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Summer 2006: vol. 7, no. 2
Technology in Student Affairs: Seeking Knowledge, Craving Community

Leslie Dare, Ed.D.
Director, Distance Education & Technology Services
Division of Student Affairs
NC State University
ladare@ncsu.edu



Posted: August 2006     Student Affairs Online, vol. 7 no. 2 - Summer 2006



Standing Room Only

SRO - that phrase is usually used to describe rock concerts and appearances by presidents and royalty. However, it recently applied to three different sessions at the 2006 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Conference in Washington, D.C. this past March. What topic was so enticing that audience members were willing to sit in the floor? Technology. That's right…fire codes were violated in order to soak up information about Facebook, blogs, cell phones, and cyber communities. Presenters gave up their chairs so that participants would have a place to sit. Handouts became hot property; anyone seen taking more than one copy received glares from the masses. Participants stood in the doorway three deep through the entire presentation just hoping to catch some useful information.

At the 2006 American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Annual Convention, "technology" was featured as a Convention Institute, and the topic of six General Convention programs. Go back another year in time to the 2005 NASPA Conference in Tampa, Florida. Technology is highlighted as part of the theme on future trends, challenges and opportunities. There are twelve different sessions on technology, and most all play to a packed room.

Since its launch in 2000, ten different workshops on technology have been offered through the StudentAffairs.com Online Courses program. Technology is usually a regular feature in the NASPA and ACPA E-Learning Series, as well as Institutes and Regional Conferences hosted by these organizations.

Technology is the hot topic, and student affairs practitioners are ready to discover all they can. How does technology impact our students? How can we better use technology to serve our students? Should we be podcasting? What are wikis all about? Those participating in workshops on these topics can become almost giddy with excitement in learning something new. Folks see a new gadget, or overhear a discussion about Facebook, and quickly gravitate to either glean a nugget of useful information or impart their own experiences and observations.

Establishing a New "Knowledge Community"

Clearly our profession benefits from structured discussion and networking on the topic of technology. Through informal communication, several members of NASPA have begun an effort to re-establish the Technology Knowledge Community. Within the NASPA organization, Knowledge Communities "…provide an opportunity for NASPA members to access information and resources in a specific subject matter that pertains to the student affairs profession" and "create and share knowledge through the delivery of educational research, programs, and products, through the use of technology and by way of face-to-face meetings, workshops, and/or conferences" (NASPA, 2006).

The challenge is not finding support for this Knowledge Community (KC), but rather defining the focus. There are many different areas within technology to explore. For those of us who are enthusiastic about technology, it is tempting to try and "be all things to all people" and thus touch on everything. By establishing special interest groups, each area can be rich with participation by those most interested and knowledgeable in that domain.

However, as is explained in the next section, that formula is not always successful. An alternative approach might be to select a target audience to serve. That might be the techies, the administrators, the "in the trenches" personnel, or some combination. Regardless of how the fine-tuning takes place, it is obvious that the scope of technology is wide. Here are some examples of the many slices of the technology pie:
  1. Technology's impact on student development, behavior and decision making
    1. Boundaries, privacy
    2. Plagiarism
    3. Communication
    4. Time management
  2. Technology's role in providing student services and developmental programming
    1. High tech versus high touch
    2. Meeting student expectations
  3. Technology administration
    1. Planning
    2. Budgeting
    3. Staffing
    4. Assessment
    5. Policies
    6. Staff skills
  4. Technology resources
    1. Hardware (Computers, PDAs, iPods, servers, cellphones, flash drives, and so on)
    2. Software (Databases, wikis, blogs, portals, browsers, instant messaging, and so on)
Lessons Learned

A similar effort was made in 1999, and an "Information Technology Network" was established by NASPA (Networks were the precursors of today's Knowledge Communities). Dr. Sam Miller, then at the University of Virginia, championed that cause and served as the first national chair. From all accounts, there was a great deal of interest in the KC's four-year history. But, as past chairs and participants have shared, it was quite difficult to channel the many varied interests of the KC's membership into one viable organization. As a result, the KC was eventually dissolved.

Since that time, there has been a lot of change, and the timing may be just right to get this effort off the ground. Many larger student affairs organizations now have their own technology staffing and resources (instead of relying on campus-based staffing and resources). Other efforts to explore technology in the field of student affairs have taken off (such as the E-Learning workshops previously mentioned). Scholarly and practitioner publications more regularly feature articles on technology in student affairs. The topic is being incorporated into graduate programs. These changes, with the lessons learned by the early KC participants, will likely serve us well in re-establishing a Technology Knowledge Community.

A Knowledge Community focusing on technology would provide NASPA members with the structure necessary to accomplish two very important things: educate student affairs practitioners about technology in student affairs (Knowledge), and establish an organization where those practitioners can collaborate (Community). Technology is ubiquitous, and changing our culture (and our students) at an astonishing rate. The student affairs profession should leverage its resources not to just keep up with that change, but to seamlessly integrate technology into our practice to the benefit of our students.

What's Next

A proposal to establish the Knowledge Community is being drafted, and a number of individuals are collaborating on that effort. We are also attempting to define the focus, and so those conversations continue. Our goal is to finalize the focus and draft proposal, then begin seeking support from the NASPA regions and members at large. The next step is to establish a leadership team that is committed to bringing the KC's goals to life. The proposal would then be presented for approval at the NASPA Board of Directors meeting in December 2006. If the proposal wins approval, then there will be significant activities for the new Knowledge Community at the 2007 NASPA/ACPA Joint Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

If you are interested in the initiative to re-establish the Technology Knowledge Community, please send an email to Leslie Dare at ladare@ncsu.edu.

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