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NASPA Needs a Technology Core Data Service, and Why This Matters to You

Who You Gonna Call?

Who do you call when you have a burning question about technology? Chances are good you have a picture of “that one techie” in your mind right now. You know their name, and you probably have their extension memorized. Beyond that, your knowledge of who does what with technology on your campus likely gets hazy. If you’re part of a system of universities, you may rely on “birds of a feather” colleagues at other campuses you meet with on a regular basis. No doubt you have colleagues who use the same software as you to administer departmental programming, can quote verse about the hoops you have to jump through to get the data you need, how your staff deals with social media, and so on. If you’re lucky, you get to go to conferences and have an informal network of professionals to lean on. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an unbiased resource you could rely on to provide benchmarking information about technology-related topics germane to higher education? Something like this actually exists…sort of.

What’s a Core Data Service (CDS), Anyway?

The idea for a multi-organizational technology assessment in higher education is not new or original, nor did it materialize out of thin air. Since 2002, EDUCAUSE – the world’s largest community of IT leaders and professionals in higher education – has conducted an annual assessment of hundreds of campuses. The activities around this assessment culminate in a product they call the Core Data Service, or CDS. What’s in it? Benchmarking data on staffing, financials and a variety of technology services. It’s a fantastic reference for higher education technology professionals, especially leaders who need to know where they stand with respect to their peers. The problem with the EDUCAUSE CDS is that it does not collect data or provide insights that are particularly useful to student affairs professionals.

Why NASPA Needs Its Own Version of a CDS

Members of the Technology Knowledge Community (TKC) recognized the importance of technology to the profession many years ago. They believed it was such an important part of our work, they were able to successfully add it as a NASPA Professional Competency Area in 2010: https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/ACPA_NASPA_Professional_Competencies_FINAL.pdf Unlike EDUCAUSE, NASPA has no benchmarking tool focused on technology that we are aware of. We believe that a NASPA CDS would be a valuable resource for any NASPA member who needs to make decisions about the use of technology in their programs. A Core Data Service is a natural extension of the assessment culture that has been built in our profession; we think it should be a core product of the organization.

You might be asking yourself “why don’t we just ask EDUCAUSE to adapt their instrument so it can collect this data for us?” First, the overlap between NASPA members who participate in EDUCAUSE and vice-versa is rather small…the connection between organizations is probably not where it needs to be to make this happen (yet). Second, the vast majority of the technology we use in student services – particularly software-based – is not universally important to everyone in our organizations. Third, technology staffing models vary drastically from campus to campus. Hopefully, EDUCAUSE will continue to evolve and the data needs for student affairs will be more fully included. Until that time, however, adapting the concept for our needs at this time makes a lot of sense.

Enterprise Versus Niche Software

You may have heard the term “enterprise” invoked in hushed tones during campus meetings with IT and wondered what it meant. The way the word is used implies great importance. Generally speaking, “enterprise” refers to a product or service that everyone (or nearly everyone) in an organization depends on to do their job. When enterprise services go down, everyone panics. In the higher education software world, enterprise usually means the SIS (Student Information System), HR/Finance, portals, and email/calendaring tools. Enterprise software is expensive and complex, and requires a significant investment in professional IT resources. For many campuses, the responsibility for managing these systems lies with a Centralized IT department. As a general rule, enterprise software feeds, stores, and works on data that is considered to be the “source of truth” for an organization. They’re critical systems by definition.

Doesn’t every operational area in student affairs also depend on software? And isn’t that software just as important to what we do? In terms of complexity and usage, some of our systems rival enterprise software. Do you lead a Career Services department? There are software systems for you. How about Student Housing? You have multiple software options to choose from for managing residential life. Health Services? Check. Judicial Affairs/Student Conduct? Check. Clubs & Organizations? Disability Resources? Assessment? Check, check, check. Our software is important to us, but it isn’t universally important to everyone on campus. That’s what makes student services software niche software.

The bottom line here is that you probably want to know which software packages your peers use most often. It’s a reasonable question you’ve probably asked more than once.

Student Services Technology Support Varies Widely

Despite the fact that technology is enshrined as a NASPA professional competency, there’s little consistency around how we fund and staff it. Support models used by campuses to deliver student services technology vary widely (and wildly). Some campuses have a highly centralized IT division that coordinates services for every functional area on campus. Other campuses have multiple, decentralized technology units. Student affairs divisions may have a large or small technology department – or none at all – depending on the services needed. It’s fair to say that there are as many technology delivery models as there are members in the TKC!

