Article first published on SeOppi 2/2017.
Text: Maija Kerkola, HAMK University of Applied Sciences
I remember how I, a study advisor, walked the hallways of my university of applied sciences when the semester break approached and looked for certain students, my lost sheep. The tools with which I could have found the possible drop-outs were not many. In practice, I was relying on my eyesight, looking for and hoping to encounter students whom I did not think I had seen at school recently. I mingled and asked teachers and students if they had seen this or that other student. Universities of applied sciences do not enforce compulsory attendance, and it was only that I was worried about certain students and did not think everything was in order, fearing that they might be at risk of dropping out. There is a holistic model underlying this sort of a caring counselling culture. It means that we are genuinely interested in every single student. I find it particularly important that we detect potential drop-outs as early as possible.
Study advisors’ work at universities of applied sciences
Study advisors monitor the progress of students’ studies. In earlier times, students, teachers and advisors met face to face in classrooms and hallways, but now that teaching takes place online, advisory work takes place online as well, and learning analytics is the advisors’ new tool.
The learning analytics system collects data and is able to provide the study advisors with weekly reports concerning students who did not log in or logged in only worryingly few times to the Moodle learning platform. We know that goal-oriented studies require several logins per week. Therefore, alarm bells ring weekly, and the study advisors are notified of the possibility that certain students may be in danger of dropping out. In this way, the study advisors have the chance to act pre-emptively.
Research has shown that study advisors’ guidance work produces long-range outcomes (Helander and Kemppi 2006, 24–25). The importance of guidance is also championed in the writings of Raimo Vuorinen and Maarit Virolainen of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä. They refer to recent research and note that guidance reduces drop-out rates and accelerates students’ studies. In addition, in their view, guidance is one of the indicators of the efficiency of a school system. Guidance increases students’ commitment to their studies and helps them clarify their personal study paths. (Vuorinen and Virolainen 2017, 7.)
Now that guidance has gone online, study advisors’ tools include e.g. email, Skype, WebEx, chat, WhatsApp and Snapchat. They are what the advisor will use to reach a certain student. A study advisor’s work involves a great deal of counselling and passing on sufficient and correct information. They introduce various options and assess the impacts of these options on the current points of interest. The idea is for such guidance to help students in decision making; however, study advisors are not providers of services intended to solve problems on behalf of the students themselves (Onnismaa 2007, 23-25).
Helander, J. & Kemppi, J. 2006. Jos meijät on istutettu tänne jotaki tarkotusta varte: puheenvuoroja hämeenlinnalaisten nuorten osallisuudesta ja hyvästä [If we’ve been made to sit in here for some purpose: contributions to a discussion concerning the possibilities for participation and good life for Hämeenlinna youth]. HAMK University of Applied Sciences.
Onnismaa, J. 2007. Ohjaus- ja neuvontatyö: aikaa, huomiota ja kunnioitusta [Counselling and guidance work: time, attention and respect]. Gaudeamus.
Vuorinen, R. & Virolainen, M. 2017. Editorial. Opinto- ja HOPS-ohjauksesta urasuunnittelutaitojen vahvistamiseen ja ohjauspalveluiden laadun arviointiin [From advising about studies and study planning to improving career planning skills and assessing the quality of counselling services]. Journal of Professional and Vocational Education. 19 (2), 7.