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!

Reactions to RIAA Pre-Settlement Letters And More

Some quick updates and links to discussions and news related to online copyright infringement:

  • Last week, the RIAA announced that it was beginning a new program where it would send alleged offenders a notice before suing them to offer them an early option to settle. This offer is sent to the university or college with the request to forward it on to the alleged offender. Cornell has sent a letter to its students trying to help them understand exactly what is going, how these new letters differ from DMCA takedown notices and other letters, and how Cornell is and is not responding. Some institutions are refusing to send these new letters on their students but others are complying with the RIAA’s request. Discussions are being held at and between many institutions concerning institutions’ legal and ethical obligations with respect to these pre-litigation letters. Should institutions pass on these letter to students in an effort to make themselves neutral? Do institutions have a legal obligation to pass on these letters? Must institutions retain logs as requested by the RIAA? It’s obviously a complicated issue with many ethical, legal, and financial facets.
  • Discussion continues about the role of copyright in a digital era. We may not all agree with UC Berkeley’s Larry Downes’ comparison with the Information Revolution to the Industrial Revolution and his assertion that “[Today’s] bloody fights are not over natural resources and access to emerging markets but over use and ownership of ideas.” But I do agree with his general premise and I further assert that in this particular instance higher education is being caught in an ugly squeeze between wealthy copyright holders struggling to maintain their grip on…well, anything they can continue to grip (income, market share, cultural influence, political influence, etc.) and a legal system still struggling to come to terms with a new economy that differs significantly from the old (and don’t think the old economy is going away – no, we have to deal with both of them at the same time). Let’s see what our friends in the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (yes, the same subcommittee that hold the campus piracy hearings) have to say in an upcoming hearing focused on reforming part of the Copyright Act “for the Digital Age.” They’ll be examining Section 115, the section that covers compulsory licensing of music, a task very similar to one in which Europe is engaged.
  • In preparing for the NASPA/ACPA 2007 Joint Meeting and the activities planned for and by the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community, I skimmed the Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs. This is a relatively simple list of practices modeled after the original 1987 Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Although written before the coming-of-age of Napster and subsequent challenges related to online copyright infringement and reform, I am struck by how the opening sentences of the Introduction describe our current situation: “Today’s context for higher education presents student affairs with many challenges. Among these are new technologies, changing student demographics, demands for greater accountability, concern about the increasing cost of higher education, and criticism of the moral and ethical climate on campuses.”
    1. New technologies: This is a gimme.
    2. Changing student demographics: As noted by Cheryl Elzy in testimony before Congress, “The scope of the problem [is] national. It’s worldwide. It’s bigger than we’d first imagined and a significant problem, we think, for higher education. Frankly it’s a problem at all levels of education, including K-12.” The issue is not one of students learning this behavior in colleges and universities. It’s learned behavior they bring with them. While this is not a shift in demographics as some may think of it (race, ethnicity, SES, etc.), I assert that the increase in the number of students comfortable and familiar with technology and thus possessing skills and expectations is a demographic shift. There are interesting questions to ask about how the other more traditional demographic measures and characteristics interact with these emerging characteristics but let’s set those aside for now (but don’t forget those questions! They’re fascinating and important and we’re figuring out the answers.)
    3. Demands for greater accountability: At the heart of the legislative pressure for institutions to “do something” about this issue is a sense that institutions must be held accountable for what their students are doing with public and educational resources (open question: is there a discernible difference in the pressure being placed on or the reaction of private institutions?). Rightly or wrongly, we’re being held accountable for our perceived inaction and lack of concern and there is a push for us to be held accountable. Even when we (correctly) argue that enforcing someone else’s copyright is not our legal responsibility, law makers reply that they can change the law to make it our legal responsibility.
    4. Concern about the increasing cost of higher education: Interestingly, this concern is being felt most by institutions and not legislators. It’s an argument we correctly repeat when pressed on this issue: the solutions offered are very expensive. Do we continue to worry about the increasing costs of higher education at the same time we demand institutions purchase costly products and services to enforce someone else’s copyright and subsidize students’ desire for free music and movies? There’s a conflict there and a disconnect that I’m not sure has been fully explored.
    5. Criticism of the moral and ethical climate on campuses: Even many who do not believe it is not the legal responsibility of colleges and universities to enforce the copyrights of others believe that we have a moral and ethical obligation to dissuade students from violating copyright.   I’m not sure there is much room for argument as this is a reasonable belief consistent with the educational mission of most institutions.  However, there is room for discussion in how far and in what manner institutions should press this issue as the morality and ethics are certainly not black-and-white, particularly when shady groups like the RIAA become involved.

