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!

  • http://joesabado.com Joe Sabado

    Hi Kevin – thanks for the article and for your site! I’ve learned a lot through your blogs.

    I’m one of those few IT administrators in Student Affairs that’s been trying to connect with other IT admins in twitter. You’ve pretty much referenced the very useful resources I’ve used in your post and beyond that, it’s been hard to find IT administrators to interact with. Leslie Dare is the only other person I know on #sachat and #satech that seem to have formal IT leadership position in SA. If there are other IT administrators, please definitely let me know. I’ve only been using twitter the last three months so I’m still trying to make connections. Just like you, I’m really excited about the passion of folks like Eric Stoller, Ed Cabellon, you and others when it comes to promoting technology in SA!

    I’m probably one of those few individuals in Student Affairs IT leadership that happened to cross over from SA services into IT, although I don’t have a Masters/PhD education in Student Affairs. I’ve been involved with Student Affairs since I was a student from 1991-1996 via various means (org leadership, multicultural programming, peer advisor, RA) and as an organizational advisor for multiple organizations when I became a career staff in 1996. More info on my background here: http://joesabado.com/?page_id=2

    In my position, I’m fortunate enough to interface with all the Directors and program managers and so I do get the opportunity to gain some perspectives on student affairs issues. Student development theories, leadership theories, assessments, racial/ethnic/gender issues, issues that I am very interested in because of my background and interest, are rarely if ever discussed in our IT department meetings. I often wonder how much we could be better in our services as IT folks if we are able to merge our approach to technologies if are more knowledgeable with the theories and issues I mentioned above.

    I would love to join a group with other SA IT administrators to form a group, maybe #satech, to promote/discuss technology four the IT admins perspective.

    Thank you
    Joe

  • http://joesabado.com Joe Sabado

    BTW – with regards to #satech, I know it exists. What I meant was maybe to use it more :)

  • http://mistakengoal.com Kevin R. Guidry

    Joe, I honestly don’t know of a home for IT admins in student affairs. I don’t even know of a good potential home outside of NASPA’s Tech KC. There are a handful of niche areas that have some options. Those in housing can lean towards ACUHO-I with its ACUHO-I-IT “group” (I’m not sure what to call it since they merged the ACUHO-I-IT conference in with several others to create their “Business Services” conference). Those who provide end-user support can lean on SIGUCCS or the ResNet Symposium if they support student residents. And there may be similar enclaves in the other functional areas but I don’t know of anything that crosses between the functional areas and addresses larger issues at the divisional level.

    Interesting side note: A few years ago, I was in DC to visit some family and I stopped by the NASPA office to meet some of the staffers and talk with them about an idea I had for a program through the new Tech KC. While I was there, someone pulled me aside for a bit and asked how I felt about NASPA holding a technology conference. They apparently held one several years ago and they were interested in holding another one. We started seriously talking and then the recession hit, travel budgets got slashed, and the talks died down.

    It looks like the incorrigible Leslie Dare is seeing if she can round up the student affairs IT admins. Check out what she’s doing. Hopefully something good will come of it!

  • Joe Sabado

    Kevin – thanks for the response. I’ve added my name to list.

    I actually inquired about the NASPA Region VI representative position yesterday to the co-chairs since I noticed on the NASPA website there was no rep listed for that region. With the proposed NASPA/ACPA consolidation though, I’m not sure if that will be filled. That would be awesome if we have a technology conference.

    thanks,
    Joe

  • http://mistakengoal.com Kevin R. Guidry

    It’s not the same as a physical conference where you can see others, shake their hand, and go out to drinks with them, but I don’t see any reason why student affairs IT folks couldn’t do something online like what BreakDrink has been doing with their “conferences.” Maybe that’s something that can be tried if Leslie can identify enough people who work in this area. It would be cheap and a great way to test the waters and see what kind of interest really exists for collaboration and community.

  • http://tech.kristendomblogs.com Kristen Abell

    Kevin – great, no really, I mean GREAT analysis of the state of technology in student affairs right now. I really feel like you’re spot-on with this. I had recently expressed a similar sentiment about why I didn’t necessarily feel the need for a technology community in a new organization – that we should really all be finding ways to use technology – it shouldn’t be a community for its own sake. As one of the representatives for the Tech KC, I have consistently struggled with providing information and resources to our region. I’m part of the third group you mentioned above – the practitioners who enjoy technology, and I often feel like I don’t have enough knowledge to be able to really provide good information to the IT folks, or even the technology scholars. I think you’re right in saying it’s really difficult to serve all three from one group.
    The other piece I wanted to point out is that one of the reasons I believe the practitioners with an interest in technology are so active is because they’ve found an outlet for that interest/passion. It’s different when it’s just another part of your job (I’m not sure if this makes sense, as I consider technology to be a part of my job, and yet, not a part that every housing practitioner engages in, so maybe not necessarily a recognized part). I know that one of the reasons I do so much with NASPA on the technology side of things is because it’s a way to engage that tech side of me that I don’t always get to do as a regular part of my job – so that equals fun. It might be different if you’re doing this for a living or as part of scholarly research (I can’t say for sure, as I’m not a part of either of those communities really – although I suppose I serve as an unofficial tech person for our student affairs division) – which might make it more difficult to sustain the success that #SAChat has had. Just a thought.

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  • http://www.breakdrink.com Jeff

    Kevin, sorry I’m late to this post. Thanks so muchi for the link and the nice words. I think we are starting to hear more and more about this so hopefully we will start to move that way. I would love to host a Student Affairs specific Tech conference. Lets chat if you are interested. I recently made a channel of current tech presentation that can be helpful for some. http://studentaffairs.tv/student-affairs-technology/