ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Empirical Study of UMass-Amherst Undergrad’s Facebook Profiles

The first session I attended on Wednesday, the final day of the ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting, was entitled “Too Much Information? An Empirical Study of Undergraduate Facebook Profiles.” Daniel Saunders, Shaun Jamieson, and Jordan Hale outlined the results of research they have conducted at the University of Massachusetts-Amhrest.

These gentlemen examined the profiles of 464 UMass undergraduates in March of 2006 to answer questions like: What proportion of UMass undergraduates have a profile? How do those students differ from those without profiles? What proportion of UMass undergraduates with Facebook accounts post contact information? What proportion have positive references to the university? What proportion have positive references to partying, drugs, and alcohol? Some results of their research:

  • 82% of UMass-Amherst undergrads had Facebook profiles
  • Women were more likely to have a photo of themselves in their “central profile,” one or more photo albums, and more photos (women averaged 81 photos vs. 30 for men); however, men were more likely (21%) than women (8%) to list their phone number
  • On-campus residents were more likely (63%) than off-campus residents (23%) to post address information
  • Over half (58%) posted some or all of their class schedule
  • 7% had central profile photos with a clear photo of alcohol/drinking with White students (71%) more likely to have references to alcohol than students of color (49%) and women (73%) more likely to reference alcohol than men (61%)
  • Women had more positive references to UMass-Amherst (2.2 on average) than men (1.5 on average)

As you can see by the research questions and the statistics presented above, there are similarities to a few previous studies. In particular, Jones & Soltren’s 2005 “Facebook: Threats to Privacy” and Watson, Smith, & Driver’s 2006 “Alcohol, Sex and Illegal Activities: An Analysis of Selected Facebook Central Photos in Fifty States” studies explored some similar themes. Jones & Soltren explored the amount and type of information Facebook users shared on their profiles whereas Watson, Smith, & Driver specifically examined the central photos of Facebook profiles. Aside from the obvious differences, the methodology of this research differed from those studies primarily in that it concentrated on students at only one institution. Although the details vary, the general results of this research do not seem to substantially differ from those older studies. In particular, the number of students with clear photos of alcohol or other substances in their central profile photo remained low in this research although the greater proportion of women than men with such photos differed from the Watson, Smith, & Driver study.

There appear to be two interesting facets to this research:

  1. The demographic differences – men v. women and White v. students of color – were very interesting. That students of different genders use Facebook differently is no surprise as we already know there are differences in how men and women typically employ CMC tools. The differences between White students and students of color, however, is very interesting and an area that I do not know has been researched or examined thoroughly. During the discussion after the initial presentation, I raised the point that those differences may be attributable to not only race or ethnicity but also socioeconomic status. In other words, students who have had lots of access to the Internet and technology throughout their youth will have a level of comfort and familiarity that those whose access has primarily or exclusively been at school or in libraries do not have. And those students are disproportionately students of color. That’s a very tentative hypothesis and we need to know more about how students of different backgrounds use Facebook and other tools. Further, we should not ever assume that all incoming students or even students already enrolled have the same levels of knowledge, comfort, or access – Digital Divide, Participation Gap, etc.
  2. Although we talked about the positive uses for Facebook in other sessions, this is the only research I know of (as if I know of all of it!) that specifically looked for positive mentions in students’ profiles. Further, the presenters stressed that role of Facebook in how institutions’ images are presented and perceived by others. The connection between Facebook and campus attitudes (i.e. social norming) was obvious to me but I missed the connection with institutional image. I suspect I failed to make that seemingly-obvious connection as the medium is completely outside of our control unlike, for example, MySpace where institutions can register an account and control it.

