Perplexing Problems in ACPA Student Technology Infographic

I've whined about bad infographics and I try to avoid complaining about their continuing proliferation.  But I can't bite my tongue about this ACPA infographic purporting to show information about technology usage by undergraduate students.  It's bad not just because it's misrepresenting information but because it's doing so in the specific context of making a call for quality research and leadership in higher education.

There are some serious problems with the layout and structure of the infographic but let's focus on the larger issues of data quality and (mis)representation.  I've labeled the three major sections of this infographic in the image to the right and I'll use those numbers below to discuss each section.Infographic from ACPA purporting to show college student use of technology

Before I dive into the specific sections, however, I have to ask: Why aren't the sources cited on the infographic? They're listed on the ACPA president's blog post (and perhaps other places) but it's perplexing that the authors of this document didn't think it important to credit their sources in their image.

Section 1: Student use of technology in social interactions and on mobile devices

The primary problem with this section is that uses this Noel-Lovitz report as its sole source of information and generalizes was beyond the bounds of that source.  The report is based on a phone survey of "2,018 college-bound high school juniors and seniors (p. 2)" but that limitation is completely lost in this infographic.  If this infographic is supposed to be about all U.S. undergraduate students, it's inappriopriate to generalize from a survey of high school students and misleading to project their behaviors and desires directly onto undergraduate students.  For example, just over half (51.1%) of all undergraduate students are 21 years old or younger (source) so it's problematic to assume that the half of college students who are over 21 exhibit the same behaviors and desires as high school students.

I can't help but also note just how bad the visual display of information is in the "social interactions" part of this infographic.  The three proportionally-sized rectangles placed immediately next to one another make the entire thing appear to be one horizontal stacked bar when in fact they are three independent values unrelated to one another. This is very misleading!

Section 2: Cyberbullying

It's laudable to include information about a specific use of technology that is harmful for many students but like the first section this information is inappropriately and irresponsibly generalizing from a small survey to a large population.  In this instance, 276 responses to a survey of students at one university are being presented as representative of all students.  Further, the one journal article cited as the source for these data doesn't provide very much information about the survey used to gather these data so we don't even have many reassurances about the quality of these 276 responses.  And although response rate isn't the only indicator of data quality we should use to evaluate survey data, this particular survey only had a 1.6% response rate which is quite worrying and makes me wonder if the data are even representative of the students at that one university.

Section 3: Information-seeking

The third section of this infographic is well-labeled and uses a high quality source.  I'm not sure how useful it is to present information about high school students in AP classes if we're interested in the broader undergraduate population but at least the infographic correctly labels the data so we can make that judgement ourselves. In fact, the impeccable source and labels used in this section make the problems in other two sections even more perplexing.


This is all very frustrating given the context of the image in the ACPA president's blog post that explicitly calls for ACPA to "advance the application of digital technology in student affairs scholarship and practice and to further enhance ACPA’s digital stamp and its role as a leader in higher education in the information age."  Given that context, I don't what to make of the problems with this infographic.  Is this just a sloppy image hurriedly put together by one or two people who made some embarassing errors in judgement?  Or does this reveal some larger problems with how some student affairs professionals locate, apply, and reference research?*

* I bet that one problem is that many U.S. college and university administrators, including those in student affairs, automatically think of "college student" as meaning "young undergraduate student at 4-year non-profit college or university."  It's completely natrual that we all tend to focus on the students on our campuses but when discussing the larger context – such as when working on a task force in an international professional organization that includes members from all sectors of higher education – those assumptions need to at least be made clear if not completely set aside.  In other words, it's somewhat understandable if the authors of this image only work with younger students at 4-year institutions because then some of their generalizations make some sense.  They're still inappropriate and indefensible generalizations, however, but they're at least understandable.

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.)

Personal Update: It’s Already August???

I’ve been quite disconnected for the last couple of months. I think that I am almost reconnected and settled into my new apartment so I will soon be back to myself with some updates for this blog. Quick thoughts are listed below in no particular order; please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of them.

  • My time at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme was amazing. This was the third young scholar/advanced doctoral student program I have attended and it was by far the best one. The program was fantastic, the location amazing, and the faculty and participants are as kind as they are intelligent.
  • It took nearly a week for my cable company to get my Internet connection working in my new apartment. I’ve never been more isolated or more productive. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Perhaps as a result of my concentrated time in Oxford focusing on Internet studies and my time in a research center, I am feeling more and more disconnected from the student affairs profession. I continue to wonder about the priorities of the profession and the academy-at-large, especially as we continue to adjust to a new reality of limited funds and increased public scrutiny. Although I agree that most of the services provided by student affairs units are good and useful I don’t know if adults should be forced to fund those services. At a more basic level, I don’t know if all of these services should be performed by colleges and universities even if they do contribute to enrollment, retention, and overall well-being.
  • I am immensely saddened and angered by the continuing slap fight between ACPA and NASPA. It’s unprofessional, wasteful, and embarrassing. I have already decided to let my NASPA membership expire and I am edging toward allowing my ACPA membership expire, too.
  • I don’t think we’re quite ready to make a public announcement but I’m extremely excited about a partnership between my current employer and another of my favorite organizations. I’m smack in the middle of it all and so happy to be there!
  • I said “no” today and I’m very proud of myself because it’s not something I do as often as I should. I really wanted to work on the project, too, so I’m a tiny bit sad about the timing. But my time is limited and I must develop and maintain focus.

