25 Mar 5 Tips for Equitable Online Advising During COVID-19
It is an unfortunate reality that higher education’s transition to online learning disproportionately affects students with disabilities, housing- and food-insecure students, students from low-income families, and other underserved and underrepresented student populations. Academic advising is no exception — now more than ever, providing quality student services is critical to maintaining student success. Here are 5 tips for academic advisors to help them consider equity while transitioning to online advising.
As you are setting up your contingency plan, communicate to students in advance of expectations and changes. Having a clear plan for advising and the resources available to them will be a breath of fresh air! Think about these points when reaching out to advisees:
- Has your office phone number or office hours changed?
- Remind them about time differences, as some may be staying in a different time zone.
- If a student needs to reschedule a meeting, what options do they have?
- Other relevant department hours and contact information (Registrar or IT).
Do not be quick to assume that advisees have equal access to technology, either. Before scheduling sessions with students, take a survey of what kind of access they have. Dr. Torrey Trust at University of Massachusetts, Amherst has a great example. Accessibility surveys should include:
- Internet access/strength
- Device types
- Camera usage
- Time zones
- Accessibility requests
2. Be Flexible
When designing a plan for how advising will be conducted, ensure the structure is designed for variability. Be understanding that students may not have control over background noise, availability, technology glitches, or internet stability.
- Extending or offering flexible office hours: Some students may be watching younger siblings or have limited access to technology.
- Appointment scheduling tools: Since things are rapidly changing, tools like Calendly are a great alternative to playing email-tag.
- Alternative ways to connect: Advisors have been suggesting WhatsApp, Skype, Slack, Whereby, and Zoom as equitable alternatives.
It can be overwhelming to consider which students are your top priority, especially for those working with hundreds of advisees. It might be best to address students who are the closest to graduating first, then work backward. Advising platforms, too, can offer flagging systems in advisor dashboards that prioritize students deviating from their degree path, which assist advisors on where to start. Regardless of how you prioritize, students with limited availability or access to technology should be given priority as it can be difficult to reschedule meetings or connect with them.
4. Be Prepared
While it is impossible to have a contingency for everything, advisors need to be prepared for a few curveballs. Here are some suggestions on how to get ready:
- Look at an advisee’s degree plan ahead of time and take notes.
- Send details and questions to students before your session.
- Develop short how-to video tutorials and make them accessible to students.
- Look at COVID-19 response resources for higher ed (see our list below).
- The manager of advisors should consider a (video-chat) tabletop exercise to discuss accessibility and equity scenarios.
- Contact the office on your campus that provides disability services if a student needs accessibility assistance.
5. Check In
Keep in mind that for most students, their world has been turned upside down. On top of their course loads, they may have a loved one who is sick or a family member may be out of work. Class cancellations and campus closures put housing and food-insecure students at risk. Check in on your advisees frequently and let them know you’re here for them. In a time of social isolation, even just reaching out can go a long way.
- Start advising sessions by asking them how they’re doing.
- Check in on how they are doing with the transition to online learning.
- Ask if they have access to housing, food, water, mental health care, healthcare, and other resources.
- Follow up with relevant resources and check in on them a few days later.
Resources for Academic Advisors
- University of Michigan’s Adjusting Your Study Habits During COVID-19 can serve as a great resource for students who are struggling with the adjustment to online learning.
- Higher Ed and the Coronavirus, a Facebook group with over 20K members by The Chronicle of Higher Education, is a community for readers to share their stories and questions and to keep up with The Chronicle’s latest reporting.
- NACADA at Kansas State University supports quality academic advising in higher ed.
- Advising in Times of Disruption, by Sarah Howard, Ohio State University, Co-authored with participants of the @AcAdvChat community
- Teaching Remotely in Times of Need by Dr. Torrey Trust University of Massachusetts Amherst is a presentation with applicable advice. Dr. Trust also created a Google Form to check in with students that can serve as an example for checking for student accessibility.
- Forbes, 5 Things to Know about Coronavirus and People with Disabilities
- Academic Advising with Zoom, a video by Jacob Fleming, Academic Advisor for the online Dietetics program at Kansas State University. This video covers everything from downloading and setting up Zoom, to scheduling appointments, hosting drop-in hours, and sharing your screen.
- Center for Disease Control’s Recommendations for Higher Education
- University of Wisconsin, Using Microsoft Teams for Advising Appointments
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