Some other interesting points raised in discussion:

  • Has the self-disclosure practiced on (and inherent in) Facebook led to an increase in any negative incidents such as stalking, assault, etc.? Some attendees were of the opinion that harassment had increased but I know of no relevant research.
  • As discussed in other sessions, the boundaries (or lack thereof) between students and staff on Facebook were discussed. This appears to be more of an issue for graduate students and new professionals (possibly due simply to their much higher usage rates than older staff). Are we doing enough to educate these young staff members about this tool and how to negotiate this shifting boundary? I suspect that we are not doing enough but I have felt the same about other advances in technology that new professionals bring with them into the profession such as instant messaging. We should be dealing with these issues holistically and intentfully rather than reactively dealing with each particular technology two years after it has been in use.
  • One attendee reported on a very successful self-created social networking tool at his campus. There was even some talk on his campus of moving away from e-mail as the official means of communication and using the social networking tool instead.
  • Similar to the concern about how students (and others) are portraying our institutions in Facebook, there apparently are some (parents and other non-Facebook users?) who appear to confuse Facebook with an institutionally-controlled and -approved service (“Why did you let him say that about my son/daughter?”). Yikes! I wonder if that was covered in the “Online Parent Course” session that was being presented at the same time by the University of Redlands…

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Shaping the Facebook of Higher Ed

Another session I attended on Tuesday was one entitled “Shaping the ‘Facebook’ of Higher Education: Teaching Online Street-Smarts During New Student Orientation.” The session was presented by Staci Lynne Hersh and Sara Hinkle of New York University (NYU). Both work in orientation and they discussed how they have begun to integrate Facebook education into their education of both their student orientation leaders and their new students.

Informal surveys have shown that nearly all NYU students have when they show up on campus for their first orientation. The presenters also asserted that registering for and using Facebook is a “coming-of-age experience” but given that Facebook is now open to anyone with an e-mail address I have to wonder if that statement is true. Regardless, a balanced approach in educating students about Facebook and similar tools should be welcome, particularly given the relative newness of these tools and their many unrealized (and potentially long-lasting) implications.

There were two main parts of this session that differed from other Facebook sessions: the concentration on student employees and the educational session offered at NYU’s student orientation.

  1. Before offering an educational session during orientation, Hersh and Hinkle knew they had to ensure they were on (or close to) the same page as their student employees. Like most orientation programs, student employees play a huge role in NYU’s orientation program. One aspect of this interaction with the student employees was including clauses in the student employees’ applications and contracts related to their portrayal (profile) in Facebook and other services. Another aspect was an open discussion with the student employees about the institution’s concerns, including students’ privacy, safety, employability, and representation of the institution. Hersh and Hinkle initially experienced resistance from their student employees when broaching this topic similar to the “it’s our space – stay out!” message reported by other presenters and attendees.
  2. The educational program offered by NYU took place during orientation and was a voluntary session (presumably offered simultaneously as other sessions). The program features several hands-on activities intended to generate discussion and reflection, including analysis of several real Facebook profiles and an activity designed to make students aware how quickly initial judgments are formed.

As part of this session focused on student employees, including hiring and screening of student employee candidates, part of the discussion centered on how to use Facebook in those processes. The presenters stressed that administrators who are not on Facebook don’t even know what their current student leaders’ profiles look like. Personally, I was not very pleased with the discussion of this particular facet of this issue as there are definitely legal considerations related to this and I’m not sure if many of those making these decisions are equipped and trained to make them; there’s a good reason why the phrase “I Am Not A Lawyer” is used so often in discussions on the Internet that the abbreviation IANAL has entered the common lexicon. One attendee (at this session, I think – I could be getting confused with another Facebook-related session) even raised the point that a student who feels that they did not get a job because they were discriminated against because of something in their profile could sue. That there are often many pieces of information in social networking user profiles that employers are prohibited from using in their employment decisions (age, ethnicity, race, etc.) is an excellent observation and a consideration for anyone who hires students as well as a consideration for students themselves.

While one attendee said that most (perhaps all) problems caused by students’ improper use of Facebook are already covered by existing policies, another attendee (perhaps the same one – my notes are not clear) asked if NYU had a policy prohibiting electronic misrepresentation. It was an excellent question and one that goes beyond Facebook and reaches what seems to me to be a core principle of honesty applicable in many general situations.

Anecdotes shared by the presenters and attendees revealed some inconsistencies and shortcomings in the experience and developmental levels of incoming students. While some students express disbelief about the idea that administrators and employers (i.e. non-peers) can and do view students’ profiles, others share their profiles openly and “friend” administrators in one moment and post incriminating information (such as photos of themselves drinking in the same profile that has their underaged-birthdate) in the next.