Reflections on the Current State of Technology Organizations in Student Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Student Affairs Technology Events: Twitter & NASPA

From my vantage point as someone who is deeply interested in student affairs and technology but not currently immersed in them (my classwork, research, and assistantship keep me quite busy!), here are some “current events” that are on my radar:

  1. The Twitter group using the #sachat hashtag continues to grow in size and popularity.  What began as a once-weekly discussion among a few dozen folks has now expanded to two weekly discussions among over a hundred folks and significant activity outside of the scheduled hours.  They’re a very friendly and resourceful group and even if you don’t actively participate you should check in on them periodically to learn from them.  I am not participating in these discussions as I am formally analyzing the group’s discussions and I don’t want to “contaminate” the data by actively participating.  But you should jump in and join the discussions!  The group has even provided an introduction and instructions if you’re new to Twitter.
  2. NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community has put together a list of all of the technology-related programs at the upcoming NASPA Annual Conference.  There are many interesting sessions on the program and it’s unfortunate that so many are scheduled at the same time forcing us to choose between them.  I’ll be at many of the programs so please say hello if you see me!
  3. On Sunday, March 9, NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community and Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services Knowledge Community are presenting a pre-conference session entitled “Tweet: Point-Click-Connect to Graduate Student and Adult Learners.”  The program description:

    This full day workshop at Northwestern University will focus on the ways student affairs professionals can communicate with graduate students and adult learners using technology.Workshop attendees will review the various social networking sites students are utilizing, learn more about the impact of these communication tools on adult learners, and discuss ways to maintain a personal connection in light of automation.Participants will also have the opportunity to discuss hot topics and share best practices from their own campuses.

    Not only does the content sound exciting but the format is also exciting as this program will be offered simultaneously online.  I think this is the first time that NASPA has done this and it’s wonderful to see their willingness to try something new that will give non-attendees a chance to participate and learn.  More information, including the costs and registration instructions, are on the Technology KC’s website.

I wish that:

  1. There were a listing of technology-related sessions at ACPA.  (I really wish we would get this unification started and over with so I could stop splitting my attention and money between two nearly-identical organizations but that’s off-topic.)  I know, I know – I could put together such a listing myself.  But I’m not going to ACPA this year and I’m not terribly keen on diving that deeply into the program of a conference I’m not attending.  It would be very depressing to read about all of the really cool things that will occur that I can not attend. :)
  2. NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community and the #sachat folks would link up.  It would give them both some excellent resources and energy.  It would give #sachat an immediate formal link to NASPA and access to some its resources.  And it would give the Technology KC access to a group of very excited, experienced, and knowledgeable student affairs professionals who are actively using technology in an exciting and innovative way.  This seems like a very obvious and easy connection to make and I am a bit confused why it hasn’t already occurred.

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.

Two Upcoming Online Student Affairs Technology Educational Programs

Over the course of the next few months, both major student affairs professional organizations will be offering online training/education about technology.

ACPA and ResLife.Net are hosting a three week course titled “Contemporary Technology Issues for Student Affairs Professionals.” It will focus on online social networks, copyright, and administrative efficiency. The program is open to non-members although the price is higher ($150 for regular ACPA Members, $75 for student members, and $175 for non-members). The course sponsored and endorsed by ACPA’s Commission for Housing and Residential Life.

NASPA is presenting a much longer and free program titled “Tech Tools for Student Affairs Professionals.” The eight-week program scheduled during June and July will cover: blogs; photos and images; RSS and newsreaders; tagging and folksnomies; wikis, podcasts, video, and audio; online applications and tools; and social networking. Each topic will be covered using 2-3 blog posts with lively and practical examples and exercises. Participation in this program is free and open to all NASPA members; we plan to open the entire contents of the program to non-members once the program has run its course. We also plan to release the material under a license/copyright that will allow others to reuse the content on their own campuses and in their own organizations. The program is being presented and organized by the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community.

2008 ACPA Technology-related Presentations

Although many of my co-workers will be attending ACPA’s Annual Convention next week in Atlanta, I will be staying here in Bloomington to hold down the fort. But I’ve looked at the conference program and it looks quite nice. Each of the past two years, NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community has compiled a listing of technology-related programs for the NASPA conference. I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to compile such a list for the ACPA conference and place it on the NASPA Web site so here’s a similar list of technology-related programs for any who are lucky enough to attend ACPA’s conference:

I hope to be able to contact the presenters of these programs in a few weeks after the dust has settled after the conference to get more information from them about their program and how well it was received. If you are planning to attend any of these programs, I’d love to hear from you afterwards, too!

