Category Archives: Student Affairs IT

Student Affairs and Innovators DNA

I have been reading a book called The Innovators DNA and I find myself thinking how the concepts related to innovation described in this book apply to student affairs. The premise of the book centers around the idea that innovative organizations are led by innovative leaders. The book talks about delivery (questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting) and discovery skills (analyzing, planning, detail-oriented implementing, and disciplined executing) used by leaders to find new ideas and convert them to tangible solutions and products. While these discovery skills may be through through genetics, they can also be learned by understanding and practicing them.  Innovative leaders, they found possess more discovery skills while other leaders (professional managers) have more delivery skills. Dyer, Gregersen, & Christensen (2011), when they interviewed high level executives found:

“In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products, or processes, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is, they work inside the box. They shine at converting a vision or goal into the specific tasks to achieve the defined goal. They organize work and conscientiously execute logical detailed,data-driven plans of action.” (p. 31)

This another passage also notes the difference between innovators and managers.

“The key point is here is that large companies typically fail at disruptive innovation because the top management team is dominated by individuals who have been selected for delivery skills, not discovery skills. As a result, most executives at large organizations don’t know how to think differently. It isn’t something that they learn within their company, and it certainly isn’t something that are taught in business school. Business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not discoverers.” (p. 36)

 In contrast to the professional managers as described above,  Dyer, et al. (2011) note that disruptive innovators are motivated by these two common themes, “First, they actively desire to change the status quo. Second, they regularly take smart risks to make that change happen.” (p. 24) In addition,  innovative leaders, like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) look to hire those with similar attributes they possess. They build their companies by hiring innovative people, establish processes that promote innovation (experimentation), and  have guiding philosophies that support a culture which encourages employees to try new ideas.These philosophies include 1) innovation is everyone’s job, 2) disruptive innovation is part of our innovation portfolio, 3) deploy lots of small, properly organized innovation project teams, and 4) take smart risks in the pursuit of innovation.According to the book, these four guiding philosophies reflect the courage-to-innovate attitudes of innovative leaders.

While Dyer, et al. (2011) focus on disruptive innovators/companies and discovery skills, they do see the value of companies having teams that include members who have delivery skills. Ideally, these teams should consist of members who have complementary discovery and delivery skills as well as those with business, technical, and “human factors” (behavioral sciences) expertise. Collectively, they should be able to view problems from multiple perspectives.

Reading this book with the themes described above lead me to the following questions:

- Are student affairs graduate programs designed to prepare future professionals to be “deliverers” and not “discoverers”?

- Is student affairs  designed to work within established boundaries (mandates, legal requirements, guidelines, etc) and within “inside the box”? What are the incentives/punishments for going “outside the box”?

- Are SSAOs more focused on delivery instead of discovery and do they hire the same people with the same philosophies?

- Are the guiding philosophies in student affairs like/unlike the philosophies mentioned above when it comes to innovation?

- Are student affairs professionals generally more “deliverers” than “discoverers”?

What is your take on this topic? Do you agree with the premise of the book?


Christensen, Clayton M.; Jeff Dyer; Hal Gregersen (2011-07-12). The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Disrupting My Own Thinking

I don’t know about you, but I’m so busy at work just trying to keep up with what we need to build and maintain existing systems for our customers, it’s hard to see what’s coming ahead even a year ahead of us. Projects I work on take months, even a couple of years to build and I’m working on many of them at a time. I’m very busy managing. I think this is the issue posed by Clayton Christensen about disruptive innovation. Organizations miss emerging technologies/opportunities beyond their horizon because they’re too busy trying to meet the demands of their current customers. I can definitely relate to this.

If I don’t read books, blog posts, tweets, collaborate with folks outside work, I don’t think I would  even know about the larger issues and trends impacting higher education like MOOC, online learning, and student financial debt crisis. I work to satisfy the needs of our university students and our customers  but I read/communicate outside my university work to keep up with larger issues.

