Advising for Online Courses

Screenshot 2020-02-20 16.36.41How’s your Outlook Calendar looking about now? Packed to the brim with advising appointments, no doubt!

When I was faculty at the University of Memphis, I typically advised 50 undergraduates. At 30 minutes a meeting (with many going longer than that) advising meant 25-40 additional hours packed into an already packed three weeks each semester. It’s a lot.

Advising, like the many obligations that eat at our schedule and try our patience, can also be rewarding. It’s a time to get to know students on a more personal level. It’s a time to understand how our students are experiencing the university on a broader level. Most importantly, though, it’s a time to lay the groundwork for a good and productive semester.

We’ve had online courses for years at CBU and one online degree. As the Center for Digital Instruction (formerly OLET) team works with faculty to develop more online courses and fully online degrees, you may find yourself increasingly fielding questions or concerns about online courses at CBU.

As the Online Student Success Specialist, I’ve been meeting with a number of our students. Based on those encounters, as well as the research around online learning, this is what I’ve learned:

Every student can succeed in an online course.* If a student has been accepted into CBU, they are as capable at succeeding online as they are in one of our traditional courses. The content is similar, if not identical. Some students may just prefer one mode of learning to the other. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about online or traditional teaching. As it is in the traditional classroom, the quality of an online course is about the content, the class structure, as well as the care and responsiveness of the instructor.

*One note for students with vision or hearing issues. Just as would happen in a traditional classroom, accommodations can be made for an online course. Some technical solutions in the online environment can even be superior to accommodations made in a traditional classroom. For example – a screenreader can be installed on a student computer, so all written material is read aloud to the student. For students with hearing issues, most online material is in written form and closed captioning can be added for videos. 

Time management is the greatest predictor of student success online. When you’re advising a student interested in an online course, point out that they should treat their online course just like a traditional one. Adequate blocks of time should be scheduled weekly to “attend” an online course. Just like in a traditional course, attending online regularly is vital to success. A major benefit to online, especially for students who work or are student-athletes, is the ability to schedule class time when it works best for them. But it still must be scheduled. A student taking an 8-week online course cannot skip a week of class and make it up later, just as they couldn’t in the classroom. Many professors do not accept late work, and it’s not realistic to build up work and believe you can cram it into the last few weeks. Online courses are about pacing, in the same way as their traditional counterparts.

Online courses are not easier than traditional courses. If a student says this or you catch yourself thinking it, press pause. Online courses at CBU must meet the same learning objectives as their traditional counterparts. The same course taught online and in person will have similar, if not identical, content. Online learning can be more challenging, simply because students must manage their own time and may not be able to lean on peers as easily. Encourage students to connect with someone in their online course, just as they would in person. Having a study buddy can make online learning more manageable.

Consider the number of online courses a student wants to take. When CBU offers new, completely online degrees, students will be enrolling with the intention and desire to learn entirely online. Most of the students you’ll advise, however, will be taking one or two classes online mixed with traditional courses. Their desire and intent about online versus that of fully online students is an important distinction. It’s expected that a completely online student will take multiple online courses each semester.

But for students on a traditional track, their level of expectations and preparedness should be considered before taking multiple online courses – particularly multiple 8-week courses in the same semester.

Students often underestimate how much time is required of an online course and think they can just “knock out” a few 8-week 1st term classes in a semester. Depending on the student (past performance, number of hours working outside of class, athletics schedule, experience with online) this could be a recipe for disaster. If a student’s learning has taken place primarily in a traditional classroom and that student wants to take multiple online courses in one semester, make serious inquiries about how this will fit with their schedule, expectations and experience.

Consider the point in the term. Taking a 1st 8-week course online can be very different from taking a 2nd 8-week online course, just as it is in the traditional classroom. This is because the 2nd 8-week course will affect their schedule mid-way through the semester at a time when their full-term courses are also ramping up. Taking a 2nd 8-week course can be managed, however, students must have expectations set before making the choice.

