March 25th, 2010

Recently, I have been working with our student affairs division websites in an attempt to update them. In some ways, I have really, really enjoyed the process. What could be better than getting paid to actually spend time working on websites? On the other hand, this has been a somewhat trying process. The main reason for this is what I like to call the “technological divide” – that gap between those of us who get it, and those of us who don’t.

Many of the people who are in student affairs are there because they love students, they love working with students, and most of them are good at it. However, and this is a big however, I keep running into those student affairs folks who just don’t seem to understand why they need to know anything about technology to be good at their jobs (and this is not just at my institution, to be clear). To me, this is sort-of like saying they don’t need to know anything about student developmental theory, or, to be even more blunt, anything about students. And it sometimes makes me question if they do know about students – since if they did, the whole technology question shouldn’t even come up.

What makes this part of the Web re-design process so difficult is that when I try to get them to re-imagine their websites as a whole new service or entity, I find that they still end up looking like their in-person offices. The beauty of the Web is that it doesn’t function exactly like we do in person – it has functions and capabilities beyond that. And the lack of ability to see that keeps us from really recognizing all that we can do to reach out and engage our students. This can be anything from posting forms online instead of emailing them out or having paper copies, to having an online appointment book, from having a Facebook group to student blogs. This is what I like to call “webthink” (and since when I Googled it all I came up with were company names, I’m thinking I might be coining a term here – correct me if I’m wrong). It’s looking at a website, an office, a student service, and being able to re-imagine what it could be live and online. It’s being able to think innovatively about social media, technology and ways to engage our students. It’s something I like to think I have, but that I’ve noticed sorely missing in some key places on college campuses.

I really think this is something colleges and student affairs divisions need to start focusing on, requiring, and training. Technology is not a passing fad. It’s here to stay. And if we don’t jump on the train, it will leave the station without us.