Many New Ideas are Quite Old

Now that I’ve finished my dissertation, I finally feel free to turn my attention to other scholarly pursuits.  I feel an obligation to bring closure to the historical work I began a few years ago so I will be spending the next several months working with primary sources and reworking old drafts into publishable articles.  More than feeling an obligation to finish this work, I genuinely enjoy conducting historical research because I find it interesting and comforting to continually discover that many of today’s challenges and issues have been with us for decades or even centuries.

Below, I share some quotes from early-late 20th century sources that would be at home in an article, book, or blog post written in 2014.  After reading each quote, try to guess the year it was written before you continue reading.


 

 

It’s very common for us to worry about the effect of technology on our personal lives and psyches.  We’ve worried whether Google is making us stupid and we’ve often worried if Facebook is demeaning the value and meaning of friendship.  Faculty wonder if their jobs are being increasingly outsourced to MOOCs and learning analytics funded by the Gates Foundation.  Parents and teachers question the rise of standardized tests and their primacy in education.  Of course, the broad threads of these worries are quite old.  But how old?  When do you think this was this written?

“Today we have so surrounded ourselves with mechanical records that we may have ceased being personalities and have become machines…. In the present day of statistics and correlations, tests are given for everything except the things worth while.”

It comes from remarks given in 1929 by Dean Emeritus Stanley Coulter of Purdue University as recorded in the Secretarial Notes of the Tenth Annual Conferences of Deans and Advisers of Men.  This quote reflects a recurring theme in national student affairs conferences throughout the twentieth century that education had become too mechanistic and we have become focused on only the things that are in standardized tests.  This is the same idea that is seen a quarter of a century later in student protests in Berkeley with some students wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate” printed on punch cards as they protested the alleged depersonalization of higher education (among many other grievances).


 

The creation myth of the student affairs profession is that the profession came into being as faculty became increasingly disinterested in student life outside of the classroom.  So it’s no surprise that student affairs professionals have long felt locked out of the central scholarly processes of the academy.  This judgment and related frustration are aptly expressed in this quote:

“The residence halls, the extra-curriculum, the sports programs, the publications, all should be an integral part of the educative process — but they are only a part, and let’s face it, the second part. The classroom remains the core of our enterprise. The college could go on without the extra-curriculum. The curriculum is indispensable.

The educational values of the extra-curriculum cannot be realized unless we understand, and are closely allied with the curriculum itself — unless the force of our work is felt and favorably received by the members of the academic community who are solely academic in their interests and pursuits.”

I could slip this into a student affairs article tomorrow and it would fit right in.  Who originally said it and when?  NASPA President Robert M. Strozier from the University of Chicago included this in his Presidential address at the 1954 NASPA national conference.   Even outside of student affairs, I echo these ideas on a regular basis as I work to bridge the curriculum and co-curriculum from my vantage point in faculty development.


 

I’ve just finished reading a historical overview of undergraduate student culture in the U.S. in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.  The book itself is on the fringes of becoming a historical publication since it’s a few years old.  One of the most interesting parts of the book is the final chapter in which the author tries to apply the historical material to form an understanding of the author’s current students.  In this synthesis, the author describes the students who “call the shots [and] provide the dominant model of how to be an undergraduate” (p. 288) and reverse the judgment of previous generations of students who held grades to be nearly meaningless. Instead, grades are

“the ultimate value [that] do not reflect innate differences in intelligence; rather they result from figuring out what their processors want, spending long hours in study, and currying favor with their instructors…. In the classroom, they accept all the terms that the professor sets. Privately they may grumble or criticize faculty eccentricities, but their words sound like the grousing of a monarch’s subjects, an indirect means of confirming his or her power” (p. 269)

In her 1987 book Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Helen Horowitz laments that “today’s” (1987’s) students are entirely focused on grades without having interest in knowledge or critical thinking.  That’s an incredibly familiar complaint among today’s faculty!


 

Finally, I return to technology and indeed to the core idea that motivated my selection of “MistakenGoal.com” as the URL of this website.  For several years, I included a Stanley Katz quote in the header of this webpage: “…technology is not something that happens to us. It is something we create. We must not confuse a tool with a goal. We must, therefore, be sure that technology serves the fundamental purposes of higher education.”  That quote comes from a 2001 Chronicle of Higher Education article but the thought has been expressed by many people.  One of my favorite formulations:

“Except in a very few disciplines, technology is not an end in and of itself – it is the means to achieve some other scholarly aim. Technology, however, has an allure and a seductiveness that occasionally catches all of us, and we forget the original goal as we become captivated with the process.” (p. 11)

This quote predates Katz’s article by 12 years and appears in Brian Hawkins’s introduction to the 1989 book Organizing and Managing Information Resources on Campus.  This is a timeless warning to which I continually return.  It’s as familiar an idea as the other thoughts that are expressed in these quotes and a reminder that many of today’s problems have always been with us.  These problems sometimes seem to be too big to conquer because they have deep roots in our culture and society.  Some people might be dispirited by that idea but I take comfort that we’re not alone and we stand alongside those who went before us as we fight these good fights.

