Reframing Technology in Student Affairs

Technology can be scary for some. The prospect of technology potentially replacing one’s position in an organization is even more scary. This is one of the reasons as to why advances brought upon by technology are not always embraced by all. From my experience working in student affairs IT for more than fifteen years, obstacles to implementing new systems are not always about the shortcomings of the technology themselves but rather, the bigger challenge lie with the resistance of those impacted by the new systems based on fear, unwillingness to embrace change, refusal to learn new skills, or the belief their current practices are superior to what technology can offer. When implementing new systems, as a project manager, a few of the questions from staff I know I have to address are “what’s in it for me?”, “will it replace me?”, and “how do I fit in?” The reality is that technology has changed manual processes that may have existed in the past. Technology has made certain processes more efficient through automation. In some cases, this has led to elimination of positions that used to perform these manual operations. For folks in these positions, they had to  learn and adapt to the new ways of doing things, moved to new positions, or leave.

One of the concerns about using technology in student affairs, particularly when dealing with students/customers, is that certain services requiring face-to-face communication should not be replaced with technology. I generally agree with this sentiment. Not every process can be replaced with technology. If that is the case, there would be no need for staff at all. However, consider the idea that technology may just provide staff with more operational efficiency and effectiveness so they can devote more face-to-face interaction and provide more time to students who need extra attention? Given the global nature and increasing online presence of our students in higher education, physical face-to-face may not be an option. Here are some examples on how technology complements and improves our work:

- Knowledge base systems like Intelliresponse that can answer most commonly asked questions can minimize the number of phone calls and emails to staff thereby providing more time to dealing with special scenarios.

- Electronic medical records and case management systems provide student affairs practitioners with relevant student information from different parts of the campus they can use to assist students. Institutions without these systems probably still need to gather the information on paper format from different places. Imagine students having to wait during an appointment as the counselor must wade through files, which may contain outdated information, and synthesize the information in front of them?

- Web-based self-service systems can delegate some of the tasks to students themselves. For example, disabled students could register for services provided by disabled students programs by providing their health information and requesting services (proctoring, notetaking, etc) online. Given some business validation to ensure all required documentations are provided, these self-service systems save both student and staff the unnecessary steps and time of going over required documents.

- Virtual conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect to provide webinars to incoming students who may not be able to visit the campus (international students, out-of-state, etc) are saving institutions time and money for travel. They can also accommodate the different time zones when students are available. I know colleagues who have held web conferences at 2 am to students in China.

- Digital x-ray systems in student health centers have significantly reduced the amount of time required to diagnose a patient. In the past, the process would have involved a couple of days to send these x-rays to facilities outside the university. Student health centers with digital x-ray capabilities can now do the same process in minutes.

- Automated degree audit systems can assist students and advisors with information to monitor academic progress. The efficiency and accuracy provided by these systems are tremendous compared to manual processes which require staff to enter and process volumes of student academic records.

With the topics I introduced above including staff’s attitude to change and looking at technology as a tool towards efficiency and effectiveness, we must also look at the subject of technology competency. What does technology competency mean? As I wrote on this blog post, I define student affairs technology competency as:

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

Competency is not solely about the mechanics of using the technology itself but rather, how technology is applied in intentional ways. Technology competency involves technical and business aptitudes as well as the right attitudes. As an analogy, one does not develop competency with money, but rather, how money is used.

How do we then develop staff’s technology competency? Graduate programs must include technology as part of their curriculum, either as a component in other courses offered, or as a course on its own. Not all student affairs professionals have a degree in student affairs and so opportunities to develop technology competency must be available to all staff. One such opportunity, which is also applicable to graduate programs, is a course on technology in student affairs. This would be in addition to any training provided by institutions such as lynda.com as well as by sites available to individuals including codecademy and Smarterer.com. I also think our profession could encourage and promote discussions about effective technology use in student affairs by bringing the topic to the forefront and not just as an underlying component of other competencies. Perhaps, the next version of Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Professionals by NASPA/ACPA could include technology as a competency area and not as a thread.

For anyone to deny the idea that technology is an integral component of student affairs today has not worked in student affairs and/or they have not spent the time reflecting on how technology impacts our work and our students. The question is no longer about whether technology should be a part of how we perform our jobs but rather how can we best use technology in whatever capacity we contribute towards our mission of supporting student success. Student affairs professionals do not have the choice of accepting technology as part of their job.  This article, “You 3.0: The Most Important Evolving Technology“, says it quite aptly:

“The focus will be on the relationship between the evolving technology and the user—that is, on You 3.0.”

To be successful at what we do in providing service require our willingness to adapt, not react, to the realities of the world of our students.

What are your thoughts on how we should frame technology in student affairs? Do you agree/disagree with my assertion that technology is a critical component of student affairs?

Note: Products mentioned in this post should be considered as references only and not an endorsement by the author.

2 thoughts on “Reframing Technology in Student Affairs

  1. Brian Bourke

    I agree that technology has been a key area in which student affairs pros need to develop competencies for some time, and we’re over due in addressing it. But, I think we need to frame tech competencies in two ways:

    1. I really like how you’ve phrased this:

    “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.”

    2. My addition/take:

    “Technology competency include the knowledge, skills, and attitudes need to leverage technology to promote, foster, and enhance student engagement regardless of the modality of participation in higher education.”

    Technology competencies are the ONLY way student affairs professionals will be able to play a role with growing cadre of online learners (I shared some thoughts on this on my blog http://bbourke.blogspot.com/2014/03/student-affairs-role-in-online-higher.html). We need to frame tech competencies beyond the ability to use applications and hardware effectively, but part of tech competency needs to also include the big picture – looking beyond the immediacy of using tech to get our work done to understand the integration of technology in the lives of students, faculty, parents, and other stakeholders.

    Kudos to you, Joe, for putting your ideas out there for this critical element of student affairs practice. I’m excited that folks like you are providing leadership in pushing this conversation forward. But, as a faculty member in a higher education and student affairs graduate program, I hope that my faculty colleagues and I are invited to join in these discussions in meaningful ways. After all, the graduate programs (and the faculty who teach in them) will be held accountable for the development of this competency for new professionals.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Likely Scenario with the (Near) Future of Student Affairs Technology | Joe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology LeadershipJoe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology Leadership

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