In recent years, an online approach to higher education and academic advising has gained increasing momentum in the education sector. With the trajectory of popularity already headed upward, the COVID-19 pandemic came along and provided an unexpected boost.
For better or worse, a whopping majority of college students are now taking classes online to abide by COVID-19 precautions. On the positive side, students seem to be devoting more time to their studies without burdensome commute times. In the same vein, these students seem to benefit from having access to video classes that allow them more flexibility related to class attendance. For those students balancing part-time jobs and their education, watching pre-recorded online courses between shifts has been an absolute lifesaver.
On the negative side, experts express concern that learning retention rates might dip below average with online learning, hurting students with less self-discipline who tend to fall victim to the learning curve and lag behind their peers. Other challenges students face include dealing with logistical problems like data connections and distractions at home.
After considering the positives and negatives, there seems to be value in moving forward with the idea of students working with a virtual college advisor instead of opting for a live appointment alternative. In some high-risk areas, in-person meetings don’t even lie within the realm of possibility due to the risk of unexpected COVID-19 exposure.
While the general public opinion is that these digital transitions spurred by COVID-19 can be a nuisance, online advising yields some unexpected benefits. For more information, please read on.
Four benefits of virtual academic advising
When high school graduates enter college, they usually have a general idea of their long-term and short-term career goals. What they don’t know is how to get there as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. That’s where academic advisors need to step in and provide direction.
As discussions about online learning continue, the transition to virtual academic advising has garnered plenty of attention in the education sector. What’s becoming apparent is students stand to benefit in the following four ways.
Flexible appointment scheduling
Academic advisors have a limited amount of time they can spend with each student, meaning these students will need to schedule appointments based on the openings available. As a benefit of virtual advising, advisors can streamline their advising sessions, freeing up more time throughout the day. Unlike in-person academic advising, virtual appointments afford students more flexibility regarding appointment scheduling.
With greater flexibility, students are more apt to schedule an appointment around their schedule instead of the advisor’s schedule. When students prioritize their own needs and structure their daily routines around others’ needs, they’ll enjoy reduced stress levels and more sleep, boosting productivity.
Saves time and effort
It takes time and effort for students to report to an advisor’s office for a pre scheduled appointment. Because a student must spend time traveling to and from the on-campus location and will inevitably encounter downtime when waiting for the advisor to show up or finish a prior appointment, their study schedule will pay the price.
Since virtual academic advising eliminates that wasted time, students can spend their time attending to household chores, preparing for an exam, or submitting assignments while waiting for their online advisor to call via Zoom or another video conferencing app.
Another unspoken benefit of virtual advising is its ability to cater to students with disabilities’ needs. With virtual academic advising, those with mobility issues don’t have to worry about traveling to campus for scheduled appointments, navigating elevator-less buildings, or stirring undue muscle pain or fatigue. Similarly, online advising appointments often appeal to those students with social anxiety disorders who try to avoid panic-inducing face-to-face encounters whenever possible.
Increased access to advisors
It’s a common occurrence for students to have quick questions that warrant quick answers. Unfortunately, it’s not always feasible for students to schedule live appointments to handle simple matters with an advisor. With virtual academic advising, it’s easier for students to get a moment or two of the advisor’s time when necessary.
Easy access to extracurricular activities
Typically, students center their college experience around their academics. However, extracurricular activities (sports, academic clubs, and social clubs) can also shape students’ futures and ensure they become well-rounded individuals with complex interests.
During these unprecedented times, online classes are making it difficult to know what’s going on around campus. Luckily, it’s easier for students to contact academic advisors online about what’s available, as pamphlets, helpful announcements, and reminders about internship opportunities are just an email away.
Potential issues with virtual advising
Despite its benefits, virtual advising can pose challenges for both the advisors and the students involved. That said, there’s one overriding problem with virtual academic advising/online learning in general: the lack of social interactions between students, advisors, and other faculty. Given how much time young adults already spend online idling on social media platforms, going to school remains one of the best opportunities to continue developing the social skills they’ll need for professional and personal success.
Virtual academic advising poses its own set of challenges. For instance, some international students may struggle to coordinate appointments with their advisors operating in different time zones. As an additional detraction, virtual academic advising deprives students of a relationship with their academic advisor. When we consider how often students formerly requested recommendation letters from their advisors, this distance can have a more significant impact on student success than initially anticipated.
In the months to come, colleges will be gathering information about the effectiveness of online classes, tutoring, and advising. Of these three concepts, virtual academic advising is the one most likely to stick in the post-COVID-19 era.