Additional (older) #SAchat data: Participation, Geography, and Gender

In a comment to my previous post sharing some of my thoughts about #sachat in advance of their “State of #SAchat” discussion tomorrow, Gary Honickel asked about demographics of #sachat participants.  In our forthcoming chapter (I’m not trying to advertise it – honest! Just trying to explain why I have all of this information. I’m a researcher, not a stalker!), Laura Pasquini and I analyze #sachat and we include some information about the participants.  We didn’t include the specific information Gary asked about: gender and geographic location of participants.  But I did collect that data and although it’s for three sessions that occurred last year maybe this is still useful or helpful.  My sense is that these things haven’t changed much in the past year.

Keep in mind that these data come from three 2011 chat sessions:

Date Topic Participants Messages Average messages/participant Standard deviation messages/participant
March 10, 2011 Beyond the Conference: Networking When You Aren’t Attending a National Conference 70 442 6.3 6.5
June 2, 2011 Intentional Recruiting to the Field: Responsibilities and Liabilities 83 442 5.3 5.3
June 30, 2011 Creative Orientation Approaches and Ideas 45 323 7.2 10.2

The thing that jumps out at me in the table above are the average number of messages per participant and the standard deviation of that number.  There is immense variance in the number of messages posted by each participant and that makes me wonder about the pattern(s) of participation for each session.  The histogram below showing how many people posted a particular number of messages in each chat helps us understand these numbers (click on it to view a larger version).

This histogram is a classic “long tail” distribution, showing us that most participants in these three #sachat sessions posted very few messages and only a handful of participants posted many messages; the participant with the most messages is, of course, the moderator.  This is a very typical situation and an unsurprising finding.

This gives us a broad understanding of #sachat participation but let’s look a bit deeper and explore two different ways of classifying participants: gender and geography. First, a few words of caution: these data were inferred from the Twitter profiles and messages posted by these participants.  Geography was the easier datum to capture for each participant as most participants associated themselves with a particular college or university, either in their profile or in their introduction during one or more #sachat sessions.  Gender was much more difficult and I present these data with trepidation because there was a significant amount of guesswork involved in classifying participants as male or female.  If this were anything more than a one-off blog post or if gender were a central concern for this or any other analysis, I wouldn’t even share or use these data because inferring gender from name and photo obviously lacks rigor.

This chart shows the geographic locations of the participants in these three #sachat sessions (I used the U.S. Census geographic regions to aggregate the data).  Nothing surprising here.  #SAchat is indeed U.S.-dominated but even that isn’t a surprise.  Nothing particularly interesting is discovered if you look at the number of messages posted by participants from each region; the numbers get very small very quickly when slicing the data this many ways so it’s not worth trying to display.


What about gender?  For at least these three sessions, the gender breakdown seems to be about even.  Like geographic region, nothing terribly interesting happens if you slice these numbers in different ways.

So what do we make of all of this?  I think it shows that – for these three sessions – there was considerable diversity among #SAchat participants, at least in two ways we can measure. Of course, these are coarse (and in the case of gender, potentially problematic) measures and there are many other ways in which we might examine the makeup and diversity of this population.  Functional area and role (student, entry-level professional, faculty, etc.) are two measures that jump to mind as interesting and useful.  (Incidentally, I tried to classify participants using those two measures in a previous study; it was difficult, time-consuming, and very incomplete since those data are not spontaneously volunteered by all participants.)

Are #sachat participants diverse enough?  I don’t know.  How do we define “diverse enough?”  Should we be concerned about how well the #sachat population matches the larger student affairs population?  A quick glance shows some alignment between these populations but I have not done any definitive work in this area, partially because it’s very hard to obtain data about the larger student affairs population.

Of course, all of this does not and can not include anything about lurkers.  I agree that there is value in #sachat even for those who do not directly or visibly participate but we’d have to make a concerted effort to identify those people if we want to know anything about them.

I hope this is helpful or interesting!  I wish I had more up-to-date data but I don’t.  I’m job searching, working, and trying to finish a dissertation so I don’t have time or plans to gather additional data right now.  This is data that I had at hand and I am happy to share it in the hopes that it’s useful for someone.

Reflections on #sachat

Tomorrow, the members of the #sachat community will be engaging in introspection and discussing “The State of #SAchat” instead of their usual weekly discussion of topical student affairs topics.  I have been conducting research on the #sachat community for a couple of years now so I thought it might be helpful for the community if I could organize and share some of my thoughts.

