Category Archives: Student Affairs

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!

Venues for Publishing Student Affairs Technology Research

One of my colleagues recently made an offhand remark about the timeliness of an article in the current issue of The Journal of College Student Development.  Rather than focus on the comment or the specific article, however, it seems more productive to explore appropriate and timely venues for publishing similar work in a more timely manner.

The problem?  Much of the research that we conduct about technology must be shared and disseminated quickly to keep up with the rapid pace with which technologies and their uses change.  Many of the traditional venues for publication and dissemination of research have huge lag times, sometimes a few years long; this is particularly problematic for some technology-related research that grows out-of-date much quicker than many other bodies of information.  I have research that I have conducted that has grown out-of-date before I could get it published in peer-reviewed journals e.g., work conducted with my colleague Chris Medrano examining content in Wikipedia articles about U.S. colleges and universities.  I have had data – really good data about interesting stuff! – grow stale over the course of a very busy year-and-a-half such that I could not work with it (I could have worked with it and it was such cool stuff that I’m sure that it would have been published somewhere but I would have felt horrible and a little bit ashamed about it!).

Although I have moved out of student affairs, I continue to do work about student and faculty use of technology so this is still an issue that is important to me.  I’d like your help in thinking about how we get our work out there.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Does the publication or release need to be through a traditional, peer-reviewed venue?  Even for those of us who believe ourselves to be locked into the traditional academic world where peer-reviewed publications remain the gold standard, I think the answer is “no.”  It might be acceptable to blog about your findings or present them in non-traditional conferences, especially if those venues allow you better reach your intended audience (e.g. how many full-time student affairs professionals regularly pore over peer-reviewed journals?).
  • For those who do believe in the necessity or value of publishing or presenting in traditional venues, which ones allow us to disseminate our findings in a timely manner?  My initial reaction to the comment that began this entire line of questioning is that JCSD is a fine venue but it moves too slowly to publish much of the technology-related research I have conducted.  In fact, most of the peer-reviewed journals in higher education move too slowly for me to consider them viable venues for publication of timely technology-related research.

Maybe it would be helpful if we can compile a list of good venues for student affairs technology research.  (Although I’m mostly out of that field now, I still do some work in it and my experiences are significant enough that I think I can help.)  My suggestions, in no particular order:

  • First Monday: Online, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on Internet studies.  They have published higher education-specific work in the past so they seem open to the topic.  It’s also a respected venue for scholarly work.  Very importantly, I understand that they review submitted articles very quickly.
  • Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC): Peer-reviewed journal with an obvious focus.  Like First Monday, they have published work in our field.  It’s also the most respected venue that is usually on my radar screen for timely publication of relevant work.
  • The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs: Another peer-reviewed journal with an obvious focus.  Although this is a viable venue, it’s probably not one that I would submit to as my first choice.  It’s a fine publication but it simply doesn’t have a strong, high-profile reputation.  That may sound very crass but the reality of scholarly publishing is that it’s important to publish in the most highly regarded journals possible.
  • EDUCAUSE Review Online (ERO): Although ERO publishes some peer-reviewed work, it largely exists outside the traditional world of scholarly research because the publication is aimed at higher education IT practitioners.  With that said, it has historically been a very good venue for work that is intended for that audience although I haven’t published in it since they changed their format (EDUCAUSE used to have a monthly magazine and a quarterly peer-reviewed journal; they’ve been merged into one publication, ERO).

Outside of formal publications, several conferences are good venues to present and discuss this kind of work. I personally like EDUCAUSE events quite a bit but the audience that is interested in student affairs-specific work is pretty small.  The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), the arm of EDUCAUSE that focuses on teaching and learning, also puts on really nice conferences with wonderful participants if your work is more oriented towards teaching and learning.  I have also presented at other higher education conferences such as the annual conferences for ASHE, AERA, and AIR.  They are large conferences and quite frankly I don’t care for them very much because (a) they lack focus and (b) I have difficulty believing that anything that happens at them impacts the world beyond being another line on my CV.  AIR is a bit better, though, because it does have some focus and much of the work discussed there has real-world implications and impact largely because of the strong presence of institutional research professionals.

The student affairs conferences are certainly viable venues, particularly the recent ones that have begun cropping up that focus specifically on technology e.g., #NASPATech, #satechBOS.  I have drifted away from student affairs conference over the past several years, though, so I will let others with more recent experience offer their opinions and evaluations.