Current Student Affairs Technology Publications

Three very recent publications in student affairs literature discuss technology:

  1. I have a brief article in the current issue of Leadership Exchange, NASPA’s quarterly magazine for senior student affairs officers. The article is entitled “The Offline Challenges of Online Video” (which is a much better title than the one I had for it) and it’s in the Technology Center section. NASPA members can access entire volumes of Leadership Exchange via the NASPA website after logging in. For those who are not NASPA members, here is the article as it was submitted to the editor; it was substantially shortened and the references removed as befitting the type of publication and audience. We were hoping the article would serve as a small promotional or awareness piece for the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community but I think that link got lost in the editorial process.  It’s also worth noting that the article was written before the University of Florida “Don’t taze me bro!” incident that was captured and spread via YouTube.
  2. M. Leslie Sadle discusses Facebook in a NASPA NetResults article entitled “Freedom and Responsibility: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Facebook Users.” The article is available to NASPA member. If enough people express interest to the author, perhaps he or she will release it in a publicly-available location (when I last published a NetResults article, I was not asked to sign over copyright to NASPA).
  3. David M. Eberhardt also discusses Facebook in “Facing up to Facebook” in the current issue of AboutCampus. It’s an ACPA publication that is mailed to all ACPA members and I don’t know if it’s available online.

The problem I have with all three of these articles, including mine, is that they are descriptive and theoretical. We’ve been spending way too much time making predictions and theorizing and far too little time conducting the necessary research to see if our predictions and theories hold water. That’s the primary reason I quit my full-time job to return to school full-time and earn a PhD: to stop guessing and waving my hands in the air and start conducting research so I can start saying something with some level of assuredness. I acknowledge and embrace the necessary role played by these and similar articles but I have a burning desire and need to move beyond them to formal experimentation and observation. Now I just need to make the time, money, and patience to follow through…

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Integrating Student Learning and Technology

The final session I attended at the 2007 ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting was entitled “Leading the Way in Developing Plans, Integrating Student Learning, Learning Outcomes, and Technology.” The session was presented by Gal Cole-Avent and Diane Cooper of the University of Georgia.

The basis for their presentation was a small study done at UGA analyzing one (perhaps two – poor notetaking on my part) professor’s use of a listserv to communicate with 6 students before they arrived on campus. Although the group studied was very small, the findings seem to make sense and are consistent with my own knowledge and experiences:

  • Convenience was cited as a huge factor in the use of the medium although it’s unclear (either in my notes or from the research) if the convenience is specifically tied to the listserv medium or more generally linked with computer mediated communication tools
  • That the students were able to communicate with persons on the UGA campus before arriving helped them transition to the campus by reducing the perceived size of the institution
  • Similarly, the communications helped build a greater sense of community
  • The use of e-mail (via a listserv) fit well with students’ perception of e-mail as a means of communication with faculty and staff (compare with instant messaging, social networking services, and SMS that are generally used for communicating with one’s peers)

Among the presenters’ recommendations were that we:

  • Identify alternative ways to supplement what is already provided through traditional means
  • Decide if technology is appropriate for the proposed use: instruction, programmatic, service objectives, etc.
  • Apply measurable outcomes to technology use

The general theme of the presenters’ remarks seemed to be that our use of technology must be intentional. It’s a simple message but an idea that often alludes both those who enjoy technology for its own sake (“We like new toys!”) and those who do not keep up with technology (“Whaddya mean our students and new professionals are using ___? Never heard of it…”).

Once again, Facebook arose in discussion. Novel points in this discussion included the observation that using Facebook allows one to bypass parents and get messages directly to students and the point that “we don’t always go ‘where they’re at.'” The specific example posed by the attendee who rejected the notion of always meeting them “where they’re at” was that of the ubiquitous bars and clubs near campus: we know students go there but unless there is a very compelling reason we don’t “go there.” There are clearly some (legal, social, and cultural) boundaries that we can not and should not cross despite our best intentions and desire to help and communicate with students. Is Facebook on the other side of one of those boundaries? Many students seem to think so and some administrators agree.

That this research focused on the use of a listserv intrigues me for several reasons. First, as noted above, the use of e-mail for faculty to communicate with students fits in very well with students’ perception that e-mail is used primarily to communicate with faculty and staff (e-mail is for “old people” and official correspondence). One of the students even noted that she felt obligated to clean up her grammar and syntax when communicating to the faculty via e-mail. Second, I have personally observed that listservs are very familiar and comfortable technology for many administrators and “old people.” I am subscribed to several listservs where the other subscribers are more than capable of using a different medium such as a bulletin board or a wiki but they choose not to do so. I suspect it has as much to do with their familiarity of listservs and how they function as it does with desirable properties of listservs. I really do think there is something more to be said about the longevity of listservs (and that must include their history and the culture of those who use them) but I’ll not say it here and now.

Finally, there was a brief discussion of some specific tools such as housing management software and student group management software. As one who has previously administered a housing management system, I empathize with my colleagues who perform that task. The world of discipline-specific software is a unique one that is seldom seen outside of those specific areas and I always wonder if those areas are being served well or just well enough.