Managing the Explosion of Technology: Recommendations for Student Affairs Administrators

Managing the Explosion of Technology: Recommendations for Student Affairs Administrators

Matthew R. Shupp
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
Jan Harris
Community College of Philadelphia & St. John’s University

Why does it seem like so few students are bothered by the all-too common ringing or vibrating of a cell phone? Or, perhaps even more perplexing, why those same students answer the phone during class? A fellow student affairs professional shared a story where a student responded to a text message during a job interview. Our students’ constant need for connectedness has become commonplace. Many seasoned student affairs professionals have wandered into a whole new technological generation.

What we face, as educators, is the realization that this “tech-savvy student”—the digital native—is the typical student on our college and university campuses across the country. Digital natives have grown up in a world full of technology. Turkle (2011) described digital natives as “growing up tethered” (p. 171), where technology is an extension of their human spirit. Essentially, technology has become a part of their identity.

Technology use, especially by digital natives, allows students to multi-task both inside and outside of the classroom much to the chagrin of instructors and administration. Researchers (Rosen, 2012; Visco, 2008) remind us that younger generations have been raised with constant stimulation. Being alone or focusing on one task at a time is not part of their skill set; rather, it is second nature to text friends and surf the net while actively participating in the activity at hand. Consider the following quotes that Visco (2008) acquired from digital native students that illustrate this point:

  • “If I didn’t have my phone, I would probably feel like I didn’t have my pants on or something like that” (Visco 2008).
  • “I just need it…it’s certainly a preferred method of communication for some people. We feel naked without [our cell phones]” (Visco, 2008).

Campbell (2006) conducted a survey of 176 student and faculty participants at a university in the western United States and discovered that a general sentiment existed among the respondents that mobile phones in college classrooms could be a serious problem. However, younger participants—who are more involved than their older counterparts (digital immigrants) in using cell phones—reported more tolerance for this practice. Campbell’s finding is consistent with other research confirming that technology has become a particularly important social resource in the everyday lives of young college students (Bauerlein, 2008; Hadhazy, 2010, Rosen, 2012; Wadley, 2006).

The Technology “Explosion”

In 2012, reported sales of smartphones totaled 1.75 billion units (Hansegard, 2013). Roughly one billion text messages were sent every day in 1998. Digital natives are using technology ad nauseam, often at inappropriate times and in inappropriate settings (Visco, 2008). Digital natives’ increase in texts per month has nearly doubled each year since 2008. The number of text messages sent monthly exploded from 14 billion in 2000 to 188 billion in 2010 (Kluger, 2013). Facebook™, launched in 2004, now has 750 million unique users per month and has emerged as the social network giant (Taraci, 2012). Ninety-seven percent of all college students are on Facebook™ where a staggering 70 million pictures are uploaded daily (Nauert, 2010). Bauerlein’s (2008) research supports this social media trend. Over a 10 year period (from 2003-2013), Americans increased their online usage by 14 million minutes. Clearly, the rapid advancement of technology is something that is here to stay, and both digital natives and digital immigrants are impacted by it.

The digital age has “transformed our lives” (Bauerlein, 2011, p. ix) and has drastically changed how we communicate, conduct business, teach courses, and interact with students. Today’s “smart” classrooms are equipped with smart screens and the capability of streaming videos. Online discussion boards and virtual learning networks have augmented, if not completely replaced, the traditional classroom environment. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are rapidly becoming the norm for many of our students as well as professionals seeking additional certifications. Likewise, student affairs administrators are able to conduct long-distance meetings over a virtual bridge while student clubs and organizations utilize social networking sites to advertise upcoming programs and connect with eligible participants.

While advances in technology give institutions of higher education the opportunity to provide classroom instruction in new and exciting ways and extends our reach to students beyond the classroom walls, it also exposes our students to an environment where online bullying and cyber stalking are prevalent. Using technology in this manner often creates immense concern for students’ safety and well-being (Alexy, Burgess, Baker, & Smoyak, 2005; National White Collar Crime Center, 2013). Likewise, careless online posts and inappropriate comments often have unintended negative consequences for our students (Nycyk, n.d.; Zupek, 2009). Zupek (2009) reminded us that a greater number of employers use potential employees’ online presence as a criterion for whether or not they are employable.

