Reflections on the Current State of Technology Organizations in Student Affairs

There seems to be three groups of people in student affairs interested in technology: administrators who manage technology projects and groups in student affairs departments and divisions, student affairs scholars who study technology and its uses and impact, and student affairs professionals with interests in technology but a different primary focus. How well are these populations being served right now? How are they organizing to serve themselves and one another?

My big hope for using the resources of a large and well-funded organization to organize and serve at least one or two of these populations is NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community (KC) and they seem to have lost momentum. I haven’t seen or heard a peep from or about them in many months, their website has been broken for several months, and only four of the seven regions in NASPA have representatives in the KC. When I co-chaired the KC a few years ago, I privately wondered if the KC would ever find coherence and purpose and right now it seems that the answer may be “no.” I intend no disrespect at all to the current leadership of the KC as I know how challenging and demanding their job can be.

The struggles of the Technology KC raise the larger question of whether a group serving more than one of these populations could ever be formed and sustained without herculean efforts on the part of its leadership. It is possible that these three populations are too small to form a coherent and sustainable organization. It’s also possible that their needs and interests are too divergent for them to coexist in one organization; this is the second time that NASPA has tried having a group like this as the first one couldn’t cohere around a solid set of goals. I imagine these questions must have played a role in the decision to not include a technology group in the ACPA/NASPA unification proposal. As much as I would like to disparage the decision, my experiences in the Technology KC convince me that it’s probably the right one, at least during the formation of a new organization.

I am also unsure of the current status of StudentAffairs.com. I know their journal has struggled recently and I hope that is a temporary state of affairs. It’s a low-prestige journal which makes it a publication venue of last resort for the best scholarship but it serves such a unique niche that it would be a loss if it were to cease publication altogether. Any updates or thoughts, Stu and Gary?

With the slowdown of NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community, I worry that we are losing an opportunity to create communities among student affairs IT folks, especially the IT administrators in student affairs (I also worry about the scholars but we’re a very, very small group). However, the success of groups outside of the traditional power structures of student affairs gives me great hope that at least one of the three populations – student affairs practitioners – is being well-served. The group of student affairs professionals at the Student Affairs Collaborative blog, Kevin Prentiss and Tom Krieglstein at Red Rover, Jeff Jackson and his awesome collection of resources at BreakDrink, Ed Cabellon and his tireless stream of resources, Eric Stoller‘s new column at Inside Higher Ed, and many others are serving this population very, very well. They’re serving this population well in part because they are almost all members of this population but largely because they’re tremendously enthusiastic and very clever at engaging others to use their energy, input, and work.

I am also heartened by the inclusion of technology as a “thread” in the new Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners created by ACPA and NASPA. Technology is one of three threads identified by the task force that created this document. But what are threads?

In the course of determining the competency areas, the joint task force identified a number of “threads” that are woven into most of the competency areas. The joint task force, based on feedback from members, determined that these topics were best represented as components of the expected knowledge, skills, and attitudes described within each competency area, rather than as separate competency areas themselves. In other words, these threads are considered essential elements of each competency area and therefore should be incorporated into the professional development design of each competency area, rather than exist as competency areas themselves (Joint Task Force on Professional Competencies and Standards, 2010, p. 5).

The task force correctly identified technology as a thread that runs throughout most student affairs work instead of a separate competency area. I know that others disagree but I believe this places technology in its proper place as a tool to facilitate our work instead of being the focus of our work. Technology is a tool, not a goal (it says so right at the top of this webpage!).

Although I wonder about the experiences of technology scholars and IT administrators in student affairs and how well we are supporting them in student affairs (I don’t think we are), the amount of activity occurring among student affairs practitioners – on blogs, in Twitter, through podcasts, and during conferences – is tremendously exciting and encouraging. If scholars and student affairs IT administrators want to build communities, perhaps they can emulate or even join these groups and activities because for all of their messiness they seem to be working pretty well. These activities are sometimes a bit messy and uncoordinated but that is the nature of dynamic, grassroots activities and I wouldn’t trade their energy and excitement for anything.

Update: It looks like we may soon get some answers (or at least some interesting questions!) about IT practitioners in student affairs, particularly those who lead them, from Leslie Dare & Kyle Johnson!

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