My Recent Activities: ResNet Historical Research and YouTube Analysis

Please accept my apologies if this blog is not being updated as often as one might hope or expect. Please do not have any expectations for update frequency – when there is something is interesting and appropriate and I have the time, I’ll write about it. Contributing to the rather low frequency of updates recently has been my quest to leave my full-time job and return to school full-time in the fall to pursue a doctorate. That is not a process that one lightly begins or finishes and it takes time to apply, evaluate offers, figure out financial aid (i.e. graduate assistantships), visit campuses, etc.

In the meantime, here are two interesting projects on which I am collaborating with others:

  1. Qualitative content analysis of programs presented at the ResNet Symposium from 1995-2006. In the past few years, the ResNet Applied Research Group (RARG) has conducted some pretty intensive research. I would characterize our past research as “outward looking” as we have examined issues that affect and define residential computer networks. I would characterize our current research project as “inward looking” as we’re examining the ResNet Symposium itself. As with all of our research, I think that this is an extremely important part of the continuing professionalization and maturation of both the organization and the profession as a whole. Further, I think that this particular research effort will make a huge contribution to the historical study of both residential computer networks and student computing support in higher ed in general. I hope that we, collectively, can continue this kind of research and extend it further to help us understand where we have come from so that we can understand where we’re going. We’re also running into some very interesting methodological challenges with this research as it appears to be pretty unique in many way; we’ve only found one other similar research project and we’re borrowing most of our methodology from media analysis, specifically David Altheide’s Ethnographic Content Analysis methodology.
  2. Analysis of YouTube and its impact on and recommendations for student affairs practitioners. A colleague and I are working together to write an invited article for a non-peer-reviewed student affairs publication describing YouTube and related issues. It’s a very interesting topic and I’m very excited to be a part of this effort. There are tons of potential topics to discuss in this article and I think that narrowing down our list and keeping our article to a manageable size is our biggest challenge. Leaving aside core student affairs issues such as student development and the interaction of YouTube with student affairs administration and policies, other issues that may be discussed include media literacy, citizen journalism, increasing bandwidth demands, legal issues, public representation of institutions, and the general growth of social networking. I hope that we can find a way to not concentrate on just YouTube but on all similar sites but finding a balance between generalities and specifics will be quite a challenge.

I know some of this has been a bit vague but I’m sure that you can understand that all of these are works in progress. I’ve got other things brewing and I will announce them as appropriate.

Discussion of and Reactions to NCSU’s “The Facebook Phenomenon”

Yesterday’s “The Facebook Phenomenon” panel discussion presented by North Carolina State University was fantastic! The webcast and related materials are available online for those who missed it. They’ve also started a Facebook group sharing the name of the discussion for those interested in continuing the discussion in Facebook itself.

The discussion and the supporting materials were excellently organized and we should all thank NCSU staff for their generous work in providing this professional development opportunity. The discussion was good and the question-and-answer session was great. However, I was a bit disappointed by some of the answers (or lack thereof). On one hand, I (like many others, I am sure) was hoping that the panel would have answers to all of our questions; they didn’t. On the other hand, it’s comforting (and a tiny bit disappointing) that we’re all searching for answers and almost all of us are in the same place. That the panelists could not answer many questions posed is not indicative of ignorance on the part of the panelists. They were asked tough questions about an emerging phenomenon and I don’t think that anyone could have answered many of the questions.

The most disappointing aspect of the panel was the consistent reference to personal anecdotes without sufficient reference to applicable research. I offer this criticism as a student affairs professional looking inward at his own profession and thus this criticism is aimed less at this particular panel or its participants and more at the profession as a whole. Fred Stutzman, of course, had his own research to draw upon but even much of that has been limited to the students at his institution. The one specific reference I recall to more wide-ranging research was Sarah Noell’s reference to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study of teen Internet use. As I’ve discussed before, there appears to be a real need to bridge the gap between researchers who are active in this field and student affairs practitioners and administrators. It’s great that many people were introduced to Fred’s research but what about boyd, Ellison, and other researchers’ work in this and very closely related fields? (I note that the list of resources on NCSU’s website is still growing; they appear to be finding more of this work and posting links to it which is great!)

