One of the things that most of us do is advise students. Advising can refer to the overseeing of semester course schedules, within-course advice about studying, paper topics, etc., preparation of the degree plan or more long-term advice about career options. Occasionally students find college work more difficult than they had expected, and an advisor may need to suggest they make appointments at the Academic Assistance and Resource Center (AARC). Sometimes it can involve more personal matters, although in such cases it is probably best to recommend that the student see a student service professional. At SFA, we have Counseling and Career Services which offers individual client and group therapy. Medical services are available for students at the University Health Center. For a more complete description of these services and others, please look on the SFA web page, or for a nice summary, look in the SFA 101 Handbook.
Regarding advising for course schedules, we recommend that you quickly become familiar with the possible degree plan options for your majors. The first step is to acquire a University Bulletin and review the relevant sections. The Bulletin contains the university and college requirements for specific degrees. These sections will list all the options that a student has regarding these requirements. The rest of the bulletin consists of the degree requirements in different areas, by major. Note that the degree requirements sometimes change through the years, and students generally follow the requirements that were in effect the year they enrolled. Students can choose to move to a more current degree plan, but if so, they must accept all changes in the degree plan if there are more than one change.
Most departments offer at least one route to acquiring a major and a route for a second major and/or a minor. Some also have specific requirements if a student will be choosing that area as a teaching field. All areas include a list of courses taught, along with short descriptions and any prerequisites. So, even if you're advising students about a course in another area, you can make sure that it is a reasonable course for them to take. If you're not sure, call the secretary or a colleague in that department and ask. The deans' offices are also good sources of information if you have specific questions as you advise a student. Often, the best way to learn about advising is to sit in with a colleague who is going through a degree plan with a student.
Some departments have a few members who handle all of the student advising for semester schedules and degree plans. In that case, you may be "off the hook" for much advising, but we still recommend that you become familiar with the possible degree plan options for your majors.
All students with fewer than 60 hours earned are required to go through advising. However, some departments have placed additional registration blocks on their majors requiring them to be advised every semester. All first-time students and probation / suspension students must be advised prior to registering. If you are advising a probation student, one strategy is to have them retake any courses in which they received low grades (D's or F's). Starting Fall 2000, the policy at SFA has been that a student may retake a course once, and have only the highest grade calculated into the GPA. If a student retakes the course more than once, then ALL the grades the student received for that course will be averaged into the GPA (for all of the details, see the policy on Semester Grades (A-54). Prior to clearing a student for registration, an advisor or the person in the department who is in charge of removing the advising hold should enter advising notes as a comment on the sfaadmin SCREEN 148. (Not all faculty are given access to this screen; it depends on the department.)
When you advise students, it is a good idea to walk through the degree plan with them the first time. Some departments have available printed information on specific degree requirements for that area. By reviewing the plan with students, they will have a better grasp on more than just the upcoming semester, and if they don't come back for advising, they'll be less likely to make mistakes. Also, when the same person comes back, your advising should go more quickly because that person will more likely be prepared with good suggestions for possible courses. Another suggestion is to give students a list that includes a couple of extra course possibilities. That way, if one course is full when they are registering, they will have an alternate ready without having to come back to you for additional advising. Finally, you might consider keeping notes or copies yourself; this will also save time by avoiding repeating everything at the next visit, and it may prove to a student at some later time that you did advise them correctly.
Another thing to keep in mind while advising is that you should interact with the students so you can get an idea of their scholastic ability and other demands on their time. One way to do this is to review their transcript online through the SIP database. (Most students won't bring a copy with them). (You will need a PIN number to access the information; contact the Registrar's Office if you have any questions). This will show you not only the courses that they have taken but also the grades that they have made. Also ask them if they are working, and if they are involved in any extra-curricular activities. This information will help you make recommendations about the total number of hours to take, how many lab courses to take at once (not more than two except in extreme cases and strong student ability), the choice of electives, and the number of courses which may require intensive reading and/or writing. Without permission from the dean, the maximum number of hours a student may take in the long semester is 20, and in one summer session is 7.
If you are advising first-semester freshmen in particular, some informal research has suggested that students with heavier loads do better (i.e. five solid courses rather than four, which is the minimum required for full time). With a heavier load they tend to buckle down and get serious sooner. Additionally, students tend to continue to follow the model set in their first semesters, so if they start out with a light load they will be less likely to increase it later. However, if they do take a heavy load, it is important to make sure that the students know they should seriously evaluate how well they are doing in each course before mid-semester. If they are not doing well in any courses, they should seek advice from the relevant professor(s) or their advisor about whether to drop the course. Very few first-year students drop courses, even when there are obvious signs that dropping would be the best course of action.
