Author Archives: Joe Sabado

Technology Responsibilities & Qualifications for Senior Student Affairs Officers

If technology is an essential component of today’s student affairs organizations, how is it that out of the 21 Chief Student Affairs Officers (CSAO) and Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) positions posted on I reviewed today (11/29/2015),  only 1 job posting has the word “technology” in the areas of responsibilities and qualifications?

I reviewed the job postings because of my curiosity on how technology is perceived by student affairs organizations today. I think about student affairs and technology daily because of my role as an executive director for a student affairs IT organization. My curiosity is further driven as I think about my recommendations for a recent external program review of a student affairs and academic affairs IT department and as I think about how the recent inclusion of technology as a professional competency as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators by ACPA and NASPA could shape the future of technology in student affairs. In addition, I’ve been thinking about how to develop a framework for student affairs organizations to adopt, implement, assess and evaluate technology.

Technology in student affairs can be viewed from many perspectives. For one, technology should be treated as a set of investment that can enable organizations to be more efficient, more effective, and can transform how they do business. As an investment, technology also needs to be managed holistically from an enterprise level, and not as disconnected and silo-ed systems.From this perspective, technology management and leadership requires senior student managers to be thinking about sustainable funding, governance structures and processes, and staffing. Technology as a set of resource to be managed is an idea I discussed in the article “CSAO as Information Technology Manager“.

Another view of technology in student affairs is the effective adoption and utilization by student professionals towards their duties as educators who responsible for student learning, engagement, development, and career success. The description of the technology competency is the following:

“The 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, faculty members, and colleges and universities.” (Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs, 2015, p. 33)

The description above as well as the outcomes stated for the technology competency area acknowledges the essential role technology plays in student affairs.

In addition, I was reading a book recently called Designing for Learning: Creating Campus Environments for Student Success  which also highlights the impact of technology to student communities. One of the chapters discusses “digital forms of human environments as they apply to the post secondary educational setting and focuses on the design and potential of these new technologies to effect the inclusion, security, engagement, and experience of community among students.” (Strange & Banning, 2015, p. xii)

Given the significance of technology in student affairs based on what I shared above, it is then puzzling to me as to why all of the job postings for senior student affairs officers positions I reviewed today, except for one, had no mention of technology as part of the responsibility and/or requirements.

I do think technology leadership needs to be present at the highest level of student affairs organizations. At the minimum, CSAOs cannot abdicate their roles as information technology managers and they must either develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions as described in the new technology competency area and/or include a position that can provide leadership to lead the effective adoption, utilization, and assessment/evaluation of technology in student affairs. Here are two ideas to consider:

What roles and responsibilities should CSAOs/SSAOs have with respect to technology?

Note on the cursory review process of the job postings:

I  did a search on using “Vice President Student Affairs” and the results returned 606 records but I reviewed the job postings that contained what could be considered SSAO and CSAO positions (Vice President, Associate Vice President).  Some of the postings provided a link to the institutions’ job boards but I limited my review on the description/requirements as posted on the website itself.


Highered IT Leadership Responsibility: Understand Customers/Users

I once read a line related to application development that goes something like this “we (application/web developers) design and build for end-users and we are not the end-users.” One of the biggest mistakes IT folks commit, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this, is designing products and services for ourselves rather than for the end-users. It’s too easy to get caught in this trap of designing for ourselves when we never leave the comfort of the office and do not understand those who will use the systems we build. To build effective systems, IT folks need to understand their end-users, those who will either benefit from the IT products/services provided or unfortunately, will suffer the daily consequences of having to use systems that are either ineffective or inflict physical/mental pains. If you think I’m being over-dramatic with the last sentence, imagine using a system that requires one to have to repetitively use the mouse to scroll up and down web pages hundreds of times a day. After awhile, you’ll develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, what about websites that are not responsive and so the width of the page is wider than the size of the screens the users are using which require them to have to scroll sideways to see the entire page. That could be very frustrating, right? How about web sites that are so heavy with graphics that it takes forever to display (yes, there are still folks around the world who are connected to the internet on slow networks) which leads to frustrations? Developers and designers need to keep end-users in mind when building effective applications that satisfy the needs of the end-users.

For higher ed IT leaders (or IT leaders in any industry), the burden of responsibility to understand those they serve and their needs are even higher because when at the leadership level, they are essentially dealing not only with technology but business, organizational, and cultural transformations as well. The quality of service and products provided by IT are influenced and driven by their leaders. Consider the following scenario: an IT leader thinks their organization’s role is to “keep the lights on” and so they pursue a strategy where they don’t pursue innovation and attempts to introduce new ideas, which at times could lead to disruptions in services, are punished. Consider another scenario where an IT leader thinks cloud, social media, and mobile computing are all fads and so he/she tell their staff to ignore these fads since they’re wasteful investments anyway.

The scenarios I described above are unfortunately not hypothetical. From articles, blogs, etc and from my conversations with other IT leaders, there’s a disconnect between IT and the business units when it comes to understanding what the priorities are and/or how services/products are designed. A big part of this disconnect is the lack of understanding when it comes to what business users want and need. Without understanding the business needs and the end-users, IT will use technology to drive the business needs rather than business needs defining what technologies are to be used.

How should IT leaders begin to understand their customers/users and their needs? In higher education, I’ve found several ways to do this:

1) Be part of campus strategic planning processes. When IT leaders gets involved after technology-related decisions have been made, these decisions often have to be re-visited as factors that are only evident to IT folks may not have been considered. IT leaders also need to think like business leaders instead of technologists so they can frame how their organizations can best address business problems and not just use technology for technology’s sake. The efforts of IT organizations must be driven by the missions of their campus and so IT leaders need to understand the missions and priorities of their campus.