Additional observations:

  • The common thread of “there are positive uses and we can’t lose sight of them!” ran through this session.
  • Are privacy settings really effective in a physically close-knit community (i.e. I surely know someone with whom your friends so I can just ask them to show me your profile)?
  • One attendee related how she not only checks her high-school-aged daughter’s Facebook account but she also Googles her daughter to see what other information is out there. She then deals with what she finds in an educational manner rather than a confrontation followed by demands. What a Mom!
  • Scribbled at the bottom of my notes on this session: “We’re too damned focused on this one service!”

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Facebook & Student Involvement

The first session I attended on Tuesday morning was entitled “Have You Facebooked Astin Lately? Facebook’s Impact on Student Involvement” and it was presented by Ruth Harper and Greg Heiberger of South Dakota State University (SDSU). Greg actually did all of the presenting and I’m not sure why Ruth was included in the program (Give it more credibility since she has a doctorate? Change of plans since the program proposals are due many months before the conference itself?). Given the title and the implied connection between student development theory and Facebook, I was very excited to attend this session. It met expectations and was a great session.

Heiberger is a Student Activities administrator and Master’s student who has conducted original research at SDSU about students’ use of Facebook in relation to their involvement in student activities. Given his role in Student Activities, Heiberger focused on student involvement and related his Facebook research to Astin’s Involvement Theory and Tinto’s Departure Theory. In short, his concentration seems to be on questions like: “Is involvement increasing or decreasing? Or just changing form?”

His survey had 375 unique respondents and asked 20 questions with the eventual goal of longitudinal research. Some results of the survey include:

  • 98% of respondents log in daily (contrast with 31% who use the SDSU MyStateonline portal each day)
  • Respondents spend an average of 1-2 hours each day on Facebook
  • Respondents log in to Facebook an average of 5 times each day, personal e-mail 3 times per day, and institutional e-mail 1 time per day
  • The number of logins positively correlates with the number of student organizations in which respondents reported they are active

This survey included some demographic data such as GPA but did not find a correlation between GPA and time spent on Facebook. However, Vanden Boogart did find a negative correlation between these factors in his research. Why did these two research efforts reach different conclusions? The major differences between them are (a) Vanden Boogart surveyed students at multiple campuses whereas Heiberger focused on one campus and (b) Heiberger performed his research more recently than Vanden Boogart. Therefore it’s possible that the difference is simply the difference between students at different campuses. More interestingly, however, is that we may be seeing an effect similar to that observed in the classic Internet Paradox and Internet Paradox Revisited papers: some negative effects of technology dissipate with time as users become more familiar with it. Like most things, this all requires more research and investigation.

There was a brief digression into a discussion of the role that Facebook and related education may play in the larger area of information literacy. Although the term “information literacy” was not used, it was the topic of conversation and another example of the language barriers between professions (in this case, student affairs and information science). The observation that there is a tie between the focused education in the area of Facebook (which is sometimes too narrowly focused, IMHO) and the larger topic of information literacy is an excellent observation and one deserving of further exploration.

In many discussions about Facebook, the students’ perception that “Facebook is our space” and staff are not welcome was noted. However, one attendee pointed out that this perception may change as new students enter our institutions who have grown up with increased parental and institutional awareness of and presence in Facebook and similar tools.

Other excellent quotes, questions, and examples (all quotes are from Heiberger unless otherwise noted):

  • “As responsible administrators, we are obligated to assess and evaluate technology and its effects on student development.”
  • “We must either assist in making it a positive developmental experience or risk its effects on our recruitment and retention rates and ultimately higher education’s value.” While I understand the point of this statement, it seems a bit extreme to me. There are many things that students do that we do not and should not “assist” or become involved with for ethical, practical, or legal reasons. Let’s not allow our zeal to care for and assist students to draw us into a parental, controlling, or protective role.
  • A student contacted Heiberger via Facebook, and only via Facebook, to inquire about starting a new student organization. This a curious mixture of contexts and crossing of boundaries (explicit student use of a “student-only” medium for performing an administrative function/process).
  • Students who “friend” staff members (including student staff members) may find themselves in unique and potentially uncomfortable situations as much of what they do is visible or even broadcast to their friends. One potential benefit, however, is the opportunity for the staff person to model proper behavior. The potential conflict of interest caused by students and staff “friending” one another was raised in multiple sessions throughout the conference, particularly in the context of student staff, graduate students, and new staff.
  • Do students (or users in general) use the number of friends, groups, messages, photos, etc. as a measure of status or self-worth? I think there may be some relevant research out there, particularly in the teen/MySpace arena and the placement of one’s Top 8 friends, but I can’t seem to recall the exact article(s)…
  • Does any institution use Facebook as a reflective tool? (Attendees at this session did not answer this question but in a different session a psychologist explained how she uses Facebook in group therapy sessions.)
  • Are there a significant number of students who belong to Facebook groups but have low participation rates in the physical group (don’t attend meetings, participate in activities, etc.)? Attendees claimed to know such students but no one (including myself) knew of any relevant research.
  • If we assume that our efforts to use Facebook to advertise events are successful, are participation rates increasing, too?