Dissertation Journal: Defended, Edited, Submitted, Accepted

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since my last post about my dissertation.  Two weeks ago, I defended my dissertation NON-RESPONSE BIAS ON WEB-BASED SURVEYS AS INFLUENCED BY THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AND PARTICIPATION GAP.  I’ve included the abstract below if you’re interested in its content but I’ll focus here on some of the process.

I originally intended to write a lot more in this blog about my dissertation-writing process but my posts eventually petered out as I got further and further behind schedule.  After a while, I refused to write about it not only because I had nothing new or interesting to say but more importantly because I was simply ashamed to even bring up the topic.  I don’t know why I stopped writing.  It took me about three years longer to finish this than it should have taken and I can’t help but wonder how different my life and career would be if I had finished in a timely manner.  I’m not sure why I avoided working on this for so long but I know that all of the obstacles were internal and emotional.  And I can’t tell you that I had any miraculous breakthroughs that let me finally finish except for that fact that I was almost out of time.

The defense itself turned out almost exactly as expected.  My committee requested only very, very minor edits that required the addition of only a few sentences.  I had set aside the two days immediately following my defense to make edits and the final submission but I only needed a few hours to make those edits and a second round of (minor typographical) edits requested by my graduate school.  They’ve accepted the document and forwarded it on to ProQuest for permanent archival so I think I’m just waiting for a few random bits of paperwork to work their way through the systems before everything is completely, totally, and finally done.

I’m not sure what my next steps will be.  I worry that the data are too old – Internet access and use data collected in 2010 – to be publishable.  Of course, I have many ideas about how to conduct further data analysis and push this particular set of ideas further but I don’t think that anyone can be surprised that I’m a little bit burnt out on these specific ideas right now.  I’ll be sure to write more here if I do any further work with this study.

I think that my colleagues, family, and friends are surprised that I’m not more celebratory about finishing my doctorate.  The dissertation itself  – conceptualization, collection of data, analysis, and writing – was pretty easy for me and it doesn’t feel much different from other studies I’ve completed.  But the emotional drain of living with this immense self-imposed and emotionally puzzling weight for so long was so soul-sucking that I’m  more relieved than happy or excited to finally be done.  I’ll try to learn to celebrate later but for now I’m enjoying just living without the shame and embarrassment I’ve hidden from everyone for several years.

Now that I’m done, I can begin to chip away at my large backlog of video games.  I’ve tackled the problem of non-response bias on a Web-based survey but now I’m going to save humanity from aliens.


Abstract

Higher education scholars, policy makers, and administrators know little about the experiences of undergraduate students who matriculate with minimal experience with technology. It is often assumed that all students, particularly traditionally-aged students, have significant experience with, knowledge of, and comfort with technology. Although that assumption is correct for many students, it is false for others. Despite the enormous increase in the use of Web-based assessment surveys and the increasing importance of accurate assessment and accountability data, those efforts may not be collecting adequate and accurate data about and from all students.

This study explores the non-response bias of first-year undergraduate students on a self-administered Web-based survey. First, data were collected with a supplemental survey added to the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE). K-means clustering was used with this newly constructed Internet Access and Use survey to classify students according to their Internet access and use experiences. Second, demographic data from BCSSE and the Internet access and use data were included in a logistic regression predicting response to the subsequent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

The Internet Access and Use instrument proved to be a viable way to classify students along lines of their previous Internet access and use experiences. However, that classification played no meaningful role predicting whether students had completed NSSE. Indeed, despite its statistical significance the final logistic regression model using provided little meaningful predictive power.

Generalizing the results of this study to all Web-based surveys of undergraduate college students with random or census sampling indicates that those surveys may not introduce significant non-response bias for students who have had less access to the Internet. This is particularly important since that population is already vulnerable in many ways as being disproportionately composed of first-generation students, underrepresented minority students, and students with lower socioeconomic statuses. This reassures assessment professionals and all higher education stakeholders that cost- and labor-efficient Web-based surveys are capable of collecting data that do not omit the voices of these students.