In a way, my interactions/experience with my personal learning network (PLN) which consists of higher education professionals and those outside higher education are what I use to disrupt my day-to-day, localized thinking. There are many ideas, programs I would like to implement at work but the reality is that I first need to satisfy what our customers demand and need. Does that mean I don’t think about new ways to meeting these demands? I absolutely think about new/improved ways, but they cannot be disruptive to a point where what I do severely impacts how they serve their customers in the process. They are incremental improvements. I believe in the idea of learning through failing, but “failures” do cost resources and money so when we implement or try new programs, we better start out with some thoughtful approach and define what we need to accomplish, we just can’t be trying new things just for the sake of experimenting. After all, our salaries and resources we use come from students and their families.

So, I go back to the idea of using my PLN and my experience outside my work to explore new ideas, to dream beyond possibilities, and to disrupt my own thinking. I was in with a twitter conversation about technology and graduate programs earlier tonight that got me thinking about the future of student affairs profession. I write this post, I am looking at my Pebble smart watch and waiting for my invite for a Google Glass. I’m thinking about buying this Estimote Beacon and combine it with Leap Motion to experiment with the idea of geo-fencing in my home. These are wearable and sensor technologies that I can’t see us using at work anytime soon (though I think they’ll be as common as smart phones the way it is now). But, it does not mean I can’t dream about what it may be like a few years from now either and imagine a campus so different from what I see now.


Learning Student Affairs Through IT

One of the benefits of working for a central student affairs IT department is that I get to work and learn about the different business processes of the different units within student affairs. I also learn about other units on campus like academic departments who are often our partners when it comes to the information systems we provide. More significantly, I learn about the sub cultures, issues specific to each department and those they serve. By working with these units for many years, I’ve been able to witness and be participate in these evolutionary changes and business transformations on our campus, changes that span the entire student life cycle including enrollment management services units, student services, academic services, and residential life.  Most of these changes have been responses to issues the departments and the university were facing at that point in time. By looking at when systems were placed into production and the reasons behind them, it’s quite possible to figure out the political, cultural, student demographics, and environment of the campus, or beyond, at that particular time. An example is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a program to track foreign students and scholars in the United States. It was a program we had to implement on our campus by 2003 because of a federal mandate. This holistic perspective of student affairs is a unique view that is probably only available to Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) as their positions are at the level where their scopes of responsibilities span multiple units.

Understanding the business processes is the window to my education on what student affairs is. My view of student affairs is that as a profession, we provide support for students on their personal and learning development while at our institutions. To understand student affairs, it is not enough to know what these units do. One must seek to understand the reasons behind them. This process involves learning about student development theories, history of higher education and student affairs, administration, governance, professional competencies, and topics specific to each section of student affairs. Because I did not attend a graduate program in student affairs and higher education, this process has been through self-directed learning, most of which comes from reading textbooks, journals, social media, and materials I can get my hands on.

To get a wider perspective of student affairs meant extending my experience and knowledge beyond UCSB student affairs where I work. Social media has made it easier to connect with colleagues from other institutions. It is through social media that I’ve developed my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I work for a research university and it’s been enlightening to learn from colleagues from community colleges, small liberal colleges, private, and other public institutions. While the theories an topics contained I read in textbooks may have come from decades ago, the lessons I learn from my other colleagues are present and often involves discussions about the future of higher education and student affairs. I even recently had the opportunity to visit another campus to do an external review of a student affairs IT department which further provided me a different perspective.

Learning about student affairs through IT may not be the conventional way, but I’ve come to appreciate the value of my experience working in IT when it comes to learning about student affairs. I also realized a long time ago that I also needed to combine my practical experience with theories to have a fuller understanding of student affairs. It’s an exciting time in higher education and technology is a major component and a driver with the changes happening in our field. Social media, mobile, cloud, big data, distance learning are technologies that have introduced new issues and opportunities to students and student affairs staff as well. It’s fun to learn these new technologies, but what is important is to understand the implications behind the use of these technologies. What do these technologies mean when it comes to how we perform our work, how we communicate with students, and how do they impact student development and learning? Working in student affairs IT is a good place to be a witness and be part of these changes.