It seems to me that there were two dominant themes throughout this presentation and the subsequent discussion:

  1. The role of Facebook in student involvement and the changing nature of involvement itself. For example, Heiberger said that Facebook’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Pool was an example of “engaging across the country versus across the room.” Although many university and college administrators and student employees are using Facebook and similar tools to advertise campus events and communicate with students and student groups, the larger questions of the changing nature of involvement and engagement must be asked and Heiberger and others performing research in that area are doing very interesting and necessary work.
  2. Despite the negative media attention (much of it generated by student affairs and higher education, IMHO), there are many positive uses for Facebook and similar tools. In this session and in others, there was a pushback not just from the presenter but from attendees against the negative stereotypes and a call to recognize the potential for healthy, good, and productive uses of these tools.

Update: Ruth contacted me a few weeks ago to clarify her role in Greg’s research and presentation.  She was the faculty member that supervised Greg’s research and helped put together the conference proposal.  She told me that it’s standard practice at South Dakota State University for supervising faculty members signing on as the “coordinating presenter” for grad student presentations.  Thanks for the clarification Ruth!

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Student Cell Phone Use

The third session I attended today was entitled “Students and Cell Phones: Exploring Their Use and Crafting Our Response.” The presentation was an overview of preliminary research conducted by a doctoral candidate from Emory University. Her research is a qualitative analysis of traditional students’ use of wireless phones based on interviews, journals, and analysis of phone bills. While the sample size of the initial research was tiny (5 students), the results are interesting and the presentation was fantastic.

Given the tiny size of the sample, I am hesitant to delve into specifics on the results of the research. However, the findings are not terribly surprising and reflect the common uses of wireless phones as ubiquitous and useful communication tools. In fact, the presentation largely focused on how similar our own usage patterns are to our students’. Following the discussion of the research results, Molyneaux enumerated some concrete ideas for student affairs administrators:

  • Students may need education and mentoring in particular skills that their uses of wireless phones show they lack or possess in inadequate measures. Such skills may include scheduling, patience, immediacy of expectations, and reflection.
  • Parents, too, may need to be taught new skills or convinced to improve already-possessed skills such as the ability to sift through large volumes of data/conversations and letting one’s child handle problems on his or her own.

Discussion from and among attendees was also interesting.

  • Although one attendee emphasized the need to “meet [students] where they are,” another stressed that her students were adamant that administrators must not too actively pursue SMS or other use of wireless phones as students perceive it as too personal or “theirs;” compare with the same sentiments and issues surrounding Facebook.
  • An idea with significant potential (it’s unclear if this idea has actually been put into practice or is merely an idea) is to use e-mail distribution lists with an SMS gateway to send mass SMS messages to groups of students. I’m pretty sure this has been done as it’s too simple and cheap to not have been done already.
  • When the question of “Does your institution have a policy regarding student use of phones when in 1:1 meeting with administrators or faculty?” arose, one attendee shared that she makes it a point to leave the room when students answer their phones in these situations. Before leaving, she tells them that “I know this call is important so I’ll leave you alone” and when she returns in 5-10 minutes she not only makes sure they know that their appointment will end at the scheduled time but also works the incident into the educational process as appropriate (the classic “teachable moment”). A different attendee followed up with the observation that staff members must also uphold respectful ethics of phone use and model proper behavior to which a faculty member replied that the most effective way to get his class to turn off their phones is to turn off his own phone in a very conspicious and noticeable manner.
  • During a discussion about the ethics of phone use (perhaps following the above discussion of phone use during meetings), an attendee described a student-initiated effort to make part of the library a “quiet zone” where wireless phone discussion are not allowed.

