Academic advisors are in the business of relationships; it’s what we do. We talk to students about their future aspirations, prepare them for academic success, and help them navigate the labyrinth of university policies and procedures. For some reason however, when one talks about distance advising, the latest technology in academic advising dominates the conversation; as if the relational aspect of academic advising is irrelevant. Why is that?

While the communication technologies distance advisors use to interact with students are both innovative and versatile, they can only help advisors make contact with students, not connections. The significance of building strong student-advisor relationships is only amplified in distance advising situations. After all, you can’t disarm anxious students with a warm smile or invite reticent students to talk by leaning forward and making eye contact. Body language and visual cues are so influential to developing rapport it makes you wonder why interpersonal communication in situations that lack personal contact is not the hot topic in distance advising. Again, we must remember that technology can only facilitate contact, not connection.

Distance advising is just part of the larger communication strategy institutions depend upon to bring the campus experience to their online students. Distance advising is a different mode of delivery than traditional methods, but the general principles of academic advising remain the same. Utilizing Web 2.0 resources in academic advising demands that we re-evaluate how technology influences the informational, conceptual, and relational aspects of academic advising; it should not overshadow these content components for advisor training, but rather amplify their significance.

In the end, it all comes down to the quality of  student-advisor interactions. Distance advisors are responsible for building that bridge between the university and the student. Every interaction, verbal or written, will either contribute to strengthening that relationship or weakening it. Online students reach out to distance advisors because they want help, not just information. This is why I have always viewed academic advising as a helping profession. Sound advising rests upon a foundation of strong student-advisor relationships and is always focused on helping students exercise their own autonomy in career, academic, and personal decisions. Ironically, this is not a major part of the discussion for distance advising, but it should be – at least for the sake of bringing some balance to the dialogue.