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Thursday, September 28, 2023

New note system will help personalize campus advising

The discussions of advising services here on campus have not yet cooled off. But for years, most suggestions have been limited to increasing the number of advisors, and not changing how the program is run itself. While the student-to-advisor ratio is certainly a factor in quality advising, mere statistical improvements would not guarantee better services for students. Last week, a novel advising plan got funding from the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. After wandering aimlessly for so long, we may be approaching a solution to this advising problem.

Proposed by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the reform is called the Campus-Wide Shared Advisor Notes System. According to CALS, it would allow advisors to maintain and share information about students electronically. Since this system sprawls across the entire campus, advisors could access the complete note records of students even when they transfer to other departments. Currently, the quality of advising notes varies greatly. Some advisors save notes about their advisees in electronic databases, some scribble their evaluations of students on paper and others don't even bother to take notes. A big part of the plan is to unify the advising code so notes can be readily available for advisors from any college and school to use.

A key idea here is that every student will eventually have individual advising portfolios instead of random evaluation sheets. Right now, the only consistent way advisors know about their students and their academic history is through their DARS report. The credit matrix does not tell anything about a student's interests and extracurricular activities that may substantially influence their academic performance. A lot of advising appointments boil down to frustrating calculations within each graduation requirement.

The new system encourages advisors to take a more personal approach to their students. Advisors will have a more comprehensive record of their students so they can have a better understanding of us even before we go to an advising session. If you are struggling between class choices, your advisor could immediately offer some suggestions. Under this more personalized system, it's easy to see how much time and energy can be saved. For career advising services, records obtained from the electronic notes are especially valuable. What you have done in the past gives a good clue about what you can do in the near future. A complete record of advisees reflects one's progress and potential much better than merely longer transcripts.

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For students with multiple majors, the cross-college note sharing service would make advising a lot easier. If you are in drastically different majors, such as history and math, you may have to explain your capabilities and skills in both fields for a good part of your advising appointments. And sometimes you may even receive conflicting advice. Your history advisor will always be cautious about taking on advanced-level science, while the math advisor intuitively hands out a list of easy humanities classes every time he sees you. Both may easily forget that you are a double major; you are the special one who has multiple majors. Once advisors start sharing electronic notes, they could coordinate their efforts to curb mistakes and misunderstandings.

There are still some things that would help to improve the program further. One improvement is that students should be given access to their own advising records. As everyone knows, each semester is bracketed by surges of advising requests. Many of us find it intolerably hard to get timely suggestions from advisors. Notes of their previous appointments could offer students helpful references when they resort to self advising.

The initiative needs a funding of $150,000 through May 2010, with test runs scheduled for next semester. Even though more funding is needed later, the system could still be a gold plan, considering the 40,000 students it might benefit.

Qi Gu is a junior majoring in journalism. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to 

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