Executive Summary

Student experiences with academic advising vary dramatically throughout Penn Engineering. To better meet student needs of receiving honest, and readily-available information, while concurrently meeting administration’s need for a resource-light and easy to moderate platform, we recommend forming departmental Piazza pages. We suggest that these pages be actively marketed and that attention be given to the culture of the page from the outset. We also recommend several smaller initiatives to be tested during high demand periods such as Advance Registration and the weeks near the drop deadline.

Key Findings - Faculty Advising

Students’ experiences of academic advising at Penn is extremely variable. In a survey conducted in March 2018, only 35% of respondents indicated a positive relationship with academic advisors. It is noted that most positive relationships are overwhelmingly positive, indicating that there are advisors who are interested in the program. Common concerns students had included their advisor being “always busy” or not very engaged in the advising process. One respondent remarked that he simply “wish[ed] he knew more about the classes.” Many indicated that a relationship simply does not exist. The survey indicated that many students would see their advisor as infrequently as possible and not use them as a resource. As a method of delivery for information, the current faculty advising system does not reflect the needs of students appropriately.

Understanding the Problem

Faculty and administration have limited time for advising. During periods such as advanced registration, undergraduate coordinators are especially busy and often answering repeated questions. Students want up to date information that is detailed, accurate, and accessible.

Possible Solutions

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The current advising system is outdated. We recommend that major-specific Piazza pages are made and heavily marketed to students.

  • This page would be manned by administrative staff and a few select, engaged and knowledgeable professors.

  • Moderation: This page should encourage student-to-student interactions, with faculty/administration playing the role of moderation while giving out objective information by using the following tools:

    • Endorsing answers

    • Providing different perspectives

  • Marketing: every student who emails the department with a question or comes in to advising should be referred to the page if appropriate. Repeated questions should be linked back to the original answer. Academic advisors should encourage the use of the page. The benefit of the page comes only with activity.

  • A trial should be made to assess the usefulness of a text advising system and student office hours during peak advising periods such as advanced registration.

Avoiding Past Mistakes

ESE and WiCS have both tried using a Piazza advising system with some success. There are a few ways to learn from where they have failed.

  • Initial Adoption: In addition to the mass marketing recommended earlier, we suggest that, when the page first starts, administration of the department works together with a small team of students to post and answer ‘fake questions’.

    • These questions should be the most commonly asked questions.

    • The fake posts and comments should be made to strongly encourage the culture described below.

  • Culture: An effort should be made to ensure a diversity of views. The largest problem with the current CIS Facebook page, for example, is that advice is typically given by those most comfortable with classes and as a result you don’t hear the viewpoint of those struggling.

    • There should be ‘fake’ comments made with students disagreeing with each other and with students disagreeing with faculty - these disagreements must be made so extremely respectfully and therefore encourage a full selection of views and experiences.

    • Complete anonymity should be allowed to encourage honest feedback.