Perplexing Problems in ACPA Student Technology Infographic

I've whined about bad infographics and I try to avoid complaining about their continuing proliferation.  But I can't bite my tongue about this ACPA infographic purporting to show information about technology usage by undergraduate students.  It's bad not just because it's misrepresenting information but because it's doing so in the specific context of making a call for quality research and leadership in higher education.

There are some serious problems with the layout and structure of the infographic but let's focus on the larger issues of data quality and (mis)representation.  I've labeled the three major sections of this infographic in the image to the right and I'll use those numbers below to discuss each section.Infographic from ACPA purporting to show college student use of technology

Before I dive into the specific sections, however, I have to ask: Why aren't the sources cited on the infographic? They're listed on the ACPA president's blog post (and perhaps other places) but it's perplexing that the authors of this document didn't think it important to credit their sources in their image.

Section 1: Student use of technology in social interactions and on mobile devices

The primary problem with this section is that uses this Noel-Lovitz report as its sole source of information and generalizes was beyond the bounds of that source.  The report is based on a phone survey of "2,018 college-bound high school juniors and seniors (p. 2)" but that limitation is completely lost in this infographic.  If this infographic is supposed to be about all U.S. undergraduate students, it's inappriopriate to generalize from a survey of high school students and misleading to project their behaviors and desires directly onto undergraduate students.  For example, just over half (51.1%) of all undergraduate students are 21 years old or younger (source) so it's problematic to assume that the half of college students who are over 21 exhibit the same behaviors and desires as high school students.

I can't help but also note just how bad the visual display of information is in the "social interactions" part of this infographic.  The three proportionally-sized rectangles placed immediately next to one another make the entire thing appear to be one horizontal stacked bar when in fact they are three independent values unrelated to one another. This is very misleading!

Section 2: Cyberbullying

It's laudable to include information about a specific use of technology that is harmful for many students but like the first section this information is inappropriately and irresponsibly generalizing from a small survey to a large population.  In this instance, 276 responses to a survey of students at one university are being presented as representative of all students.  Further, the one journal article cited as the source for these data doesn't provide very much information about the survey used to gather these data so we don't even have many reassurances about the quality of these 276 responses.  And although response rate isn't the only indicator of data quality we should use to evaluate survey data, this particular survey only had a 1.6% response rate which is quite worrying and makes me wonder if the data are even representative of the students at that one university.

Section 3: Information-seeking

The third section of this infographic is well-labeled and uses a high quality source.  I'm not sure how useful it is to present information about high school students in AP classes if we're interested in the broader undergraduate population but at least the infographic correctly labels the data so we can make that judgement ourselves. In fact, the impeccable source and labels used in this section make the problems in other two sections even more perplexing.


This is all very frustrating given the context of the image in the ACPA president's blog post that explicitly calls for ACPA to "advance the application of digital technology in student affairs scholarship and practice and to further enhance ACPA’s digital stamp and its role as a leader in higher education in the information age."  Given that context, I don't what to make of the problems with this infographic.  Is this just a sloppy image hurriedly put together by one or two people who made some embarassing errors in judgement?  Or does this reveal some larger problems with how some student affairs professionals locate, apply, and reference research?*

* I bet that one problem is that many U.S. college and university administrators, including those in student affairs, automatically think of "college student" as meaning "young undergraduate student at 4-year non-profit college or university."  It's completely natrual that we all tend to focus on the students on our campuses but when discussing the larger context – such as when working on a task force in an international professional organization that includes members from all sectors of higher education – those assumptions need to at least be made clear if not completely set aside.  In other words, it's somewhat understandable if the authors of this image only work with younger students at 4-year institutions because then some of their generalizations make some sense.  They're still inappropriate and indefensible generalizations, however, but they're at least understandable.

Going Through the Motions of Active Learning and Engagement

Whether it's framed as active learning, student engagement, time-on-task, or <insert educational jargon here>, we know that people don't learn well by simply listening to others talk.  Learning requires repeated practice and adjustments made via feedback.  A recent metastudy in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) is making the rounds but it's just the latest in a long line of studies reinforcing these facts.

This sometimes leads me to forget that active learning is not itself an end but merely a means to an end.  In other words, I can become so focused on figuring out how to get students, workshop participants, or attendees to actively engage with ideas and one another that I can sometimes forget that the engagement has to have a purpose other than simple engagement.  That's made even easier since I have a foot in the world of faculty development and significant formal education in postsecondary education – students, organizations, pedagogies, etc. – so I know about the large collection of tools, strategies, and ideas we have to use in classrooms, workshops, and other environments.  With all of those options, many of them made even more dazzling and interesting with the ways that technologies can enhance them, I can easily forget that there has to be a goal, a reason for the activity more purposeful and important than simply going through the motions of active learning.

