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.

National Awareness of a Local Issue

Many people view the Internet as a “disruptive technology.” For many people, that carries a negative connotation. Let’s take a brief look at one current example of this phenomenon.

The issue of privacy for students who live in on-campus residence halls is a familiar issue to most campus administrators. It’s a topic that nearly all student affairs administrators examine though their education and professional development as it makes for a great discussion of both a familiar ethical concept and unfamiliar case law. Another familiar issue that of students who are unhappy with their perceived lack of privacy in the residence halls, particularly when that perceived lack of privacy includes campus law enforcement personnel and their ability (or lack thereof) to patrol residence halls, make arrests, enter students rooms, etc.

Students at UMass at Amherst are unhappy about this issue. Instead of focusing on the legalities of this issue or how the campus is handling it, let’s focus briefly on how these events in Massachusetts are being reported to, noticed by, and discussed by folks from around the country almost in real-time.

This first came to my attention when someone on a discussion forum posted a link to Tuesday’s Boston Globe article. Within minutes, members of that forum read the article and began discussing it (later, updates to the discussion thread included posts from students on the campus and involved in the protests). Similarly, InsideHigherEd’s article from today has also been seen by many people far removed from this one campus, some of whom have left comments or engaged in discussion about the article at the bottom of the InsideHigherEd webpage. It’s to be expected that many who publicly participate in those discussions have very strong opinions but that, too, is not the topic of this discussion (but what a topic it would be!).

The point is that people who have never seen or read a physical copy of the Boston Globe and could not pick our Massachusetts on a map have heard about this incident. I don’t know what impression this incident has left on those people (Rowdy college students hold silly protest? Campus police invade privacy?) but that they have any impression at all of an event that is now occurring on a campus they’ve never visited involving students and administrators they’ve never met is quite remarkable. Without going to Friedman-like extremes and asserting that the world is flat, we can certainly conclude that we’re interconnected in unexpected and often-uncontrollable ways.

And don’t ever think that this is just an issue for your campus public relations or communications department! This specific incident involved policies set by campus police with significant input from housing and student affairs. Other incidents that have gained nationwide attention have focused specifically on other rules, policies, and related actions or reactions by student affairs staff. Just ask the Housing and Residence Life staff at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire or the deans of students involved in the affirmative action brownie sales. Will actions taken by or policies set by you or your staff be the next caught on a cell phone camera, uploaded to YouTube, written about in hundreds of blogs and discussion forums, and discussed by people around the world?

Update: Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, said that “there is no more local” in a recent speech discussing the transformation of the media industry and how people get their news. It’s not higher ed-specific but it is a speech well worth reading for those interested in those topics.

Virtual Tours

A few weeks ago, Xingpu Yuan and Mary Madden of the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a memo with the results of a recent survey they conducted about “Virtual Tours.” Although they don’t seem to give a strict definition of “virtual tour,” their data indicate that over half of American Internet users have participated in a virtual tour. They break down their numbers using some demographic variables but there are too many complicating factors to put a lot of weight into the demographic analysis. The authors even specifically mention “colleges and universities” as “areas of personal interest” for which “people are increasingly turning to the internet to get a feel.”

Within student affairs, this may be of the most interest to housing and residence life professionals. I don’t know of any data regarding the prevalence of virtual tours on university websites or as used by various departments on campuses. There do appear to be a sizeable number of institutions offering virtual tours of their entire campus and I also remember seeing several housing departments that offered virtual tours of their residence halls when I researched this topic a few years ago. In my experience, those two “arenas” (the main campus’ web presence and that of the housing department) differ from one another significantly on most campuses are more extensive and focused resources are typically available for the main campus web presence than for an individual department, with a handful of high-profile exceptions such as admisions and donor relations.  I also I imagine that the on-campus housing “market” differs from many other facilities on-campus as operations that are “forced” on students (required housing and meal plans is common on many American campuses, particularly for freshmen) are not necessarily responsive to market forces. In other words, a housing operation that is “guaranteed” occupants each year may not work as hard to advertise their spaces with “extras amenities” like virtual tours. Summer conferences, a (money-making) staple on many campuses, also play a huge role in this but that’s another complex topic altogether with management of and responsibility for those events sometimes resting in odd places or divided among different groups.