If you find this kind of brainstorming helpful or interesting, feel free to add your thoughts below.  If enough people are interested, this would make for a good shared project to throw into a publicly-accessible editing environment like a Google doc.

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.)

Thoughts on Backward Design

 This post will be less organized than most posts; some of these thoughts and ideas are still a little raw.

Backward design – the method by which one begins with the desired end result(s) of an educational program, determines acceptable evidence showing that the result(s) has been achieved, and then creates a plan to teach the skills and content that will lead students to provide that evidence – has been on my mind lately.  It’s one of the core concepts of a college teaching and learning course I co-teach but that’s not why I’ve been thinking about it.

For me, backward design is a “threshold concept;” it’s an idea that changed how I think about teaching and I can’t go back to how I thought prior to this change.  So although I learned and most often use and teach backward design in the context of designing or redesigning a single college course, I’ve been thinking about the role of backward design in different contexts.  For example:

  • I know that backward design has been and is used to develop curricula and not just individual courses.  Today was the first time I got to see firsthand how that plays out with a group of faculty to develop a full 4-year curriculum for this discipline.  I was most struck by how difficult it was to keep true to the backward design philosophy and not get mired down in content coverage and the limitations imposed by the current curriculum.  It was difficult even for me to remain on course as I tried to help facilitate one of the groups of faculty engaged in this process.  I underestimated the increased complexities involved in scaling up the process from a single course to an entire curriculum; it’s not a linear function.
  • There has been quite a bit of discussion lately among student affairs professionals regarding their conference presentations (e.g. this Inside Higher Ed blog post with 30 comments).  Put bluntly, many people are unsatisfied with the current state of these presentations.  Just as backward design can scale up from a class to a curriculum, it can also scale down to a single class session.  And shouldn’t a good 50 minute conference presentation resemble a good 50 minute class session?  So why not systematically apply backward design to conference presentations?  Many conferences seem to try to push presenters in that direction by requiring them to have learning outcomes for their sessions but that isn’t enough.
  • Unfortunately, pedagogy and good teaching practices are not formally taught and emphasized in most student affairs programs so I expect that most student affairs professionals have not been exposed to backward design as a formal process.  That’s a shame because it seems like such a good fit for what student affairs professionals do!  And it fits in so well with the ongoing assessment movement because it so firmly anchors design in measurable outcomes and evidence-based teaching!

Would any student affairs professionals out there want to learn more about backward design and try to apply it to some of your programs?  Please let me know because I’d love to help!  I’m positive this would work out well and I’d love to test these ideas!

When Did Student Affairs Begin Discussing Technology as a Competency?

At a presentation I attended at this year’s ACPA conference, the presenters discussed technology as a competency for student affairs professionals.  It’s a discussion that’s been going on for many years but I don’t know if many people – particularly younger professionals – know just how long it’s been going on.  The presenters of this particular session asserted that formal discussion of technology as a competency began in 2002.  Maybe they’re right but informally and on different levels this conversation has been ongoing for decades. To provide historical context for this discussion (and to substantiate some glib comments I made to those sitting next to me in the presentation), I skimmed through my historical documents to find the earliest occurrences of this discussion.

Although there is foreshadowing in the middle of the 20th century of calls for technology competency in student affairs professionals, the first explicit calls I found begin in the middle of the 1970s.  In “Dealing with the Computer,” Penn (1975) asserts that “If the modern student personnel administrator expects to provide leadership and to have an impact on his or her campus, it will be necessary to understand computers and to communicate with computer technicians” (p. 56).  He goes on to write that “the functioning of computers is still a mysterious process to many individuals” (p. 56) before going on to define and briefly discuss topics such as “hardware” and “software.”  Similarly, Peterson’s 1975 NASPA Journal article “Implications of the New Management Technology” recommends that student affairs professionals not only “familiarize [themselves] with [their] institution’s data base, its automated technology, the major administrative analytic offices, and the major reports they generate” (p. 169) but they also “develop [their] own capacity to assess, analyze, and/or use some of the more basic data sources at your disposal” (p. 169).