I won’t spend time describing the basics of #sachat; if you are interested in this particular conversation, I assume that you are familiar with the community and its tools.  If I wrong and you are not familiar with #sachat, the official overview is here.  An annotated visualization of one chat session – a February 10, 2011 discussion about job searching – is below (my original blog post discussing this visualization has some of its background details).

The chart below shows Twitter message traffic from six hashtags – #highered, #sachat, #sadoc, #sagrad, #sajobs, and #studentaffairs – during the week of June 27, 2011.  This illustrates how #sachat differs in that it not only has consistent traffic everyday (although not as much as #highered) but it spikes during the scheduled chat session on Thursday afternoon.

In a book chapter Laura Pasquini and I have in press, we examine #sachat as a case study of informal learning using technology.  One of our conclusions is that #sachat is doing several things right to overcome the significant limitations of Twitter by:

  • Allowing participants to direct the discussions as much as practical.  For example, potential participants vote on each week’s topic and do not have to register to participate (in the voting or the actual discussion).
  • Using other tools to supplement the core use of Twitter.  Most of these tools reside on the SA Collaborative website.  One of the most important may be the chat archives that give the chats a sense of continuity and history beyond the typically ephemeral nature of Twitter.
  • Employing a well-prepared and clearly identifiable moderator in each discussion.  This account helps impose order on the Twitter chat, allowing conversation to run for a bit before drawing it back to the core topic by using clearly marked, pre-prepared questions.

We also identify several specific concerns and challenges:

  • Can the participants continue to overcome the inherent limitations of Twitter, especially its (a) short message length, (b) lack of threading, and (c) ephemerality?  Although some participants attempt to overcome the first limitation using multipart messages, this is not very successful; the 140 character limit of Twitter is one of its core features and unlikely to be overcome.  The second limitation has been addressed with some success with the use of MOD messages and Q# replies.  The third limitation has been partially overcome by regularly making transcripts of chats publicly available.
  • Is the small community of volunteers that run the chats – those who use the moderator account and the SA Collaborative website – sustainable?  These volunteers and the tools they provide and maintain are essential to the success of the community.  For how long will these volunteers sustain their energy and will there be a smooth transition as members come and go?
  • How representative of the larger student affairs community is the #sachat community?  Is that important?
  • How diverse are the members of the #sachat community?  In what ways are they diverse and in what important areas is diversity lacking?

NASPA Expands Voting Rights to All Members

I have been extremely critical of NASPA’s disenfranchisement of graduate student members, especially since that effectively negated the membership’s desire to merge with ACPA. So I was very happy to receive the following message in an e-mail from NASPA:

After a month-long voting period, the NASPA voting delegates overwhelmingly approved a proposal to revise the voting structure of the association to allow associate affiliates, graduate student affiliates, and emeritus affiliates the opportunity to vote in elections for the chair of the NASPA Board of Directors (previously NASPA President) and Regional Directors (previously Regional Vice Presidents).

“As a result of member feedback, the Board of Directors voted unanimously in May to submit this Bylaw Amendment to NASPA’s Voting Delegates,” said NASPA President Patricia Telles-Irvin. “I feel strongly that this was the right thing to do at this point in time, and I am so gratified that the Voting Delegates agreed and voted so overwhelmingly in favor of the change.”

“Graduate students, in particular, have been increasingly active within NASPA and have been its fastest growing membership type over the past year,” said NASPA Executive Director Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy. “I am particularly pleased to see the governance structure adapted to better recognize the contributions our members along the full spectrum of the student affairs career trajectory.”

The expanded voting rights will go into effect immediately with January’s ballots.

That this was necessary and that the organization denied full voting rights for over a quarter of its membership will remain stains on NASPA’s history. But it’s wonderful that the voting delegates have voted to remedy this injustice as we move forward. Well done, NASPA!

Habits of Successful Higher Ed Doctoral Students

I recently moved to a new apartment and as I was unpacking I came across my notes from last year’s NASPA Doctoral Seminar in Chicago. One page of notes is from a panel discussion where faculty discussed habits and traits of successful doctoral students. Carney Strange moderated the session but I don’t remember or have written down the names of all of the faculty on the panel. I know Deborah Liddell was on the panel because I specifically noted a quote from here. I think George Kuh was also on the panel and I only remember that because he was a faculty member at my institution and the director of the research center at which I worked.

