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.

Dorm vs. Residence Hall: A Silly Debate Nearly 100 Years Old

In most professions, there are certain words or phrases that are used to mark oneself as a member, someone who is “in.”  Many student affairs professionals doggedly avoid referring to on-campus housing units as “dorms,” even going so far as to take offense at the term and trying to correct those who use the hated word.  The preferred term is “residence hall,” a phrase that is used because dorm is perceived by some as being too cold and distant to describe someone’s home.  This is an issue on which a significant amount of energy is spent – just google “dorm vs residence hall” and you’ll immediately be thrown into the battlefield.

Personally, I think the debate – one which sometimes becomes inexplicably heated and emotional – is very silly and is usually a waste of time and energy better spent on substantive issues.  But my point here isn’t to convince you that I’m right.  I only want to share a surprising finding from the historical documents I’m current reviewing: This debate has been raging for nearly 100 years!

The conference proceedings for the 1941 meeting of the National Association of Advisers and Deans of Men (NADAM), the organization that later changed its name to NASPA, includes a talk given by Mr. R. B. Stewart, Controller of Purdue University (no, I don’t know what that title means, either), on the topic of “Institutional Housing Policies.”  In describing the student housing at Purdue, he noted:

Our approach to the student housing program began in 1927, when we received funds and borrowed money for the erection of our first Residence Hall for men.  At that time, our Trustees eliminated from Purdue terminology the use of the word “dormitory”, and since that date we refer to our housing units as “residence halls,” intending to convey the fact that our units are something more that places to sleep and for one’s being.

Whoa!  I knew that this battle against the word dorm had begun before my time in higher education but I had no idea that it was this old!

Ongoing Research Into Student Affairs Technology History

Covers from old ACPA and NASPA conference proceedings. From upper-left, clockwise: NASPA 1930, NASPA 1950, ACPA 1942, ACPA 1932

I’ve written a few times about historical research I’ve done looking into how U.S. student affairs professionals have used and viewed technology throughout the 20th century.  Although I don’t know where my current job search will take me, I feel a responsibility to bring some closure to this research and then ensure it is somehow published or shared.

Much of my previous work was based on documents held at the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University, especially the conference proceedings and programs for ACPA and NASPA.  My work is incomplete, however, because those (wonderful!) archives did not have most of the conference proceedings from the first half of the century.  However, another scholar told me that my own institution, Indiana University, has many of these proceedings.  Since I will probably be leaving Bloomington soon, I finally followed up on this tip and requested all of the conference proceedings in the IU library.  The two collections – IU and BGSU – complement each other very nicely, almost as if a single collection of all of the proceedings were divided evenly between the two libraries.  It would probably be a bibliographic faux pas to ask one of these libraries to donate their materials to the other one but it sure would be nice to have a nearly complete collection in one place.  At least the two universities are only a few hours apart so it’s not terribly burdensome for scholars who want to consult these materials.

I’ve only started reading through these documents and I’m already very glad that I requested them!   In just the handful of proceedings that I’ve read so far I’ve found interesting things such as:

  • Discussion of the negative effects of “mechanical devices” on education in 1928
  • A demonstration of IBM equipment for Deans of Men in 1950
  • A new program at the 1950 NASPA conference using audio recorders to collect and then distribute the distilled wisdom of its members.  In the opening session, NADAM President L. K. Neidlinger described this new program to attendees:

    You can also improve your mind and learn how to be a dean by going to the Recording Room, just off the lobby, at any time that suits your convenience, and asking the attendants there to hook you up to one of the tape recordings that we have been busy making last night and this morning. We are conducting there an interesting new experiment in convention technique. On each of several topics we have had a team of five deans record their experience and advice — all on the same tape. Anyone interested in these topics can pull up a chair, light a cigar, and listen at leisure to the advice of five colleagues who could not otherwise be interviewed so conveniently. He can then add his own comments by flipping a switch and talking. Furthermore, six months from now when you may have to educate a faculty committee on the facts of life about one of these topics, you will be able to write Fred Turner for the recording, borrow a machine, and bring these expert witnesses into your committee room.