This kind of data may also be of interest to others who manage facilities on campus, many of whom are in student affairs. Potential spaces include interviewing space, entertainment venues, meeting spaces, dining spaces, and recreational spaces. As noted above, virtual tours may be of high value for those who manage revenue-generating spaces.

Still, this research seems to be pretty clear: A majority of American users know what virtual tours are and use them. It’s natural to assume that they may come to expect them, too.

NASPA Technology Knowledge Community

Earlier this week, NASPA approved a new Technology Knowledge Community. Within NASPA, Knowledge Communities are self-organized groups dedicated to particular topics or areas of knowledge. Knowledge Communities gain access to NASPA resources such as webspace, listservs, and limited funding for educational programs and resources. Apparently there was previously a Technology Knowledge Community but it folded after a few years after struggling to define itself and its focus. Leslie Dare published an article in Student Affairs On-Line entitled “Technology in Student Affairs: Seeking Knowledge, Craving Community” describing the previous NASPA Technology Knowledge Community and the need for it to be revived and reinstated. Several NASPA members, including myself, contacted Leslie after reading the article to offer our assistance. We recently organized ourselves, formalized our proposal, and submitted it to NASPA.

The NASPA Board of Directors unanimously approved our proposal during their December meeting. Leslie and I are co-chairing the Knowledge Community and busily trying to organize the rest of the leadership. Putting together the leadership team is a rather bureacratic process involving many people from across the nation; I’m sure it works once it’s in place but it’s a bear to get set up initially.

We’ll likely have an open meeting at the 2007 ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting in Orlando among other opportunities to publicize this new group. I don’t think we’ll have trouble attracting interest or members but we must carefully define our scope and define our focus lest we suffer the same fate as the previous Technology Knowledge Community. We’ve got some ideas on how to do that but we don’t have much time before the Joint Meeting to get those ideas rolling.  I’m really eager to get past these initial steps so that we can to the business at hand and use NASPA’s resources to collaborate with one another on common challenges and interests involving student affairs and technology.

Speech codes

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently released a report entitled “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2006: The State of Free Speech on our Nation’s Campuses.” The data that underlie this report come from a FIRE survey of “over 330 schools” with findings that “an overwhelming majority…explicitly prohibit speech that, outside the borders of campus, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” FIRE is careful to note that private institutions are not typically beholden to the Constitution but usually claim similar protections or values and thus are effectively held to similar legal and ethical standards. Interestingly (and, to some, controversially), they also exclude from their analysis institutions that explicitly state that they do not assure unlimited free speech or academic freedom to their students, faculty, and staff.

Without addressing whether the claims made by FIRE are correct, there are definitely some ties between technology and speech codes. Whether they are legal or ethical, speech codes or similar policies most certainly do apply to messages communicated via electronic means. By some measure, this is actually good news as it seems logical and fair that messages communicated via electronic media be treated similar to messages communicated via any other media; that the message in question should not be prohibited regardless of the media used to communicate it is another issue altogether.

The really interesting part is when prohibitions or restraints are extended to or created specifically for messages communicated via electronic media. Over a year ago, Fisher College expelled a student for “conspir[ing] to and [sic] damag[ing] the reputation” of a police officer after the student wrote disparaging remarks in Facebook. According to Erik Brady and Daniel Libit’s March USA Today article, Florida State University and the University of Kentucky “issued ultimatums to their athletes to be careful what they post” (good) but Loyola University banned athletes from joining Facebook (bad). According to a press release and other documents distributed by FIRE, a University of Central Florida student was charged with (but found “Not In Violation” of) harassment through “personal abuse” for creating a Facebook group entitled “Victor Perez is a Jerk and a Fool.”

