Issues and Considerations with Evolving Student Affairs Technologies

Here are some technologies I think will become more integral parts of student affairs business in the next years – internet of things, wearable computing, big data, analytics, social media, mobile, and cloud. Of course, some of these technologies are already in place but internet of things, big data, and wearable computing will become even more significant in how student affairs organizations will do business and communicate with our students and customers. The future trend will evolve towards greater personalization in how information/services are delivered and what information is made available based on context. Can you imagine the possibility I wrote about in this post? The changing student population (non-traditional, international, veterans, …), political pressures for accountability in the midst of increasing tuition costs, and technology advancements are just a few variables that will shape the use of technology in student affairs.

While I can discuss the specific uses of the technologies I mentioned above, I’d like to focus more on the topics that we, as student affairs and IT professionals, must keep in mind as we consider the use of new technologies. This blog post will explore some of the the challenges involving the use of new technologies and it will also discuss some considerations to keep in mind when it comes to the effective use of technology in the context of student affairs.

One of the challenges in predicting about the future of anything is that basically, does anyone really know about the future? One can only look at potential scenarios based on history, current events, and factors (political, economic, social, technology, environment, legal – PESTEL) at different levels (local, national, global) and make some assumptions. In the world of student affairs and higher ed technology, another challenge is trying to determine at what point to adopt new technologies as part of the way we do business. Of course, for the adoptions of new technologies to happen at the institutional level, individuals who have the authority to allocate resources towards these efforts must be convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks and that these new technologies add value to the goals of the institution. In some cases, these individuals might not even be motivated by institutional goals and risk/value analysis, but rather, the questions are more personal – “what’s in it for me?” and “does this add more work for me?”

Another topic that’s also central to the use of technology in student affairs is the concept of high touch/high tech in how we conduct our business, particularly in working with students. But technology cannot and should not replace all our interactions with our customers, but rather complement them, as I discussed in this blog post.

I offered the challenges above because as we move to a likely scenario of what student affairs technology may look like in the near future, I think we can learn from lessons of the past. Consider the following responses I’ve received in my effort to introduce new technologies at my institution. These are sentiments from some of my IT colleagues and business users.

~1996 – “What do we need web sites for? They’re a fads. We have brochures.”
~2007 – “Social media? They’re a fads. Security risks.”
~2009 – “Mobile? Students don’t uses mobile. They’re fads. Security risks.”
~2012 – “Cloud? Our data center is more secure. They’re fads. Security risks.”

History shows that while platforms/tools within the types of technologies mentioned above may change (remember MySpace, Second Life), it seems to me these technologies will be around for a while and that they’ve become integral components in student affairs organizations. They’ve transformed how we do business. Here’s the reality – there are security risks involved in making data available online so as technology providers and end-users, this risk must always be considered. Furthermore, the use of technology in general introduce issues related to ethics and privacy. These must also be addressed.

As the idea of incorporating internet of things and wearable computing into student affairs become a wider discussion, I suspect, I will receive the same reactions as above – “They’re fads. Security risks. No one use them. They’re toys.” The problem of that response is that by rejecting the possibilities (maybe even inevitability) is that it takes time to learn about these technologies, and even longer to implement them. From IT perspective, the design and approach to new systems must also change. Consider the idea that user interfaces are no longer limited to screens but now include voice (aural) like Siri and Amazon Echo, gestures such as Leap Motion, wearable computing such as iWatch and Google Glass, as well as through geo-location like iBeacons.

Even a more significant challenge is that there’s a mindset as well as practical skills and knowledge within the organization that must evolve along with the use of these new technologies.

By the time our institutions come to the realization that they’re behind the realities of the needs and wants of their customers, we are now having to play catch up. We find ourselves in reactive vs adaptive mode which could lead to ineffective/costly implementations and even worse, solutions that customers and end-users don’t find entirely usable. However, there’s also the danger of using new technologies for the sake of technologies. A key aspect, perhaps, the most important aspect in how technology is used in student affairs should be why we are using them in the first place. It is too easy to get caught up in the excitement of using new technologies because everyone is using them or there’s the sense that we could get left behind.  Finding the right time to adopt a new technology for use in our organization is indeed a difficult challenge.Perhaps, one way to approach the challenge above is keep in mind the goals of student affairs, student learning, development, and success, when discussing technology implementation and use. As I wrote in this blog post, student affairs organizations and professionals need to maintain the core mission and keep up with the trends.

Just this week, the proposed technology competencies was made available by NASPA/ACPA to the general public for feedback. That technology, which was previously a “thread” in the current list of competencies, is now a proposed competency is the right approach to addressing how technology fits into our student affairs roles as educators.  The summary of the proposed technology competency I think effectively puts into context of how technology can be used in the student affairs. The proposed competencies are constructed at a level that can be used across time and not geared towards specific technologies.

“The educational technology competency area focuses on the use of digital tools, resources, and technologies for the advancement of student learning, development, and success as well as the improved performance of student affairs professionals. Included within this area are knowledge, skills, and dispositions that lead to the generation of digital literacy and digital citizenship within communities of students, student affairs professionals and faculty members, and colleges and universities.”‘

The competencies and the efforts put forth by ACPA’s Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Committee ensure that technology use in student affairs is guided through the right frameworks.

For student affairs professionals to develop these competencies, organizations must commit to the culture of providing opportunities for staff (as well as students) to learn and practice them. This require technology leadership at the senior student affairs officers table and these technology leaders must have knowledge/skills that includes both student affairs/higher ed history, theories, contemporary issues and  enterprise technology level implementations.  Senior student affairs officers themselves must also accept the reality that they need to play the role as information technology managers.

Graduate programs must also play their part in educating future professionals about technology use in student affairs.

So, as we discuss the likely scenario of the future of student affairs technology, let’s keep in mind lessons learned from the past, keep our core missions as guiding principles, and develop skills/knowledge as well as adopt an open-minded mentality that will allow us to adaptive and not reactive to be able to keep up with the dynamic needs of our ever-changing students we serve.

What’s your vision of the future of student affairs technology?


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