This article was written in collaboration with Jimmy Howard, a colleague of mine from the University of Delaware. It was originally posted in the July 2010 Interchange newsletter, a publication from the ACPA Commission for Student Involvement.
Technology: Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. It would be hard to conceptualize our work without the daily intersection of technology in our practices. Emails between peers, employees, students, and parents are common place. The world of technology is daunting and overwhelming. There is no way to keep up with the newest technologies, web tools, or strategies; it may sound absolute, but technology is always evolving. As a pair we have prepared trainings, done presentations, and even consulted for few institutions; and we can’t manage to stay abreast of all the current technologies. That’s the nature of the world we live in and the only world our students know. Our students are multi-takers, constantly navigating change, and creating a culture of connectivity that most outside of their generation will never understand. However, despite the pace of technology, technology concepts are easier to grasp in the long term.
We believe that student affairs divisions are behind in their application of educational technology to enhance college students’ experiences. Educational technology refers to the use of technology for educational practices. The use of educational technology to enhance learning within-the-classroom, is common practice in K-12 schools. The students transitioning from this educational culture will be the next generation arriving on our campuses. Though some may doubt the impact of educational technology, many proven advantages exist. One advantage has been the increase of student success’ rates through the offering of dynamic strategies for differential learning styles (Carr-Chellman, 2005). Technology has also led to a richer diversity of thought between groups of learners and researchers, who are now able to share, develop, and collaborate on new ideas through the use of connective technologies (Lederman, New dawn or the perfect storm?, 2005). We also acknowledge that there are some disadvantages to technology. Rates of gaming, gambling, and online social site addictions are on the rise (Carr-Chellman, 2005; Farrell, 2005). New technologies require extensive time and resources from faculty and staff members, which could be directed towards our students. However, we believe that technology, if purposefully initiated and utilized, can enhance students’ experiences on campus.
As student affairs professionals, we need to have an understanding of national standards in educational technology, as well as a theoretical foundation for how to utilize technology. Each year, The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) publishes The Book of Professional Standards for Higher Education, which currently has sets of standards for 34 functional areas within higher education (such as Residence Life, Academic Advising, and Recreational Programs). Educational technology standards are currently in development; these set of standards will provide a framework for student affairs professionals to experiment and develop innovative approaches. We also recommend utilizing the constructivist theory of learning as the foundation of educational technology efforts for student affairs work. Lave (1988) suggests that for optimal learning to occur, individuals must feel that they are an integral part of the learning process. The constructivist view of learning espouses that knowledge is adapted by individuals as they construct it. Techniques such as role-plays, case studies, story telling, multimedia, simulations, and games are examples of powerful tools that cause this transformative learning.
We believe there are three spheres for the use of technology: administrative/daily tasks, connective, and educational. Technology has mostly been used in the administrative sphere as a way to deliver knowledge to students, rather than to enter into a partnership with students. Technology, whether it is used for records and registration, course management and delivery, or access and digitization of materials, offers enticing interfaces. However, the “mass digitization” of information poses a risk to colleges and universities, if it minimizes human interaction to a point where they see themselves as providers of information rather than knowledge (Lederman, 2005, ¶2). Often, this is the position of student affairs divisions. This “administrative” approach to technology, while effective, is not the most conducive way to engage our millennial students, and does not take into account effective learning mechanisms. The two spheres of technology that we feel that student affairs professionals should focus on in order to make a larger impact on learning are connective and educational.
Connective sphere of technology, refers to the social aspect that today’s technology provides. Social medias, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, allow individuals to share and communicate their experiences instantaneously with others. This level of connectivity is not seen as a determent from our students’ perspective; they also don’t perceive a separation between their online and “real life” personas. The space between the digital and real-world is enmeshed and not easily distinguished. It is important to understand how connective is used by your students on your campus if you plan to utilize it. Having a presence on Facebook is great, but if you are simply posting information, you are underutilizing the potential of social networking. Post a contest for the most messiest room on campus, with pictures submitted on the Facebook page. Create events that ask students’ input on campus trends or a campus issue. Create an online student services domain that allows students to ask questions regarding health, wellness, or leadership opportunities. It is also important to utilize your institution’s or other free online learning management systems, such as Blackboard or Sakai to create forums and chat rooms to assist student leaders in developing new ideas or to help them transition into a new position. Management of this may be integrated into your daily operations, but should be done judiciously. Ultimately, decide as a department what your goal is, and understand how your students use technology. If Twitter is used by most of your students, explore the type of presence the department wants online and how it will be managed.
The third sphere, educational, is where we feel student affairs professionals may contribute the most. We already use experimental learning techniques in our programming, supervision, and training. Translating those techniques to an online forum and implementing them requires a few additional steps for implementation, but have a much longer impact. For example, you can create scenarios for RAs to experience real-life scenarios in Second Life, a virtual online world where RA avatars can walk through a residence hall and interact with the space in a safe and secure environment. Online training modules (such as fire safety, crisis management, and housing operations) are another example of creating impactful e-learning environments. Elements of interactivity, an online “expert”, and self-assessment tools may be developed to maximize students’ learning of the content. Implementing these technologies may require collaboration from your IT department or Center for Teaching and Learning centers on campus. If those offices don’t exist or if collaboration proves to be difficult, go online and look at what other institutions are doing. Review open-source software that can make your goals a reality. Again, you and your department need to reflect on your student culture and the goals you are trying to achieve. Developing online modules that are simply posted on your department’s website may not attract the type of attention you want. Get your student leaders involved and introduce modules at student leadership meetings. Just because the approach is online doesn’t mean we should sway away from engaging approaches in real-life. By putting technology in the forefront, students will respect and appreciate the value you as a department are making, regarding their educational experience.
We hope that we have presented a debate on how student affairs professionals should shy away from their focus on administrative technology practices to utilizing technology as a connective and educational component of their practice. In doing so, student affairs divisions will achieve several outcomes, including transparent alignment with the learning enterprise of their institution. It is our hope that readers feel empowered to take this information and develop strategies to enhance their work with students and discover new ways to maximize learning outside the classroom.
Carr-Chellman, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Global Perspectives on E-learning: Rhetoric and Reality. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Farrell, E. F. (2005a, September 2). Logging on, tuning out: When students lose themselves in online worlds, it can be hard to bring them back to reality. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A46.
Lederman, D. (2005, October 20). Beyond ‘toys, travel and food’. Retrieved from http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/10/20/technology.
Licinia “Lulu” Barrueco Kaliher, Ed.D., is a Ray Street Complex Director at the University of Delaware.