ResNet Symposium: The Evolution of a ResNet Program

The last program I attended at the 2007 ResNet Symposium was presented by Dave Futey and entitled “The Evolution of a ResNet Program.” As a fellow member of the ResNet Applied Research Group (RARG), I have had the pleasure of working with Dave for the past three years. In addition to his professional experiences in and out of residential computer networking, he has been heavily involved in the ResNet Symposium for many years and has worn many hats on the Steering Committee. I know that many of the ideas in this presentation are ideas that he has been developing for many years now and I was very glad to finally see him present this material.

The primary focus of this presentation was a theoretical model of ResNet Program Development modeled after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy is the familiar pyramid describing the order in which people satisfy or meet their various needs. First, people must satisfy their basic physical needs: food, shelter, clothing, etc. The needs become increasingly complex until one begins to achieve or approach self-actualization once all of the other needs are met.

Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy, Futey proposes a ResNet Pyramid describing the needs of a ResNet program. In order from most essential to most complex, the levels of this hierarchy are:

  1. Infrastructure/Development
  2. Support Structure
  3. Security & Policy
  4. Education/Acceptance
  5. Integration with Academic Service/ResLife

Futey seems to have built his model based on his own experiences and observations of how ResNet programs evolve and grow. In particular, he hopes this model will help answer the two questions that Futey asserts are of primary importance:

  • What do you want the student experience to be?
  • What is the student’s experience?

To me, those questions (particularly the second one) point clearly to the need for assessment and data collection/analysis. That appears to be an area of weakness for many ResNet programs but that is a topic for another discussion.

As with many presentations, the discussion and interaction with the attendees was extremely interesting and informative. The two most interesting topics raised during those discussions were:

  • Discussions of the role of and challenge developing a unique identity for a ResNet program/service. Some attendees seemed to be asking for advice on how to more firmly establish their program’s identity while others were sharing worries that ongoing and future changes could erode or erase their program’s hard-earned identity. To the best of my recollection (and poor note-taking skills), no one questioned the need for a well-established ResNet identity. Many of us shared some surprise that this topic was raised and discussed so forcefully and with such great interest and enthusiasm; clearly, many attendees feel very strongly about this topic and I can’t recall this often explicitly discussed.
  • The relationship and cultural difference between Central IT and Housing/Student Affairs. Attendees shared their experiences in crossing the cultural and political divide between those two (or three) groups, particularly the difference styles of communication that have proven most effective. In particular, there seemed to be some widespread agreement that many IT staff are comfortable with electronic communication whereas personal communication seemed to be most successful with Housing and Student Affairs staff. I’m sure that this observation is not surprising for those experienced or educated in these fields.

Both of these observations could be used as springboards for research, discussions, and presentations. The second observation, the cultural differences between IT and Housing/Student Affairs hits close to home for me because:

  • I have training, experience, and education in both areas so the difference are clear to me. However, I don’t think that my experiences and education are common so I have taken this knowledge for granted. Education focused on higher education culture and history, with a particular emphasis on student affairs, may be welcomed by some IT professionals seeking to understand these differences and cross the barriers.  Some institutions offer this kind of training and education to their IT staff but it is also welcomed at professional conferences.  It does not appear to be widespread in the “ResNet world” and that is a need that should be addressed.
  • Some student affairs professionals have expressed the exact same frustrations and observations. During one technology-related presentation at this year’s ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting, the attendees (nearly all student affairs professionals, of course) expressed their desire for assistance in understanding and communicating with IT professionals. A few of us in the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community have kicked around the idea of proposing a session for next year’s NASPA conference specifically addressing this issue.

Again, I was very pleased to see Dave present this material and get it out to a wider audience for examination and consideration. Although there has not been research conducted specifically to support or refute this theoretical model, I think that (a) there is some material in the RARG’s most recent research regarding the programs presented at the last 12 years’ ResNet Symposia supporting this notion and (b) such research is possible. I believe that the development of theoretical models such as this one and the application of existing models or frameworks to these domains is critical for the continued maturation and development of residential computing and student IT support.