slides for the presentation.
There were 20 people in this workshop from a broad range of backgrounds. This included advising professionals and from colleges (8), universities (10) and external agencies/associations (2). There was also a selection of administrators (8) and advisors who have experience as faculty (5) present. The participants also represented all three associations.
The roundtable discussion lasted for 60 minutes. The participants were divided randomly into four groups for the hour where they were prompted to discuss each of the four topics (networking, communications and information sharing; professional development; and evidence, assessment and research) for 15 minutes and produce one recommendation for the leaders of the professional associations to consider. Each recommendation was written on a piece of paper and posted at the front of the room. At the end of the hour there were a total of 16 recommendations; four for each of the four topics. Each participant was given three stickers to vote on the most important recommendations. The stickers could be used all on one recommendation or distributed across three different recommendations.
Table 1 summarizes the recommendations and the number of votes each one received. I also noted any underlying or subsequent themes contained within the recommendations. Table 2 summarizes the total votes by the four themes, Table 3 summarizes the votes by subsequent theme, and Table 4 adds the votes of both the main and subsequent themes. View and download the tables slides.
While the voting demonstrated that three of these four themes had relevance to members, the emphasis on networking in the actual discussions was also prominent. However, the emphasis of networking was squarely focused on networking on our own campuses (and not necessarily across institutions or regions). This is because, as the participants explained (and which is supported in current literature), there is still an acute need to advance the understanding of advising and collaborations across the natural silos that exist within our institutions. This is an important distinction that demonstrates why there is a need for more professional development to improve our advising practice, but also the generation of evidence, assessment and research results showing how advising fosters student success. Advisors are struggling to demonstrate this point on our campuses. Thus any resources the professional associations can provide to advance this cause is critical. It is also interesting to note that the top four recommendations include one from each of the themes. I believe this serves as a strong validation of the importance of these themes, but more importantly, the advisor experience that adds real context to these needs. This knowledge should help our professional associations support our work as advising professionals in a more meaningful way.
There was one other theme that arose during the roundtable that is not present in the recommendations, and that was around the question of barriers to participation. Specifically, it was acknowledged that our professional associations need to figure out more clearly the answers to the following questions:
- What are the barriers for advisor participation in professional association events and activities?
- What are the barriers for advisors (or administrators, or institutional leaders) to share information with other institutions through our professional associations? (i.e. internal reports and research results)
Many advisors noted that there were internal research reports (or reports from external consultants) that were available on their campuses that had valuable literature and evidence about the importance of advising to improve student success. Access to these reports within our professional community could be a significant addition to the literature.
Overall, this was an excellent discussion for the participants, and certainly valuable for the association leaders in the room. Given such a short amount of time allotted to each topic for discussion (15 minutes) and to the whole workshop (2 hours), a lot of ideas were produced, but the quality of the actual written recommendations in terms of clarity and formality is less than perfect. Aside from that, I would argue that simply having such a rich discussion with members of all associations served as a meaningful way to forge new partnerships and relationships across associations. This can only serve to strengthen our collective efforts on advancing the practice of advising in Ontario.