  • A demonstration of the new Polaroid camera, with specific mention of its possible use in creating photographs for student IDs, in 1951

Even though I’ve just begun reading through these proceedings, I already have examples of (a) worry about the effects of technology on education and students, (b) discussions of the potential benefits of technology in student affairs administration, especially record keeping and processing, (c) demonstrations of new technology by vendors and pioneering institutions, and (d) innovative uses of technology initiated by members of the professional organizations themselves.  A history of regular and continued use of technology, including original innovations and cutting-edge uses, doesn’t seem to be part of the mainstream historical narrative of the student affairs profession but that seems to be the story I’m finding in the historical artifacts.

(Off-topic: Holy crap are these proceedings products of their times!  I knew that the history of these two professional organizations was very gendered given their historical roots but I didn’t expect the volume of casual sexism documented in these proceedings!  I did, however, expect some degree of racism and a large homophobia and – sadly – my expectations have been met.  I’m not even looking for these things but they often come screaming out of the pages. I’m reminded of a moment in this story where a college student asks during a discussion about the Founding Fathers: “If the Founders loved the humanities so much, how come they treated the natives so badly?” It’s mentally and spiritually jarring to read pages and pages of passionate discussion about the importance of each student and their intellectual and moral development followed by a casual dismissal of the competence of deans of women or a reminder of the psychological and moral depravity of homosexuality. The incongruity and dissonance makes me wonder what normal, accepted practices and beliefs we hold today will cause these “Holy crap!” moments for future generations when they read our e-mails and watch our videos.)

EFF Publishes a Bit of ResNet History

The EFF, one of my favorite organizations, has announced a report describing a security vulnerability in Impulse Point’s SafeConnect product. I don’t have any new insight to add regarding the security flaw or SafeConnect. But the announcement is a quick read with a nice little history of Network Access Control (NAC) technology and its important role in managing residential computer networks.

(Off-topic reminiscing: In 2003, college and university campuses experienced massive problems on their student computer networks thanks to the Blaster and SoBig worms. In response, colleges and universities rapidly adopted NAC and similar technologies to curtail those problems. Around that time, a few people from a brand new company visited the campus where I worked to pitch their product; the company was located in Florida and they were visiting nearby colleges and universities to collect feedback and gauge interest. They had a nice product but it didn’t address our needs. If I remember correctly, the product hijacked downloads of copyrighted material – music, movies, etc. – and redirected students to vendors selling the material legally. Again, it was a neat product but one in which we had no interest. Instead, we told them how badly we needed a good NAC, especially after getting our asses kicked by Blaster and SoBig so badly that we shut down the network for several days until we could get a handle on things. Importantly, their product shared a lot with NAC products so our recommendation to develop a NAC was realistic. The nice people from Impulse Point left and when I next heard of them it was about the success of their SafeConnect NAC product. Maybe my memory is faulty or maybe I’m just silly and arrogant but I like to think that I played a teeny tiny role in the success of this company and their popular product. You’re welcome!)

Automated Technology Used by a Fraternity…in 1935

As I was procrastinating and avoiding working on my dissertation proposal, I came across the 1935 Columbia University Press book . One (short) chapter describes how punched cards were used to analyze data from a survey of Phi Delta Kappa members in the early 1930s. I know that PDK is not the kind of social fraternity most people think of when they hear “fraternity” and this is no SurveyMonkey survey but this is still a wonderful example of a very early technology used by professionals in or very close to student affairs.

For those too young to have used them or too old to remember them, punched cards were used for many decades by colleges and universities in both research and administration. Punched cards were used particularly frequently by registrars so it’s no surprise that student affairs departments used them, too. In fact, they were so widely used on campuses that they became cultural symbols of technology and standardization. For example, student protesters at University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s “used punch cards as a metaphor, both as a symbol of the ‘system’ – first the registration system and then bureaucratic systems more generally -and as a symbol of alienation” (Lubar, 1992, p. 46).

