Category Archives: Student Affairs Tech

Student Information System & Services Design Considerations

“We design for end-users and we (developers) are not the end-users” – this was a quote I once read in a software development book. In designing student information systems and related systems, the customer perspectives, which include students, staff/faculty, and parents cannot be ignored. This concept may sound simple and naive but within the realities of a bureaucratic campus, it’s very easy for staff, including myself, to forget the end-users of the systems. Politics, financial constraints, mandates, siloed thinking, and personal motivations of those involved in the process impact the decisions driving the project  and derail from the purpose of the systems. The customer perspective is different from campus providers. While the campus may be divided into organizational hierarchies and divisions for bureaucratic reasons, customers may not necessarily view their college experience based on how the campus is organized. Websites generally reflect the structure of the campus bureaucracy. Lack of coordination, conflicting priorities and misunderstood policies can lead to disjointed systems, inconsistent user interfaces, and isolated/duplicate data.

Keeping the customer perspective and needs in mind, thinking holistically, and designing systems to minimize/eliminate pain points at the “moments of truth” when customers interact with the system, are considerations included in the diagram below. Click on the image to view the full size version.



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.”

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Failure (May) Lead You to Where You Should Be

This is a story of  how I came to be in my current position in student affairs. It’s a story of how a “failed” plan towards  a career in student affairs via graduate school led me to an alternate path to a career I truly enjoy and one  even better than I could have ever imagined.  I share my story with the message that sometimes, life has an interesting way of getting you to a place where you should be.  How you get to where you should be may not always be the route you intend to take.

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Lessons Learned as a “Change Agent”

I have experienced two major technology shifts in my career: the web in the late 1990’s and social media, cloud and mobile in the last few years.  In both periods, I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities in my organization to be an early adopter/implementer of these technologies.  Along the way, I learned some lessons I carry along with me and I share with my team  in how to have some success when it comes to leading change.

  • You need champions/advocates and adopters. You need allies.
  • Distribute the work AND accolades.
  • Recognition should be the byproduct, not the goal.
  • Don’t ignore detractors, but don’t let them stop you either.
  • Turn your detractors into your allies and you may have your strongest advocates.
  • Learn to know when to ask for forgiveness and/or permission.
  • You’ll need a plan, but don’t let the plan stifle progress.
  • Better to make mistake moving forward than stagnate and do nothing.
  • Embrace ambiguity.
  • Know that you will make mistakes from time to time. Don’t dwell on them.
  • Learn. Always Learn.
  • Politics do matter.
  • Develop thick skin. You will be criticized.
  • Speak in the language of those you’re trying to convince.
  • Ask why would folks want to invest time and resources.
  • “No” is not permanent.
  • Have fun. Hard to sustain energy for a long time if you’re not having fun.
  • Anticipate tomorrow’s needs and build solutions for them.
  • Look outside your organization/industry to gain perspective, inspirations.
  • Dream.
  • It’s more than technology. It’s about people and culture.


In your experience, what else would you add?


Maintaining the Core Mission, Keeping Up With Trends

The mission statement of the UCSB Division of Student Affairs, the organization I work for, has not changed since 1996, as far as I can tell.  Earlier this evening, I was looking at the original website for the division I created in 1996 via Wayback Machine and noticed the exact mission statement we have on our website now.  While our core mission has remained constant, the ways our various units and the division conduct our business have changed throughout the years. Shaped by technological advances including the internet,  infrastructures (virtualization, storage, networks), development tools,  as well as budgetary constraints, mandates and the demands of our students,  I think it’s safe to say our organization went through (and still going through) a technology (r)evolution.  My organization, in my opinion, is an example of how an organization can evolve and keep up with trends while maintaining its mission. This is not to say that keeping up with the trends has not had its challenges and resistance, but guided by the principle of innovation set by our Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young, we have been generally successful. When I started as a web developer in 1996, Dr. Young shared with me a principle I have used throughout my career. He told me “I’d rather have us moving forward and make mistakes along the way than to stagnate.” This is the same principle that has allowed our division to commit to technology as a key component of our division.

Throughout this period of transformation, I have seen the adoption of new technologies in virtually all aspects of our organization.  Just recently, I compiled a list of the systems (pdf – 4.55 mb) we have developed and implemented throughout the last 15 years along with some legacy mainframe applications we still support.  The more than 120+ information systems/web sites are products of a commitment towards technology that the leaders of our organizations made 15 years ago.  Some of the notable systems in our portfolio include:

  • Integrated electronic medical system consisting of several vendor solutions for  our student health service and counseling services
  • Enrollment management systems including online application status/statement of intent to register, electronic grades submission, academic progress, online application review, online catalog, course enrollment, document management system
  • Student services systems including disabled student program online system (notetaking, proctoring management), alcohol/drug program enrollment management, online advising notes system
  • Online events ticketing, recreation program integrated system including online course enrollment

A part of that commitment is to create a central computing department within the division which grew from approximately 5 staff to more than 40 today. The organizational chart has changed several times throughout the years to respond to the changing priorities and needs.

As the trend towards greater adoption of consumer technologies (social media, cloud, mobile) in student affairs continues, along with the increasing budgetary constraints, changing student demographics and greater financial burdens to students, our organization is now having to adapt to the expectations of our socially networked and mobile students.  This requires a move towards social business, integrating social networking technologies as part of our business processes.  As it was in 1996 when web became a serious business tool in our organization, it took some time for the entire organization to recognize the value of the web. A conclusion I’ve come to given my experience throughout this technology (r)evolution is that the pace of innovation moves at the speed of the organization. Undoubtedly, our organization will continue to remain dynamic and accommodating to new trends consistent with our mission.