Tag Archives: student affairs technology

Student Affairs Technology Overview – More than Social Media

Technology is a common thread in all areas of student affairs. Consumer products and services such as social media, cloud, and mobile computing as well as enterprise technologies offered by IT units provide departments and staff with new ways to conduct business and provide services to their customers.

The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is appropriate when attempting to describe the complex and vast array of technologies used in student affairs. While certainly not complete, the diagram below is an attempt to represent a high level overview of technologies including processes and policies from my perspective. Click on image below to view full size diagram.

 

 

What else would you add?

Dean of Student Affairs Technology – A Proposed Role

How come there are Dean of Academic Technology positions but not a Dean of Student Affairs Technology? This is a question that crosses my mind from time to time. According to Kevin Guidry’s research on the history of student affairs and technology, technology has been a part of student affairs for decades but I’m not sure as to why such a position has not existed before. Maybe it does exist at some higher education institution but I am just not aware of it. After doing web search for “dean of student affairs technology”, I did not find any.  Given the role technology plays in all areas of today’s student affairs, I think there should be a position at the divisional level to provide strategic direction and leadership on how to best use technology towards the goals of student affairs, and be the bridge between student affairs units and IT department.  In my opinion, this is a position that requires theoretical/practical knowledge of student development issues and student services as well as background in technical management/leadership.

I conceptualize it as a position that combines the knowledge and experience of a Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO) and a Chief Information Officer (CIO).

  Folks who have these backgrounds are probably very limited.  However, I think it is a position that should be considered as student affairs’ dependency on technology continues to increase and become more complex. It is critically important that the application of technology be rooted on student affairs theories and practices, and not the other way around.

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Using Social Media And Mobile for New Student Orientation

Summer orientation programs for many universities have either started or about to start. These orientation programs introduce incoming students and their families to the university through a series of events and activities.  Universities can take advantage of mobile and social media to enhance the orientation experience of these new students. 

According to a study released in April 2012 on mobile internet use by Pew Research, 46% of American adults (18+) own a smartphone.

The research organization comScore estimates that 30% of mobile users, with almost 40 million in the US, access social networking sites daily on their mobile phones. Orientation programs can also benefit by using these technologies to gather attendee feedback as well as for their staff to document their experience.

Listed below are a few ideas to start with and I would love to hear your ideas as well.

Customer Support

  • “Listen” to conversations on social networks related to your program. Use Google Alerts to be notified either via email or to an rss reader when keywords you define appear on the web. Another site to use is SocialMention.
  • Answer questions on a facebook page or create an account/ hashtag on twitter for attendees to follow and use.
  • Provide real-time information such as change of venues/schedules.
  • Provide guides to attendees such as schedules and map for mobile devices. An example is Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) use of  Guidebook.

Marketing

Community Building

  • Use groups or facebook apps like Inigral Schools App to provide attendees the forum to connect based on interests and demographics. Providing new students the opportunity to connect even before they attend orientation makes their experience more comfortable as they already know other students.
  • Software like OrgSync provide universities  to build communities amongst incoming students as well. In addition, orientation staff can communicate with the students via email and text messages as well as collect feedback from orientation leaders and students alike.
  • Utilizing student leaders as social media ambassadors is a good way to welcome and introduce incoming students to the campus.

Event Coverage

  • Staff and attendees can use twitter backchannels to ask/share additional information related to the topic discussed at the events. Through the backchannels, Orientation staff can also get some feedback on how the attendees perceived the events.

Document Events/Experience

  • Orientation staff (including students) can document their experience, lessons learned for assessments and future staff using blogs and wikis.
  • Curate attendees’ comments/feedback/experience provided on various social networks using Storify. Christopher Conzen (@clconzen) uses Storify to document his NASPA Region II MidManager’s Institute experience.

General Campus Info/Other Uses

  • Provide campus mobile websites to campus services, maps, academic information (schedule of classes, course catalog) so attendees can browse while they are waiting for events and while they are registering for courses. Browse through a higher ed mobile directory by Dave Olsen (@dmolsen) to get an idea of how universities are using mobile.
  • Provide staff with mobile devices and mobile applications to conduct business away from their desks. These could include: check-in/check-out, access student information, communicate with other staff (via text, email, twitter, etc), access to schedules and other program info.

Orientation programs are where new students get introduced to their upcoming  university lives and academic careers.  Campuses should use this opportunity to educate the students with the concept of digital identity and how their activities online can have both negative and positive impacts on their careers, rather than waiting until they are about to graduate from their universities. Eric Stoller (@ericstoller) introduces this idea on his blog post  Digital Identity Development: Orientation and Career Services.

While I offer some suggestions on using social media and mobile for Orientation use, I am cognizant of the fact that not all students have access nor the resources and familiarity to utilize these technologies. Orientation programs should use these technologies appropriately and not severely disadvantage some students by not providing the essential services to all.

What other ideas can you suggest?

Student Affairs IT Should Be More than Utility

In any technology dependent organization, IT units provide the basic infrastructure and operations such as networking, productivity tools, security, and servers.  Given this role, IT is often considered a utility just like water and electricity. However, IT has to play a greater role in today’s world of student affairs and higher education. IT needs to fulfill a higher role of a driver/partner in an organization’s innovation strategy simply because 1) if we do not evolve, we will become increasingly irrelevant in this world of consumer technologies, and 2) the expectations and demands of our customers require that business and IT units must collaborate to provide solutions that deliver at the very least, a satisfactory user experience, in a timely manner.