So don't be me.  Remember that active learning and engagement are not themselves the end game.  They must serve a purpose otherwise they're hollow activities that waste time and energy.  Don't incorporate exciting activities unless there is a real point to them.  Don't ask people to become engaged in something unless they are becoming engaged for a reason.  Like watching a chef with excellent knife work, it's exciting when someone knows technical details of the process of their craft but unless you're cutting up ingredients for a good dish it's just pointless flash that doesn't feed anyone.

Is Radical Personalization Antithetical to Sustained Interactions With Others?

One of the more exciting developments at my university is the ongoing development of our new Mathematical Sciences Learning Laboratory (MSLL). Pronounced "missile" and the already the cause of many puns (e.g., the opening of the new lab is already being dubbed "the missile launch"), it's a space that is "intended to serve students entering our foundational mathematics sequence, in particular, courses below the calculus level."  It seems to draw part of its inspiration from the math emporium model which, in its most radical form, allows students to progress through lower-level math courses completely on their own pace because the material is completely personalized to each student.  Our colleagues in the local community college system, for example, allow students to progress through as many as three courses in one semester if the student is focused enough to quickly progress through and demonstrate mastery of all of the topics in those courses.

That kind of model, one which draws to mind rows of students sitting at computers with headphones on or in disparate, dispersed locations on their individually-owned computers, is what I think of when I think about the potential for modern technology to allow completely personalized coursework. There is some appeal to me because it's easy to see how this model can enable students to complete coursework in a much faster and therefore cost-efficient manner.  For the sake of argument, I will also stipulate that the manner in which students are required to demonstrate mastery of the content is high quality – reliable, valid, realistic, etc.

So I get that we can make clever use of technology to make some topics (previously known as "courses") completely individualized and adapted to the pace and needs of each student.  I also get how that this can help students demonstrate their mastery (previously known as "take and pass courses") much more quickly and perhaps even with increased learning (which historically has *not* been the case with technology-enhanced courses).  But what I don't get is if everyone is moving at their own pace and their work is completely individualized how do we incorporate things like meaningful, sustained peer interaction?  Is personalized instruction inherently antithetical to things like substantive collaboration?  Where in personalized education is there room for sustained exposure to diversity and integration with other coursework?  I raise these questions because these are important parts of activities we know to be particularly effective.

Am I missing something or misunderstanding the nature of personalized and individualized coursework?  If not, is it a model that we really want to use for an entire degree program?

(I owe some of my thinking on this topic to my colleague John Jungck who has been very persuasive in his arguments against instructional models that don't facilitate meaningful collaboration. His concerns that such models may not allow students to experience and understand much of the power and beauty of mathematics are well-articulated and convincing, at least for me.)

I’m Not A Programmer But Programming Skills Are Still Extremely Useful

I don't work in IT, software development, or anything even closely related to those fields so I'm often surprised at how much programming I do in my daily work life.  At times I write scripts or light programs (e.g., this set of Excel macros), usually to save time and ensure accurate, well-documented, and reproducible results.  More often, I directly use some of the skills of programming, especially flow control and abstraction, to make tasks easier, elegant, or possible.

When I first entered college in 1996, I began as a computer science major.  After a few years I changed my major because I was dissatisfied with the amount and kind of programming I was doing.  I've never looked back and I've never pined for my missed life of code slinging. I have some sympathy for movements that purport to teach programming to anyone who is interested but I don't believe that programming is an essential skill for every person in the 21st century anymore than metal fabrication was an essential skill for every person in the 20th century.

A few concrete examples may be helpful.  First, I spend quite a bit of my time analyzing quantitative data e.g., student grades and assessment data, student retention data, and survey responses.  I usually do that analysis (and much of the pre-analysis work such as data cleanup, creation of new variables, aggregating and matching of different data sets) using SPSS, a statistical analysis program commonly used in the social sciences. Although SPSS can be operated almost entirely using point-and-click menus, my real work is done using the program's programming language (called "syntax" although it's really just a scripting language).  This makes my processes (a) self-documenting and (b) replicable.  In other words, by using and saving SPSS syntax in organized ways I always know exactly what I did and I can easily make changes or corrections.

