Overview (Part 1): The Technology Competency for Student Affairs Educators

This series delves deeper into the new Technology competency recently added to the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators.  Intended to serve as a resource for faculty and professionals to guide professional development and teaching, it provides a deeper understanding of the topics covered in the competency and provides resources for further education.

Also check out Josie Ahlquist’s series for an excellent alternative take on the topic.

ACPA NASPA Professional Competencies FINAL-1

The exciting news last week was that ACPA and NASPA released the revised “Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators” and they now include “Technology” as its own competency area.  Whereas previously technology was considered a “thread” running through all of the competencies, this subject area has since solidified itself as an area important enough to merit standing on its own.  Having served with one of the groups consulted on this project as well as having served as one of its draft reviewers, I hope to use the following series of articles to help others understand and guide their professional development efforts in this area.

Overall, the competencies document provides a schema that helps guide curriculum construction and professional development for student affairs educators.  Furthermore, it acts as a professional development guide and tool whereby professionals can rate, assess, and benchmark their own levels of competency and set goals for further development.  Overall, the competencies are intended to cover all of the skills and knowledge areas a student affairs educator should strive to master.

It was during this most recent review period in 2014/2015, that technology became its own standalone area.  An area worthy of mastery in its own right.  In the introductory remarks of this new edition of the competencies, the authors note the reasons behind this change:

In 2010, technology was included as a “thread” or “an essential element of each competency area” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 5). However, an unintended consequence was that technology was often omitted from practical applications of the competencies. Responding to similar observations, ACPA’s Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community each submitted recommendations to add technology as a distinct competency area. We also observed that technology emerged as a distinct competency in three of the four empirical studies published within the past 10 years that have aimed to identify professional competencies (Burkard, et al., 2005; Hickmott & Bresciani, 2010; Hoffman & Bresciani, 2012). The only study that did not identify technology as a separate competency (Wiener et al., 2011) was based more narrowly on an analysis of professional association documents. Additionally, several recent professional works have noted the importance of integrating technology into the educational work of student affairs educators (e.g. Ahlquist, 2014; Brown, 2013; Junco, 2015; Sabado, 2015).

(References available in the original document)

ThetippingpointThis recognition is a watershed moment for how student affairs educators view their work.  Within the past five years since the competencies were initially created (and last revised), the educational landscape has shifted significantly.  The rise of Open EducationMOOCs, classroom flipping, blended learning, and social media has drastically changed the way higher education is being delivered and what students expect from educators.  Although these changes have been occurring for a number of years, it seems that within the past couple of years, they have finally reached a tipping point.  And this tipping point now includes the experiential and co-curricular learning areas that were traditionally the domain of student affairs educators.  Furthermore, as higher education moves further online, student affairs educators must grapple with the question of what developmental holistic education will look like in the future.

The ACPA Task Force on Digital Technology, which released a report in 2015, highlighted some of these changes and provided six recommendations for transforming higher education practice as a whole.  These included calls to:

1. Integrate digital technologies that advance teaching and learning within higher education.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders establish academic partnerships that will advance digital teaching and learning. Interdisciplinary initiatives offer opportunities for research, scholarship and best practices to be inclusive of higher education administration, instructional technology, and research methodologies. A focus on integrating digital technology into teaching and learning beyond a cursory knowledge base forces the academy to examine its current practices and encourages those to discover modern approaches for the contemporary student.

2. Design training and development opportunities to enhance college student educators’ use of digital technologies.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders design training and development opportunities to enhance college student educators’ use of digital technologies. The time has come to centralize our collective knowledge bases and examine which digital technology practices have significance with regard to institutional type, including public, private, for-profit, four-year, two-year and those offering distance education options, including blended, hybrid, and online learning. Given the numerous, diverse pathways to a career in higher education in the digital age, college student educators require ongoing training to keep abreast of the shifting landscape.

3. Invest in the creation and dissemination of research and scholarship in digital technologies.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders invest greater time and resource toward the creation and dissemination of research and scholarship related to the impact of digital technologies on student learning, identity, and success. This growing discipline is worthy of its own standing within the research and scholarship community. Moreover, the academy must critically assess its delivery methods of current scholarship and how it may evolve to address the complexities and opportunities of the digital age.

4. Develop the infrastructure and resources appropriate to ensure sustainability and relevance in digital technologies.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders develop the infrastructure and resources appropriate to ensure sustainability and relevance in digital technologies. Given the pervasiveness and ubiquity of digital technology across the academy, organizational leadership must consider how digital technology skills and responsibilities are represented in all higher education job descriptions as well as in the leadership of the organization. This includes a movement towards dedicated staff division and cabinet leadership who have a strong fluency in digital technology in a higher education environment, with the ability to educate, guide, and inspire others. The influence of these leaders may be instrumental in advocating for necessary resources that support teaching and learning in the digital age.

5. Establish and grow strategic collaborations and partnerships to capitalize on existing resources for higher education.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders establish and grow strategic collaborations and partnerships to capitalize on existing resources for higher education. Reaching out to other higher education associations and organizations is necessary to gain an inclusive perspective on how digital technologies broadly affect the academy. A consortium of diverse perspectives across multiple organizations may be needed for more universal higher education adoption. As organizations across higher education overextend their financial and human capital, leadership must create meaningful opportunities for sustained collaborations.

6. Ensure equal opportunity to the resources necessary for full engagement with digital technologies.
The Task Force recommends that higher education leaders ensure access to the tools necessary for full engagement with digital technologies. The academy must ensure that all educators and students have access to high speed internet while matriculated; that digital communication and technology tools are inclusive of all people; and that policies and guidelines reflect principles of social justice that educate and inspire all who engage in person and online.

The above recommendations from the Task Force highlight some of the changes and challenges higher education faces moving forward.  Many of these same concepts are also mirrored in the new technology competency area for student affairs educators.  As higher education undergoes its own “digital revolution,” so must student affairs.

In the next section, we’ll discuss some of the themes that arise out of the competencies.  Until then, some questions to ponder…

  • What does online holistic developmental education look like in the 21st century?
  • How do educators continue to stay competent and relevant with the rapid pace technological change?  And the societal changes that come along with it?