Keeping The Conversation Going – Online Student Services and Learning

Online education is a hot topic in higher education today. The relationship between the teacher and students and the manner how learning happens are being redefined by technology. Through technology, teachers and students no longer have to be  physically present in same classroom at the same time.  Another area of the campus facing the same issue is student affairs. One question being asked is how effective are online  student services relative to  face-to-face interactions.  This article on StudentAffairs.com in 2000 shows the issue of  technology and student services is nothing new.  As the article states, “the high-touch culture that has been the bedrock of student development practice for decades will be impacted by the advancement of technology both inside and outside the classroom.”

My view as a technologist in student affairs, one who has been a part of business system conversion projects  in the last 17 years at UC Santa Barbara, is that technology is already an integral component of student affairs.  Technology is an expected component in all  competency areas defined in ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners.

As student affairs professionals, we need to be engaged in discussions of how we use technology and how we can effectively provide online services to students. The reality is not all students reside on campus. Some of them will never set foot on campus. Going further, even students who live on campus are using online services throughout their life cyle from paying their bills, registering for classes, checking their academic progress,  making appointments, and gathering information about campus services.  In our roles as educators, we need to be aware of the opportunities as well as problems associated with the use of technology, including physical issues such as lack of sleep because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and  social development issues related to online relationships among other issues.

How we can effectively debate and explore the current and future use of technology and online services in student affairs depends on how open we are to the possibilities.  I was in a communication workshop this morning and the instructor said something applicable to this topic. He said “we don’t know what we can’t get to if we reject the premise.”   We all have values and beliefs on how we should serve our students shaped by our own personal experiences.  Even with our own biases,  we need to have open minds. Given the speed at which technology changes, we may have some ideas on emerging technologies in higher education in the next few years but we really don’t know the impact and use of these technologies until we use them.

Eric Stoller, student affairs and technology blogger  for InsideHighered.com recently wrote about the schism between online students and student affairs.  Personally, I think the best way to explore how online learning, including flipped classroom model,  works is to try it in student affairs ourselves. I posed this question on twitter recently:

twitter_anyone_using_flipped_classroom

Steven Yeagley (@stevenyeagley), a student affairs professional from Southern Illinois University responded to my tweet and wrote they his university has used this model for Resident Assistant Training. He  shared the details in this blog post RA Training in the Flipped Classroom: Introduction. In addition to RA trainings, here are few  ideas I have heard from colleagues on how we can use online learning in student affairs:

  • MOOC for First Year Experience (FYE) courses for transfer and freshmen.
  • Use of videos,  internal social networks for employee onboarding.
  • Online orientation for graduate (and undergraduate students).
  • Online alcohol education.

When it comes to technology in student affairs, the question should not be whether we should use it but rather how can we effectively use it to promote student success?