Framework for Understanding Historical View of Housing Technology

(This is largely a note for myself.  I had an epiphany while showering this morning and I don’t want to forget it!)

I haven’t touched it for a while but for a few years I’ve been working on historical research focused on entertainment and communications technologies in American college and university residence halls. As is often the case, I began this research as it was a topic of interest to me; I placed only superficial thought on practical applications and implications. In other words, I did it only because I liked it and it interested me. But that won’t convince others to care about this research, to listen to me discuss it, or allow me to publish it.

This morning I finally found my hook. This will be the first time I’ve written it down so let’s see how it looks in print:

Understanding the history of entertainment and communications technologies in residence halls provides us with a means for understanding the tapestry of forces that have shaped not only residence halls but academia in the United States. These technologies provide rich examples of innovations motivated by economic competitiveness, cultural expectations, and academic experimentation.

Not only does this provide me with a much-needed organizational framework for this work but it also provides others with a motivation for understanding and supporting this historical research.

Response to Student Affairs On-Line Letter to the Editor

In the current issue of Student Affairs On-Line, Frank Christ wrote a Letter to the Editor responding to my Summer 2008 article “Exploding a Myth: Student Affairs’ Historical Relationship with Technology.”  I’m writing my response here rather than printing it in Student Affairs On-Line as (a) such a response would take many months to be published and (b) I can use this as a springboard to discuss other interesting issues.

If I understand Frank’s letter correctly, he is pointing out some resources from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that  describe student affairs’ use of technology during those years. Rather than in any way refuting my main point, these documents provide further evidence supporting my main point: student affairs staff made regular and often innovative use of technology throughout the 20th century. The documents and events described by Frank are valuable additions to our collective bank of resources and knowledge and it’s wonderful that he has described them for us!

I add two additional comments, one in response to Frank’s letter and one more general in nature. First, it’s not at all surprising or unusual that these particular sources were not included in my original article. Logistically, it sounds as if some of these documents are a bit off-the-beaten-path, particularly for research that was physically conducted in the Midwest (I’m at Indiana University and the bulk of this research was conducted at the National Student Affairs Archive in Bowling Green, Ohio). In addition, all researchers must place realistic and workable limits on their research. In historical research, this means that we specify from which documents and sources we are going to pull information when we tell our story. In this instance, I am satisfied with the sources selected to best tell this story (ACPA and NASPA conference proceedings and journal articles); there are certainly additional sources that could be added (I would particularly like to get into the conference proceedings for the Association Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA), the umbrella organization to which ACPA belonged for several decades) but I have to place limitations on the sources used if I am to make sense of them. In other words, I can only ready and synthesize so much and I must select my sources and use my time wisely. Of course, if there were sources that could really change, shape, or inform the story then I would be remiss to not include them even if they were not originally on my radar!  Based on the available evidence, I don’t think this is the case here as these documents seem to fully support the story as I already understand it.

Second, it’s also useful to know a little bit about the impetus for my article and the context in which it was published. For scholars, it’s often useful for us to “put our mark” on topics on which we are actively working to let others know what we’re doing and in what topics we consider ourselves to be knowledgeable. One of the ways in which we do this is by publishing shorter pieces when we’re not quite ready to publish longer, intensive pieces. In this instance, I was ready to make public that I’m doing this historical work while I continue to work on the longer detailed pieces in which I present my full arguments and supporting evidence. Student Affairs On-Line is not, in my opinion, the right place to publish a fully-developed and lengthy scholarly article but it’s a great place to publish shorter, more informal pieces. And one consequence of this being a shorter less formal piece is that I did not present all of my arguments and evidence; it’s a careful balance to present enough to be interesting, engaging, and accurate without going too far and making the piece too intricate and detailed for the medium and the stage at which I’m at with the research.

