Response to Student Affairs On-Line Letter to the Editor

In the current issue of Student Affairs On-Line, Frank Christ wrote a Letter to the Editor responding to my Summer 2008 article “Exploding a Myth: Student Affairs’ Historical Relationship with Technology.”  I’m writing my response here rather than printing it in Student Affairs On-Line as (a) such a response would take many months to be published and (b) I can use this as a springboard to discuss other interesting issues.

If I understand Frank’s letter correctly, he is pointing out some resources from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that  describe student affairs’ use of technology during those years. Rather than in any way refuting my main point, these documents provide further evidence supporting my main point: student affairs staff made regular and often innovative use of technology throughout the 20th century. The documents and events described by Frank are valuable additions to our collective bank of resources and knowledge and it’s wonderful that he has described them for us!

I add two additional comments, one in response to Frank’s letter and one more general in nature. First, it’s not at all surprising or unusual that these particular sources were not included in my original article. Logistically, it sounds as if some of these documents are a bit off-the-beaten-path, particularly for research that was physically conducted in the Midwest (I’m at Indiana University and the bulk of this research was conducted at the National Student Affairs Archive in Bowling Green, Ohio). In addition, all researchers must place realistic and workable limits on their research. In historical research, this means that we specify from which documents and sources we are going to pull information when we tell our story. In this instance, I am satisfied with the sources selected to best tell this story (ACPA and NASPA conference proceedings and journal articles); there are certainly additional sources that could be added (I would particularly like to get into the conference proceedings for the Association Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA), the umbrella organization to which ACPA belonged for several decades) but I have to place limitations on the sources used if I am to make sense of them. In other words, I can only ready and synthesize so much and I must select my sources and use my time wisely. Of course, if there were sources that could really change, shape, or inform the story then I would be remiss to not include them even if they were not originally on my radar!  Based on the available evidence, I don’t think this is the case here as these documents seem to fully support the story as I already understand it.

Second, it’s also useful to know a little bit about the impetus for my article and the context in which it was published. For scholars, it’s often useful for us to “put our mark” on topics on which we are actively working to let others know what we’re doing and in what topics we consider ourselves to be knowledgeable. One of the ways in which we do this is by publishing shorter pieces when we’re not quite ready to publish longer, intensive pieces. In this instance, I was ready to make public that I’m doing this historical work while I continue to work on the longer detailed pieces in which I present my full arguments and supporting evidence. Student Affairs On-Line is not, in my opinion, the right place to publish a fully-developed and lengthy scholarly article but it’s a great place to publish shorter, more informal pieces. And one consequence of this being a shorter less formal piece is that I did not present all of my arguments and evidence; it’s a careful balance to present enough to be interesting, engaging, and accurate without going too far and making the piece too intricate and detailed for the medium and the stage at which I’m at with the research.