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Social Media

Student Affairs Digital Technology for Student Success

How does digital technology contribute to student success? To answer this question, one must first define what student success means. When I’ve asked higher education professionals on social media and on my campus, a singular definition seems elusive. Cuseo (n.d.) offers some commonly cited definitions, which include:

  • student retention
  • educational attainment
  • academic achievement
  • student advancement
  • holistic development

The last definition, holistic development, is the idea that a student develops as a “whole person,” and they include multiple dimensions. These dimensions include development in the following areas: intellectual, emotional, social, ethical, physical, and spiritual.

Academic and co-curricular programs, student services, enrollment management services, and other administrative services offered by higher ed institutions are aimed studentlifecycleto support and promote student learning, development, and success. Throughout the entire student life cycle from prospect to alumni stage, technology is used by staff and faculty to communicate and engage with students and for administrative operations, and technology is used by students for activities inside and outside the classroom as well.

WCET (2002) classified student services offered for online learners in the following categories:

  • academic services suite
  • communications suite
  • administrative core
  • student communities suite
  • personal services suite

While technologies have changed and new ones have been introduced since 2002, the general categories described above are applicable today.

At UC Santa Barbara, digital technology has become integral to how student affairs and the campus provide effective student services in all phases of the student life cycle and the student services categories above. Just some of the online services offered at UCSB include the following:

Admissions Applicant Status Portal:

Applicants can 1) view the status of their application, including personalized messages and a checklist of the steps to enrollment, 2) submit a SIR (Statement of Intent to Register) with eCheck (ACH) payments, and a trigger to the creation of the student record, 3) update personal information, and 4) navigate to different web sites outside of Admissions (such as Statement of Legal Residence and Financial Aid Status) without having to re-authenticate.

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) System:

Counseling Center and Student Health Service use the Electronic Medical Record for client/patient scheduling, reporting, case notes, client surveys, and holistic student healthcare. The system is also used for practice management, electronic health records (EHR), medical claims processing, insurance management, and reporting.

Transfer Evaluation and Articulation System

The ‘Transfer Evaluation and Articulation System’ is part of a suite of ‘Progress to Degree and Advising applications. It is used by Admissions staff to apply UCSB transfer articulation rules to incoming coursework, to evaluate the coursework as transferable or not, to adjust or limit unit amounts, to set course indicators and attributes, such as repeats and honors, to apply courses toward General Education requirements as exceptions, and to produce a ‘New Student Profile’ audit report (using the DARS ‘Engine’ (see ‘Darwin’) behind the scene) and archive it as a snapshot of the student’s status toward General Education and University requirements completion at the time of matriculation. TEAS is most commonly known for creating New Student Profiles and Credit Memos.

Financial Aid Portal:

The My Aid Status Financial Aid Portal allows students to manage their financial aid, including viewing their FAFSA status, downloading dynamically ‐ generated documents required for processing financial aid, viewing their award letter, accepting student loans, viewing the history of disbursements from the billing office, and printing Federal work ‐ study referrals.

Graduate Education Application Review (AppReview) System:

This system is the staff/faculty counterpart to the online student application. This system is used by the academic department and Graduate Division staff to administer applications and by faculty to review and score incoming applications. Using this application, department staff can modify applications, categorize and otherwise prepare applications for review by faculty, and submit application decisions to Graduate Division. AppReview also supplies the administrative capabilities for department staff involved in financial recruitment offers. Such features include nominating applicants for the Central Recruitment Fellowship Competition, reviewing award results for the same, and reviewing NSF Extension awards. Graduate Division staff use this application to process admissions decisions, review/approve admissions exception requests, manage/reconcile application payments, and review fee waiver requests.

Gaucho Online Data (GOLD) Student Portal:

Gaucho Online Data (GOLD) is used by over 22,000 current and former UCSB students and provides them the ability to: view their schedules, important deadlines, messages, grades, and academic history; find and register for classes; manage their enrollment in course waitlists; update contact information;  view new student profile and transfer credits; perform automated progress checks and degree audits; order official and unofficial transcripts.

Student Information Systems & Technology Information Systems Portfolio provides a more comprehensive suite of information systems.