Responding to and Expanding on “Exploding a Myth” StudentAffairs.com article

In the current issue of Student Affairs Online, I have an article titled “Exploding a Myth: Student Affairs’ Historical Relationship with Technology.” The contents and premise of the article should not be a surprise to anyone who is reading this blog. I’m very appreciative to Stu Brown, StudentAffairs.com’s head honcho, for inviting me to publish a regular article in Student Affairs Online.

I’d like to 2 points make about the article recently published:

  1. Del Suggs pointed out to me that I made at least one mistake in the article. In the article I write:

    Radio has also seen use as an civic engagement tool as demonstrated by a program hosted by Furman University’s Dean of Women where women students were given explicit permission to “stay up late” to watch and listen to returns from the 1970 presidential election (Furman University, 1970).

    Del correctly notes that “there was no presidential election in 1970, at least not in the United States. The election of 1968 pitted Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey, and the election of 1972 was Richard Nixon against George McGovern.”

    Guilty as charged, Del; that is definitely a mistake on my part. The document was in a folder labeled “1970” but the document itself is not necessarily from that year. The document explicitly says that the event was held on Tuesday, November 7, which seems to point to it actually being from 1972, and I should have caught that. The joy of working with undated primary sources, eh?

  2. In the article I also write:

    Many campuses began student-operated radio stations in the late 1940s but these stations were typically associated with academic units, primarily electrical engineering or broadcasting and journalism programs (Bryant, 1981).

    As I continue my research, I am becoming less sure of this conclusion. I’m not yet sure if I am running into a difficulty caused by a gap in the existing literature or merely my own ignorance. What is causing me to become unsure of this conclusion is that I have come across a number of documents from the 1960s and 1970s that indicate that, at least on some campuses, the student government organizations in residence halls played significant roles in creating and funding student-run radio stations.

    In the 1960s, students at several institutions began radio stations, typically serving only one residence hall by transmitting over the electrical wiring (“carrier current”), including the University of Missouri (NACURH, 1963), Kansas State University (NACURH, 1966), Long Beach State College (NACURH, 1965), the University of Missouri-Columbia (NACURH, 1974). The radio station begun in the residence halls at the University of Missouri-Columbia later became “the first totally student owned and operated FM station in the country” (p. 4, NACURH, 1997).

    These radio stations were owned and funded by student groups or associations (often the Residence Hall Association) and run during limited hours. These stations were described by students as important parts of their communication strategies (NACURH, 1965). A 1966 report of a NACURH group discussion of radio stations in residence halls concluded that “[radio stations] could be an excellent way of improving communication and publicity on residence hall projects and people” (p. 1, NACURH, 1966). At least one institution, Georgia Institute of Technology, began using sub-carrier and carrier current radio in residence halls in 1978, ostensibly with an academic focus (“any student who can afford an AM radio can have a language lab in his own Residence Hall room” (p. 3, NACURH, 1978)).

The work in these areas – student-used technologies in residence halls and the broader topic of student affairs’ relationship with technology – continues. The documents referenced in this post and in the article illustrate one approach I am taking to get at these topics. Right now, much of my work in these areas is focused on locating and analyzing primary historical documents located in various archives. The NACURH documents referenced above are one particularly rich as they are all student-written documents and I haven’t found many of those in the traditional archives I’ve visited.


References

Brant, B. G. (1981). The college radio handbook. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books.

Furman University. (1970). Potpourri [newsletter]. Greenville, SC: Furman University. Furman University Special Collections and Archives, Assistance Vice President for Student Affairs 1974 & Before, Box 1, Communications with Student 1970 folder.

NACURH. (1963). Residence hall communication at the University of Missouri. NACURH Nation Information Center document 63.41. National Student Affairs Archives. NACURH box, folder 6-89 Radio Station.

