A few weeks ago I attended and presented at the 2009 ResNet Symposium. Held at St. Cloud State University in Saint Cloud, Minnesota from June 26 through June 30, the symposium was smaller than in previous years with only 134 registered attendees. However, the programs, activities, and interaction were all wonderful, interesting, and useful so the lower number of attendees didn’t seem to significantly hurt or change the nature of the conference.
I took detailed notes for most of the sessions I attended but I feel that too much time has passed for me to write detailed descriptions of each session. I like to do that right away to help me reflect on what I learned. But this time around I made more of an effort to socialize, network, and enjoy time with my colleagues and friends so I spent more of my time doing that and less time on my computer engaged in solitary activity. Of course, having my own presentation on the last day of the conference and spending time each night to continue preparing for it also significantly impinged on the amount of time available for reflection and writing.
As I become more experienced and professionally mature, I find my interests and ideas changing. Those changing interests led me to pay more attention this year to trying to ascertain the maturity of the programs and services represented at this year’s conference. In particular, I was interested in seeing (a) the maturity of the assessment activities carried out by ResNet programs and (b) the levels of strategic planning and how well those plans are integrated with other plans (campus-wide, divisional, etc.). In general, it seems that even the most mature of the programs represented at this conference are still in a relatively early stage of performing assessment as they are still heavily rooted in measuring opinion and input/output (number and type of computers, number and frequency of computer lab logins, amount of bandwidth consumed, etc.). Learning outcomes seems to have not penetrated to many of these programs, perhaps because many seem to see themselves primarily as service centers with minor auxiliary educational responsibilities. On the strategic planning side, it’s hard to gauge the level of depth and integration of these programs’ plans given the focus of many of these programs and the interests of the participants.
Brief reflections on some of the specific sessions I attended:
- Keynote address: Leading Geeks
Paul Glenn, Computer World columnist and author of How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology presented the keynote address at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. His talk focused on explaining how “geeks” are different from other people and how to lead geeks in an organization. I’ve become a complete academic snob so I didn’t really enjoy this talk as the depth of his research was very shallow. Luckily, much of what he said is relatively close to what the real research says (yes, there is actual research into the social and cultural phenomenon of “geeks” … and “nerds”). If you’re interested in learning more about Glenn’s thoughts about leading geeks, he maintains a website at leadinggeeks.com.
- Session 1: From Labs to Learning Space: Enabling Student Use of Technology
Beth McCullough, Learning Spaces Manager for Stanford’s Academic Computing group, led a practical discussion of learning space concerns. Much of her discussion focused on her attempts to maintain and rehabilitate computer labs in Stanford residence halls. I greatly liked how much of her presentation and the decisions she has made are tied to data collected from and about Stanford residents as too often we make decisions in a void (see above regarding the current state of assessment in most ResNet shops). The most interesting discussion related to working with housing professionals in understanding and trying to reconceptualize how they understand (and use and fund and label and maintain and…) study spaces that happen to have computers.
- Session 2: Strategic Planning: Transforming Ideas Into Reality
The second session I attended was presented by my good friend from Northern Illinois University, Jan Gerenstein. Jan is an Associate Director in their housing department and a former colleague in the ResNet Applied Research Group (RARG). She discussed with us how her group – Residential Technology – is participating in and integrating themselves into their division’s strategic planning process. This was a very interesting session for me as I strongly suspect that it would have been very different if Jan’s group were housed in a technology division instead of student affairs. Based on several years of observation, the cultural differences between these two groups – ResNet operations housed in central IT vs. those in housing – are clear (a topic that was the basis for my own program at this year’s ResNet Symposium and a potential program for NASPA’s 2010 conference). But I wonder if the different planning and assessment skills and emphases and driving these two groups farther away in terms of their goals and services. The reason why we ask about the program’s parent group (central IT, housing, etc.) on the ResNet surveys is because we – or at least I – strongly believe this to be one of the key lens through which we can and should examine and understand residential computing.
- Session 3: Millennial Misconceptions: How to Work Successfully with Generation X
I didn’t take very many notes during this session. Karen McRitchie of Grinnell College did a great job with this program but I struggle mightily with programs that seem to arbitrarily lump together so many people and draw conclusions about those people from limited and flawed data (is my bias and academic snobbery showing?). During my darkest, bleakest moments in these sessions, I want to bludgeon Howe and Strauss with their own book. Karen was very complimentary of the students with whom she works and I was very happy that this was explicitly not a session that bemoaned the fate of the world today with Generation X taking the helm. I was most interested in this session as it closely mirrors so many (so many!) programs at student affairs conferences I’ve attended.
- Session 4: Adventures in Cyber Security: Tufts and Yale
Judi Renni from Tufts and Loriann Higashi from Yale are ResNet old timers and they presented a wonderfully entertaining and informative session describing their latest efforts at getting students interested in and aware of better security practices. Unlike most ResNet Symposium programs, this one was not videotaped; the presenters showed us several videos that made fair use of copyrighted material and they (and their lawyers) didn’t want those videos to be recorded and distributed. Judi and Lori also took advantage of the privacy offered their session by sharing with us frank (but not disrespectful, disparaging, or unprofessional!) evaluations of their entire processes from start to finish. We very much appreciated their honesty, particularly when they were brave enough to share with us their challenges and failures. Some of the Tufts materials can be viewed online as can the Yale materials.