Lisa and Jan, two college sophomore students of Filipino heritage at a public Carnegie extensive doctoral/research university, want to see an open options adviser—together—about declaring a major. The adviser, Darrel, of Japanese heritage, hesitates at this request for a joint appointment not only because office practice discourages it but also because of his own belief that each student has unique needs and should learn to be independent while in college, much as he did in earning a graduate degree while working full time.

In this example, Darrel might be justified in denying the students' request for a joint appointment. The individual advising appointment is the most basic and common format in advising (Nutt, 2000). However, might advising offices be missing an opportunity to capitalize on the social learning propensities of students from groups that value community by not advocating for alternative advising formats? Could joint appointments and more socially open advising situations be seen less as an exception and more as an integral part of the advising practice? We propose that, because a growing number of students in higher education come from community-oriented groups, advising practice and assumptions based on the dominant individual advising appointment should be reassessed. We also propose that the prescriptive-developmental advising model should be revisited to see how a social learning dimension based on social constructivist theory might be incorporated into this model.

High Relational Groups and Backgrounds

common characterization of many non-Western groups is that they are sociocentric as opposed to egocentric, valuing community over self and personal relationships over individual achievement (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). However, rather than dichotomizing groups using such terms as sociocentric and egocentric, it might be better to use the term relational to describe this important dimension that is common to all groups. Therefore, a group that has stronger community values can be called a high relational group and one that has weaker community values, a low relational group. High relational groups, which tend to be in the minority, are varied. For example, Filipino culture places a high value on social interactions, such as providing familial support in both social and educational settings and having a language that distinguishes among eight levels of interaction (Enriquez, 1989; Castillo & Minamishin, 1991). Latino culture has been described as a people-centered culture, in which daily contact with family and close friends is important to feeling connected. In the educational arena, some have found that cooperative strategies motivate Latino students and that personal relationships assist Latinos to connect to organizations and institutions (Alder, 2000; Bordas, 2002). The Hmong culture has been described as not only grounded in a strong immediate family base but also an extended clan system from which individuals can draw emotional, spiritual, and financial support (Fadiman, 1997).

High relational groups are not determined solely by ethnicity. In some cases, geographical circumstances, such as the isolation of a small rural town or community with limited resources, might foster a highly relational culture. As students from high relational groups enter higher education, student services offices have responded by creating support centers, peer advocates, faculty mentors, and other relationally derived programs. In general, many students from high relational minority groups benefit from opportunities to interact in collaborative and cooperative learning environments (Gregory, 2000).

Prescriptive-Developmental Advising Model

The dominance of the one-on-one advising format may have its roots in the developmental advising model upon which much of advising is based. Though this developmental model proposes that advisers look at the whole student and try to empower the student to take charge of his or her educational planning (Crookston, 1972), it is silent on the social context of advising and leaves the adviser to perhaps default to the traditional one-on-one advising format.

Studies on multicultural advising have sought to expand on the developmental model. Brown and Rivas (1994) propose using prescriptive advising as well as developmental advising when working with students who expect a hierarchal approach. For Japanese international students, Kinoshita and Bowman (1998) suggest that advisers be more directive and probing. Cornett-DeVito and Reeves (1999) view the prescriptive-developmental continuum as important in defining advisee-adviser roles and as one of the foundations to developing intercultural communication skills.

Though studies have noted that social learning formats are important for minority students, perhaps there should be a fundamental shift in advising assumptions toward social learning for all students. For this kind of fundamental change to occur, a case needs to be made to add a social learning vector to the prescriptive-developmental continuum advising model. We believe that social constructivist theory provides the justification for this social learning vector.

Social Constructivism in an Advising Context

Social constructivist theory is based on the premise of learning through interactive dialogue and social dynamics and is defined as learning within a social context (Stage, Muller, Kinzie, & Simmons, 1998). It is grounded in the belief that knowledge is a product of meaningful social interactions. Furthermore, social constructivism acknowledges the role of culture in the construction of knowledge (Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer, & Scott, 1994). To continue the advising scenario at the beginning of the article, the following action might have unfolded if Darrel, the adviser, had embraced a social learning approach based on a few key social constructivist principles outlined by Jaworski (1994):

In this extended scenario depicting social constructivism in an advising context, the high relational group background of Lisa and Jan complemented the advising approach utilized by Darrel. Thus, the use of social constructivist theory in advising may involve groups of students in collaborative research, acknowledgement of and valuing each other's personal and group experience, and dialogue among adviser, advisee, and important others to establish knowledge and the shared meaning of academic and personal worlds.

In addition, at the end of the advising relationship described above, the more traditional one-on-one advising format is used, now based on a more open and trusting relationship since a social learning approach was used as a transition. This point is important because we are not proposing that advisers use this social learning approach in each session or with all students from high relational groups. Rather, as Grites and Gordon (2000) have advocated, advisers should draw on a wide range of theoretical approaches in working with students. Because of the variation between groups of students and even within groups, advisers need to be flexible and conscious of drawing from different theories to guide practice. Indeed, advisers are already doing this, as evidenced by Daller, Creamer, and Creamer (1997), who found that advisers used both prescriptive and developmental approaches in their actual practice within a session. Blending social constructivism into this prescriptive-developmental continuum might be the next step in revising the advising model.

New Paradigm, Versatile Practice

From a theoretical standpoint, adding social constructivism to the prescriptive-developmental continuum adds an important third dimension to advising theory.

If advisers are versed in the strengths and limitations of each approach, they can choose an approach depending on the information needing to be conveyed, type of student, changing student needs, and stage of the advising relationship. If an adviser moves smoothly from one approach to another, even within a session, the student will benefit. In this expanded advising paradigm, advisers may make the initial approach by scanning through the three vectors: Do I need to tell/does the student need to know this now (prescriptive)? Does the student need to have this experience to move to the next level (developmental)? Who else should be brought in to the adviser-advisee dyad to advance advising goals (social constructivist)?

From an advising program standpoint, advisers can look for opportunities for advising in a social context, such as “bring a friend to meet an adviser” week, in which joint appointments are scheduled or advisers visit naturally formed groups such as culture-based clubs to offer services. Advising skills would need to be upgraded in terms of working with triads or groups, as well as knowledge of the different cultural backgrounds of students. Advising offices would offer an array of delivery modes, with students choosing from one-on-one dyads, triads, and different social venues.

Though most advisers do intuitively adjust their advising approaches based on advisee responses, we propose that advisers broaden their approaches beyond the prescriptive-developmental continuum and include a more social constructivist approach. In addition, the advising field should consider adding social constructivism to the theoretical model of advising.