NACURH. (1965). Communications – Where & why do they break down. NACURH National Information Center document 65.37. Bowling Green State University Center for Archival Collections National Student Affairs Archives. NACURH box, folder 6-11 RH Communication.

NACURH. (1966). Group discussion report: The campus radio station and the residence hall. NACURH National Information Center document 66.22. Bowling Green State University Center for Archival Collections National Student Affairs Archives. NACURH box, folder 6-11 RH Communication.

NACURH. (1974). KCOU 88.3 FM. NACURH National Information Center document N25G-74-006-02.

NACURH. (1978). Uses of sub-carrier radio in residence hall. NACURH National Information Center document N25G-78-003-04.

NACURH. (1997). KCOU and RHA – How poor communications helped members re-evaluate their needs University of Missouri-Columbia 22 May 1997. NACURH National Information Center N16-181.

Collecting Historical Evidence

I’m doing at least three things with this blog post:

  1. Participating in the NASPA Tech Tools program that asks participants to try out Flickr by creating an account and uploading a photo.
  2. Discussing my current research.
  3. Providing some hard-to-find information about the use of a digital camera and a copy stand to copy historical documents.

Flickr photo of a portable copy standThis is a photo of my new portable copy stand. The photo was uploaded to Flickr and it tagged with NASPATechTools; I hope others participating in the Tech Tools program will follow suit and upload some interesting photos.

This device is a copy stand. I would have liked to take the photo with the camera attached to the stand but I had to use the camera to take the photo. The stand that allows me to attach my new camera so the lens faces downwards. Why would I want to do that? The answer lies in the name of the stand – copy stand. I place documents on the table below the camera and take high quality photos of them. More on the specifics in a bit.

But let’s ask “why would I want to do that?” again: Why would I want a portable copy stand?  It’s so I can more easily and quickly conduct some of my current research. I have two strands of research that both focus on locating and analyzing the contents of historical documents. First, I am aiming to discover how American student affairs professionals have used and related to various technologies throughout the history of the profession. One way I’m doing that is by looking through documents in the National Student Affairs Archive at Bowling Green State University. Those documents include program guides from ACPA and NASPA conferences going back to the 1930s and other documents from those organizations related to technology. Second, I am continuing my research into student-used communications and entertainment technologies in American residence halls. To do that, I’m looking through various documents (building design specifications, housing regulations, meeting minutes, etc.) in Bowling Green’s university archives.

If I didn’t have a camera or if the wonderful people at Bowling Green were not letting me use it then I would be (a) carefully poring over each document to fully ingest it, (b) taking many, many notes, and (c) asking the archives staff to copy (probably for a fee) many, many documents. By using my camera to copy documents, I can work much more quickly and, in the long run, cheaply (since I don’t have to pay for copies). I still have to read everything but I am very liberal with what I copy since it’s quick and cheap. Of course, when I say “copy” here I mean “copy for personal research use.” These documents and photos are still copyrighted so I still need to seek permission before I can use these documents for some purposes.

The specific camera I am using is a Canon Powershot S5 IS. I could probably use a cheaper camera but I am very ignorant of photography. One reason I like this camera is that flash must be physically flipped up before it will work. That means that I can’t accidentally forget to turn the flash off before using it to take photos of old documents. Just as important, like many Canon cameras this one came with a USB cable and software that allows me to control the camera using my laptop. Among other things, that eliminates any possibility of me jiggling the camera when I press the button to take photos. The software also automatically sends the photos to my laptop so I can take as many as my hard drive will hold.

It’s not a perfect system. First, being unable to use a flash or external lights means that I am forced to rely on the light in the room. Second, I haven’t begun to figure out all of the settings and options and I know there is some automatic setting that is fouling up the color of the document photos. That’s okay because (a) I can correct that afterwards and (b) it’s not important to get the color correct when I just want to copy a text document.