Preparing for a Career Yet to Be Invented

Even the most skilled and brightest futurists in the 1990′s could not have predicted the upcoming massive changes in the first decade of 2000 in higher education brought upon by consumer technologies such as web, social media, cloud, and mobile computing. I still remember a job interview in the late 1990′s for a university web director position in which I was asked to present on my vision of the university in the next decade and the role of web and other technologies. Nowhere in my mindset were the consumer technologies that changed how we in the universities and students now do our day-to-day activities and business processes. I am intrigued and curious as to what the higher education of 2020 would be like. I read predictions such as this “Higher education in 2020: three key forecasts from new report” and this (“College 2020″)  as well as Gartner IT Predictions for 2014 and Beyond to get a sense of what’s to expect, though the accuracy of these long term predictions obviously remains to be seen. However, even as I remain cautious about the validity of these predictions, what I know is that I better keep up with the trends, even if these trends are not part of what could be considered as part of my job.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours with some student affairs directors brainstorming about communications in our division. I’ve been told in the past that our role as IT is to provide the tools and the departments are the ones who communicate with students. Frankly, I’ve never believed in the idea that IT is just a tool/utility provider. I believe the value of IT comes not only from the infrastructure we manage but as well as from the innovation and transformation of business processes that became possible because of the partnership we have with our business units to develop new systems and new processes to do our business. It is with this mindset that I approach communication and the role of IT. It is also with this mindset that I view my role as an IT manager/leader. I personally believe, to be an effective IT leader, I need to keep up with the preferences and demands of our students, our staff and other customers, including the way they would like to communicate. I need to keep up with technologies and the mindset that come along with them.

I was recently asked if IT should be involved in communications and marketing, to which I responded “I don’t see any reason why IT should not be.” Traditional thinking of IT probably does not include communications and marketing as part of their responsibilities but the way I see it, given that technology is such a big part of communication these days (as it has been in recent years) as well as in the future, IT folks better start re-considering this traditional view.

The increasing convergence between IT and marketing/communication led me to think about what my career in the future would be. A few years ago, the idea of a social media/communication/marketing position and a videographer reporting to me in IT would probably not have been an idea well accepted. After all, that’s not what IT does. It’s probably not a conventional arrangement to have these positions in IT in many organizations, even to this day. Thinking a few years ahead from now, I wonder how the role of IT will evolve.  Will IT, as an organization, be combined with other departments, like marketing and communication and be seen as part of digital service organization? With this evolution, how will my role and responsibilities change?  Ten years from now, will I have a career I would never have envisioned as it does not exist today?

As I think about the possibilities and the uncertainties of the future, what I do know and what I’ve committed myself to, is to continually learn and understand emerging technologies, the changing nature of higher education, the changing demographics of our students as well as their preferences and demands. Learning is a process and it takes time. Learning is a journey that’s not always straight line. Along the way, I’ve been introduced to ideas, people that I did not expect to meet. So, while I do not know what my career holds in the future, I will continue to prepare and learn towards whatever the destination will be.



Keeping The Conversation Going – Online Student Services and Learning

Online education is a hot topic in higher education today. The relationship between the teacher and students and the manner how learning happens are being redefined by technology. Through technology, teachers and students no longer have to be  physically present in same classroom at the same time.  Another area of the campus facing the same issue is student affairs. One question being asked is how effective are online  student services relative to  face-to-face interactions.  This article on in 2000 shows the issue of  technology and student services is nothing new.  As the article states, “the high-touch culture that has been the bedrock of student development practice for decades will be impacted by the advancement of technology both inside and outside the classroom.”

Continue reading