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.



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