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Technology & Student Contact in Student Affairs: Married or Dating?


I was speaking casually with the Director of Student Life & Involvement today about Social Media and student contact, and while the conversation was fleeting, I was interested to how quickly we followed the logic through on what seems to be a consistent concern in Student Affairs.

When anyone in the field asked me to outline my ultimate career goals at this point in my life, I’ve often aimless drifted in describing anywhere between a Director of Student Life at a small private University, to a Dean, and even a Vice President of Student Affairs a a large public.  Needless to say, all over the place; however, what inevitably comes from this conversation is that the more ‘administrative’ your position becomes, often the more limited your student contact is.  In the field of ‘Student’ Affairs, this is often discouraging for many, hesitant to pursue advancement in the field and thus ultimately remain in the area they feel most passionate & engaged.  Point made.  Advancement in the field may reduce student contact. There are obviously outliers, but from my understanding, this seems the best blanket statement.

Next, and perhaps even more predominantly within the online communities forming in Student Affairs, is the idea that Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) are resistant to being convinced of the importance or benefits of Social Media & technology, especially in building online communities.  It is taking significantly more effort to build their interest in the networks forming then those more consistently engaged with students (based on the presumption that as you advance, you may lose student contact).

I think you may see where I’m headed.  I’m wondering where the ‘sell’ of social media is being lost for SSAOs.  Is it because those with more direct and consistent contact with Social Media feel more comfortable ‘playing on their territory?’ Maybe it’s that pros with more student contact are hearing more readily about new technology, becoming the ‘early adopters’ of the trend & technology, and once it has taken off, are already comfortable interacting?  Or even more directly, a combination; professionals working directly with students know that to be successful, they must anticipate where students will be in 2, or  3, or 5 years and know how to adapt to remain competitive from a professional developmental standpoint.  Maybe it’s none of the above or an unmentioned combination.

Worse, from conversations that I had with some SA professionals through the last few months, I’ve heard several say “What would people want to know?” My approach in answering the question has been different each time I try to respond; but none have been particularly successful.  And truthfully, it doesn’t appear that showing those great examples of SSAOs doing things well changes perspective; I can only assume that the ‘administrative logics’ side of things kicks in, realizing the change in mindset that would come with such a shift towards technology and social media.

Maybe it’s selling social not as a network or forum for professional development (at least initially) but as a shift towards increasing student ‘contact’ in non-traditional ways, engaging them in social media and technology. Connecting more directly to the pulse of campus, and explaining the benefits of being able to express a pride and interest in the lives of students as a brand, and not just as an administrator.  Reconnecting to their roots through technology- trading the paperback for the Kindle, so to speak; same information, same interaction, same purpose- different conduit.

This may be a wildly idealistic view on these trends, and in that sense, I guess all I can ask is an appreciation for my naivety.  Minimally, it appears that in the most innovative examples, this process and approach is becoming more successful.  Thankfully (from what I can tell at least), those who currently have lots of student contact and also consistently & effectively interact with online communities like Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, etc may soon become the SSAOs.  All I can hope is that the trend of integrating technology and the structure higher education is one that evolves with the next generation of SSAOs, and we beat the next generations of college students to the curve, proving the innovation that education & technology combined can offer, and adapting to a new type of student.

As a disclaimer, by no means to I believe I’ve found the ‘holy grail.’  There’s obviously a lot more that enters into this equation to begin to cloud the water.  But don’t leave that up to me, sound off, and let me know what you think!:

Is student contact the critical factor in determining the interest in technology in Student Affairs?  Where is the disconnect for Senior Student Affairs Officers?

Based on the conversations occurring below, it feels inappropriate not to share some of the incredible inspiration that played into not only these conclusions, but as a means to understand more of the background of what has been shared:

If you like what I have to say, follow me on Twitter!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jul.1.2010 8:25 am

    I co-presented a session at ACPA for SSAO’s…a lot of folks just need to be in a space where they can make mistakes and not feel like they are being judged for not knowing how to use the tech. I’m going to be providing consultations for campus auxiliary services Directors/AVPs at the NACAS Annual Conference…that kind of one-on-one time really helps move folks forward with their use and adoption of social media.

    • Jul.1.2010 9:28 am

      Hey Eric, thanks for checking in! I was hoping you would check in, knowing that you definitely take the time to teach folks ‘the ropes’ to get them comfortable with the tech. I can definitely appreciate the resistance in technology today being in large part because of not knowing how to use it. Isn’t that part of the thrill? Obviously being in the public eye (or having more critical ones) would hold people from jumping right in, but in that same sense if we sell ‘community’ and ‘shared learning’ wouldn’t that supposedly give the perspective and benefit of a community willing to teach? I can understand the hesitancy, but everyone falls when they first ride a bike; late learners get a cheering section and more hands to stabilize!

  2. Jul.1.2010 10:46 am


    Check our Ed Cabellon’s interview with Dean Elmore:

    If anyone can be a guiding light for SSAOs and using social media to connect with students and peers @DeanElmore will be first on my list for candidates to serve that role.

    Awesome post.


    • Jul.1.2010 10:49 am

      Dean Elmore was one of the co-presenters at the ACPA session that I referenced above 🙂 He’s a real visionary in terms of student affairs leadership and communication.

      • Jul.1.2010 11:39 am

        I loved the information in your post above. You (@EricStoller), Teri Bump (@tbump), and Kenn Elmore (@DeanElmore) are doing amazing things to advance the profession.

    • Jul.1.2010 11:37 am

      Thanks Joe! That video was part of what really got me started thinking about the phenomenon that seems to occur here; great to see the innovation that @DeanElmore displays; I think Eric is absolutely right though: it must ultimately come down to getting comfortable with the trends in technology.

  3. Chuck Stanley permalink
    Jul.2.2010 2:43 pm

    Assuming one is “good” with students, when does it become time for that individual to let go of some of that contact and start supporting other professionals in their student engagement development?

    • Jul.2.2010 3:49 pm

      First, thanks for checking in, Chuck; great to see you’re in the audience! But if the trend is leaning towards more professionals taking part in social media to interact with their students, do you think that supervisors can effectively support their staff members if they don’t understand, or utilize, the technology themselves? I would argue familiarity/use with the tech their staff is using makes you a more effective supporter of student engagement development; allows for the discussion of technology in a departments direction as well as a staff members personal vision for engaging social media.

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