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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

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 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 using systems that are either ineffective or inflict physical/mental pain. 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 a while, you’ll develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, what about websites that are not responsive and the width of the page is wider than the size of the screens the users are using, which require them to scroll sideways to see the entire page? That could be very frustrating, right? How about websites 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 attempt to introduce new ideas, which at times could lead to disruptions in services, are punished. Consider another scenario where an IT leader thinks the cloud, social media, and mobile computing are all fads. So he/she tells their staff to ignore these fads since they’re wasteful investments.

The scenarios I described above are, unfortunately, not hypothetical. From articles, blogs, etc., and my conversations with other IT leaders, there’s a disconnect between IT and the business units when it comes to an understanding of the priorities and/or how services/products are designed. A big part of this disconnect is the lack of understanding regarding 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 get 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 to frame how their organizations can best address business problems and not just use technology for technology’s sake. The missions of their campus must drive the efforts of IT organizations, 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. Still, they should be cognizant of technology trends impacting their campus and higher education. For example, publications/orgs such as Pew Research, Educause, and 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 attend conferences attended by functional business users. For example, student affairs IT should attend conferences by NASPA and ACPA, the two major student affairs organizations, and 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 – the internet of things.

4) Get on social media. Some IT folks pridefully tell me, “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 in higher education and other industries. I follow the health care industry because of the similarities between that industry and student affairs. Specifically, the nature of the high-tech/high-touch services must operate.

There are many more ways IT leaders can begin to understand their customers/users, and it’s a continuous process. Technology is evolving faster than ever, but the business challenges/opportunities in higher education driven by the needs of students, the 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’ benefit. While I titled it “Intelligent Students of Tomorrow,” the reality is that “tomorrow” is now present, but the scenario presented in the diagram will become more common.

click image above to see pdf

click the image above to see the pdf

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

The Quantified Life

bodyMonitor_collage-filtered-1024x800Cloud, mobile, social media, wearable computing, and the internet of things are now making it possible for those who see the value of being able to quantify their lives for the sake of improving themselves. Devices and applications measuring financial, health, work, and social activities are available today. I’ve found that the data themselves don’t create change, but they do play in changing one’s behavior. There’s an adage that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” and that applies to me. There are elements built into these apps, such as timely alerts and gamification, which involve rewards and social interactions to encourage positive changes. Of course, whether those using these devices and apps know the security implications is another topic to be discussed. With that said, below is a partial list of apps and devices I’ve personally used as part of a movement called “quantified self.”

  • Automatic driving system. This is a combination of hardware (car adapter) that is plugged into vehicles and is accompanied by a mobile app to measure driving performance and vehicle diagnostics.
  • Mint mobile app. This app provides financial data and activities that is real-time and easily accessible.
  • Toggl time tracking tool. This app allows the user to track time spent on any activity. Some co-workers have started using this app to analyze where they spend their time at work. I’ve started using this recently, and I use it mainly to analyze how much time I spend studying and doing physical activities.
  • Fitbit activity tracker. This is a wearable device that tracks activities. It has an accompanying mobile app that can be synched in real-time to provide data such as several steps and reminders of progress towards daily and weekly goals.
  • iWatch. I like many features of this new device, including notifications of text, emails, etc. A set of features I like are health-related. It has sensors that can measure heartbeat and physical activities like walking. It also has reminders (via haptic feedback) to encourage certain good habits like standing up every hour.
  • Weightwatchers mobile app. This is an app that tracks food intake, activities, and weight. Given a stated weight loss goal, the app provides the user with several “points” per day. It also has a built-in real-time chat app that provides users access to support, so if there are questions about food and activities, a user can easily connect with staff using the mobile app.

Ultimately, a person has to be motivated to change for these apps to work. I remember a quote from an Anthony Robbins book called “Awakening the Giant Within” which I read way back in the mid-1990s as I was going through a breakup that still sticks to me today. The quote goes like this, “A person will only go through a change if the prospect of change is so good they’ll want to change or their circumstance is so bad they are forced to change.”

What apps do you use?

Image credit:

Issues and Considerations with Evolving Student Affairs Technologies

Here are some technologies I think will become more integral parts of student affairs business in the next years – the internet of things, wearable computing, big data, analytics, social media, mobile, and cloud. Of course, some of these technologies are already in place. Still, the internet of things, big data, and wearable computing will become even more significant in how student affairs organizations do business and communicate with our students and customers. The future trend will evolve towards greater personalization in how information/services are delivered and what information is available based on context. Can you imagine the possibility I wrote about in this post? The changing student population (non-traditional, international, veterans, …), political pressures for accountability amid increasing tuition costs, and technological advancements are just a few variables that will shape the use of technology in student affairs.

While I can discuss the specific uses of the technologies I mentioned above, I’d like to focus more on the topics that we, as student affairs and IT professionals, must keep in mind as we consider using new technologies. This blog post will explore some of the challenges of using new technologies. It will also discuss some considerations regarding the effective use of technology in student affairs.