SFA policy does not specify a specific number of office hours per week, but states that "standard" office hours for student conferences are an obligation for each faculty member. Many departments have adopted a minimum of ten office hours per week for full time faculty. If necessary, other arrangements may be made with your department chair. When choosing your hours try to include a variety of times, with some in the morning and some in the afternoon, so that you can increase your availability. Try not to schedule hours all at the same time on MWF or TR (e.g. 10-11 MWF), because if a student has a class at that time, he or she wouldn't be able to make any of those times. However, to increase your own productivity, try to leave some larger chunks of time not interrupted by class or office hours so that you can focus on your own work. When it is not possible to keep posted office hours, the department chair or administrative assistant should be notified, and it is considerate to leave a note on your door in case someone stops by when you are not in.
Organizing Class Records
When it comes to keeping class records, you will need to consider what information you need to record, how you will record it, how you will store your records, and how you will inform students about their grades. First, find out what kind of grading information your department wants you to provide at the end of the semester. With that information available, you might consider the following suggestions for keeping class records.
Besides recording grades for assignments and exams, it is helpful to record other information as well. The grade sheet for a class should include an explanation of the terms and abbreviations you use to record information. It should also have an explanation of how you calculated your course grades. You should explain how much weight you gave each assignment and exam, how attendance affected the course grade, and how you used any other factors in calculating grades. Your goal should be to provide enough information so that anyone looking at one of your grade reports would know how you calculated the course grades without having to ask you about it. Providing such information not only helps others understand how you calculated your grades should you no longer be available, but can help you recall or explain how you graded students in courses you taught in the past.
In addition to recording grades, recording comments about individual students can be valuable. If a student has caused problems, it is good to have a written record of it with details you noted while they were still fresh in your mind. Conversely, if a student's work in your class has impressed you, writing down a few comments makes it easier to write a good recommendation for the student. It is not unusual for students you had in class several years ago to ask for recommendations when they are about to graduate. Of course, you need not turn in comments about particular students when you turn in your grade sheets.
Many instructors believe the best way to record grades and other information about your students is to use an electronic spreadsheet. If you are already using one, you are familiar with the advantages they afford. But if you have not learned how to use a spreadsheet program and are reluctant to try, there are resources available. Probably the most convenient resource is a near-by colleague. Additionally, SFA's Office of Instructional Technology regularly offers faculty workshops to help people learn to use various computer programs. One of their workshops is on managing student grades with a spreadsheet. In it, you learn how to enter your students' grades, use functions, develop formulas, calculate weighted averages, throw out a lowest score, sort information by name or by grade, retrieve your class roster from the administration computer system, import Scantron test results, and save your spreadsheet on the Web. The workshop is appropriate for either Macintosh or Windows users. For more information and a current schedule of workshops, visit the OIT Web site.
Now, one last note on using spreadsheets for keeping grades: these days most computers are so reliable that many people trust them not to fail. But, they can and do fail. If yours does, you can lose ALL the records you have saved on your computer's hard drive unless you have backed them up. So you should regularly make backup copies of all your files. Programs are available that will automatically put copies of files you save on your hard disk on a separate, removable disk such as a Zip disk. You should also print any information as important as grade records and keep copies filed in a safe place.
All this may sound a little intimidating if you have never used a spreadsheet program. But most people who use them will tell you that the time they invested learning to create and use spreadsheets has been paid back many times over in the time they have saved. Using a spreadsheet program is like using other programs--it is challenging and confusing at first, but it soon becomes easy. Before long, we cannot imagine how we got along with it.
Posting Grades and Maintaining Records
For a full description of course grades, what they mean, and how they are used, see the policy on Semester Grades (A-54) and Academic Probation, Suspension and Reinstatement for Undergraduates (A-3).
Once you have graded an exam or task, it is time to let your students know their grades. Now that students may find out their course grades by using SFA's web site for student information, we no longer need to post course grades at the end of the semester. But if you still want to post grades for individual exams, assigning your own identifying numbers to students rather than using their Social Security numbers would be best. Then, before posting grades for a class, reorder the list of students so that it is not alphabetical. You could arrange them from highest to lowest grade, or in numerical order using the numbers you have assigned students for posting grades. You should still get written permission to post grades. Before giving their permission, your students should know which grades you will post and whether they are giving you permission to post their grades all semester or only once. They should also understand that they may withdraw their consent anytime during the semester.
Another convenient way to post individual assignment / exam grades online is through the campus course management system, WebCT. Every course has this online component available to faculty and students. Grades posted in the WebCT gradebook are only accessible to individual students using their ID and PIN, thus assuring privacy and 24-hour convenience. Grades can be uploaded from a word processing table, an Excel spreadsheet, or entered directly online. The gradebook is fully customizable and can include numerical grades, letter grades, totals, averages, and non-grade (informational) columns. OIT offers several training sessions throughout the year if you are interested in using WebCT to post grades or for additional course features.