The Conundrum We Face

The conundrum comes into play in a few areas: the seeming disconnect of students when they are using technology, most notably text messaging during class lectures or club meetings, and the disconnect between digital immigrants’ and digital natives’ view regarding when it is most appropriate to use technology. What should be done when someone is present in body, but is not mentally tuned in during a group meeting because of a technological preoccupation?

Although we, as educators, are excited for the potential benefit technology brings to the college environment, we are equally alarmed at the detriment that it is causing to our students. Many of our students are quite careless in their communication (Nauert, 2012). Lack of proofreading papers, truthfulness of sources, poor writing and communication skills, lack of attention to detail, and multi-tasking to a fault are all a result, we believe, of the liberties students take with new technology. The authors once received a journal entry from a student that read, “had a gr8 nite. good 2 c my friends tks 4 asking.” Roughly translated, it was supposed to read, “I had a great night. It was good to see my friends. Thank you for asking.” We then faced the dilemma of how to appropriately grade this student. She completed the assignment, but not addressing the glaring grammatical mistakes in punctuation and spelling would have been a detriment to her learning.

Recommendations for Practice

What types of proactive solutions exist with regards to the technology conundrum on the 21st century college campus? We share with you now our recommendations.

Be Specific on Expectations Regarding Use of Communication Devices. Do Not Waiver in Expectations

Explicitly state the expectations and group norms when it comes to the use of technology. Is there a creative way to use new technology when working with students? Or is it simply an annoyance digital immigrants must now endure? Do you encourage the use of hand-held devices to post quotes and pictures on Facebook as a means of advertising past and upcoming student programs? Do you want students to tweet about their outside-the-classroom involvement?

Hand-held devices such as iPhones™ often have technology such as calculators, internet connections, and streaming video functions that meeting rooms may lack. These are potential legitimate uses for allowing the use of such devices (Shaw, 2007). Meeting with students takes on a completely different meaning when such technology is utilized. Yet, drawbacks of using hand-held communication devices during student interactions may outweigh the benefits and distract from the task at hand. So, what is your expectation with the use of these devices? Once identified, do not waiver from the stated expectation.

Have Stated Consequences if Students Fail to Meet the Expectations

In specific instances, ban technology devices during student meetings. Inside the classroom, prohibit the use of hand-held devices during exams by having students leave them in backpacks or depositing them in a pre-determined area of the classroom. Clearly stating these policies and expectations may act as a useful deterrent. For example, a faculty member now bans laptops in her large lecture courses and has a clause in her syllabus about the inappropriate use of technology. Because of this expectation she has observed increases in attention and better performance on exams (Bugeja, 2007).

Work to Have Your Colleagues Adopt Similar Expectations

A united stance on the expected use of hand-held communication devices removes the frustration from any one faculty or staff member and forces all students to realize that all members of a particular department enforce this expectation. For example, after receiving numerous emails without any greeting or punctuation, staff members in an Office of Student Affairs decided to use these moments as teaching opportunities. Whenever an email of this nature is received, a canned response is sent stating the following:

Thank you for contacting the Office of Student Affairs. We are unsure if our office is the intended recipient as there is no greeting nor is your email directly addressed to any staff person in particular. We are happy to help answer any     questions you might have. However, in the future, please be sure your correspondence includes a greeting (i.e. Hello!), your name, the reason you are writing, and a closing (i.e. Thank you.). Please be sure to include appropriate capitalization and punctuation.

The email then goes on to address the question asked in the original email. As a result, the Office of Student Affairs has observed a positive increase in students’ writing skills as well as an increase in their verbal articulation of questions.

Fish Where the Fish are

Many of our students have an online presence in cyberspace (Facebook™, Twitter™, etc.). Find creative ways to interact with digital natives in the spaces they are most comfortable. Do they think creating Facebook groups for a new club will attract new membership? Is there a creative way for students to tweet about their experiences at a leadership conference? Encourage your students to embrace technology as a part of their co-curricular involvement.

What Happens in Vegas…

Today, moments where our students lack clarity and make irresponsible decisions now end up residing on social networking sites. These risqué photos of questionable behavior often create difficulty for students when applying for professional positions. As student affairs educators, create teachable moments for students regarding how to manage their online footprint. What consequences might occur for inappropriate online posts? Encourage students to conduct a Google™ search of themselves to see what already exists in cyberspace. Empower students to create online portfolios or a LinkedIn™ profile as a means for potential employers to view their leadership experiences outside of the classroom. Creating a positive online impression will only enhance their ability for future professional opportunities.