The administrators on the panel didn’t seem to speak much about the ethics of administrators viewing Facebook profiles. They certainly have the legal right but they seemed to completely brush off ethical and privacy concerns. Such an apparently casual dismissal of a very serious concern in the minds of many students seems to be a bit callous and out-of-touch with student culture. It’s a difficult subject that merits more consideration and a more considered and sensitive approach than “we’re legally allowed to do it and that’s that.”

There also appeared to be an unchallenged assumption that 95%+ student are using Facebook. Although Fred’s research supports that finding for the groups he has studied, other studies have found lower rates of participation. In particular, the ECAR’s 2006 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, which surveyed nearly 29,000 students at 96 different institutions, found that “more than 70% [of respondents] use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.” Since there appears to be a significant range in the research, uncritical acceptance of one set of findings strikes me as a bit odd.

As noted by Sarah Stein, institutional policies should encompass students, faculty, and staff. Although that sounds obvious, it’s a point that I tend to forget or gloss over. Each of these constituents has a different purpose for wanting to use and interact with others using Facebook and similar services. While I’m sure that there are similarities between these groups’ uses and intents there are obviously many differences, not the least of which are the different legal and ethical issues involved. For example, some of the panelists briefly discussed FERPA and the difference between institutions posting students’ personal information on Facebook (as apparently happened when a professor tried to place some course-related materials on Facebook) and students posting their own personal information.

Some specific reactions to or notes about the panelists’ opening remarks (I am omitting Fred Stutzman as I have referenced and will certainly continue to write about his work; his opening remarks were a summary of his work):

  • Sarah Noell expects Facebook to develop increasing granularity in its privacy controls in the future as it “matures.” I think that is a valid opinion and I expect that Facebook will continue to explore that area but I don’t know if it will yield much fruit; increased granularity would significantly increase complexity. At a certain point, and I don’t know where that tipping point is, the complexity of a tool outweighs its functionality. Privacy controls in a system that attempts to mimic or match offline social interactions, boundaries, contexts, etc. can very quickly grow too complex to be understood or used.
  • Paul Cousins seemed to indicate that he believes that Facebook is used primarily to forge new connections. I could be mistaken in my understanding of his perception but I have encountered that perception in other student affairs professionals. This perception is counter to some research (Ellison and Vanden Boogart jump to mind) that shows that Facebook is typically used to reinforce existing relationships. This point was one to which panelists returned a few times so I don’t know exactly how closely the perceptions match the published research.
  • Sarah Stein mentioned ETS’ new Information and Communication Technology Literacy Assessment as evidence of students’ lack of technical and information literacy. While I agree with her general point, I’m not sure that ETS’ test is the best evidence as its methodology was soundly and fairly criticized. Dr. Stein also mentioned GIS and the integration of spatial location with social networking as a future development but did not mention the obvious (to me) privacy concerns raised by such integration. Another panelist (Fred, I think) mentioned that MIT is already actively exploring this concept.
  • Whil Plavis, the lone student on the panel, briefly discussed students who choose to protect their privacy by not using Facebook. Dr. Stein later echoed this sentiment by reminding the audience that there are and always will be people who opt out of such systems.

In my opinion, the lengthy question and answer that followed the opening remarks was the most informative and enjoyable part of the discussion. The organizers of the panel very wisely chose to allot the majority of the time to this portion of the discussion and were very adept at alternating between questions from the local, physical audience and the virtual audience.

Some of the questions included:

