The landscape of Higher Education is changing at a rapid pace (Bowen, 2013). With the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs), online, hybrid, and project based degrees, immersive learning pedagogies, and new age curriculums with a focus on the gamification of learning, administrators can no longer ignore technology’s impact in the academy (Selingo, 2013.)
The digital age has disrupted many industries, both in the United States and abroad. Most notably are mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines), business communications (including marketing and public relations), and personal media (picture and video creation and consumption). In a recent talk I attended for my doctoral work, Darrell West, author of “Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education“, stated that the last two major industries to fall in the digital age would be education and healthcare. This deeply resonated with me as I reflected on the ways that Student Affairs professionals would begin to shift… in the ways we DO our work, WHAT our work will become, and HOW we deliver the co-curricular experience in the digital age. Whether our focus is student development, personnel, engagement, operations, and/or retention, my hope is that we can grow these important conversations happening both on and offline to actualize the future of the profession.
How We Will DO Our Work
When I talk with perspective and current graduate students on what Student Affairs professionals “DO”, there are usually three main components that happen at many levels within the profession. These include professional communication (both spoken and written); planning, execution, and delivery of various “projects” (e.g. training’s, programs, services, policies, procedures, etc.); and building and fostering professional relationships (politics). Some will also perform supervision/management, budget/capital planning, and assessment duties, but for the most part, many of us can relate to these components.
In the digital age, we must further the use of technology to do our work more efficiently:
1. Cloud Based Services: With the amount of time away from our desks, the notion that work only gets done while physically in an office space is an antiquated one. Utilizing cloud based services allows us to have access to our most important files whenever we need them. If you are not already using Dropbox (online storage/hard drive), Evernote (note taking in written, photo, and audio forms), and Google Drive (collaboration on forms, documents, spreadsheets and presentations), I highly recommend you should.
2. How We Choose to Spend Our Time: While I’ve written about maximizing digital calendars and appointments before, its important to consider the increased number of digital distractions that are in front of us. When your focus is productivity, consider turning off all social media and email (including notifications) and silence your mobile device (and flip it face down) to give you the best chance at success. If people need to get a hold of you, they will find a way.
3. Social Networking Services: In the digital age, social media communication with students, parents and community members is as critical as email messages and phone calls. We must carve out a part of our daily routine to read and engage our community beyond personal and marketing constructs. Using services such as Hootsuite can help better manage this communication and understanding one’s own “digital identity” help us have deeper conversations with students about their own.
HOW and WHAT We Will DELIVER as a Co-Curricular Experience
Student affairs professionals facilitate learning outside the traditional classroom environment, asking students to critically think about the world, its challenges, and how each of them can contribute as citizens. This is done in a variety of ways (e.g. leadership development, service learning, living learning communities in residence halls, student employment, internships, etc.). However, what does a “21st century skill set” look like?
1. Core 21st century work skills: There are 11 important skills that 21st century citizens need in order to develop cultural competencies and social skills to be active contributors in the digital age (Jenkins, 2009, p. 4). These include:
1. Play: The capacity to experiment with surroundings as a form of problem solving
2. Performance: The ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
3. Simulation: The ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
4. Appropriation: The ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
5. Multitasking: The ability to scan the environment and shift focus onto salient details.
6. Distributed cognition: The ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
7. Collective intelligence: The ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal.
8. Judgment: The ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
9. Transmedia navigation: The ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
10. Networking: The ability search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
11. Negotiation: The ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternatives.
As student affairs professionals, consider which of these are most important for your respective area. Arguments can be made for how important each of these skills are. Ultimately though, the more our co-curricular programs and services can teach these skills, the more salient our impact will be.
2. Moving Pictures, With Sound: While I already have written about how to incorporate video into your various trainings, we must also need to consider how the use of video can help student affairs professionals deliver and showcase programs and services. Whether its how we tell our story, fundraise for class gifts, or advertise events, we should use video in creative ways whenever we can.
3. Presentation Swagger & Style: I also believe that we need to “up” our presentation swagger (and style.) We should move away from using text-heavy, bulleted powerpoint presentations to ones that include meaningful images and text that compliment the knowledge base of the presenter. If you missed my conversation this summer with Paul Gordon Brown from Boston College and Courtney O’Connell from Equalman Studios on “Building Innovative Slidedecks“, check it out, along with books such as “Presentation Zen“, “Slide-ology“, and “Resonate: Presentations that Transform Audiences.” Finally, if you have a MAC, switch to “Keynote”… it just blows PowerPoint out of the water
The digital age has spawned a participatory culture that our students are deeply a part of (Jenkins, 2009). To connect with this generation of students, we must continue to find ways to use technology that will enable us to deliver the co-curricular experience in new and innovate ways. Technology is no longer an addition to our work… it is an important partner.
How do you use technology and communicate using social media in your student affairs work? How has it helped or hindered your work?
Bowen, W.G. (2013). Higher Education in the Digital Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Selingo, J. (2013). College unbound. The future of higher education and what it means for students. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.