Sample image from ACPA 1935 Annual Meeting ReportThe image to the right is a sample image. It’s a page from the Report of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association; the meeting was held in Atlantic City on February 20-24, 1935. You can click on the image to view it full size. The only edit I made to this image was to rotate it 180 degrees and crop it. You can’t see the discoloration that I think is being introduced by some automatic setting in the software in this particular image as the pages in this book are already very yellowed with age.  But you can see the quality of the image and how it compares to a photocopy or scan.

With respect to content, this document is of interest to me because of the presentation of original research by AT&T. There are several examples in the early ACPA conferences where representatives from giant corporations – AT&T, General Electric, Westinghouse, and American Steel – gave presentations or read papers. I don’t yet know what to make of those presentations and papers. And that is part of the point: Because it was quick, easy, and cheap, I was able to copy this document so I and file it away so I can read it over in more detail later and continue to think about it and process what it might mean. Without my camera, I would have to weigh whether it would be worth the cost and time to either take very detailed notes or request this document be copied.

I’m finding all sorts of cool things in the National Student Affairs Archives: technology-related presentations from the early 1960s, ACPA and NASPA task forces and ad hoc organizations formed to analyze technology and dissolved within the space of a few years, and the sad story of a comprehensive student affairs information database system jointly created and funded (and then killed) by ACPA and NASPA in the early 1980s. I look forward to being able to digest all of this, make sense of it, and share it with everyone.

Resident Students’ Communications and Entertainment Technologies: From Communal to Personal (And Back Again?)

My biggest project during my first semester at Indiana University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs PhD program was a research project focusing on the history of student-used communications and entertainment technologies in the IU residence halls throughout the 20th century. I relied almost exclusively on archived historical materials, including memos to and from various administrators, strategic plans (and drafts of those plans), student and popular media reports, and meeting minutes. Although my initial hope was to document not only what technologies were used but also why those technologies were introduced and maintained, the second question (“Why?”) proved to be difficult and elusive. Nonetheless, it was exciting and interesting and I was able to draw some relatively sound conclusions.

First, there is no unifying force or explanation to explain or account for the adoption of every technology. Although I expected to find a strong thread of consumerism and competition driving the adoption of most or all of the technologies, an expectation shared by prominent education historian John Thelin (in response to a query posted on my behalf to a historian listserv by IU professor Andrea Walton), those do not appear to have been significant driving forces. This may be explained by the lack of meaningful competitive pressure felt by a service that IU students were forced to fund (even today, first-year IU students are required to live on campus). Moreover, each technology has a unique history. Telephones and buzzers were initially installed almost exclusively as convenient communications devices. Their popularity and widespread presence throughout Indiana and America seems to have been the primary driving force in expanding telephone access in the residence halls and there is little evidence that students regularly demanded the continued expansion of telephone-related services and access. Radios and record players were originally furnished by the university as they could only be used in common spaces. They were integral parts of communal and social activities, roles that were gradually assumed by television and other activities and media. Computers and computer networks were explicitly introduced in large part to address computer literacy and provide residents with access to academic technologies.

Second, and more interestingly, is the pervasive trend common among all of these technologies that their origination in the IU residence halls as a shared resource in a common space was followed by a move into the individual rooms as private ownership of the technologies become more affordable and common among residents. In other words, each of the technologies either migrated from a shared communal location and experience to a more private and personal one.  In many cases, the technology initially played an important role in the communal social life and activities of the residents. Telephones were initially placed in lounges and hallways while residents were reminded to keep their calls short out of consideration of others that may be disturbed by the conversation or need to make a phone call. Radios and record players began as furnishings in lounges and significant social events were organized around them. Televisions were only allowed in specified common lounges, sometimes advertised as “TV rooms.” Computers were available only in clusters.