Inquire about your advisee’s access to a computer/wifi. Student don’t need their own computer to take an online course at CBU. Our IT computer labs are open 24/7 to anyone with a CBU card. Students who have their own computers and internet access, though, have more opportunity to enter online courses at any time. Students relying on the computer lab must schedule their online course time around their ability to get to the lab.

Should Freshmen take online courses? At this point, we’ve observed CBU Freshmen who do very well in our online courses and those who do very poorly. Anecdotally, the Freshmen who struggle in online courses are typically those taking full loads and working numerous hours. Not surprisingly, they don’t do well online or in traditional courses! This has little to do with the mode of education and more the lack of their experience to understand time management at the collegiate level.

Concerned that your advisee needs help? Send your student to me! This is my job – to help students have the best experience possible in their online course. While your advisee is in your office, give them my phone number and ask them to make an appointment right there! Or send me a quick email with your student cc’d requesting an appointment. I’ll take it from there. You or your student can reach me at: 321-4456 or

What we’ve observed so far among CBU students, in general, is that those who aren’t doing well in online courses… are not doing well in traditional courses that semester, either. There are exceptions, but for the most part, failure to do well online often correlates with a high level of responsibility outside of school and/or failing to understand that online learning, just like classroom learning, requires dedication, time management and participation. As an advisor, you can help set expectations for online courses at the outset and improve their chances of succeeding online.

Click here to download the Advising for Online Infographic PDF


Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. She holds a Ph.D in Organizational Communication from the University of Memphis and is a former college professor and journalist. 




Appreciative Advising

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By Lurene Kelley

The red pen.

Aside from the apple, it’s the object most emblematic of teaching. The red pen that relentlessly sniffs out errors and makes snarky comments in bright, scarlet ink! But that is our job, right? How else can students improve if we don’t point out what they are doing wrong?

What if the key to improved student outcomes, though, isn’t about identifying problems and trying to help solve them? Perhaps there is equal or even greater value in focusing on what students are already doing right.

That’s what’s behind Appreciative Inquiry, a model that positions transformational change as possible when we help people develop a positive mindset through the inquiry process. According to the model, this is accomplished with “powerful questioning” to locate a person’s hidden strengths, help envision a successful outcome, create a plan to get there and shepherd the student along the way.

You may already do much of this in your interactions with students, but what makes Appreciative Inquiry a unique approach is its grounding in you, the advisor. It is dependent on you maintaining an appreciative mindset with every student, no matter how hopeless their situation seems or frustrating their personality or lack of progress. Your sincere acceptance of the person before you and your unyielding belief in their potential… is at the core.

“Appreciative Inquiry seeks out the best of what is to help ignite the collective imagination of what might be.” (Cooper Rider & Whitney, 2000).

Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational management change model developed in the 1980s (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). It is largely associated with the corporate world but has since been adopted as an approach for academic advising (Bloom & Martin, 2002).

As a CBU advisor, you may think that helping a student develop a “new mindset” sounds like quite a bit to expect out of 30-minute advising sessions, especially when many of you have dozens of students to advise each semester!

But first, take a moment to apply Appreciative Inquiry to yourself – have you ever advised a student who later told you that you changed the course of his life or helped him through a difficult time?

If that question brings a student or even dozens of students to mind, then you know you are already capable of bringing important, positive change through advising. This one powerful question allowed you to identify times you were successful. Now we can develop a strategy based on your strengths to enhance your advising with Appreciative Inquiry!

This is exactly how Appreciative Inquiry works in an advising session – powerful questions allow you and your student to unearth past successes and then develop strategies around those strengths to produce positive outcomes.

The Phases of Appreciative Inquiry 

An advising session guided by Appreciative Theory would follow its five phases: Define/Disarm, Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver/Destiny.