Moving forward, the effective use of digital technology in student affairs must consider the changing demographics of the students and the staff and faculty, their needs and expectations of how they use technology, and the availability of services offered by institutions. With social media, cloud, mobile, wearable computing, and the internet of things, students and staff are now expecting technology to provide them access to their information anytime and anywhere. Student affairs practitioners, higher ed staff, and faculty, in general, must develop technology competency, like the one offered by ACPA and NASPA as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators, to utilize the benefits offered by technology in ways that are ethical and secure. Senior Student Affairs Administrators and other campus administrators must play a more active role in managing and leading the use and investment of information technology. Research and scholarship which reflects the realities and possibilities of the digital world of higher education, including this dissertation by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, Developing Digital Student Leaders, must also drive and inform student affairs practice.


Cuseo, J. (n.d.). South Carolina. Student Success: Definition, Outcomes, Principles, and Practices. Retrieved December 9, 2015, from

Shea, P., & Armitage, S. (2002). Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Retrieved December 9, 2015, from

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 visualize 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. What would it look like if you were to map your knowledge system?


Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) on Social Media

I was asked by a colleague once whether it’s worth it for high-ranking student affairs leaders such as deans and other senior student affairs officers (SSAO) to be spending their time on social media given all the amount of work they must do. This question is like asking whether any SSAO should even be attending student activities on campus to engage with students, build relationships, or at the least listen (“lurk”) to get a sense of what students are talking about given the amount of work they must do. Can you imagine any SSAO making any effective decision impacting students by spending all their time in their office and not having any contact with them? One would find that concept ludicrous, right?

One only needs to look at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Yik Yak and Yeti on any given day to see how much college students use social media to express themselves, communicate, and even study together. SSAOs would be wise to spend some of their time just “lurking” to understand what students are talking about. They would see patterns of issues given the time of the year. They would also see the behaviors displayed on social media that should drive the educational programming their campus should be doing. They would see opportunities when they can provide assistance or encouragement to students needing some help. They would also see feedback on programs and services their organizations provide. If SSAOs want real-time and unfiltered feedback, they might want to read students’ reactions on social media from time to time. There are students on social media who are not members of the active and engaged student leaders from whom SSAOs interact and get feedback. Social media provide SSAOs with a wider set of perspectives. even those they may not want to read and see beyond what they typically get from student leaders.

Another important reason why SSAOs should spend some time on social media is. Because of their influential position within their organization, SSAOs can shape their organization’s attitude towards the use of social media and technology. Through their use of social media, SSAOs can message their organizations that social media does have a beneficial role in their jobs and it’s okay to use social media in the workplace. A few years ago, I encountered strong resistance from some people in our student affairs organization about using social media in our workplace. I was frustrated because while I realized the value of social media in communicating with students, I had difficulty convincing my colleagues to accept social media as part of our work. I asked our then Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Michael Young, to sponsor a divisional social media initiative. As part of that effort, Dr. Young and his office created his Twitter account and a department Facebook page. In addition, he also sent a memo to the division explicitly encouraging the staff to embrace social media as a way to communicate with our students. Dr. Young’s support of social media is documented in this parents newsletter (2012) article about our division’s use of social media. According to Dr. Young,

“We have to try to keep up with our students. We have to continue to evolve so that we can thoughtfully and adequately serve them.” He also said, “Our strength is our ability to communicate with our students where they are and in their language,” explaining that “organizations that are aligned with their interests, instead of the interests of the broader community they serve, will fail.”

In student affairs, we have a saying that “we need to meet where students are.” Our students are on social media. SSAOs failure to engage on social media can mean failure for student affairs organizations to thoughtfully and adequately serve them, as Dr. Young once said.

Keeping Your Seat at the (Virtual) Table

seat-at-the-tableAs a leader of an organization and an advocate for students and staff alike, I have the responsibility to convey the concerns and issues facing my constituents to the campus at different levels of conversation. As part of the responsibility, I am always careful, though not always successful, in making sure I carry myself in a way that, even when I disagree with colleagues and those I deal with, my presence and what I share add value to the conversations. While I certainly play the role of agitator at times, I try to be respectful and carry myself in a way that others do want to engage me in conversations. Each interaction with another person is an opportunity to build relationships and trust, or it could just be when others decide they’d rather not deal with you because you’re perceived as a “smart jerk,” “know-it-all,” rude,  or just simply too unreasonable. What good am I as an advocate for students, for my organization, and for myself if I am not at the proverbial table to be part of the dialogue? Understanding the proper moments when to push buttons, how to communicate, and battles to fight are part of one’s political acumen that contribute to one’s reputation and influence.  This is the same perspective I carry with me on social media.