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Spellings Commission

The second program I attended today was a public policy session entitled “The Future of Higher Education: A National Perpsective.” The program focused on the Spellings Commission and its reports and activities. While the topic is very important to the future of higher education in America, it falls a bit outside the realms of student affairs and technology so I defer to others more knowledgable and experienced to comment on and discuss the topic. However, I do perceive a few areas where this blog’s topics tie in with the Spellings Commission’s topics:

  • Many of the initiatives proposed by the Spellings Commission, including Huge IPEDS, the Consumer Information Pilot studies, FAFSA4Caster, and many of the accountability and transparency measures, are driven by and only possible because of readily-available and familiar technologies and technological tools. That so many of these initiatives, particularly those intended for the public, are intended to live online as websites speaks volumes for the acceptance of the web as a universally-accessible and -usable medium. Of course, that acceptance is a bit naive: the digital divide still exists and those close to that divide do not possess familiarity and comfort with web-based tools.
  • One of the original findings of the Spellings Commission was that American has failed to sustain and nurture innovation. Is Congress’ apparent insistence that we employ ineffective and restrictive tools to filter content on our networks to fight unlawful exhanges of copyrighted material at odds with that finding?
  • I’ve just finished re-reading “The Social Life of Information,” an excellent book by PARC researchers John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. It’s rare that non-academics discuss accreditation and it’s even rarer that non-academics would make an explicit connection between accreditation and IT. In a discussion of how accreditation allows institutions to offer courses that are extremely important but difficult to justify when analyzed on their own and out of context, the authors write that “For information technology to lead to such micromanaging would be a paradoxical and unfortunate result. An extraordinary amount of the creative outburst that has generated this technology has come from people who used the slack of a university to explore new avenues.”

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Instant Access

The first presentation I attended today was entitled “Instant Access: Using Technology to Reach Students.” Despite the grand title and some mentions of multiple technologies, the real content was rather focused. Three ladies in career services at two different institutions, LSU and Florida State University, described how their offices employ Instant Messaging in serving students. Their use of the technology sounded rather simple (but that’s how most things start and the best way to start!) but the process by which they analyzed their options and presented their proposals to their departmental leadership is very interesting and worth examining and possibly replicating.

Other interesting highlights of this presentation and related discussions include:

  • Neither institution had pre-existing policies regarding institutional use of IM, despite the fact that one of the institutions already had multiple departments employing IM in official support capacities. Some of the policy-related issues mentioned by the presenters included dealing with inappropriate comments (rude or too personal, including psychological crises), security, and privacy. In addition to the “The Effect of Instant Messaging on the Social Lives of Students Within a College Dorm” article mentioned by the presenters, I can’t resist plugging my 2004 article outlining some policy considerations for student affairs units employing IM.
  • When asked about potential security implications, the respondents replied that at one institution the IT help desk uses the same software and the central IT group is unaware of the product at the other institution. An attendee also referred to the “IT security nazis” on her campus. While I’m sure there are some issues with some IT and security groups, I don’t think any student affairs professional would ever accept an IT or other professional referring to the “counseling nazis” or the “FERPA nazis” who religiously protect students’ privacy. Further, I don’t think that many student affairs professionals are adequately qualified to analyze the security of software or systems of software and merely ignoring the issue because “IT doesn’t know about it!” is a very poor way to protect the confidentiality and privacy of our students and staff.
  • A question from an attendee about the presenters’ use of “canned responses” was really a question about the use of chat bots, a topic that was very briefly raised in yesterday’s Net Generation pre-conference session. Unfortunately, the topic was not pursued or even fleshed out today.
  • Another question from an attendee focused on the logging capabilities of the IM software employed by the presenters. Specifically, he asked if the logs were being analyzed and that analysis used to create FAQs. I would suggest that the logs can not only be used to create FAQs but also answer other questions and provide other useful data but the general idea of mining logs for useful data is an excellent one and another echo of an idea mentioned yesterday. None of the presenters answered in the affirmative but their initiatives are relatively young so they may have simply not gotten to that stage yet.

ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Reaching the Net Generation

The first educational session I’ve attended at the ACPA/NASPA 2007 Joint Conference was this morning’s half-day “Reaching the Net Generation” session presented by Dr. Rey Junco of Lock Haven University and Dr, Jeanna Mastrodicasa of the University of Florida. Much of the session was focused or at least derived from their 2006-2007 Net Generation research and the subsequent (and just released) book.

In general, the content and the discussion were both informative, helpful, and heartening. The topic was pretty broad but there were some common and interesting themes. Without transcribing my notes or giving you too much information from their book, some of the highlights of the discussion included:

  • A brief discussion of the shifting culture of students and the necessity for us “old people” to also shift our own culture and perspectives. To me, this is summed in one of the quotes in the recent New York Magazine article “Say Everything“: “The future belongs to the uninhibited.” It’s not just that we need to educate students to think about what they say and do online since most of it is archived and very widely available, we also need to shift our own expectations of what we find online. When someone mentioned Brandeis University’s motto of “Share only what you be comfortable sharing with your grandmother,” someone else added, “and your grandkids.”
  • Based on his own experiences and the existing research, Junco opined that students who use the Internet for communicative purposes are less likely to suffer negative consequences than those who use it for non-communicative uses. Men use the Internet more for non-communicative uses and thus are more likely to suffer negative consequences. At this point I don’t offer any further opinions or commentary on this proposed hypothesis other than to say that it does sound plausible.
  • A brief discussion ensued about Instant Messaging and its beneficial uses by students who are normally socially inhibited. I related that discussion to some of our earlier discussions about the perceived-negative effects of online communication. The tie between the two discussions and the positive and negative effects seems to be the concept of disinhibition (Warning: pdf document). Both the positive and negative effects seem to be two sides of the same coin: the same things that allow people to express feelings and commit acts that we perceive as negative are the things that allow more introverted people to easily communicate with others online.
  • A brief discussion also related to the use of web use statistics and the need to continually improve websites based on those usage stats in an iterative fashion.
  • Junco repeated several times that they are open to collaboration with other researchers in further analysis of their survey results. He also extended an invitation to add institutions to the survey. I hope others will take him up on those invitations as Junco and Mastrodicasa are engaged in important and interesting research.

There were many other smaller discussions and pieces of data presented in the discussion. I hope that much of it is in the book.

The presenters and attendees both were awesome and if the rest of the conference is half as good as this first session then it’s going to be one hell of a conference!

Two New Surveys

Two new surveys have been recently initiated by student affairs and IT researchers.

First is a survey of student IT worker pay conducted by David Stack of UW–Milwaukee and AJ Kelton of Montclair State University. More information, including a link to the survey and information about those conducting the survey, can be found in AJ’s posting to his EDUCAUSE Blog. There are other sources of data about student IT employee pay and compensation but this survey is attempting to discover differences between how central IT and distributed departments compensate student IT employees differently.

Second is a survey of “[student affairs professionals’ and their] university’s experiences (or lack of), whether formally or informally, with online social networks.” The survey is being conducted by Dr. Leigh Anne Howard of the University of Southern Indiana and Dr. Tamara L. Wandel of the University of Evansville who are “examining how student affairs professionals think about and/or utilize online networks as a communication tool to connect with students and alumni.” The survey was announced to the membership of the ACPA this week.

I’ve corresponded with the authors of both of these surveys and I believe that both of the surveys are very interesting and should produce some wonderful results. If you are in the sample for either of these surveys, please participate!

ACPA Webinar: The Impact of Advancing Technology on Campus Culture

ACPA is offering a webinar (it’s currently the last one listed at the bottom of that page) on Thursday, April 26, 2007, from 2:00 pm until 3:30 pm EST. It’s entitled “The Impact of Advancing Technology on Campus Culture” and it will be presented by Dr. Jonathan Kandell from the University of Maryland. Based on its description it may be another “fear session” (I am not heartened when the abstract describes e-mail, cell phones, and music sharing as “emerging technologies”) but I honestly hope that I am mistaken and the views presented will be well-balanced and supported by contemporary research. I hope I’m wrong because Dr. Kandell’s qualifications certainly seem to be very impressive! Unless I can convince my colleagues in student life (I work in our merged IT/library division) to attend and split the cost, $109 for a hour-and-a-half webinar is out of my personal price range. As always, I encourage you to check out this professional development opportunity and, if possible, attend, preferably in a large conference room where others (including students – especially graduate students studying in higher ed/student affairs) can share the experience and engage with one another.

