In late September, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference and experience my first non-student affairs professional development opportunity. Since my promotion in July, I’ve had the opportunity to sit at a number of new “tables”, particularly meeting with our colleagues in Information Technology (IT) on a more regular basis. When coupled with the opportunity to attend EDUCAUSE, it’s clear that intentional partnerships with IT are necessary to support student satisfaction and success. Here’s how you can foster and grow these partnerships as a graduate student, new professional, mid-level manager, and division leader in Student Affairs in Higher Education:
As A Student Affairs Graduate Student…
…focus on learning how your IT’s Help Desk operates. Get to know their staff, how they route different types of service calls, and seek to understand the differences between basic (email, WiFi, etc.) and advanced (networking, web, infrastructure) levels of support. Communicate this understanding to your respective students and staff.
As A Student Affairs New Professional…
… in addition to what you learned as Graduate Student… focus on learning how your IT staff is structured. Is it a centralized or decentralized model? For example, does your division of Student Affairs have its own IT department? If so, you have a decentralized model! Once you understand the structure, get to know the staff member(s) who most intersect with your student affairs area. For example, if you are responsible for your department’s website, connect with the Director or Assistant Director of Web Services on your campus and seek to understand their work environment, including their own challenges and struggles. This may help move your area’s projects forward, or at least, understand why its not. Discover the differences between those who support Administrative Systems (Software), Systems (Hardware), Networking (WiFi, LAN, Voice over IP, Video/Data, etc.), and perhaps those who may work directly with faculty on the Learning Management System (LMS) (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) and how they all work together.
As a Student Affairs Mid-Level Manager…
…in addition to what you learned as a Graduate Student and as a New Professional… focus on learning how IT is governed, including how decisions are being made around IT policies that directly affect the student experience on your campus. Connect with a one or two of the identified leaders in IT and find ways that you, your staff, and most importantly, students you work with, can have a voice at those tables. Work with your area AVP and VP’s to collaborate on these opportunities to connect and engage.
As a Student Affairs Division Leader…
… in addition to what you learned all along the way … create a Student Affairs Technology Committee, chaired by someone in your division who has “expert power” in technology. This means that they not only have the technical understanding, but can also teach and influence how the division will use technology to connect and engage with students. This group can focus on divisional technology projects and be the division’s “tech whisperer” or translator to colleagues in IT. Your division’s Technology Committee should have strong representation in and out of your division (yes, invite key IT and Institutional Communication staff to join this committee). This group could be educationally focused; a sounding board for unifying how technology used, purchased, and refreshed; or a group that fosters innovative ideas. Finally, as a Division Leader, you should have a good understanding of how IT is funded at your institution because any budget cuts or temporary reductions may certainly affect the work you do.
Regardless of your role in the universities’ organizational chart, having a working knowledge of how IT works on your campus is important. Equally important is understanding the challenges that our colleagues in IT are facing. Of the many things I learned through formal and informal learning at EDUCAUSE, the following items clearly stood out:
- IT Budgets Are Shrinking: As most of Higher Education is feeling these days, the budget crunches are real with declining enrollment numbers and state appropriation dollars. The reality is that many IT organizations are struggling to balance the day-to-day operation expectations with the growing demands that students, faculty, and staff have to keep up with a constantly changing technology landscape. Are we reaching a point, where divisionally, we need to share the burden of these costs of these services that permeate throughout the entire university structure?
- The 2015 Top 10 IT Issues Should Look Familiar: Thematically, these issues encompass funding, training, hiring, flexibility, security, and value… which are items that Higher Education is all too familiar with. What stood out to me were numbers 4 and 9 which discussed “student learning outcomes” and “enterprise IT architecture” primarily because we, in Student Affairs, could be active partners in those discussions since they affect student learning and satisfaction directly. I’m curious, which of these top 10 IT issues stand out to you?
- Research Data Around IT Services, Usage, and Infrastructure: There was tons of great data shared from EDUCAUSE’s Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) and the Campus Computing Project 2014 Report. That will be a whole other blog post as I share how this fits in my doctoral research, but suffice to say, if you need data around technology to help strengthen a Student Affairs initiative around Technology with your IT department, start with these two great data sources. What other data sources do you go to in the areas of Information Technology for your campus?
- Building For the Responsive, Mobile Environment: When was the last time you analyzed your area’s websites to see how they looked in a mobile environment, both on a smart phone and tablet? Some “low hanging fruit” that you may have influence in is to work with your IT web services area to find out if/when that will take place. Perhaps your department could be “the test department” if there are plans and if there aren’t plans, what options do you and your area have? Your university website and corresponding student affairs sites are the first places perspective students and parents visit. Is it up to date and full representative of your student affairs program?
As with any other shifts and changes that take place in your organization, understanding the current capacity for change is an important one before serving as a catalyst to move anything technology-related forward. The value of intentional relationships and partnerships in Information Technology should go beyond your VPSA/CSAO and VPIT/CIO and extend to staff in both areas who can communicate those day-to-day challenges and deliver worthwhile solutions that could be used as examples for other divisions to follow.
Folks in Information Technology: How can Student Affairs professionals be more intentional in creating meaningful partnerships with your division? For Folks in Student Affairs: How are you currently building relationships in IT to help students succeed and be retained at a higher level?