By the 1980s, technology as a competency was a clear concern for student affairs professionals in the U.S. In the mid 80s, several student affairs departments were engaged or interested in increasing the computer literacy and comfort of their staff (e.g. Barrow & Karris, 1985; Bogal-Allbritten & Allbritten, 1985).  In a 1983 survey of 350 student affairs departments at 2-year colleges (with 141 respondents), the second need most frequently expressed by chief student affairs officers (CSAOs) was “information about basic computer functions, computer literacy, and how to write microprograms” (Floyd, 1985, p. 258).  In 1987, Whyte described the results of a similar survey of 750 colleges and universities (with 273 respondents):

Many student affairs professionals have expressed mixed emotions regarding computerization in the educational realm. There seems to be a need for direction regarding how to coordinate computerized management, instruction, and evaluation capabilities into a meaningful, comprehensive package to assist students….Coordination of the fragmented computerization efforts of most student affairs offices into a comprehensive plan is the next logical step. (p. 85)

In describing the “Three Rs” of recruitment, referral, and retention, Erwin and Miller (1985) wrote that “to meet the changing times and increased demands for excellence, student service professionals must look for new tools to assist in problem solving. Administrators will find management information systems particularly useful…” (p. 50).  Finally, MacLean (1986) explicitly calls for computer technology (then referred to as “management information systems”) to become “integral parts of all student affairs offices and departments” (p. 5).

Calls for student affairs professionals to develop and increase their knowledge of and comfort with computer technology are decades old.  Even a quick glance through my limited resources shows implicit and explicit calls beginning in the 1970s and blossoming in the 1980s as (micro-)computers became widely available and mainstream.  The discussion has changed tenor and intensity as technology has become more intertwined with our lives but the discussion itself is not new and dates back at least 35-40 years.

References

Barrow, B. R., & Karris, P. M. (1985). A hands-on workshop for reducing computer anxiety. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(2), 167–168.

Bogal-Allbritten, R., & Allbritten, B. (1985). A computer literacy course for students and professionals in human services. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(2), 170–171.

Erwin, T. D., & Miller, S. W. (1985). Technology and the three rs. NASPA Journal, 22(4), 47–51.

Floyd, D. L. (1985). Use of computers by student affairs offices in small 2·year colleges. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(3), 257–258.

MacLean, L. S. (1986). Developing MIS in student affairs. NASPA Journal, 23(3), 2–7.

Penn, J. R. (1976). Dealing with the computer. NASPA Journal, 14(2), 56–58.

Peterson, M. (1975). Implications of the new management technology. NASPA Journal, 12(3), 158–170.

Whyte, C. B. (1987). Coordination of computer use in student affairs offices: a national update. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(1), 84–86.

Additional (older) #SAchat data: Participation, Geography, and Gender

In a comment to my previous post sharing some of my thoughts about #sachat in advance of their “State of #SAchat” discussion tomorrow, Gary Honickel asked about demographics of #sachat participants.  In our forthcoming chapter (I’m not trying to advertise it – honest! Just trying to explain why I have all of this information. I’m a researcher, not a stalker!), Laura Pasquini and I analyze #sachat and we include some information about the participants.  We didn’t include the specific information Gary asked about: gender and geographic location of participants.  But I did collect that data and although it’s for three sessions that occurred last year maybe this is still useful or helpful.  My sense is that these things haven’t changed much in the past year.

Keep in mind that these data come from three 2011 chat sessions:

Date Topic Participants Messages Average messages/participant Standard deviation messages/participant
March 10, 2011 Beyond the Conference: Networking When You Aren’t Attending a National Conference 70 442 6.3 6.5
June 2, 2011 Intentional Recruiting to the Field: Responsibilities and Liabilities 83 442 5.3 5.3
June 30, 2011 Creative Orientation Approaches and Ideas 45 323 7.2 10.2

The thing that jumps out at me in the table above are the average number of messages per participant and the standard deviation of that number.  There is immense variance in the number of messages posted by each participant and that makes me wonder about the pattern(s) of participation for each session.  The histogram below showing how many people posted a particular number of messages in each chat helps us understand these numbers (click on it to view a larger version).

This histogram is a classic “long tail” distribution, showing us that most participants in these three #sachat sessions posted very few messages and only a handful of participants posted many messages; the participant with the most messages is, of course, the moderator.  This is a very typical situation and an unsurprising finding.

This gives us a broad understanding of #sachat participation but let’s look a bit deeper and explore two different ways of classifying participants: gender and geography. First, a few words of caution: these data were inferred from the Twitter profiles and messages posted by these participants.  Geography was the easier datum to capture for each participant as most participants associated themselves with a particular college or university, either in their profile or in their introduction during one or more #sachat sessions.  Gender was much more difficult and I present these data with trepidation because there was a significant amount of guesswork involved in classifying participants as male or female.  If this were anything more than a one-off blog post or if gender were a central concern for this or any other analysis, I wouldn’t even share or use these data because inferring gender from name and photo obviously lacks rigor.