I understand the perceived-dilemma posed by wanting to preserve free speech and academic freedom while also maintaining an open, collegial, and welcoming community. However, I often worry that my friends and colleagues in student affairs place too much emphasis on trying to protect their students and communities from “dangerous” or “bad” speech, even speech that occurs off campus or online. Their heart is in the right place but their actions are misguided. You can’t fight hatred or intolerance by banning it, even if technology seems to give you the tools to do so. Education is the answer; we know that, it’s our business. Rather, we should know that. We forget sometimes and even when we find them annoying or believe them to be wrong it’s great that organizations like FIRE exist to help remind us of some of our responsibilities.

A Tenuous Connection With Digital Rights Management

One topic of interest among a small group of academics and students is the emerging technology known as “Digital Rights Management” or DRM. As explained by Sean Captain in his New York Times article “So Much Music, So Few Choices,” DRM is “technology that protects copyrighted works by preventing unlimited duplication.” It’s a bit more nuanced that just preventing duplication but that’s an okay generalization. One of Captain’s key points is that “the many conflicting approaches to rights management can also limit choices.” He’s right. Most people encounter DRM for the first time when files won’t move, copy, display, or print as expected: copying DVDs, fast-forwarding through the FBI warning and previews, or moving music purchased online to another computer or player.

What does DRM have to do with student affairs? Alright, it’s a bit of a stretch. It’s definitely a topic that is usually limited to discussion among computer geeks and music industry executives. It is sometimes discussed amongst librarians and scholars as they wonder about how they will continue to access resources and scholarship that are increasingly hidden behind DRM, a discussion that not only revolves around access costs but also publisher lifespans and changes in technology. Luckily for them, new rules are being put into effect to alleviate some of those problems. But others still exist.

One strong connection with student affairs and higher education is the continuing discussion about students’ online copyright infringement and possible solutions. One “solution” pushed hard by the RIAA is the employment of legitimate online entertainment services like Napster, Cdigix, and Ruckus. Those services employ DRM; it’s how they’re able to convince the publishers to allow them to “sell” the music. And what does that mean for students who are in some cases forced to pay for these services whether they use them (or are able to use them) or not? It means they’re renting the music (which is not necessarily bad). It also means no fair use rights (which is necessarily bad).

Is that important to the students? For most of them, it’s not yet important. Many of those who take issue with DRM do so almost exclusively because the music won’t play on their particular mp3 player (see this USA Today article from earlier this year for a typical example). Rarely do students take the wider view (however, I suspect that this view may gain some traction if Jenkins’ Participation Divide ever begins to close as DRM does pose a large hurdle for many reuses of culture – remixes, mashups, etc.). And it’s hard to fault them. It’s partially an issue of maturity and experience, qualities traditional college students lack by definition. But it’s also an issue of education and that’s where many of us are failing. Our institutions will fight to protect the intellectual property “owned” by our institutions and our faculty will fight bitterly to protect their fair use rights in the classroom (even to the point of going too far and unethically ignoring copyright). But who fights for the students’ fair use rights? Who tells them that they even have those rights (certainly not the Boy Scouts and the MPAA)?

So that’s my weak tie-in with student affairs: legal rights and culture trampled and unmentioned by educators bullied into “doing something!” about students’ copyright infringement. That’s why I worry about NASPA’s recently-announced RIAA partnership. One could go further and accuse institutions of literally “selling out” but given that instititution have (a) paid money to employ many of these services and (b) acted primarily out of fear (of legislators, recording industry lawsuits, and bad public images) I don’t think that’s an accurate accusation to make. But there is certainly a discussion to be had about commercialism and its role in this debate as recording industry executives push the use of services that in turn pay the recording industry for the use of their music. There are legitimate ethical, moral, and legal issues but students aren’t the only ones who should be under the microscope.

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!