The most successful Higher Education doctoral students…

  • Read
  • Write
  • Read others’ dissertations
  • Keep a writing journal or log
  • Treat their education like a job, including scheduling reading and writing (this tip was aimed particularly at part-time students)
  • Know their motivation(s)
  • Do the damn thing e.g. don’t read about writing a dissertation, just sit down and write it
  • Know that doctoral studies is not about their capabilities; everyone admitted to a doctoral program is capable of completing it
  • Remembers that “it’s just a place to develop habits”
  • Asks questions
  • Knows that “it’s about how you lean into life” and life still goes on outside and beyond their studies
  • Are willing to stick their feet in the water without knowing what will happen e.g. take risks, display trust
  • Know that their dissertation is not their life’s work
  • “Wrestle [their] perfection to the ground” – Deborah Liddel, University of Iowa

Personal Update: It’s Already August???

I’ve been quite disconnected for the last couple of months. I think that I am almost reconnected and settled into my new apartment so I will soon be back to myself with some updates for this blog. Quick thoughts are listed below in no particular order; please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of them.

  • My time at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme was amazing. This was the third young scholar/advanced doctoral student program I have attended and it was by far the best one. The program was fantastic, the location amazing, and the faculty and participants are as kind as they are intelligent.
  • It took nearly a week for my cable company to get my Internet connection working in my new apartment. I’ve never been more isolated or more productive. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Perhaps as a result of my concentrated time in Oxford focusing on Internet studies and my time in a research center, I am feeling more and more disconnected from the student affairs profession. I continue to wonder about the priorities of the profession and the academy-at-large, especially as we continue to adjust to a new reality of limited funds and increased public scrutiny. Although I agree that most of the services provided by student affairs units are good and useful I don’t know if adults should be forced to fund those services. At a more basic level, I don’t know if all of these services should be performed by colleges and universities even if they do contribute to enrollment, retention, and overall well-being.
  • I am immensely saddened and angered by the continuing slap fight between ACPA and NASPA. It’s unprofessional, wasteful, and embarrassing. I have already decided to let my NASPA membership expire and I am edging toward allowing my ACPA membership expire, too.
  • I don’t think we’re quite ready to make a public announcement but I’m extremely excited about a partnership between my current employer and another of my favorite organizations. I’m smack in the middle of it all and so happy to be there!
  • I said “no” today and I’m very proud of myself because it’s not something I do as often as I should. I really wanted to work on the project, too, so I’m a tiny bit sad about the timing. But my time is limited and I must develop and maintain focus.

Upcoming Student Affairs Technology Conferences

After many years of being a side-discussion at other conferences, technology in student affairs is finaly taking center stage at two upcoming conferences:

  1. The Student Affairs Technology Unconference is being held on July 29, 2011, at Boston University. Although the agenda is not set (and will not be set until the attendees set the agenda at the conference itself, one of the defining features of an unconference), this unconference is aimed at student affairs and higher education administrators who use technology and want to connect with others who share their interest. The conference is being set up by several persons who frequent the #satech Twitter hashtag; use #satechBOS to follow them. The event is free with participants responsible for their own lunch.
  2. The #NASPAtech: Student Affairs Technology Conference is scheduled for October 27-29, 2011, in Newport, Rhode Island. In contrast with the Boston event, this will be more of a traditional conference with a set schedule, invited speakers, and a call for programs that closes on July 22. The schedule has as many timeslots dedicated to unconference sessions as it does traditional concurrent sessions. This event seems to be aimed at the same general population as the Boston unconference: Student affairs technology users and enthusiasts.

I’m disappointed that I won’t be attending either of these events. I will be returning from England just a few days before the Boston event and the turnaround is just too quick for my comfort. I won’t attend the NASPA conference because (a) I will be attending and presenting at another conference and (b) I don’t care to support NASPA right now. (And while I’m being a Debbie Downer, I’ll also note that these conferences both seem to be aimed at the same audience with those who (a) build and support and (b) study the technologies and their users still lacking homes of their own.)

It’s exciting to see these events on the horizon! I hope this is a sign of more good things to come for those who work with technology in student affairs and other areas of higher education.

Confessions of an Uninvolved Student

This is a further development of thoughts that occurred to me as I read and responded to John Gardner’s latest post.

