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 Smarterer.com 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:

Basic:

One should be able to:

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

Intermediate:

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;

Advanced:

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?