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.


  • Ed,
    All great points. One area that is lacking (I think), is the training of Student Life staff to work in the environment. It is hard to teach and demonstrate these skills, if you do not understand them yourself.

    More and more Graduate programs are incorporating classes/programs to teach to work in the new environment (Social technology, cloud computing, and various proficiency, etc). But these programs aren’t widely available – and often times this “work” gets thrust upon the newest/youngest member of an office.

    This work needs to be managed by all levels of a Student Life organization, and I have not seen an effective way to “teach” this. Attending conferences and going to a presentation about Social media usually only brings out the “believers” and/or “skeptics”, which means sessions are often either preaching to the choir, or trying to convert, and not actually spending time on how to advance these ideas and use them the support our students.

    How do we move past the argument of “should we incorporate” these methods and ideas, to “how do we use them to better our work and our students”.

    • Hi Eric, thanks so much for reading and commenting, as I always value your insight and perspective!

      Making time in our respective training schedules to teach digital literacy is an important piece in all of this. Whether we do it all online, hybrid, or in a flipped classroom model, certainly my post on “Digital Identity” and “Incorporating Videos into Training” might be good starting points, but it definitely depends on the area in question.

      I agree that graduate programs need more focused attention in these areas, the challenge is how? If there are grad programs at our institution or locally, we should reach out and see how we can help, whether it is offering to guest lecture or links to online resources.

      The best way to move from “should” to “how” is to continue to show data (proof) that the efforts are meaningful and create connections that would not have happened otherwise. Without the data, its just our opinion 🙂

      Thanks again Eric!!!!

  • Ed,

    I always enjoy your perspective and look forward to learning from you. In reading this particular post I came away wanting more. You speak to the co-curricular piece of student affairs, understandable because that is where you come from :), but what about the student services piece? And working with students who aren’t at this digital level? How should I be looking to utilize technology in my functional area (advising) with students who are far less technology savvy than one might assume?

    There are great people working on tech in advising and I don’t think one person needs to have all the answers. 🙂 These are just the questions I ask myself daily when it comes to technology.


    • Hi J 🙂 Thanks to you also for reading and commenting… I appreciate it!

      In terms of working from a student services perspective, there are ways. I think first, an assessment of your student population needs to occur so you know for sure the level of digital access and literacy. From there, you may be able to take the data and show your leadership how integrating technology could help deliver these services more broadly. In academic advising, as an example, more and more are offering tutoring and advising via skype or google plus so that commuters who could not be on campus could still benefit from the service and support.

      I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m just as curious as you are, to find ways to the answers we need, not necessarily the ones we want. 🙂

      Thanks again, for all you do J!

  • Ed,
    Yes Yes and Yes. Working in the Cloud and using Hootsuite. Gotta do it!! I don’t know if I could function w/o these. Core Skills by Jenkins – these are great! Will utilize. I also agree with Eric. Not only do students need help learning how to navigate the online world – but we as professionals need to model the way and appropriate usage.

    Great summary piece!

  • Ed,

    I’ve been reading Jane’s new book “Transformative Learning Through Engagement: Student Affairs Practice as Experiential Pedagogy” and the role of student affairs in the next generation of university education keeps coming to mind. It seems to me that in an age of technology-driven education our work has never been more important.

    Today’s traditional aged college student has never known life without the internet. My prediction is that students (and the employer that hire them) will become more and more comfortable with online learning, especially as providers are increasingly traditional universities with strong academic reputations. This is not a bad thing to be feared by universities, but an opportunity to reduce “seat time” and create more meaningful opprtunities for engagement. If we in student affairs were to partner with our colleagues in academic affairs to leverage our expertise in student development, experiential learning and reflective engagement we would create a new kind of college experience. The value of what students learn won’t be limited to what happens in the classroom, but extend into their lives through active and intentional application. Students could abandon the out dated methods of memorization and regurgitation and move to higher level learning more suited for this generation of learners. It would give colleges a reason to exist beyond the classrooms (which are becoming increasingly less relevant) and leverage the kind of integrated learning that really moves individuals forward toward self-awareness, critical thinking and problem solving.

    What do you say? Should we start that university we’ve always talked about? If only that wealthy benefactor would come forward. In the meantime, I guess we’ll keep moving the needle at our respective universities to help them move out of the 14th century model toward the 21st century.

    • Jeremiah, as always, your words resonate with me my friend 🙂

      I think that it is time Student Affairs work is recognized as part of the educational experience instead of a “value add-on”. As Darrell West stated in his book referenced in my post above,

      “In general, many young people find school today boring, which makes it difficult to
      engage them effectively. But in many education institutions, students are required to turn
      off electronic devices and read paper-based materials by themselves with little interaction
      with others. This contrast between dynamic interaction in their out-of-school hours and
      static, out-of-date textbooks during class terms frustrates them and makes it difficult to
      hold their attention.” (p. 7)

      In other words, if Student Affairs professionals became formal educational partners in 21st century higher education, this new pedagogy may align better with how students learn and retain information today.

      I’m game to start “Nelson University” whenever you are friend 🙂

  • Ed, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic! While many have touted the importance of employing technology to become more efficient in our work, I think the concepts surrounding how this translates to delivery of programs and services is where many become bogged down. You provide some great areas to consider (such as the 21st century skills) that can help with framing new methods and approaches for student affairs work that support the “participatory culture” you reference from Jenkins’ book.

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