Second, I seem to use programming logic quite often when working with larger surveys. I've become quite good using some of the more advanced features of Qualtrics, the online survey tool for which we have a site license. I declare variables and pass them around between surveys and reports using Qualtrics's "embedded data" feature.  I also use some of the different features of the tool that allow me to divide a given survey into different sections and selectively display only those sections that are relevant to a particular respondent.  Combining these features is allowing us to move a key assessment process for one of our academic departments from a cumbersome series of Excel spreadsheets and Word documents that is entirely manual to a Web-based process that still requires some manual data entry but has some built-in checks for data quality and reporting tools that are largely automated.

I'm not advocating that everyone must learn how to program.  I am advocating that those who regularly work with quantitative data – assessment folks, researchers, evaluators, analysts – learn some basic programming skills including flow control, abstraction, and uses of variables.  I spent part of my life trying to actively avoid programming and I've moved completely out of IT but programming skills have proven to be extremely valuable, useful, and sometimes essential.

The Psuedo-curriculum

I know this will be provocative for some of you but lately when I've heard people use the phrase "co-curriculum" I've silently translated it in my head to "psuedo-curriculum." I'll explain more below but understand that I am not devaluing out-of-class activities but expressing frustration that we don't really value them.

My frustration here has been long simmering but two strands of experience and thought are mingling and bringing things into focus for me.

First, I'm teaching another graduate course in pedagogy this semester. Last semester we focused on smaller details of teaching and learning largely by examining teaching methods (e.g., problem-based teaching, service learning, team-based learning) and lesson plans using the Decoding the Disciplines approach. This semester, we're focusing on larger details of teaching and learning using a problem-based learning approach to build a course using backward design and the principles in How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Specifically, my students are building a first-year experience course. (I chose that as the central problem because it's one of the few courses that cuts across all disciplines so everyone could work on the same thing.  I've taken and taught similar classes in the past where students each created their own course specific to their discipline and I want to see if this pedagogy course turns out any better if I have everyone creating and working on the same kind of course.)

Although our pedagogy classes have traditionally been aimed at graduate students, my colleagues and I have made a concerted effort to open them up to post-docs, university administrators, and others who have the interest and drive to fully participate throughout the entire semester.  This semester, I reached out to my colleagues in residence life and two of their staff are in this class.  The course is still primarily geared toward graduate students who will pursue tenure-track positions but the ideas and principles are widely applicable to human learning and teaching which of course is the aim of the co-curriculum, too.

Of course, my residence life students have brought unique views and ideas to the course.  Among those views are reoccurring ones that they (a) don't have enough time with students for them to master – be introduced to, practice many times, and receive feedback about – skills and knowledge (as compared to courses that meet several times a week for several hours during a semester or degree programs that span many courses over many semesters) and (b) students don't value or understand the skills and knowledge they should be acquiring and practicing in the residence hall co-curriculum.  Those are legitimate points and I understand and share their frustration.

Second, general education reform is in the air at my university. There are plans and rumors, some of which have a very firm basis in reality, that we're about to make a serious run at updating, changing, or otherwise tackle general education.  Some of this is probably motivated by issues that we'll have to address next year when we write our Periodic Review Report, the document we write midway between each of our regional accreditation reviews that occur at ten-year intervals.  Some of it is probably motivated by our provost who is relatively new but has been here long enough to begin to build and carry out his agenda.  In any case, it's got me thinking a lot about our general education requirements and the other things that we require students to successfully complete before we award them a degree.

Here is where these two strands of thought coalesce: If the so-called co-curriculum were really as highly valued as the curriculum, students would (a) have to successfully complete – with measurable goals and evidence that they've attained them – co-curricular requirements and (b) be able to meet graduation requirements such as general education requirements not only through coursework but also through rigorous co-curricular activities.  In other words, if we valued the co-curriculum then it would genuinely stand alongside the curriculum and be part of the credentialing process that is modern higher education.

Yes, that does happen to some degree even at my university.  Most first-year students are required to live on campus and all first-year students are required to complete a First-Year Experience Seminar, a one-credit pass/fail course.  But I imagine that like many colleges and universities that require students to live on campus that the requirement is driven as much by financial reasons (we have huge bills to pay with those large buildings!) as by educational ones.  And I can't really argue that our FYS course is part of the co-curriculum since the vast majority of those courses are taught by faculty especially for the 60% of students who take specialized FYS courses offered within their major department and taught by their major faculty, often for 2-3 credits instead of the 1 credit of the "default" FYS course.