I have worked in student affairs and I have a Master’s degree in that field. I am a PhD Candidate in one of the world’s best higher education programs. I work at the National Survey of Student Engagement. These experiences and education have firmly drilled into me the benefits of being engaged and active in campus groups, events, and activities. I see and hear from my colleagues and my students the incredible impact of these activities, especially the acquisition of lifelong friends.

Here’s my secret confession: I was involved in virtually nothing as an undergraduate and a Master’s student. I can only name two fellow students from my undergraduate alma mater; I’ve scarcely exchanged Facebook messages with them and haven’t spoken to them since I graduated from the University of Tennessee (with a 2.48 GPA; “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me!“). The story isn’t much different for my Master’s classmates; with one exception, I only keep in touch with them through coincidental attendance at professional conferences.

My lack of campus involvement was my choice, for good or ill. It’s part of who I am and I can’t envision my life any differently. And I don’t think anyone could have convinced me to act differently or be different.

I make these confessions because I know there are many other students who are making the same decisions and I don’t think those students and their decisions are understood by or respected by many of my colleagues, especially those in student affairs. I get the impression that sometimes those students are viewed with pity and even scorn because they choose not engage in our favored activities in our chosen environment. And that saddens me, especially because we preach the benefits of diversity and choice. Many of us believe those students need to be “saved” but that seems very disrespectful of those students and their choices.

Could Graduate Student Members Have Changed the NASPA Vote?

I’ve stated that the NASPA vote against consolidating with ACPA would have been different if graduate student members could have voted. This is largely influenced by my emotions, intuition, and experiences. But how much truth is there in this belief? Can we find evidence to support or refute this assertion by examining the results of the vote and membership data? Would it really have made a difference if graduate students could have voted?

Data and Assumptions

I’m having trouble finding membership data but I have found enough to make some rough calculations. According to the latest Executive Director’s Report to the Board of Directors, in January NASPA had 12,388 members. At about the same time, the co-chairs of the New Professionals & Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC) wrote that there were over 3,000 graduate student members in NASPA. Finally, NASPA is reporting that 42% of eligible voters participated in this vote and 62% of them voted for consolidation.

Let’s assume that all of the numbers above are correct or at least close enough for some rough calculations. Let’s also assume that one-quarter of the NASPA membership was ineligible to vote. Graduate student members make up almost one-quarter of the NASPA membership so this assumption is conservative because associate affiliate members could not vote, either. We’ll make this assumption even more conservative and assume there are 3,000 graduate student members. Finally, let’s assume that the straw poll conducted by the NPGS KC is predictive of how graduate student members would have voted and 82% of them would have supported consolidation.

If 42% of eligible voters participated in the vote, that means that 5,203 members voted. Sixty-two percent of those members – 3,226 members – voted for consolidation. Two-thirds of them would have had to vote for consolidation for the motion to carry.

Calculations and Results

Let’s explore two scenarios. In the first scenario, let’s assume that the same proportion of graduate student members participate in the vote as the rest of the membership. In other words, let’s assume that 42% of the graduate student members – 1,260 members – participate in the vote. And as stated above, we’ll assume that the NPGS KC straw poll is predictive of student membership voting preferences. Do these additional 1,033 votes for consolidation meet or exceed 66% of the total number of votes?  Yes, but barely.  That would have resulted in 66.9% of the voters in favor of consolidation, just over the 2/3 required.

In our second scenario, let’s assume that only those student members who responded to the NPGS KC straw poll participate in the consolidation vote. In that case, only 547 new votes are added to the total. The additional 447 votes for consolidation only increases the total percentage of consolidation votes to 64.4 so these additional votes do not change the final result.


As demonstrated by the two scenarios described above, graduate student members would have had to participate in a higher proportion than the general membership and voted for consolidation by a huge margin to have changed this vote. We have good reason to believe that student members would have overwhelmingly supported consolidation. We don’t know how many of them would have voted and whether enough of them would have voted to change the results; it’s very plausible.

In this brief exercise, the assumption that seems weakest is that the NPGS KC straw poll would have been predictive of the behavior of the entire student membership of NASPA. This is primarily due to the fact the straw poll was only administered to the members of the NPGS KC and we don’t know how representative those members are of the larger student membership of NASPA. Personally, I believe that student members would have overwhelmingly voted for consolidation in line with the straw poll. But I don’t know how many students would have voted and I am not confident that the straw poll can tell us much about that.


