Leveraging the Power of the Web to Help Resolve Student Conflicts

Bill Warters, Ph.D.
Director of the Conflict Management in Higher Education Resource Center
Wayne State University
  Samantha Spitzer, M.A.
Campus Conflict Resolution Resource Center
Wayne State University

Student Affairs Online: Fall 2002 • Vol. 3, No. 4

Conflict is a fact of student life. Not only do students experience the daily problems of living and working together, but they also experience interactions with people who are different from themselves. Fears rooted in stereotypes, their own and others, and fears of confronting those stereotypes may surface. Students face personality conflicts and conflicts stemming from testing boundaries and learning the real meaning of independence and personal and group responsibility. Students must also face conflicts with landlords, merchants, and roommates. And in the academic realm, they find out whether their standards for work are acceptable.

In all these categories, students learn lessons about how to handle conflict from the institution and from their peers. Since few 18-year olds have developed good conflict resolution skills, using each other as models of how to manage and solve conflicts is often ineffective. Research on roommates in conflict suggests that typical first and second year students are often not developmentally prepared to effectively negotiate interpersonal conflicts with roommates on their own. As a result, the ways a college handles conflict must serve not only to maintain rules and order, but also to teach conflict resolution.

It is also clear that the World Wide Web has become an essential part of academic life. Email has become virtually unavoidable, web browsers are a standard feature of most campus information delivery systems, campus libraries are serving up electronic full-text resources like never before, and first year students are routinely being provided with computers for use in their rooms.

Taking advantage of the "wiredness" of today's campuses, Wayne State University, with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), has developed a new website designed to help institutions support students' appropriate use of conflict resolution skills. The site, Campus-adr.org, http://www.campus-adr.org, now has well over 400 pages of content offering free tools and tips for resolving conflicts and building conflict resolution systems. Staff, administrators, and students can access the site, which was designed specifically for colleges and universities, to explore methods to prevent disagreements from turning into time-consuming and troubling conflicts.

Co-author Bill Warters serves as the project's director and prime developer of Campus-adr.org. The project received seed funds from the Hewlett Foundation-funded Conflict Resolution Information Source, followed by a major 3-year grant from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The timing of the grants was good. Campus administrator and student interest in developing campus conflict resolution systems has continued to expand exponentially, following the trend noted below in a chart of known campus mediation programs, and thus interest in program development materials has grown as well.

In order to serve up the resources found on the site, the project had to make a variety of choices regarding their technology platform. A decision was made to go with a Macintosh-based system built around the following core components:

-- A Macintosh G4 500 Tower
-- 4D Webstar Server Suite (our web server package)
-- Maxum NetCloak (our cgi and forms management software)
-- Timbuktu Pro Remote (permitting us to administer the server remotely)
-- LinkAlarm (a subscription-based link checking service)
-- FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited (our web-searchable database system)

Our website design work was done using Macromedia Dreamweaver, Macromedia Fireworks, and BBEdit, which have continued to improve over time. We are currently using the MX versions of these products and are happy with the way the tools permit collaborative work among a team of site workers.

The site adopted a virtual campus metaphor as the framework for content delivery. Thus visitors start on the Main Quad (an image map of an imaginary campus) and can then choose to visit the Student Center, the Faculty Club, the Classroom Building, the Main Library, etc. where they find content tailored to particular user groups. Current content offered includes standard html pages, sidebars that announce news and features, searchable FileMaker databases of roleplay scripts, sample syllabi, etc., 'Web-included' content from other related sites, discussion forums, and PDF files. As the list indicates, we have attempted to combine static and dynamic content, providing visitors with the opportunity to help build and refine the site's offerings. Users are encourage to contribute various forms of content such role-play scripts, syllabi, case reviews, new opportunities (events, jobs, grants), discussion forum threads, textbook exchange listings, and articles for the Conflict Management in Higher Education Report.

The Campus-adr.org site hopes to provide useful information for a broad range of campus constituencies. However, the following web pages are examples of material that may be of particular interest to those involved with student affairs.

The site planning and all of the hard development work is paying off now. The site, which went "live" on Valentine's Day of 2002, had its formal Grand Opening on September 3, 2002, to coincide with the start of a new academic year. Server statistics show a current average of 660 unique visitors daily, including users from 98 different countries. Particularly satisfying to site developers are the statistics that show that people have visited from 765 different institutions of higher education in the United States. The site statistics are very promising. They prove that faculty, staff, administrators, and students from across the spectrum of higher education are accessing our materials.

One user commented, "I took a look at your web page today - impressive and comprehensive are the two words that first came to mind. I am sure many people will find it to be a wonderful resource." Another user wrote, "Thank you for the information. You web page has proven to be very helpful to our organization as we are rebuilding after a period of inactivity. Thanks again!" We take these kinds of comments as evidence of our initial success. Hopefully, readers of Student Affairs Online might take an interest in the site as well to help us move into the future. Please do visit the website at www.campus-adr.org. For more information, call 313-577-4343 or email info@campus-adr.org.


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