There may be other ways that the co-curriculum is genuinely valued at my university and I'm simply unaware of them.  I know that some other institutions have parts of the co-curriculum strongly integrated into their graduate requirements.  For example, a few universities such as Drexel and Northwestern have integrated cooperative education into their undergraduate experience in ways that make me very envious.  Some universities like Stanford have wonderfully advanced systems that allow and encourage students to add co-curricular activities (and artifacts!) to their official transcript.

Until we meaningfully integrate the co-corriculum into the undergraduate experience by (a) requiring students to measurably master some skills or knowledge through out-of-class activities or allowing students to meet existing requirements (i.e., general education requirements) through successful completion of rigorous out-of-class activities and (b) including those activities on transcripts and in degree audits, I will continue to mentally translate "co-curriculum" to "pseudo-curriculum" in my head.  Unless we meaningfully substatiate those activities by holding those who participate in them accountable for meeting genuine, realistic educational goals those activities will remain a false curriculum subordinate to the real one that we value with recognized metrics and credentials.

Essential Reading for Technology in Student Affairs v1.1

A few weeks ago, I posted a set of recommended readings that I originally sent to a colleague who asked me what I would recommend as essential reading for understanding technology in student affairs.  I’ve updated this list adding two sets of resources.  First, I included danah boyd’s new book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens now that (a) I have read it and (b) it’s available for purchase and download (for free!).  It supersedes her 2008 book chapter “Why Youth (Heart) MySpace: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life” in Youth, Identity, and Digital Media.  It covers many of the topics mentioned in this list and the introduction alone is a good summary of many of these issues.  Second, I added a mention of Eszter Hargittai’s work on Internet use and social inequality.  It’s a good addition and an oversight on my part to not have included something substantive on this topic in the original list.


If we limit the list of essential student affairs technology articles to those written by student affairs scholars or professionals, published in student affairs journals or books, or about student affairs then I’m hard pressed to name an article that I consider essential.  There have been some good articles, books, and chapters that are important in particular, narrow contexts but I don’t think that I’ve seen anything essential or seminal.  The articles in these categories tend to be too narrow in scope either because they focus too narrowly on a contemporary issue or technology (and thus quickly fall out-of-date) or because they neglect much or all of the scholarship that lies outside of higher education and student affairs.

If we go outside of student affairs and higher education to consider literature produced in other disciplines then we have to be ruthless in culling the list to a manageable size.  Maybe we can do that by trying to list some of the big ideas and an accessible entry point or summary of each idea.

  1. Historical origins of the information age: I think it’s important to ground our understanding of technology by beginning…well, in the beginning.  This is especially true because many people think that technology or the study of technology is new, perhaps beginning with the microcomputer explosion of the early 80s or the development of the World Wide Web in the early 90s.  Much of the work in defining and exploring the information age has been done by economists who place the beginning of the information age in the early 20th century before computers even hit the scene.  Daniel Bell’s 1973 book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is a classic example of this work.  However, I’d probably lean toward Kenneth Galbraith’s 1972 (2nd ed.) The New Industrial State because it’s also a seminal work and I think that everyone should read something written by Galbraith at least once in their life.  This book also changed my entire view of committee work which was very unexpected but very pleasurable.
  2. Technological utopia/dystopia: Many people, including scholars who should know better, write and think about technology in simplistic terms such as utopian (e.g., Friedman and the rest of the uncritical MOOC cheerleaders) or dystopian views.  Rob Kling was a powerful voice in this conversation and his 1994 article “Reading ‘All About’ Computerization: How Genre Conventions Shape Non-Fiction Social Analysis” in The Information Society 10(3) is a classic article on this topic.
  3. Technological determinism: Another popular but problematic way that many people think and write about technology is to embrace “technological determinism,” the idea that technology is such a powerful force that it plays the central role in social and cultural development; a weaker formulation is that we can readily predict and understand how technology is used and developed based only on the properties of that technology. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s 2002 instant-classic The Social Life of Information is a wonderful book that expertly addresses this well-debunked-but-still-prevalent idea.  Claude Fischer‘s 1992 book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 is another fantastic and enjoyable book in this vein although it is more narrow in scope with its focus on some of the origins and early uses of telephones in the U.S.  (I also enjoy Fischer’s book because of the clarity with which he describes his research methods and limitations.)
  4. Computer-mediated communication (CMC): Much of the time when we are thinking about technology we are really focusing on a much more narrow use of some specific technologies and using computers to communicate with others is perhaps the most prevalent focus for people in the student affairs profession.  This is a large and rapidly growing body of research with many summaries and literature reviews.  Although it’s a bit old, I would suggest Susan Herring‘s 2002 Annual Review of Information Science and Technology article “Computer-Mediated Communication on the Internet.”  She touches on many different aspects of CMC and does so with a deep understanding of its history and social implications.
  5. Youths’ use of CMC: Although the majority of students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities are 22 years old or older, many student affairs professionals still focus primarily or exclusively on younger students.  There has been an explosion of research in this area in the last decade especially concentrated on youths’ use of social media e.g., Facebook, MySpace.  danah boyd‘s 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is a must-read in this area; it’s available for download for free (but please consider purchasing a copy – it’s worth it!).  The 2010 book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media covers similar ground and has been critical in informing and forming some of my thinking on this topic. This book is also methodologically impressive as a large collaboration between a large group of ethnographers who tried to synthesize their different-but-complementary studies.
  6. Technology in U.S. higher education: Offhand, I can’t think of any really good, time-tested, and expansive articles or books about technology in U.S. higher education.  Perhaps the most commonly cited work is Chickering and Ehrmann’s 1996 article “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever.”  It’s a followup to the classic 1987 Chickering and Gamson article (“Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education“) in the same publication.
  7. Contemporary sources of information: I regularly keep up on technology ownership, access, and use in the U.S. by reading the reports produced by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  Serving the same purpose but in the more narrow niche of U.S. higher education are the materials produced by EDUCAUSE, especially their annual survey of students and information technology and their public summaries of information collected in their Core Data Service.
  8. Disappointing but unavoidable assumptions: I’m sure you’re already familiar with all of the problematic assumptions and stereotypes of the “Millennial Generation” that play a disappointingly strong role in many of our assumptions about younger students’ use of technology.  On the same note, it’s also worth revisiting Marc Prensky’s original 2001 Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article as that discourse is still prevalent today.  Eszter Hargittai at Northwestern University has done quite a bit of work in the area of Internet use and social inequality; her 2010 article “Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Use among Members of the ‘Net Generation’” in Sociological Inquiry is a good overview of some of this work.