It is likely but not inevitable that graduate student members would have changed the result of this vote. Evidence seems to show that graduate student members were solidly in favor of consolidation.  But we don’t know if enough of them would have voted to change the final result; it’s likely but not certain.

Of course, this exercise in arithmetic ignores all social, cultural, and historic issues (and many others).  If support for consolidation was indeed extremely high among graduate student members, what emotional impact does it have for their votes to have not been counted even if they would not have changed the final result?  Will graduate students feel more aligned with ACPA who allowed student members to vote and whose general membership seemed to favor consolidation by the same margin as graduate student members of NASPA? Finally, how much does it matter if the graduate student vote could have changed or not changed the final result?  How much weight is carried by the symbolic act of inclusion or exclusion?

(And what about the associate affiliate members who were also denied the right to vote?  If they could have voted, how many would have voted and for which result?)

Initial Reactions to Failure of NASPA & ACPA to Merge

I haven’t fully thought through this and my reactions remain primarily emotional so I’ll try to keep this brief: I am disappointed by the results of the recent vote by members of NASPA and ACPA to not merge these organizations. Although I am disappointed in the result, I am much more disappointed by the process, specifically the fact that NASPA disenfranchised its graduate student members and associate affiliate members. Graduate students alone make up nearly one quarter of the organization’s total membership and a straw poll indicated very high support (82% in favor) for consolidation among graduate students so it’s likely that had student members been allowed to vote the outcome would have been different, especially given how close the vote was without our voices being included (62% of the votes were for consolidation, just shy of the 66% needed).

I’ve written about this in the past and I was part of a failed effort to allow graduate students to vote on this important issue. My feelings have not changed and in fact they are being amplified by the fact that this important vote failed likely because so many members of NASPA were not allowed to vote on the future of their organization (Edit: I’ve looked at the numbers and it is indeed likely that graduate student members would have changed the vote had they been allowed to participate).

NASPA’s Board of Directors has released a statement responding to the vote and indicating some future directions. To their credit, the first on their list of “areas for change and innovation” is “Governance review, including voting eligibility.” That is absolutely necessary to correct what appears to me to be the stinging hypocrisy of an organization that proclaims to value students and its members but doesn’t allow student members the right to vote on the future of their organization. NASPA likes the proclaim that “NASPA is its members” but right now it’s more like “NASPA is [three quarters of] its members” and that must change.

But I don’t know if changing the bylaws now are sufficient. For reasons I won’t discuss publicly, I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason why some opposed allowing student members to vote is that student member were so firmly in favor of consolidation. Moreover, it really bothers me that student and associate affiliate members were denied the right to vote in the first place and I can’t help but wonder what that says about the power structure and influences in NASPA over the years. I don’t know if I can continue to be a member of this organization given the disconnect between its espoused and enacted values especially given the way that this important vote was affected by the disenfranchisement of so many of its members.

Finally, I feel horrible that I did not notice and act on this issue until it personally affected me. I like to think that my reactions and emotions would be the same if I were still a full-time professional and eligible to vote. I don’t hold myself singularly accountable but now that I know about it I can’t turn a blind eye, even as I begin to move toward the end of my student career and start to look at rejoining the ranks of those employed full-time. But right now I don’t know the best way for me to move forward. I don’t know if I can in good conscience continue to advocate for this from the inside or if it’s time to move on from an ethically unacceptable situation.

Automated Technology Used by a Fraternity…in 1935

As I was procrastinating and avoiding working on my dissertation proposal, I came across the 1935 Columbia University Press book . One (short) chapter describes how punched cards were used to analyze data from a survey of Phi Delta Kappa members in the early 1930s. I know that PDK is not the kind of social fraternity most people think of when they hear “fraternity” and this is no SurveyMonkey survey but this is still a wonderful example of a very early technology used by professionals in or very close to student affairs.

For those too young to have used them or too old to remember them, punched cards were used for many decades by colleges and universities in both research and administration. Punched cards were used particularly frequently by registrars so it’s no surprise that student affairs departments used them, too. In fact, they were so widely used on campuses that they became cultural symbols of technology and standardization. For example, student protesters at University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s “used punch cards as a metaphor, both as a symbol of the ‘system’ – first the registration system and then bureaucratic systems more generally -and as a symbol of alienation” (Lubar, 1992, p. 46).