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Technology review: virtual intrusive advising--supporting community college students through web-based synchronous technologies.

Community colleges are the most utilized door into higher education, enrolling close to 50% of all undergraduate students; they are the pathway to education for underserved, underprepared, and nontraditional student populations (American Association of Community Colleges, 2013). These characteristics cause challenges for community colleges and their students. Ashbum (2006) noted that one of the most urgent challenges facing community colleges nationwide, due in part to the student characteristics noted above, are their students' academic preparation and lack of success.

The traditional measures of student success in higher education are retention and graduation rates (Nitecki, 2011). The National Center for Education Statistics reported that only 58.9% of first-time, full-time and 41.7% of part-time community college students enrolled in public institutions in 2010 were retained through 2011 (Aud et al., 2013). Of those who enrolled in a public institution in 2008, only 21.7% of those graduated three years later. In addition to low student success, community colleges have been charged through the American Graduation Initiative with increasing their number of certificates and degree completers by an additional 250,000 annually, from 1.5 million to 1.75 million each year by 2020 (Obama, 2009).

One way to increase student success rates is through academic advising. One specific form of academic advising that is showing positive impacts on student success is intrusive advising (Ryan, 2013), which provides a mechanism to nurture students, assist them with academic plans (White & Schulenberg, 2012); build relationships (Smith, 2007); and create connections with the institution--all of which positively impact retention and completion rates of students (Orozco, Alvarez, & Gutkin, 2010). Within community colleges, faculty play a significant role in academic advising and often have the single most influence on student success (Perez, McShannon, & Hynes, 2012). McArthur (2005) noted that community college faculty are the key to the community college's work as the classroom is where students have the highest connection to the college, and that faculty's role in providing academic advising is the most critical student support service for community college students. But, what also must be noted is that nearly half of all community college students do not use advising services (Center for Community College Student Engagement, 2012).

The same characteristics that impact community college students' academic success are also those that support their need for access to higher education through distance learning. According to Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 7.1 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2012 (Allen & Seaman, 2014), which was a 6.1% increase over fall 2011. Aud et al. (2011) reported that 24% of students at two-year public colleges take distance courses compared with 14% at public four-year colleges. In Allen and Seaman's (2014) report, of the institutions that participated in their study, 42% of them perceived that it was harder to retain students online than face-to-face.

As community colleges struggle to accommodate a diverse population of students (many taking at least one online course) and are also charged with increasing their retention and completion rates in order to provide the U.S. with an educated workforce, one student support service that needs to be front and foremost for community college distance students is virtual intrusive advising.

Virtual Intrusive Advising

As educators, we know that the preferences of our student population is changing. Today's college students are active learners and approach education like they do their personal and work lives. They have and desire easy access to many sources of information, function in the immediate, are socially engaged and networked, are mobile and are seldom without a smart device, and they like things personalized. These needs may also apply to how they expect to be supported as distance students in higher education. This does not change the fact that community college students still need academic advising to ensure their success.

The practice of intrusive advising involves a proactive, intentional approach to academic advising that serves students holistically in the advising process (Paul, Smith, & Dochney, 2012). It is designed to engage students in a way to establish a personal connection with an advisor and the institution (Paul et al., 2012), enhancing students' responsibilities for their educational plans and academic success (Smith, 2007; Varney, 2012), strengthening students' problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities (Schee, 2007), and enabling early interventions

(Smith, 2007; Varney, 2012).

To conduct intrusive advising virtually, a synchronous technology tool, one that allows things to happen in real time, is needed. Though this review focuses on one specific synchronous tool that we have used--Blackboard Collaborate-- there are multiple synchronous tools available such as Microsoft Lync and GoTo-Meeting, among others.

Blackboard Collaborate is a web-based collaboration platform that is available through Blackboard, Inc. (Blackboard Collaborate, n.d.). It offers the capabilities of hosting real-time sessions, has a whiteboard feature, allows desktop sharing, and is an engagement as well as a communication tool. The software has video, audio, and phone conferencing capabilities, as well as a chat feature. Collaborate sessions can be recorded and the link to a recorded session can be emailed out to students or posted as podcasts on iTunes or other web-based sites. All of these features can be used to provide virtual academic advising support services to community college students.

Collaborate has both hosted and on-site licensing options. Based on our experience, a 10-seat license that accommodates up to 100 students per session costs in the range of $3,150 annually for the hosted option. We have used Blackboard Collaborate for several years as an academic tool within distance courses, but have also used it to advise students and to hold student organization meetings with distance students. With its video and audio capabilities, it has the impact of having a face-to-face session, regardless of where the student is located. Its content sharing capabilities make it easy to discuss documents during live sessions. In addition, the engagement that is enabled through the live session directly ties to the best practices of intrusive advising, which is to create personal relationships with students and establish connections with the institution, even though the student may not be on site. The ability to host a session online also allows flexibility and access for distance students, who tend to be working full or part time, as well as taking care of family or other responsibilities.

