Technology in Student Affairs
In every aspect of student affairs, technological events influence change. Almost every staff member uses a computer to improve communication, provide more effective management, gain knowledge, or provide information. Over the past several years websites have evolved from an “add-on” to an essential element for providing information and interacting with students. Today, websites are used to seek information, assess, and strategically evaluate and enhance programs and services. They are used as interactive tools for students and their parents/guardians. In 2004, campuses responded to the downloading of commercial music and videos, and in 2005 professional are reacting to “Facebook.com”. The need to explore the role and responsibility that student affairs professionals have in preparing students for acceptable online behavior in the classroom and workplace arises. New questions continue to emerge. Clarity and professional development is needed for those in our profession and institutions regarding issues related to technological topics such as ethics and online behavior, judicial sanction tracking, confidentiality and privacy, student clubs and organization support, and health and wellness information.
As time passes, the influence of technology within student affairs becomes clearer. Each of us sees, feels, and experiences this impact. However, the effect of this ever-changing technology on the transformation of our profession does not appear to be a paramount issue for many. Too many student affairs staff demonstrate a limited interest and minimal knowledge base for guiding how technology can best be used. Will we seize the opportunity to lead the future direction of our profession or will we allow others to make these important decisions for us? We are at a crossroad to determine if we will take the lead or be led. Action is essential during this crucial time.
Over the past several years, topics related to technology sporadically appeared at conferences and in discussions while an organized focus on the subject remained minimal. In January 2004, the Electronic Student Services Task Force (ESSTF) was established in ACPA to address issues related to technology. In spring 2004, professionals who attended selected sessions at the NASPA and ACPA annual conventions were asked about technology experiences on their campuses. The information was organized and included in a report to the ACPA Executive Board in July 2004. The ESS Task Force reported on the following trends and challenges: Online access to services overwhelmingly emerged as the most prominent topic about the use of technology within student affairs. The trends indicate that technology is being used to build community, for assessment, and improved communication. More advanced and blended technologies improve processes. Online information has become more dynamic and engaging, thus requiring more student and staff interaction. Student affairs professionals acknowledge several benefits from using technology, including the increased ability to get students involved and being able to provide more accurate and consistent information available at all times (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p. 2).
While most trends that were expressed by professionals promoted a positive reaction to technology, challenges incorporated a more negative response from the impact of technology. “The need for resources, improved staff technology skills, resistance to change, and fear were entwined with new concerns such as innovative methods for cheating, illegal downloading, and the loss of the personal touch [through face-to face meetings]. Professionals focused on the need for staff to use the technology available, to focus on student learning and development, and for administration support” (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p.2).
The ESSTF turned to ACPA, “as a vital organization that supports the student affairs profession, to develop and implement an effective plan to bring together experts and leaders in the field and to address, educate, and guide the path for innovative uses of technology” (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p.2). Understanding that the “findings showed that little was being accomplished to provide direction, planning, and sustainability for best practices and successful models for using and integrating technology within student affairs” (American College Personnel Association, 2005, p.1), the Executive Board responded favorably to the ESSTF report. A second report was presented to the Executive Board in January 2005 which focused on several recommendations and strategies to address technology issues.
At the 2005 ACPA conference, the Executive Board passed a motion to continue the ESSTF for another year in collaboration with the Commission on Administrative Leadership Technology Committee. Together, these two groups will work to establish effective means for professionals to discuss student affair trends, prioritize and categorize technology issues, discover educational opportunities related to these technology topics and issues, encourage research related to technology within student affairs, and report findings to the ACPA Executive Board.
To begin, professionals must move beyond their personal fears and phobias about technology. We are the “human element” that is driving technological change. We must begin to accept technology not only as a as “compelling force instigating movement and change” but also as “a mechanism humans use to move forward making ideas a reality” (Kleinglass, 2000, p.13). By understanding the role and the impact technology has on the actions, expectations, and behaviors of students, we can begin to guide the role of technology within student affairs and to influence the future path of the profession.
Today, technology-driven change impacts university activities including the development of community, sharing of experiences and learning (Duderstadt, Atkins, & Van Houweling, 2002). When professionals within student affairs accept the responsibility to act, they will become the leaders of the profession. Together, professionals on the task force and in the field can establish a meaningful foundation on which to build the future. Discussion on the impact and role of technology in student affairs can continue with a purposeful direction that benefits and strengthens the role of student affairs within educational institutions. Through this demonstration, administrators, faculty, and other members of the higher education community will increasingly be able to understand the important role of student affairs professionals to enhance student development, contribute to student learning, build upon the student experience, and suggest guidelines for training of new professionals.
Student affairs professionals are in an excellent position to lead, to take action, and to understand what is at stake. “[The] tools necessary for managing change might just lie somewhere in sociology, social psychology, cultural anthropology, economics, and organization theory” (Curry, 2002, p.128). Many student affairs professionals hold degrees in the humanities or social sciences and develop expertise in working with student populations. As experts in student and community development, student services, student communication, and student learning, we in student affairs must recognize our responsibility to advocate and to be a resource to understand, translate, guide, and incorporate the direction of technological change within the field, for today and for the future. Our responsibility to lead change becomes logical and necessary. We must face the questions about how to use technology to benefit students, incorporate the values of higher education, meet institutional goals, and enhance learning. We have to establish collaborative partnerships while advocating for student technological needs and expectations. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our profession and to students.
In the coming year, the Electronic Student Services Task Force will take steps to implement goals that provide venues for conversation on the impact of technology, now and in the future. How can we as professional increase our understanding of technological demands, functions, tools, and effectiveness? How can we seize educational moments and opportunities to use technology to improve student learning? How can we discover an effective balance between traditional face-to face communities and virtual communities? What are the professional competencies needed for students, staff, and new professionals? What do we need to know in order to build meaningful partnerships with administrators, faculty, and outside vendors? How can we take the lead for the destiny and direction of the profession?
Please join your ACPA colleagues; be proactive not reactive. Join the conversations and opportunities coming this year. Together, with guidance, commitment, and action from many of the experts in the field, we can affect the outcomes for the future. If you are interested in participating in the conversations or online meetings, or have suggestions, please send an email to [email protected].
- American College Personnel Association. (2004, July). Report to the Executive Board from the Electronic Student Services Task Force. Washington DC: Author.
- American College Personnel Association. (2005, January). Report to the Executive Board from the Electronic Student Services Task Force. Washington DC: Author.
- Curry, J.R. (2002). The organizational challenge: IT and revolution in higher education. In R.N Katz & Associates (Eds.). Web portals and higher education: Technologies to make IT personal. (pp.125-138). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
- Duderstad, J. J., Atkins, D. E., & Van Houweling, D., (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
- Kleinglass, N. K. (2000). Addressing the reality of technology skills and competencies freshmen students use in their first year of higher education. D issertation Abstracts International (UMI No. 1042-7279).