Each of these technologies, however, moved into individual residence hall rooms and shifted from enablers of communal activities and gatherings to more private and personal uses. Telephones migrated from hallways to suites and eventually were installed in each individual room. As newer residence halls were constructed with more modern electrical systems, radios, record players, and televisions were permitted in individual rooms. The university even made provisions to assist residents in obtaining good reception with the television sets as indicated by the drama surrounding external antenna that culminated in cable television in each room. Even before networking equipment was installed, computers quickly moved out of the clusters and into individual rooms as microcomputers became powerful and commonplace. Although vestiges of each of these technologies remained outside the rooms, the migration of these technologies into the individual rooms mirrors a more general trend towards more personal space and more individual amenities as well as a decreasing cost for once-expensive technologies.

This semester, I am pursuing independent study under the supervision of Andrea Walton in which I will seek to expand on the finding that these technologies historically began as shared communal resources and have migrated to personal ones. In particular, I need to expand my research to encompass:

  1. Other American universities and colleges.  I need to know if these findings are unique to IU. I strongly suspect that the history is similar at many institutions that were large and resourceful enough to remain technologically advanced. However, I also suspect that at institutions that could not or did not “keep up” found that simply “keeping up” and meeting demand, driven in part by institutions like IU and in part by larger American societal and cultural expectations, became a large part of their motivation for employing these technologies. This will not be an easy task as I do not expect these topics to be covered in any detail, or at all, in the available histories of most institutions. I hope to explore the history of the professional housing officers’ association ACUHO-I, particularly its publications, IT committee, and the titles and abstracts of presentations at its conferences.
  2. University and college operations other than housing and residence life. I’m not sure how this will pan out but I feel it would be helpful to look beyond this one operational area. I am not hopeful as I am already working in this direction and so far I am finding virtually nothing about students’ non-curricular use of technology until the 1980s when computers really entered the picture. There is material in the student affairs literature addressing use of technology dating back to at least the 1960s but much of the literature I have located concentrates on administrative uses and not students’. There is some that addresses the use of technology in training student employees and some that addresses the use of telephones and computers in counseling (of both the career and the psychological kind). The best source for this kind of info may be the titles and abstracts of the programs and presentations presented at the large national conferences, particularly ACPA and NASPA, as they have been active for many decades.
  3. American life off campus and outside of academia. I suspect the trends I identified at IU reflect larger societal shifts as these technologies moved from the living rooms of the wealthy to the bedrooms, kitchens, and dens of nearly every American household. Many of the forces that allowed or encouraged this to happen in the IU residence halls such as declining costs, increased familiarity, and general cultural expectations, also played out in American homes. I hope this will be the easiest lead to follow as I expect and hope to find a significant number of secondary and tertiary sources on this topic unlike the other two topics which will likely consist of some secondary sources and a whole lot of primary sources.

I should have something interesting to say to a much larger audience if I can expand my IU-specific research along those three paths.

One thing I may not be able to say or that I will need to say in a different manner is that it seems that for at least some of these technologies, particularly telephones and computers, the trend away from communal use to personal use is now taking a path to a different kind of communal use. This may be even more true as those two previously-disparate technologies continue to converge. My original research focused exclusively on the twentieth century so I haven’t yet figured out how to work these thoughts into my research. It will fit in there somewhere…

Finally, I have not figured out where “pure” entertainment technologies such as game systems and lower-tech devices such as pinball machines, ping pong tables, and pool tables fit into all of this. Those technologies have certainly had a historical presence in some residence halls but I don’t yet know how they work into the bigger picture. I don’t even know how widespread they were in residence halls although I know they were in some.  Did they originate primarily as revenue generators? How do the modern game systems differ? They appear to have primarily been introduced, supported, and maintained by students; is this true and how has it affected their impact on students and residence halls? How has the impact of computers changed as gaming on them has changed (a task that probably was not widespread when word processors and dumb terminals ruled the roost)?

And I haven’t even gotten in depth with my budding obsession with the breakup of AT&T, its impact on colleges and universities, and how that ties into the current discussions about network neutrality and telecoms mergers. It seems that I have my work cut out for me this semester!