Social media can be a place for productive dialogues. Experts and novices alike can express their opinions in ways that can reach significant numbers of people and engage in dialogues with those who may share their perspectives and those who may have opposing opinions. Social media offers those who may not have avenues to express themselves in their non-digital worlds a place to be part of conversations. In the world of student affairs, #sachat and the weekly chat session with the same hashtag have become a place for lively discussions amongst student affairs professionals and students on personal and professional topics. In a sense, participants have a seat at the proverbial virtual table, a place they may not have at their campuses.

Just as it is on non-digital interactions, how one acts on social media may lead to others wanting to continue engaging with or choosing to disengage with you. This disengagement can be in the forms of unfollowing on Twitter, unfriending on Facebook, or blocking on Yik Yak. It may only take one message/interaction to lead to the actions above. I’ve had to do the above actions to a few individuals because I found them too difficult to deal with. It isn’t because I disagree with their perspectives but because of their arrogance and sometimes vulgar messages that led me to stop interacting with them. I’ve also noticed that individuals who may develop a negative reputation for being argumentative, a smart jerk, know-it-all, or just plain rude are ignored. I will not cite specific examples, but anecdotally, I’ve observed that even when a post/message comes from these individuals is ignored.

Having a seat at the (virtual) table is a position I value. As mentioned above, each interaction is an opportunity to build trust and relationships and to continue having a seat at the (virtual) table. However, losing that privilege just takes one message, post, or interaction.

image credit:

The Need for More Conversations on Character

My use and observation of posts and comments (yaks) on Yik Yak, an anonymous geo-location-based social media app, leads me to believe that perhaps we should have more discussions on the values of having good moral character. What constitutes a good moral character may be subject to debate. Still, I believe that there are certain attributes/actions we should consider as we engage on social media and in other forms of interactions. It seems to me that being kind, helpful, and not harmful even when we are engaged in highly charged conversations are basic principles we should consider and practice, regardless of whether others recognize us. Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves more of how to act and aspire to be individuals that make our world a better place.

In the world of student affairs, there are a lot of discussions regarding reputation and authenticity. They’re related to the concept of personal branding and crafting our persona and how we choose to present ourselves to our colleagues, students, and future employers. Can we be authentic, though if we are crafting our reputation and personal brand in anticipation/expectation of how others perceive us? In short, our efforts to craft our reputation are based on how we want others to perceive us. We craft ourselves as mavericks, radicals, out-of-the-box thinkers, innovators, non-conformists, passionate, dedicated professionals, and crusaders of certain causes, amongst other attributes. I’m not entirely sure which of these presentations are genuine or just facades.

On Yik Yak, the identities of those posting comments are anonymous, so one cannot build a reputation. What is interesting, though, is that even on this anonymous platform, the comments range from outright despicable and malicious to the kindest, most encouraging posts. Why is that? What drives a person to share the types of comments when their reputation is not a factor? I personally have had to block some individual(s) because of the vulgar and disgusting comments they post. I can still see their comments after I’ve blocked them (they appear as “This reply has been deleted.” to others), and consistently, they post the same types of malicious comments.

There are other users. However, that post supportive and encouraging comments as a reply to a yak that expresses the need for support. For example, several times, I’ve seen yaks from individuals who are depressed or considering suicide. Immediately, other users reply, sharing their experience and support and encouraging them to consider seeking professional help through our school’s counseling services.yikyak_support

I’ve also had civil and respectful debates about national and local events and issues that I can’t have on Twitter or Facebook because those involved in these debates can be honest about their perspectives without fear or retribution or being shamed.

As we educate ourselves and others on how to effectively use social media, let’s go beyond the mechanics and how to build a digital reputation. Let’s remind ourselves what it takes to be good human beings.

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