Faculty advisors as well as academic advising departments can utilize Collaborate to hold individual and group advising sessions, as well as push out content to students in multiple formats. This enables access to information on demand 24/7 from multiple devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets, or mobile devices. In addition, these recordings can be used as resources for other students, thereby increasing efficiencies. All of these capabilities can positively impact student success.

According to Blackboard (2013), one community college that has had success with utilizing Collaborate innovatively in practice to support its distance students is Blue Mountain Community College in Oregon. They cover a service area of 18,000 square miles and have identified a need to serve their geographically dispersed student population. They use Blackboard Collaborate as a virtual office, utilizing its capabilities to show students documents as well as demonstrate visually how to navigate through the college's information system and website. In addition, they have used it as a training location to conduct advisor training, and they have recorded tutorials and other presentations, archived them, and made them available 24/7 through their website and other web-based environments.

In conclusion, Blackboard Collaborate appears to be an effective web-based collaboration tool that can be used to virtually provide intrusive advising support services to community college students, as well as a host of other support services that involve student engagement. Students have the opportunity to engage with their academic advisors in a platform that is accessible and flexible. Web-based synchronous technologies such as Blackboard Collaborate enable community colleges to provide student support services to all of their students--regardless of where their students are located. As evidenced by Blue Mountain Community College and our experience with Blackboard Collaborate--it helps take the distance out of distance learning, helping to lead to positive student success.


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, P. (2014). Grade change: Tracking online education in the United States. Newburyport, MA: Sloan Consortium.

American Association of Community Colleges. (2013). Community college fact sheet. Retrieved from

Ashbum, E. (2006). Learning gaps worry community colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(10), A2.

Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, ]., &. Tahan, K. (2011). The condition of education 2011 (NCES 2011-033). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Aud, S., Wilkinson-Ricker, S., Kristapovich, P., Rathbun, A., Wang, X., &. Zhang, J. (2013). The condition of education 2013 (NCES 2013-037). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Blackboard. (2013). Blue Mountain Community College Success spurs system-wide deployment of Blackboard Collaborate. Retrieved from http://www.blackboard. com/Platforms/Collaborate/ Client-Stories/ Case-Studies.aspx

Blackboard Collaborate. (2013). Products. Retrieved from http://www.blackboard. com/Platforms/Collaborate/Products/BlackboardCollaborate.aspx

Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2012). A matter of degrees: Promising practices for community college student success (A first look). Retrieved from

McArthur, R. C. (2005). Faculty-based advising: An important factor in community college retention. Community College Review, 32(4), 1-14.

Nitecki, E. M. (2011). The power of the program: How the academic program can improve community college student success. Community College Review, 39(2), 98-110.

Obama, B. (2009). The American Graduation Initiative. Retrieved from http:// American-Graduation-Initiative

Orozco, G. L., Alvarez, A. N.,& Gutkin, T. (2010). Effective advising of diverse students in community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 34(9), 717-737. dob 10.1080/10668920701831571

Paul, W. K., Smith, K. C., &. Dochney, B. J. (2012). Advising a servant leadership: Investigating the relationship, NACADA Journal, 32(1). 53-62.

Perez, A. M., McShannon, J., & Hynes, P. (2012). Community college faculty development program and student achievement. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36(5), 379-385. doi. 10.1080/10668920902813469

Ryan, M. G. (2013). Improving retention and academic achievement for first-time students at a two-year college. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 37, 131-134. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2012.715266

Schee, B. A. (2007). Adding insight to intrusive advising and its effectiveness with students on probation. NACADA Journal, 27(2). 50-59.

Smith, J. S. (2007). Using data to inform decisions: Intrusive faculty advising at a community college. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31(10), 813-831. doi: 10.1080/10668920701375918

Varney, J. (2012). Proactive (intrusive) advising! Academic Advising Today, 35(3). Retrieved from View'Articles/Proactive-%28Intrusive%29-Advising!.aspx

White, E., &. Schulenberg, J. (2012). Academic advising--A focus on learning. About Campus, 11-17. doi: 10.1002/abc.20082

Dr. Jones is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at Texas Tech University

Dr. Hansen is an Executive Dean at Howard College
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Author:Jones, Stephanie J.; Hansen, Kinsey
Publication:Community College Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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