One of the challenges in predicting the future of anything is that does anyone know about the future? One can only look at potential scenarios based on history, current events, and factors (political, economic, social, technology, environment, legal – PESTEL) at different levels (local, national, global) and make some assumptions. In the world of student affairs and higher ed technology, another challenge is determining at what point to adopt new technologies as part of the way we do business. Of course, for the adoption of new technologies to happen at the institutional level, individuals who have the authority to allocate resources towards these efforts must be convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks and that these new technologies add value to the institution’s goals. In some cases, these individuals might not be motivated by institutional goals and risk/value analysis, but rather, the questions are more personal – “what’s in it for me?” and “does this add more work for me?”

Another topic central to the use of technology in student affairs is the concept of high touch/high tech in how we conduct our business, particularly in working with students. But technology cannot and should not replace all our interactions with our customers but rather complement them, as I discussed in this blog post.

I offered the challenges above because as we move to a likely scenario of what student affairs technology may look like, I think we can learn from past lessons. Consider the following responses I’ve received in my effort to introduce new technologies at my institution. These are sentiments from some of my IT colleagues and business users.

~1996 – “What do we need websites for? They’re fads. We have brochures.”
~2007 – “Social media? They’re fads. Security risks.”
~2009 – “Mobile? Students don’t use mobile. They’re fads. Security risks.”
~2012 – “Cloud? Our data center is more secure. They’re fads. Security risks.”

History shows that while platforms/tools within the technologies mentioned above may change (remember MySpace, Second Life), it seems these technologies will be around for a while and that they’ve become integral components in student affairs organizations. They’ve transformed how we do business. Here’s the reality: security risks are involved in making data available online, so as technology providers and end-users, this risk must always be considered. Furthermore, the use of technology introduces issues related to ethics and privacy. These must also be addressed.

As incorporating the internet of things and wearable computing into student affairs becomes a wider discussion, I suspect I will receive the same reactions as above – “They’re fads. Security risks. No one uses them. They’re toys.” The problem with that response is that rejecting the possibilities (maybe even inevitability) takes time to learn about these technologies and even longer to implement them. The design and approach to new systems must also change from an IT perspective. Consider the idea that user interfaces are no longer limited to screens but now include voice (aural) like Siri and Amazon Echo, gestures such as Leap Motion, wearable computing such as iWatch and Google Glass, and geo-location like iBeacons.

Even a more significant challenge is that there’s a mindset, practical skills, and knowledge within the organization that must evolve along with using these new technologies.

By the time our institutions come to the realization that they’re behind the realities of the needs and wants of their customers, we are now having to play catch up. We find ourselves in reactive vs. adaptive mode, which could lead to ineffective/costly implementations and, even worse, solutions that customers and end-users don’t find entirely usable. However, there’s also the danger of using new technologies for technology’s sake. Perhaps the most important aspect of how technology is used in student affairs should be why we are using it first. It is too easy to get caught up in the excitement of using new technologies because everyone is using them, or there’s the sense that we could get left behind.  Finding the right time to adopt new technology in our organization is a difficult challenge. Perhaps, one way to approach the challenge above is to keep in mind the goals of student affairs, student learning, development, and success, when discussing technology implementation and use. As I wrote in this blog post, student affairs organizations and professionals must maintain the core mission and keep up with the trends.

This week, the proposed technology competencies were made available by NASPA/ACPA to the general public for feedback. That technology, previously a “thread” in the current list of competencies, is now a proposed competency is the right approach to addressing how technology fits into our student affairs roles as educators.  The summary of the proposed technology competency, I think, effectively puts into context how technology can be used in student affairs. The proposed competencies are constructed at a level that can be used simultaneously and is not geared toward specific technologies.

“The educational technology competency area focuses on using 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, and faculty members, and colleges and universities.”‘

The competencies and efforts ACPA’s Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Committee put forth ensure that technology use in student affairs is guided through the right frameworks.

For student affairs professionals to develop these competencies, organizations must commit to the culture of providing opportunities for staff (as well as students) to learn and practice them. This requires technology leadership at the senior student affairs officers’ table. These technology leaders must know/skills that include student affairs/higher ed history, theories, contemporary issues, and enterprise technology level implementations.  Senior student affairs officers themselves must also accept the reality that they need to play the role of information technology managers.

Graduate programs must also play their part in educating future professionals about technology use in student affairs.

So, as we discuss the likely scenario of the future of student affairs technology, let’s keep in mind lessons learned from the past, keep our core missions as guiding principles, develop skills/knowledge as well as adopt an open-minded mentality that will allow us to adaptive and not reactive to be able to keep up with the dynamic needs of our ever-changing students we serve.

What’s your vision of the future of student affairs technology?

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