Consumer-driven innovations require a shift in how IT organizations must approach our role or we may see ourselves increasingly irrelevant. Will IT organization completely cease to exist in the near future? I highly doubt it just because there are legacy applications that require maintenance and operations such as networking, and help desk will continue to be needed.  However, I wrote about the trends in student affairs technology and their implications to IT last year, including the business units’ increasing reliance/preference on consumer technologies like cloud, social media and mobile to do their business.  One of the complaints I generally hear in my leadership role within student affairs IT is that sometimes it takes too long for us to provide our customers with the solutions they need and sometimes we are seen as a department of ‘No!”. For this reason, some of them have found it more convenient to use external services that are often free and faster to implement, with or without IT involvement. The challenge for IT however is that the need to keep up with consumer-driven innovations is constrained by the need to maintain legacy systems and “keeping the lights on” with limited resources.

The needs of our technologically dependent customers require collaboration between IT and business units to provide a good user experience delivered in timely manner. Our primary customers, the students and our staff are predominantly within the “Net Generation” or the “Millennials” generally characterized by their use of technologies. Studies by Pew Research on their use of social networking sites and Educause’s ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2011 provide some statistics and insight on students and technology.  Along with these new technologies come expectations and needs that are different from even a decade ago when mobile, social media and cloud computing did not exist. For example, the ability to work remotely, for some of our staff, is no longer a convenience but a necessity. In addition, as we recruit more out-of-state students (including international students), the need to communicate and how we provide services for them have also changed. The use of web conferencing tools for group webinars and individual advising has increased at our university in the last year.

For IT to stay relevant in student affairs (and in any organization), we need to realize that the systems we design and build need to evolve from systems of transactions to systems of engagement. We need to design systems that go beyond automation and efficiency. Because of social media and mobile computing, our customers now expect real-time two-way communication conducted in multiple channels.  In addition, how we do business within IT and in student affairs in general must also change. I wrote this blog post last year about student affairs as social business. It’s a post about how the use of social media in student affairs will evolve so that it will no longer be limited to communication with our customers. Social media will be used for internal communication and collaboration to enhance the business processes of student affairs.

I do not know what new technology will be introduced three to five years from now so building systems based solely on current technology and what we can only guess to accommodate a few years from now is a challenge.  However, creating an IT organization that is agile and responsive to the dynamic business needs is required for student affairs IT organizations to go beyond its role as a utility to a role of  a driver/partner in student affair’s innovation strategy. To be agile and responsive requires IT organizations and its leadership to take full advantage of the collective knowledge of our staff and customers.  It is imperative that we recognize their creativity and provide a culture that rewards innovative thinking as well as processes that promote free flows of ideas from all levels of our organization.

 

[Related blog posts on technology in student affairs/higher ed]

 

Treat Co-workers as Human Beings, Not Just Units of Resources

I am able to accomplish my job effectively because of the informal relationships I have built and maintained throughout the years and the relationships I am building now.  My work relationships are based on trust, respect and loyalty. To be able to develop and maintain relationships require that I find connections with others, share vulnerabilities, the values and culture I represent. I am a member of a university community, a community of human beings who have lives outside work. I have worked in the corporate and start up worlds where I rarely interacted with my customers and when I did, it was through phone calls or emails.   I came back to student affairs twice because for me, there’s a sense of personal satisfaction, there’s a sense of purpose in what I do. I define myself as a student affairs professional working with technologies and not a technologist working in student affairs. To me, there is a big difference with that mindset. I don’t work for computers and policies. I work for my customers – the students, the staff, the parents, my staff and those who are involved with the university. I believe that my role is to assist the university in providing support and environment for students to develop holistically as scholars, leaders and citizens.

It is because of this mindset that I find it laughable and even feel offended when I come across ideas that in higher education, we are not supposed to talk and share about what we do outside work, the things we do during the weekends because somehow we are wasting time and company resources.  Collaboration and communication, to some, may mean talking exclusively about projects, tasks and timelines. I don’t agree with this approach.  If we are solely in the business of producing the same widgets requiring no innovation and creativity, then design automated processes where robots do the work.  If the concern is that the level of productivity will significantly diminish because of the chatters, I know from personal experience that within these chatters may come good ideas and relationships amongst co-workers/customers develop. In the long run, effective collaborations that yield productivity results come from them. I learned early on in my career that while I believe intrinsic motivation is internal, as a manager/leader of a team, I can help create an environment where they feel welcomed, nurtured and heard as human beings. In part, I do this by promoting time and space for my team to share what we do outside work, our personal interests. For me, recognizing what makes us passionate about life; our value systems are invaluable to me as a leader and as a team. It is my belief that leadership is not just about communication, it’s about making connections. As a team, shared purpose, accountability and vision are keys to success.

I do not know about other industries but I know that the developers/designers I work with are driven by sense of accomplishment, sense of autonomy and the sense that they are able to contribute. Put them in a box where they are not able to express themselves,  use command control as a model of management instead of influence, and I think I have a workplace that they do not enjoy.