  • Are there (legal) discrimination issues if potential employers view someone’s profile early in the hiring process? I don’t think any panelist offered a good answer to this question. In their defense, it’s really a specific legal question and I am not sure if any of the panelists were qualified to speak about laws related to employment and discrimination. It’s a great question and definitely the kind of question we should be asking ourselves and one another!
  • A concerned parent in audience who regularly “checks out” her daughter’s online information (which is exactly what she should be doing and what many parents are not doing) asked: Are local public schools conducting education in this area? Sarah Stein replied “I don’t know” but that we should find out. She went on to stress that we should “stop making assumptions” about others’ technical literacy, an excellent point that I wish more people understood and proselytized
  • Another concerned mother asked: Do students who post personal and potentially dangerous information about location receive encouragement or discouragement from their friends? Whil responded that yes, there is some peer pressure associated with Facebook and personal information posted on it. He illustrated this with an anecdote about his younger brother whom Whil cautioned to “tone down” the personal information shared on his Facebook account.
  • A psychologist concerned with the level of personal contact that can achieved online asked: Are we losing skills in “[interpersonal relationships]?” Sarah Stein replied that previous and ongoing CMC research does not support such a conclusion. She also discussed a notion of “blended lives” that has persisted for many years where we our social lives are a mix of relationships and interactions conducted via many media. Whil noted that his profile is not for advertising to people but it’s there for those who want to find it. With respect to losing interpersonal skills, Whil noted that students often use Facebook as a convenient way to setup meetings and events.
  • Leslie Dare, the panel moderator, noted that Facebook privacy settings must be set by the user. Sarah Noell then asked, “Who is educating people about those features?”
  • What’s the future of Facebook? Is it a fad? Are we (universities) properly equipped to deal with it? Sarah Stein opined that Facebook might not stick around but social networking will. Fred agreed that Facebook might not stay but social networks will as they provide “high utility” and a “time saver tool.”
  • Are there long term issues about boundaries? Personal vs. impersonal vs. too much information (TMI)? Sarah Stein noted that this isn’t a new concern. Paul, however, countered that he believes that students are exchanging “intimacy for efficiency.” Fred parried with an assertion that we are social beings and he doesn’t worry about us losing our social networks. For example, Facebook connections are usually initiated offline. Leslie noted that some use Facebook to express and share grief
  • How do we educate parents about the risks? Sarah Noell indicated that NCSU did not mention this topic in the previous parent orientation but that information is on their website. It’s a difficult topic to address since many parents don’t know anything about it. Sarah Stein shared her hope that the presentation and education will be balanced (positive and negative) like this panel discussion.

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!

Copyright Education Is Effective

In the new issue of the NASPA Journal is an article from Drs. Jennifer Christie Siemens and Steven W. Kopp entitled “Teaching Ethical Copyright Behavior: Assessing the Effects of a University-Sponsored Computing Ethics Program.” In summary, this article reports that persistent educational efforts have a positive effect on the self-reported behaviors and beliefs of the surveyed undergraduate college students.

The article reports on the results of a broad educational program at a private institution in the Midwest. Students in a freshman introductory class (similar to a Freshman Year Experience class or other “college 101” classes) were exposed to different instructional techniques “to address the issue of ethical use of copyrighted Internet content.” When the results of a web-based survey of the students were analyzed, the most effective efforts were those that utilized multiple techniques. No single technique performed better than any other. Moreoever, there were significant differences between men and women: “males were significantly less likely to agree with the policy…comply with the policy… [and] perceived downloading copyrighted music…and other content…to be significantly more ethical compared to female respondents.”

In a statement familiar to both student affairs administrators and IT professionals, the researchers tell us that “both technologies and laws are quickly ignored or evaded by [students] and…some other approach may be necessary to influence behavior.” In other words, institutions must create and enforce policies and educate students about those policies if they want to change this behavior. More specifically, neither lawsuits against a very, very few students nor technological attempts to enforce behavior have been successful. To the best of my knowledge, the only technology that appears to actually be effective is to simply limit the amount of bandwidth a particular student can utilize. Nearly any other technology can be easily bypassed by savvy students, steps on fair use rights, or both. Of course, one could also just make it someone else’s problem.
It’s interesting to note that both of these researchers are marketing faculty. It is my observation that most of the relevant research into technology issues in which student affairs and university administrators may be interested is coming out of faculty from departments or disciplines other than higher education. Much of the research in which I have been most interested has come from communications faculty. More on my thoughts in this phenomenon can be found in an older post.

Kudos to these researchers for performing this critical research! They are absolutely right when they assert that despite the growing presence of these programs, “there has been little published research on the effectiveness of university-sponsored educational programs in curbing illegal downloading behavior on college campuses. Due to the expense of implementing such programs, it is important to assess their effectiveness.” This is particularly important as Congress continues to press this issue and potentially ineffective solutions in an effort to appease their constituents.

As always, there is much more of interest in the article and I encourage you to read it. I don’t know how widely available the NASPA Journal is in the common journal databases but I’m sure you can obtain the article via InterLibrary Loan if you are not a NASPA member or your institution does not have a subscription.