“Who in this room thinks that their student services website is very good or awesome?” said facilitator Eric Stoller during the NASPA 2013 Conference Unsession about technology and the future of student affairs graduate programs.
As I quickly typed Evernotes I raised my hand. Seconds later, I looked up and around the room as people giggled. Mine was the only hand in the air.
“Are from UBC?” said Eric.
“Yes,” I smiled.
I’m lucky to work at the University of British Columbia, where, in addition to having a pretty darn good student services website, our alignment of student affairs best practices and technology strive to meet our students where they’re at as learners with the tools they want to use. We can, of course, do a much better job of engaging students in real-time conversations as part of a thriving online community. After all, a Student Services website is just one small part of students’ experience at university. So, this is what we talked about during the unsession, which focused on the need for building the technology competencies of student affairs professionals.
Here are the three things that I found interesting and important from our discussion:
Un-Occupied Space is an Opportunity
No school is known as having the technology student affairs graduate program. And yet millions of students beam into formal, credit-granting courses as well as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). More and more of our students live their lives – and love their lives – on mobile devices, too. To paraphrase Eric, we need to pivot; holding our profession accountable for building technological competencies that support education, leadership development, community building, and health and safety is the next big thing, and there is a huge opportunity for early adopters in the world of student affairs grad programs who take-up this challenge.
The Medium is the Message
As a Canadian, I couldn’t resist a McLuhanism! The unsession conversation defined our students as primarily in-person, on-campus learners. Student development practices need to be supplemented with pedagogy, strategies and tools for learners to develop meaningful digital identities. Don Tapscott has a great line about people born after 1990 – he says that they grew up “bathed in bits.” Hyper-connectivity is expected by our learners. Sure, people born after 1990 do not account for all of our learners, but I argue that it accounts for most of them. And our profession certainly needs to adapt to this culture shift and the technology-driven expectations of our students.
Technology Must Be “More than a Thread”
This idea is Stoller-verbatim. It’s from a blog post he wrote nearly three years ago. This – ahem – conversation thread was the most difficult one more me to grasp during the unsession. I came into the unsession with the idea that math will answer a lot of the questions about technology that Eric was asking us: if enough students with wickedawesome tech skills complete student affairs grad programs then this will solve the problem of student affairs professionals lacking technological competency. I still think that this idea is logical; however, we’ll get there faster as a profession if technology is made a competency along with advising, helping, leadership, student learning, and all the rest of them outlined by ACPA and NASPA.
Because technology isn’t just the medium through which to enhance student learning, it’s becoming a key pillar in how people create their identity, build skills, learn ideas, and lead others.
How will you lead the technological change?
– John Horn is the Program Director for Graduate Student Career Development at the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers at The University of British Columbia