2) Understand technology trends. IT leaders are often in no position to be technology experts given their responsibilities as strategists but they should be cognizant of technology trends that impact their campus and higher education in general. For example publications/orgs such as Pew Research, Educause, Gartner, as well as national higher education organizations from time to time have articles on future technology trends and technology use of different demographics. Attend conferences but not only technology conferences. IT leaders also need to go to conferences attended by the functional business users. For example, student affairs IT should attend conferences held by NASPA and ACPA, the two major student affairs organizations as well as conferences for specific functional units like AACRAO for enrollment management departments.

3) Get out of the office and walk around campus. Observe what devices students are using as they will probably be ahead of IT organizations, especially when it comes to consumer products like social media and mobile computing, and the next wave of computing – internet of things.

4) Get on social media. Some IT folks tell me with pride “I am not on social media because it’s a waste of time!” Frankly, I think that’s a misguided way of thinking. IT folks can learn a lot from the network of other technology and business experts/leaders not only in higher education but other industries as well. Personally, I follow the health care industry because of the similarities between that industry and student affairs, specifically the nature of high tech/high touch service must operate.

There are many more ways IT leaders can begin to understand their customers/users and it’s a continuous process. Not only is technology evolving faster than ever but the business challenges/opportunities in higher education driven by the needs of students, economy, and politics are so dynamic and complex that IT leaders cannot afford to be left behind and fail to understand those they serve.


Intelligent Students of Tomorrow – A Visual Diagram

The prospect of how students will engage and navigate their campus lives in the next few years is intriguing. The general availability of consumer technologies (social media, cloud, mobile, internet of things wearable computing) coupled with advances in enterprise computing practices (big data and algorithms, security, artificial intelligence (bots), application programming interfaces) can lead to students using technology in new ways we may not have even seen. The image below shows how different technologies can work together for students’ benefits. While I titled it “Intelligent Students of Tomorrow”, the reality is that “tomorrow” is now the present but the scenario presented in the diagram will become more common.

click image above to see pdf

click image above to see pdf

What’s your vision of tomorrow and how students will use technology?

My Knowledge System – A Visual Diagram

Learning is fun, isn’t it? It should be. One can learn from anyone, anywhere, and in many ways. Technology has made it so much easier to learn and connect with folks around the world. Through technology with the combination of web, mobile, cloud, social media, and other communication tools, one can pursue self-directed learning. One must also be curious, have a growth mentality, and be committed to improving oneself. Earlier today, I was thinking all the different ways I’ve used to learn about student affairs, technology, and about personal development. I used a mobile app called Mindly to do a visual diagram of the sources and activities I’ve done in recent years for formal and informal learning. The diagram is as you see below. Click on the image to view a bigger version of the diagram. If you’re to map yours knowledge system, what would it look like?


Blogging as a Medium of Expression for Marginalized Voices

The topic of social media and scholarship came up yesterday in the Research Institute of the NASPA Western Regional Conference in Oakland. One of the questions posed was “who defines legitimate source of knowledge?” As mentioned yesterday, when speaking with academic administration or faculty, one would probably cite academic journals and not blogs as they are not seen as scholarly publications. There are certain standards in the academy of what constitutes scholarly writing. I can accept the idea that blogs may not yet be considered as scholarly publications but what I will not accept is the idea is not blogs are not legitimate source of ideas, whether they are considered scholarly or not, especially ideas from those who have been marginalized and whose voices have not been heard.

As one who has felt marginalized throughout my life and my career, my blog offers me the voice to be heard. No one is interrupting me when I am in the middle of writing a sentence. I write when my mind is free and when I want to. I often write my posts between midnight and three AM. Dr. Larry Roper, the former Provost for Student Affairs at Oregon State said this when he spoke at UC Santa Barbara years ago, “Please do not steal my pause…the best comes after the pause.” This is a challenge I’ve faced in my life as one who needs the time to think and find myself being interrupted in mid sentence when I’m speaking.

Even worse is that when I am expressing my perspective that may not align with mainstream thinking because of my upbringing and cultural background, some of my ideas are quickly dismissed. Social media, especially blogging, has allowed me to contribute to the conversations in the field of student affairs, higher education, and technology. It has also provided me the medium to share about my shared experience as an Asian-American. I know some of the topics I write about resonate with others as I get emails from others who tell me they can relate, including this recent post on my challenge as an Asian American leader and assertiveness.

I don’t apologize for my thoughts even as they may sound ridiculous to others. Why should I? I have a perspective like everyone else. Whether they are “right” or “wrong” is in the eye of the reader but they are perspectives nevertheless. I have gotten tired of having to wait for others to allow me to speak because I may not have the three letters after my name or because I don’t sit in a high enough position at the university. I think marginalized folks can relate to the frustration of being silenced or dismissed. Blogging has provided me the opportunity to contribute my thoughts and express them in a way I want to. When I blog, I don’t always know how readers will interpret them, and I know there are consequences to what I write. However, what I write are my ideas shaped by my experience and struggles. No one is going to tell me, nor should they, that my personal truth as the way I only see them is not valid.

When I started blogging, my intention was just to share my thoughts and I considered it as a public personal reflection. One of the unexpected outcomes has been the collaborations with other student affairs and technology professionals that share common interests with me. I’ve had discussions with others about the current and the future of student affairs and how technology should play in how we serve our students. As I’ve come to find out during these collaborations, there are other folks out there like me who have ideas yet they don’t have the medium to express them. For me, my blog has allowed me to contribute to the conversations and to connect with others.

If you’ve felt marginalized and have felt your voice silenced – consider blogging. No one’s going to interrupt your thoughts while you’re writing and yes, there are consequence to what you write, but at least you’re sharing your unique ideas for others to read. Your ideas are too valuable to be kept in your head!