Source: Coaching Psychology Manual, 2012,

Bloom and Martin (2002) provide specific suggestions for improving academic advising through four of the phases of Appreciative Inquiry:

  1. Believe in the goodness of each student who walks through your door. Treat him or her like you would want your son/daughter/best friend to be treated.
  1. Utilize positive open-ended questions to draw out what students enjoy doing, their strengths, and their passions. Listen to each answer carefully before asking the next positive question (Discovery phase).
  1. Help students formulate a vision of what they might become and then assist them in developing their life and career goals (Dream phase).
  1. Give students a clear idea of what they will need to do by devising concrete, incremental, and achievable goals to make these dreams come true (Design Phase).
  1. Be there for them when they stumble, believe in them every step of the way, and help them continue to update and refine their dreams as they go (Destiny phase) (Bloom & Martin, 2002).

Bloom, Hutson & He (2008) have since expanded the model to six phases and refined the Appreciative Theory model for advising. Bloom developed this guide with specific actions and questions for each. The Bloom Appreciative Advising Guide

Appreciative Advising Online 

All of this can be adapted to advising online learners. Even more than your on-campus advisees, students learning entirely or primarily online can feel disconnected from CBU. As an academic advisor, you can often provide that critical connection that increases engagement and allows a student to feel a sense of belonging.

Just like their campus counterparts, online advisees need your expertise to guide them through majors and to opportunities to improve their chances for success after graduation. But applying the lens and phases of Appreciative Inquiry can help academic advisors truly get to know online advisees – particularly through phone or via webcam sessions. It’s these interpersonal moments with a student that can make follow up email contact more meaningful to both you and the advisee. (This link will take you to the CBU WebEx web version. You just log in with your CBU email and contact a student to get started!)

It would be an unexpected and, likely, welcome moment for an online student, if an advisor asked the student to share an accomplishment that made the advisee feel most proud. Most online students simply expect advisors to tell them which classes to take and how to stay on schedule for graduation.

Asking powerful questions produces answers that inform the advisor about an online student’s strengths. Those questions also allow the advisor to get to know an online student on a more personal level and give the student the sense that the advisor wants to know him as a whole person, not just a name on an academic record.

Obviously, note taking is a critical aspect of Appreciative Advising for both online and on campus students. This allows the advisor to add to and follow up on stories the student has told about herself at each advising session, as well as track the progress of the plans the advisor and advisee have developed together.

Want to Get Started?  

As part of a course at the University of South Carolina on academic advising, Dr. Jennifer Bloom, one of the authors who first applied Appreciative Inquiry to advising, had graduate students submit articles to an academic advising journal. This piece provides academic advisors with a reflection exercise based on the phases of Appreciative Inquiry, while also demonstrating how this approach to advising works with students. Genius! Truschel (2007) also provides examples of “powerful questions” here that can help you identify your advisee’s strengths and past accomplishments.

Backup Provided

We know that as professors, academic advisors, scholars and colleagues – you are already wearing many hats. It may feel that a more intensive advising approach only adds to that weight. But know that as the Online Student Success Specialist, I’m also here to help with online students who might need more assistance than you can offer or with whom you’re having difficulty connecting.

So, please, feel free to refer students facing difficulties with their online experience to me. And, of course, for those students facing challenges on campus, CBU’s Academic Services and the Student Success Center are always there to help and they value your student referrals.

Online Student Success Specialist 

Lurene Kelley, PhD

(901) 321-4456


Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Bloom, J. and Martin, N.A. (2002, August 29). Incorporating appreciative inquiry into academic advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 4 (3).

Cooperrider, D. L., & Srivastva, S. (1987). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In Woodman, R.W. & Pasmore, W.A. (eds). Research in Organizational Change and Development (Vol. 1, pp. 129–169). Stamford, CT: JAI Press.

Olson, N. S. (2009, July 10). Appreciative advisers: Be advised. The Mentor: An academic advising journal. Retrieved from

Truschel, J.H. (2007, July 6). Using Appreciative Inquiry in Advising At-Risk Students: Moving from Challenge to Success. The Mentor: An academic advising journal. Retrieved from

Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for OLET.