Inspired by Rejection? Or Merely an Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Like several hundred other ACPA and NASPA members, I submitted a program proposal for the upcoming Joint Meeting. Like many other programs, the main topic of my proposed program was Facebook. My program specifically centered on two points:

  1. Introduction and discussion of relevant historical and contemporary computer-mediated communications (CMC) research. This is important not only to bring home the point that this emerging phenomenon is not as new or emerging as many people think it is (relevant research has been conducted for several decades) but also to illuminate particular findings of interest to student affairs practitioners.
  2. Discussion of proposed linkages between CMC research and student development theory.

In September, NASPA published a paper (article only available there to NASPA members; download it from my website here) that I wrote several months ago in their e-zine NetResults. In this paper, I laid out thoughts rem,similar to the ones I was proposing to layout and expand in this program. I’m pretty confident that my thoughts are important, original, and significantly contribute to the community and its understanding of this perceived new challenge.

My program proposal was rejected. Although I am stung by this rejection, it’s not so much the rejection that bothers me. My primary concern is that there was consideration given for balance, diversity, and creativity in those programs that were approved. I reviewed programs this year and I don’t recall any of the programs that I reviewed as being heavily based in theory; to the contrary, the programs I remember reviewing were heavily based in recent experiences with some including only a token mention of theory or relevant scholarship. I also know another person whose *incredibly cool* theory- and original research-based technology proposal was also rejected. These scant (!) data points combined with my own experiences are enough to make me start wondering about the value that these professional organizations place on original research and theoretical constructs that are related to technology.

Eric Stoller echoes some of my thoughts in a blog entry in which he writes: “Can someone please inform ACPA and NASPA that technology is not an ’emerging discussion.’ It is this kind of language which causes student affairs administrators to remain stuck in 1995.” In another entry he discusses an online professional development course he (accurately, judging from the description) labels a “fear session.” His question “Why do we not think holistically about technology?” is a fantastic question that I believe most have at best ignored and at worst disdained. Eric is presenting a session at a two-day professional development opportunity in January but judging by the titles of some of the other sessions (“Virtual Affliction: Understand the Power and Addiction to the Internet” and “Crossing the Line Online: How Cybersex, Cyberaffairs, and Pornography live in the shadows of the Net”) it’s clear that we have a lot more work ahead of this to counterbalance these fear sessions.

I know there’s a lot of interest in the student affairs world in practical experiences and discussions but I really think we can (and in many ways are working to) back ourselves into a corner unless we remain open to wider viewpoints. We owe it to those who have come before us to apply what they discovered to emerging phenomena. Consciously and deliberately applying these old theories to new phenomema and situations allows us to measure what we know of new phenomena using measuring sticks of known length. Further, it allows us the unique opportunity to reevaluate our assumed and received knowledge and, as appropriate, build on and modify that knowledge.

I assert that, like nearly everyone else, our viewpoint is rather narrow. What we view as emerging and new phenomena are rarely as emerging or new as we may believe. Most are, like all other inventions or innovations, built on earlier works. And guess what? There are pretty good odds that several people have conducted significant and insightful research focused on those earlier works! The works and insights by danah boyd, Fred Stutzman, Nicole Ellison, and others did not spring forth from their head fully-formed and -armed like Athena from Zeus; like other scholars, they have built on what has come before them (the “References,” footnotes, and endnotes ain’t there to pad their papers!).

And that’s all I want to do: build on what others have built before me. Those others may not necessarily be or have been student affairs practitioners, student development researchers, or higher education scholars. Some are psychologists, sociologists, or IT practitioners. Some ply their craft in communications, new media, informatics, or information science. But they’ve all discovered and proposed insights that can help us understand what are to us “emerging phenomenon” because to them it’s old hat and merely the next step in an evolution they’ve been tracking for a long time. We, in turn, can contribute our hard-earned understanding of young people and the pervasive culture of higher education to view their findings in the unique lens of our own education and experiences.

If this sounds like a deep insight or a desperate plea to link these disparate fields, it’s not. It’s merely an idea whose time has come. Some are undoubtedly already doing it. Some have already done it. If they’re out there, I want to find and join them – it sounds like a lot of fun!