Essential Reading for Technology in Student Affairs

Last week, a colleague asked me what I would recommend as essential reading for understanding technology in student affairs.  Others may also be interested in this topic so this is what I told him (with a few minor edits):


If we limit the list of essential student affairs technology articles to those written by student affairs scholars or professionals, published in student affairs journals or books, or about student affairs then I’m hard pressed to name an article that I consider essential.  There have been some good articles, books, and chapters that are important in particular, narrow contexts but I don’t think that I’ve seen anything essential or seminal.  The articles in these categories tend to be too narrow in scope either because they focus too narrowly on a contemporary issue or technology (and thus quickly fall out-of-date) or because they neglect much or all of the scholarship that lies outside of higher education and student affairs.

If we go outside of student affairs and higher education to consider literature produced in other disciplines then we have to be ruthless in culling the list to a manageable size.  Maybe we can do that by trying to list some of the big ideas and an accessible entry point or summary of each idea.

  1. Historical origins of the information age: I think it’s important to ground our understanding of technology by beginning…well, in the beginning.  This is especially true because many people think that technology or the study of technology is new, perhaps beginning with the microcomputer explosion of the early 80s or the development of the World Wide Web in the early 90s.  Much of the work in defining and exploring the information age has been done by economists who place the beginning of the information age in the early 20th century before computers even hit the scene.  Daniel Bell’s 1973 book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is a classic example of this work.  However, I’d probably lean toward Kenneth Galbraith’s 1972 (2nd ed.) The New Industrial State because it’s also a seminal work and I think that everyone should read something written by Galbraith at least once in their life.  This book also changed my entire view of committee work which was very unexpected but very pleasurable.
  2. Technological utopia/dystopia: Many people, including scholars who should know better, write and think about technology in simplistic terms such as utopian (e.g., Friedman and the rest of the uncritical MOOC cheerleaders) or dystopian views.  Rob Kling was a powerful voice in this conversation and his 1994 article “Reading ‘All About’ Computerization: How Genre Conventions Shape Non-Fiction Social Analysis” in The Information Society 10(3) is a classic article on this topic.
  3. Technological determinism: Another popular but problematic way that many people think and write about technology is to embrace “technological determinism,” the idea that technology is such a powerful force that it plays the central role in social and cultural development; a weaker formulation is that we can readily predict and understand how technology is used and developed based only on the properties of that technology. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s 2002 instant-classic The Social Life of Information is a wonderful book that expertly addresses this well-debunked-but-still-prevalent idea.  Claude Fischer‘s 1992 book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 is another fantastic and enjoyable book in this vein although it is more narrow in scope with its focus on some of the origins and early uses of telephones in the U.S.  (I also enjoy Fischer’s book because of the clarity with which he describes his research methods and limitations.)
  4. Computer-mediated communication (CMC): Much of the time when we are thinking about technology we are really focusing on a much more narrow use of some specific technologies and using computers to communicate with others is perhaps the most prevalent focus for people in the student affairs profession.  This is a large and rapidly growing body of research with many summaries and literature reviews.  Although it’s a bit old, I would suggest Susan Herring‘s 2002 Annual Review of Information Science and Technology article “Computer-Mediated Communication on the Internet.”  She touches on many different aspects of CMC and does so with a deep understanding of its history and social implications.
