Reflections on the 2009 ResNet Symposium: Part 2

Kevin presenting at the 2009 ResNet SymposiumThe next session that I “attended” was the program I presented on Monday morning.  The program was entitled Playing Well With Others: Understanding ResLife, Housing, and Student Affairs.  Its abstract:

ResNet professionals work hand-in-hand with residence life, housing, and student affairs professionals. These professions share common histories, traditions, and professional and personal cultures. Learning about these professions and their cultures, particularly their specific histories and relationships with technology, will make your work easier, more efficient, and more effective. Attendees will learn how to interact with, collaborate with, and better understand these non-IT professionals.

The program was relatively well-attended and it seemed to go pretty well.  I left a lot of time for questions and discussion and the amount of time I left seemed just right.  I could tell that some of the attendees were a bit bored but I know that this topic isn’t one that speaks to all of the ResNet Symposium attendees, particularly those who are more focused on technical issues such as network management. But it’s important and often overlooked.

I believe that not only are there different personalities attracted to technology and student affairs but that the two groups have very different histories and cultures.  For these two groups to work well together, they should have some understanding of the history and culture of the other group, something that many successful professionals pick up on informally and through hard-earned experience if not through more direct training and education.  This program spoke to the technology professionals, introducing student affairs to technology professionals.  (In part spurred by a question asked by an attendee at my program, I’m currently working with several other members of NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community to put together a program that does the opposite: presenting the culture and history of technology professionals to student affairs professionals so they can more effectively collaborate.)

The Board of Directors listens to comments and questions at the ResNet 2009 Town Hall MeetingThe second event on Monday was the Town Hall Meeting.  Dee Childs stepped down as President and handed over her duties to Sheila Crowe.  A few other positions were shuffled around before I was handed the floor to give a brief plug for the RARG, the symposium’s research arm.  Afterward, the meeting was devoted to discussing the future of the symposium with questions and comments being taken from the floor.  I had hoped this would be an expansive discussion but the entire conversation focused on whether or not there should be a membership fee.  I really didn’t understand or follow the discussion, particularly as it seemed to go round in circles with no firm conclusion or consensus. The proposed “membership fee” seems to be an ill-defined solution in search of a problem.

The remainder of the symposium was dedicated to the vendor fair, t-shirt exchange, and closing ceremony/dinner.  They all went over very well and were enjoyable.

I wonder about the longevity of this organization and its annual event.  Attendance was down significantly this year and while that is probably largely reflective of the economy I don’t see that (the lower attendance or the economy) changing in the next year or two.  Moreover, now that many of the bigger challenges of residential computer networking have been solved (standards are more developed, equipment is more prevalent and standardized, successful support models are in place and easily copied and modified, etc.) I’m not sure that the event as it exists has enough to offer attendees, particularly newcomers.  Much of the draw seems to be based on friendship and community, conditions that are difficult to advertise and extend to those who have not attended multiple times and become familiar with those involved in the event.  I believe that the ResNet Symposium must shift or widen its focus, perhaps taking as its purview a broader view of student technology support and student supervision, if it is to remain relevant and viable.