Finally, we should avoid other practices that may reveal students' grades to others. We should not tell a student's grades to anyone by telephone, not even the student's parents. If we use email, we should be sure the message goes to the student and not to anyone else. When we are going to return exams or assignments in class, we should put grades on an inside page or the back of a page so that others do not see what grade a student made. We should not leave graded work outside our offices for students to come by and pick up. If we do, anyone can find out other people's grades while shuffling through the stack, and worse yet, people could take work that is not theirs. It only takes a little thoughtful planning to let students know their grades in a professionally responsible way that shows them the respect due them and their work.
What is important to remember is that grades are considered a part of a student's educational record and that federal law regulates how we release or post them.
According to the Buckley Amendment we are not to reveal grades (or anything regarding their performance, e.g. whether or not they have been attending class) in any personally identifiable form, including listing by Student Social Security number, unless the student has given us written consent. (This includes parents or other family members.) The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, was passed by Congress in 1974. Careful record-keeping enables us to comply with this Amendment which: (1) grants to students the right of access to their education records, (2) protects students from illegal use of their education records, (3) restricts the disclosure of the social security account number of students. In complying with this regulation, the following information is important.
The university also has a policy specifically pertaining to Student Records (D-13): For the purposes of this policy, the University adopts the following definitions:
Student means any person who attends or who has attended the University.
Education records means any record (in handwriting, print, tapes, film, or other medium) maintained by the University or an agent of the University which is directly related to a student, except:
a personal record kept by a staff member, if it is kept in the personal possession of the individual who made the record, and information contained in the record has never been revealed or made available to any other person except the maker's temporary substitute;
an employment record of an individual whose employment is not contingent on the fact that he/she is a student, provided the record is used only in relation to the individual's employment;
records maintained by the University Police Department if the records are maintained solely for law enforcement purposes, are revealed only to law enforcement agencies of the same jurisdiction, and the Department does not have access to education records maintained by the University;
records maintained by University Health Services if the records are used only for treatment of a student and made available only to those persons providing the treatment; and,
alumni records which contain information about a student after he/she is no longer in attendance at the University and the records do not relate to the person as a student.
A brief description of the types of records, as well as student and institutional rights is published annually in the Student Handbook and Activities Calendar. Specific information may be obtained by consulting with administrative officials listed in this policy. Each student has the right to be provided with a list of the types of education records maintained by the University. There is also an online guide that gives more information on compliance with the Buckley Amendment at SFA.
You should also be aware of the University's Record Retention Schedule. These guidelines are based on state laws and regulations for the management of records. In most cases these guidelines refer to administrative documents, but sometimes a faculty member might have documents (emails are included) that are linked to administrative decisions. For example, an email documenting a graduate assistant's behavior that supported a termination decision should be maintained according to the guidelines.
Attendance, General Issues, 12th Day Class Lists, the QF policy
Although SFA's Class Attendance and Excused Absences Policy (A-10) does not require students to attend classes, there are several reasons for us to keep accurate class attendance records. First of all, right after the twelfth class day (fourth class day in summer), we must submit accurate class lists that show who is enrolled in our classes and which of them, if any, have never attended class. Second, the new QF policy requires that we differentiate between students who fail, but complete all the course-required assignments (or at least all of them through a specified date late in the semester), from those students who never come to class or quit coming to class early on in the semester. At the very least we recommend that you keep good records of the dates of assignments and office appointments or other correspondence with students. Receiving a QF (Quit-Fail) grade may impact students if they are receiving loans for which they must be enrolled in at least 12 hours of courses to receive funding.
In addition, if attendance is a factor in our course grades, University policy requires that we make our class policies known in writing at the beginning of each term and maintain an accurate record of attendance. If you plan to have this kind of class policy, you should realize the University allows excused absences. It allows students with acceptable excuses to make up work for absences up to a maximum of three weeks of a regular semester or one week of a six-week summer term. When a student is going to be absent because of participation in a university-sponsored event, the student's name will be listed on an official announcement and you should consider the absence as excused. If you need to verify a student's excuse in these cases, a current official list of excused absences is available on an SFA web page at www.sfasu.edu/acadaffairs/absents.html. Beyond these considerations, it is up to you or your department to define your policies on attendance.
Even if attendance is not a factor in your course grades, it is a good idea to have a clearly defined attendance policy included in your course syllabus and to keep accurate attendance records. According to SFA's policy, "Regular and punctual attendance is expected at all classes, laboratories, and other activities for which a student is registered." Having a policy emphasizes that expectation. Furthermore, your students should know how you will treat their absences even if attendance does not affect their grades. Students who have missed a lot of classes will often ask you to take time to help them learn what they should have learned in class. If you have a policy that says that if a student has excessive absences, you reserve the right not to give individual tutoring, special consideration regarding make-up work, or other help the student needs because of missing classes, it helps you avoid such problems. We believe having a clear class attendance policy is a good idea.