Student Affairs Technology Competency Assessment

Student Affairs Technology CompetencyThis post is about student affairs technology competency.  Actually, this post is an invitation for readers to contribute some ideas on how to define and assess student affairs technology competency. I believe it’s a very important issue to resolve for our profession. It  will require a group effort to generate some ideas to move the discussion moving forward. Admittedly, the proposed ideas and approach are rudimentary so feedback is welcomed.

This is a topic that has been previously addressed by others including Eric Stoller in his blog post “Technology needs to be more than a thread” and a recent survey of technology usage in student affairs. As Kevin Guidry points out in his blog post “When Did Student Affairs Begin Discussing Technology as a Competency?”, “the discussion itself is not new and dates back at least 35-40 years”. What I haven’t seen and this is the reason why I’m expressing my thoughts here is how would we make student affairs technology competency assessment tangible.

In my student affairs IT role (since 1996) for UCSB, I have witnessed business process transformations in all areas of student affairs including enrollment management, residential and housing, and student services enabled by technology. From my observation, the increased role of technology in student affairs has required student affairs practitioners to acquire and maintain skills to use complex enterprise systems including student information systems, financial systems, case management, electronic medical records and residential management systems as well as rapidly changing consumer technologies such as social media, cloud, mobile and mobile computing. While these technologies have introduced new ways to improve business process efficiencies and effectiveness, professional development, as well as how we communicate with other colleagues and students, practitioners must also deal with issues and new mindset that come along with them. Privacy, ethical, and proper use in the workplace are just some issues to keep in mind. In addition, we must also understand how technology plays into the lives of our students an in their learning and development processes.

This joint document, Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners by ACPA and NASPA, two of the major student affairs professional organizations define technology as one of the threads “considered essential elements of each competency area and therefore should be incorporated into the professional development design of each competency area, rather than exists as competency area in themselves.” That technology is considered a thread that spans all competency areas is a recognition of the value plays in all aspects of student affairs. As it exists, technology use is included under Human and Organizational Resources. However, because it is a thread and not a competency area, there is no rubric provided to assess a student affairs practitioner’s level of technology competency.What does this rubric look like? Each of the competency areas in the above document provides three levels of competencies – basic, intermediate, and advance with sets of expectations for each level.

Considering technology as a thread instead of competency is like saying “IT is a utility.” This perspective limits the potential of how we can effectively use technology. With regards to the statement of “IT as a utility”, it is true that infrastructure provided by IT is a fundamental service, but the business process transformations introduced via IT/functional unit collaborations and enabled by technology that are built on top of the infrastructure are what makes IT valuable. Similarly, technology considered as a thread and not a competency limits deep discussions about the possibilities and impacts of technology as it relates to student learning, student life, and  innovative ways of increasing the effectiveness/efficiencies of student affairs business processes.

There  are sites like that can be used to evaluate one’s general level of technology competency. However, if the goal is to measure one’s level of technology competency in the context of student affairs, this assessment must start with the person’s level of understanding of their specific job duties and responsibilities within their functional area(s).  Assessment must be start with how well can this person apply technology to perform their duties. At a more advanced level, the assessment should be on how well does the person understand the reasons behind the use of technology. The scope (individual use, to unit, to institution) and the level of understanding (practical and theoretical) would be greater at the advanced level. Given the rapid changes of technology, I think it’s generally a mistake to design general competencies geared specifically towards a specific technology/platform.

Suppose we were to define technology as a competency, how would we frame it? Would this work?

“Technology competency includes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to use, design,  evaluate and implement technology and apply it to support the goals of functional units and towards one’s work.” 

There are applications (ex. word processing, spreadsheets) common and used by all practitioners and there are also applications and technologies specific to functional areas. So the statement above would be general enough to be applicable for any given functional area.

What expectations should be included in each level of competency? Here are a few to consider:


One should be able to:

  • use software/hardware necessary to fulfill job duties;
  • understand and practice ethical, privacy, legal, and appropriate technology usage;


One should be able to:

  • understand and articulate business processes and propose appropriate technology solutions to address needs for efficiency/effectiveness;
  • assess the effectiveness of technologies with respect to intended objectives;


One should be able to:

  • articulate impact of technology in relation to relevant student affairs, student development and learning theories;
  • understand federal, state, and institutional policies governing technology implementation and use;
  • provide leadership and consultation throughout the institution, partnering with information technology staff and vendors, to ensure adherence to policies and guidelines;
  • understand student affairs business processes and application of technology at the institutional level

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is this the right approach? What else would you add to the rubric?




6 thoughts on “Student Affairs Technology Competency Assessment

  1. Kevin Valliere

    A few potential additions I’ve thought of over the last few months:

    Put forth positive, professional content in relevant contexts through social media
    Create an effective, research-based PowerPoint (or similar form of media) presentation
    Create and manage strong passwords

    Code in basic languages such as HTML, CSS, or JavaScript

    Use design programs to create aesthetically pleasing flyers, advertisements, and images that convey important information and enhance departmental reputation
    Create a university-approved app for iOS or Android

    I think the trick in implementing these kinds of things will be in keeping a good balance of breadth and specificity. We need to be able to encapsulate the wide array of possible technology uses in the field of student affairs, but also provide direction that is specific enough to guide professionals to better practices.

    Great post, Joe.

    1. Joe Sabado

      Thanks, Kevin!

      You’re definitely right with regards to finding the balance between breadth and specificity. I made the rubric more abstract than what you have in mind because there’s so many different functional units in SA that I can’t seem to define what are the common applications/technical skills required for all practitioners. I’m not sure personally if the specific skills you mentioned would be required competencies for all practitioners. For example – “Create a university-approved app for iOS or Android.”?

      I’m thinking that determination would be left at the JD review level which will determine what specific skill sets are required for the position? I’m not sure.


      1. Kevin Valliere

        Right. Like you said, you took the more abstract route while I was looking at more functional area-specific tasks and lumping them all together.

        It will be interesting to see what we as a profession can identify as the most core skills to be learned.

  2. Kathy Rose

    Hi Joe,

    I think your approach to defining technology competencies is spot on. Our technology committee set out to define competencies for our division’s full-time employees and quickly found that attempting to define specific competencies for everyone was impossible. We have employees who work daily with our university’s student management system, and others who are never required to do so, and who don’t even have permission to access the system. There are employees who are nowhere near the front line of social media communication, and still others who don’t even have the need to use a computer at work. Your list would be great division-wide, and then individual departments could perhaps define more specific competencies for their employees, based on departmental needs. Broad technology competencies could also be included in job descriptions when appropriate.

    I think one of the biggest problems comes when employees are resistant to change or to learning something new. I have seen this within my own division, and I assume this attitude can be found everywhere. It’s disheartening when colleagues at all levels go to great lengths to explain why something can’t be done, rather than explore ways to use technology to solve problems or be more efficient. Technology skills that are adequate now may not be adequate in five years. With the speed at which technology evolves, it’s important to include technology competency expectations both within job descriptions and in strategic plans. Perhaps this will help to create a mindset where people could more readily embrace change.

    1. Joe Sabado

      Hi Kathy,

      Yes. Student Affairs is so diverse functionally that it’s hard to pin down the baseline, very specific tech competencies.

      I’m glad to hear your committee is moving along. Please let me know anytime if I could be of any help.


  3. Pingback: (Re)-framing Technology in Student Affairs | Joe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology LeadershipJoe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology Leadership

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