This chart shows the geographic locations of the participants in these three #sachat sessions (I used the U.S. Census geographic regions to aggregate the data).  Nothing surprising here.  #SAchat is indeed U.S.-dominated but even that isn’t a surprise.  Nothing particularly interesting is discovered if you look at the number of messages posted by participants from each region; the numbers get very small very quickly when slicing the data this many ways so it’s not worth trying to display.

 

What about gender?  For at least these three sessions, the gender breakdown seems to be about even.  Like geographic region, nothing terribly interesting happens if you slice these numbers in different ways.

So what do we make of all of this?  I think it shows that – for these three sessions – there was considerable diversity among #SAchat participants, at least in two ways we can measure. Of course, these are coarse (and in the case of gender, potentially problematic) measures and there are many other ways in which we might examine the makeup and diversity of this population.  Functional area and role (student, entry-level professional, faculty, etc.) are two measures that jump to mind as interesting and useful.  (Incidentally, I tried to classify participants using those two measures in a previous study; it was difficult, time-consuming, and very incomplete since those data are not spontaneously volunteered by all participants.)

Are #sachat participants diverse enough?  I don’t know.  How do we define “diverse enough?”  Should we be concerned about how well the #sachat population matches the larger student affairs population?  A quick glance shows some alignment between these populations but I have not done any definitive work in this area, partially because it’s very hard to obtain data about the larger student affairs population.

Of course, all of this does not and can not include anything about lurkers.  I agree that there is value in #sachat even for those who do not directly or visibly participate but we’d have to make a concerted effort to identify those people if we want to know anything about them.

I hope this is helpful or interesting!  I wish I had more up-to-date data but I don’t.  I’m job searching, working, and trying to finish a dissertation so I don’t have time or plans to gather additional data right now.  This is data that I had at hand and I am happy to share it in the hopes that it’s useful for someone.

Reflections on #sachat

Tomorrow, the members of the #sachat community will be engaging in introspection and discussing “The State of #SAchat” instead of their usual weekly discussion of topical student affairs topics.  I have been conducting research on the #sachat community for a couple of years now so I thought it might be helpful for the community if I could organize and share some of my thoughts.

I won’t spend time describing the basics of #sachat; if you are interested in this particular conversation, I assume that you are familiar with the community and its tools.  If I wrong and you are not familiar with #sachat, the official overview is here.  An annotated visualization of one chat session – a February 10, 2011 discussion about job searching – is below (my original blog post discussing this visualization has some of its background details).

The chart below shows Twitter message traffic from six hashtags – #highered, #sachat, #sadoc, #sagrad, #sajobs, and #studentaffairs – during the week of June 27, 2011.  This illustrates how #sachat differs in that it not only has consistent traffic everyday (although not as much as #highered) but it spikes during the scheduled chat session on Thursday afternoon.

In a book chapter Laura Pasquini and I have in press, we examine #sachat as a case study of informal learning using technology.  One of our conclusions is that #sachat is doing several things right to overcome the significant limitations of Twitter by:

  • Allowing participants to direct the discussions as much as practical.  For example, potential participants vote on each week’s topic and do not have to register to participate (in the voting or the actual discussion).
  • Using other tools to supplement the core use of Twitter.  Most of these tools reside on the SA Collaborative website.  One of the most important may be the chat archives that give the chats a sense of continuity and history beyond the typically ephemeral nature of Twitter.
  • Employing a well-prepared and clearly identifiable moderator in each discussion.  This account helps impose order on the Twitter chat, allowing conversation to run for a bit before drawing it back to the core topic by using clearly marked, pre-prepared questions.

We also identify several specific concerns and challenges:

  • Can the participants continue to overcome the inherent limitations of Twitter, especially its (a) short message length, (b) lack of threading, and (c) ephemerality?  Although some participants attempt to overcome the first limitation using multipart messages, this is not very successful; the 140 character limit of Twitter is one of its core features and unlikely to be overcome.  The second limitation has been addressed with some success with the use of MOD messages and Q# replies.  The third limitation has been partially overcome by regularly making transcripts of chats publicly available.
  • Is the small community of volunteers that run the chats – those who use the moderator account and the SA Collaborative website – sustainable?  These volunteers and the tools they provide and maintain are essential to the success of the community.  For how long will these volunteers sustain their energy and will there be a smooth transition as members come and go?
  • How representative of the larger student affairs community is the #sachat community?  Is that important?
  • How diverse are the members of the #sachat community?  In what ways are they diverse and in what important areas is diversity lacking?