  5. Youths’ use of CMC: Although the majority of students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities are 22 years old or older, many student affairs professionals still focus primarily or exclusively on younger students.  There has been an explosion of research in this area in the last decade especially concentrated on youths’ use of social media e.g., Facebook, MySpace.  danah boyd‘s 2008 book chapter “Why Youth (Heart) MySpace: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life” in Youth, Identity, and Digital Media is a must-read in this area.  The 2010 book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media covers similar ground and has been critical in informing and forming some of my thinking on this topic. This book is also methodologically impressive as a large collaboration between a large group of ethnographers who tried to synthesize their different-but-complementary studies.
  6. Technology in U.S. higher education: Offhand, I can’t think of any really good, time-tested, and expansive articles or books about technology in U.S. higher education.  Perhaps the most commonly cited work is Chickering and Ehrmann’s 1996 article “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever.”  It’s a followup to the classic 1987 Chickering and Gamson article (“Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education“) in the same publication.
  7. Contemporary sources of information: I regularly keep up on technology ownership, access, and use in the U.S. by reading the reports produced by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  Serving the same purpose but in the more narrow niche of U.S. higher education are the materials produced by EDUCAUSE, especially their annual survey of students and information technology and their public summaries of information collected in their Core Data Service.
  8. Disappointing but unavoidable assumptions: I’m sure you’re already familiar with all of the problematic assumptions and stereotypes of the “Millennial Generation” that play a disappointingly strong role in many of our assumptions about younger students’ use of technology.  On the same note, it’s also worth revisiting Marc Prensky’s original 2001 Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article as that discourse is still prevalent today.

They Said it Better Than I Can

I’m a bit ashamed and embarrassed that I haven’t written anything here in so long!  The fall semester was very, very busy but one reason why I haven’t written anything is that there are so many eloquent, informed people who have written things that I want to say much better than I could have done so.  Here are some of the blogs that I follow that regularly impress me:

  • e-Literate: Led by Michael Feldstein, this group of authors routinely post insightful and detailed information about technology and U.S. higher education e.g., What Faculty Should Know About Adaptive Learning, State of the Anglosphere’s Higher Education LMS Market: 2013 Edition.  Some of their posts are a little bit hyperbolic and occasionally shrill (presumably to attract more readers), particularly this post.  Despite the occasional over-the-top writing, this blog was an excellent source of information about the recent kerfuffle about Purdue University’s learning analytics software.
  • Culture Digitally: This is another group blog, one that describes itself as “a gathering point around which scholars who study of cultural production and information technologies can think together.”  This blog doesn’t focus on higher education but it has posts from some wonderful researchers on the cutting edge of culture and technology.  I particularly like this recent post discussing “big data” and its potential shortcomings.
  • The Young and the Digital: This website is a companion to S. Craig Watson’s 2010 book of the same name.  It’s a great book and it’s very nice to be able follow the author as he continues to develop and share his thoughts.  This post is a great example of the good thoughts that are shared on this website.
  • Microsoft Social Media Collective Research Blog: The title of this blog tells you almost all you need to know.  This is a group of exceptional researchers who appear to have significant freedom to conduct ethical research without being unduly influenced by their employer.  This post listing some researchers’ opinion of the most influential journal article has a year’s worth of reading for anyone interested in social media.
  • Josie Ahlquist’s blog: A colleague – Joe Sabado, who has a nice blog of his own! – recently turned me on to Josie’s website.  She’s an EdD student who is beginning a dissertation focusing on “social media communication tools in higher education, focusing on college student use and educational methods to equip students to be positive productive citizens on emerging technologies.”  She is very well-informed and is doing a wonderful job of sharing and synthesizing the information she is discovering as she is completing her literature review. I’m very excited to follow her as she begins her research!