Have the Same Expectations of Yourself that You do for Your Students. Model the Way

You should hold yourself to the same expectation that you hold your students. Model appropriate behavior for your students when it comes to the utilization of technology. Provide support for victims of cyber stalking and online bullying. Create a safe space where students feel heard and supported. Refer students to appropriate campus offices for additional resources.

Concluding Thoughts

It is hard to predict what the future holds and what technological advances have yet to be developed. What we do know is that this predicament is not going away. We would bet that once new technology comes out it will continue to “explode” in the community much faster than it has over the past 10 to 20 years. In some respects, we are behind the eight ball because higher education is not prepared to handle and utilize (due to lack of training, fear of new technology and new social media/software/equipment reaching students before college administrators) the type of technology available for student learning. One can only speculate and imagine the realm of technological possibilities that will be discovered in the next 10 years. But the fact remains that technology is not going away and student affairs professionals across the country need to find creative and innovative ways to use this technology for the students’ benefit. We still have a hard time understanding how a student can listen to an iPod™, talk on the phone, and actually sit in a classroom and absorb any part of the lecture. Perhaps these two digital immigrants are just getting old.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has technology influenced your interactions – both positively and negatively – with students?
  2. What new and creative ways might you utilize technology as a student affairs professional when working with and supporting students?
  3. What expectations exist within your department regarding student use of technology when communicating with you?


Alexy, E. M., Burgess, A. W., Baker, T. & Smoyak, S.A. (2005). Perceptions of cyberstalking among college students. Journal of Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention 5(3), 279-289. doi:10.1093/brief-treatment/mhi020

Bauerlein, M. (2008). The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Bauerlein, M. (Ed.) (2011) The digital divide: Arguments for and against Facebook, Google, texting, and the age of social networking. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Bugeja, M. J. (January 26, 2007). Distractions in the wireless classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Chronicle Careers. Retrieved on May 19, 2008 at

Campbell, S. W. (July, 2006). Perceptions of mobile phones in college classrooms: Ringing, cheating, and classroom policies. Communication Education, 55(3), 280-294.

Hadhazy, A. (April, 2010). Teens prefer texting vs. calling…except to parents. TechNews Daily.

Hansegard, J. (February, 2013). Global mobile phone sales fell in 2012. Retrieved on May 21, 2013 from

Kluger, J. (September, 2012). We never talk any more: The problem with text messaging. Time Magazine online.

National White Collar Crime Center (2013). Cyberstalking. Retrieved on October 1, 2013 from

Nauert, R. (April, 2010). College students ‘addicted’ to social media, study finds. LiveScience. Retrieved from

Nauert, R. (July, 2012). Testing may undermine language, spelling skills. PsychCentral Online.Retrieved from:

Nycyk, M. (n.d.). Your web presence and employment: Some effects on career. Retrieved from:

Rosen, R. (June, 2012). 59% of young people say the internet is shaping who they are. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Shaw, Katherine (2007). Student and cell phone: Controversy in the classroom. Associated Press.Retrieved from

Steinberg, S. (June, 2010). College students have less empathy than past generations. USA Today. Retrieved from

Taraci, T. (March, 2012). Facebook is the secret to motivating millennial workers. Retrieved from

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Visco, F. (March 16, 2008). Time for a text etiquette. Take this message: Texting is everywhere, texting can be rude. And we’ve yet to figure out a code of conduct for addicts who click, click, click.. Philadelphia Inquirer Online. Retrieved from

Wadley, J. (July 10, 2006). With this ring: No bliss from cell phone noises in college classes. The University Record Online. University of Michigan News Service. Retrieved on May 19, 2008 at

Zupek, R. (August, 2009). How social media can hurt your career. Retrieved from

About the Authors

Matthew R. Shupp is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling & College Student Personnel, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

Please email inquiries to Matthew R. Shupp.

Jan Harris is director of the Career Services Center at Community College of Philadelphia and adjunct faculty at Haub School of Business, St. Joseph’s University and The Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Please email inquiries to Jan Harris.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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