We Have an Instrument That Just Might Work

In 2017, David Sweeney of the Texas A&M University system published the results of a system-wide student affairs software survey. This assessment provided TAMU’s Senior Student Affairs Officers with information about “…the distribution of ‘student affairs’ typical software packages and platforms…” and “…contract data with the aim of finding opportunities to share software across multiple units if indicated and desired.”* David’s survey spurred interest among several of us in the TKC in developing a similar but more expansive survey, with the intention of incorporating other pertinent details. After much discussion, we decided to measure the following:

  1. Institution (size, basic demographics)
  2. Student Affairs organization (services offered)
  3. Student Affairs IT (staffing level, type of support)
  4. Applications and Services

As a group, we felt that all four of these components would be useful for SSAOs (Senior Student Affairs Officers). We also felt that they would present a host of emergent benefits, such as improved collaboration between universities, leveraging our combined voices when communicating with vendors, providing hard data for NASPA’s assessment team, and so on. To that end, we developed a Qualtrics survey, currently hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. The survey is accessed by a link on the SAIT Pros web site at www.saitpros.org. SAIT Pros is a free “non-denominational” association for people who do technology work in student affairs. You don’t have to be an IT geek to join, membership is free, and we host a Slack team where people can share what they know about products, services and processes, all without having to worry about vendors listening in. In our first year of running this assessment, we had 27 participating campuses, which indicates to us that our idea has merit. We asked for TKC sponsorship for a session to talk about this project at the national conference in Los Angeles, which the TKC granted. Thank you, TKC!

Our hope is that the TKC and the broader NASPA community also see value in a “NASPA Technology CDS.” Next steps include reaching out to the Assessment, Evaluation and Research Knowledge Community (AERKC) to identify potential improvements for version 2 of the survey and possible areas of collaboration with the TKC.

Paul Schantz is Director of Web & Technology Services for the Division of Student Affairs at California State University, Northridge. He currently serves as the EdTech representative to the TKC (NASPA), is the Chair of the Student Affairs IT Community Group (EDUCAUSE), and a co-founder of SA IT Pros.

A version of this post was originally published on the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community blog. This project was discussed during a technology session at the 2019 NASPA national conference in Los Angeles.

Resources


Navigating NASPA: An “Insider’s Guide” to the Association

Presenters

  • Sherry Mallory, Dean of Student Affairs, Revelle College, UCSD
  • Daniel Anzueto, Asst. Dir. Member Engagement/Regional Initiatives – NASPA
  • Grace Bagunu, Graduate Teaching Assistant – University of San Diego
  • Danielle Kleist, Director of Student Life & Services, Washington State University – Tri-Cities
  • Judy Albin, Senior Associate Director of Union and Student Activities – Pennsylvania State Univesity – Main Campus

Some of the things we’ll talk about:

  • NASPA Structure & Knowledge Communities
  • How to volunteer & get involved

History

  • NASPA = National Association of Student Personnel Administrators
  • Founded in 1919
  • 15,000 members
  • Volunteer leaders
  • 33 knowledge communities
  • Professional development
  • Publications
  • Research & policy

Leadership & KCs

  • Directors serve multi-year terms
  • Multiple regions
  • Many advisory boards
  • KCs are the gateway to the profession; each has a chair and co-chair elected by KC members for a 2-year term; each has a regional KC Coordinator and representatives for each KC; appointed by the Regional Director; National Director of KCs is appointed by the Chair of the Board of Directors, to represent all KCs on the NASPA Board of Directors
  • KCs are where it’s happening! So much to learn in these groups…get involved and “find your home.”

Volunteering & GAs

  • Loads of opportunities: NASPA is it’s members
  • Registration is a big part of running our events, this is an easy way to help out and meet people
  • Help out a KC member
  • Serve as a conference program reviewer
  • Present at a NASPA conference
  • Serve on an editorial board
  • Visit the engagement portal & “Volunteer Central” on the NASPA web site
  • Attend your regional business meeting
  • Attend a KC business meeting
  • Attend the NASPA Communities Fair
  • Follow NASPA’s SoMe (there’s a ton of ’em)

Next Steps

  • Attend your Regional Business Meeting
  • Attend a KC Business Meeting
  • Attend the NASPA Communities Fair
  • Introduce yourself!!
  • Go to the socials

Applying the Technology Competency on Your Campus

Presenters

Resources

  • There’s a Google Drive link coming that contains all the information
  • #ApplyTechComp

Pretty good turnout for this session, considering it’s at 8:30 and down in the convention center’s basement 🙂 Got an opportunity to finally meet Lisa Endersby in person and catch up with some #SATech friends. Let’s see what Jeremiah has in store for us…

Lisa introduced Jeremiah and made a few shameless plugs for other sessions at the conference.

 

Agenda

  • Competency Background
  • Michigan Tech Background
  • Our Process
  • You and Your Campus

Competency Background

  • Provides a game plan and establishes what we should be doing
  • Tech was incorporated into many different areas in bits and pieces, and talk about a standalone technology competency began in earnest in 2010
  • Special thanks to: Matthew Brinton, Joe Sabado, Josie Ahlquist, Lisa Endersby
  • Established rubric in October 2016! This is a tool that will help members of the student affairs profession to utilize and engage with the competency areas on their campuses.

Michigan Tech Background

  • 7,000 students, founded 1885
  • Our Student Affairs division contains advancement, which is a bit unique.
  • January 2012: a charge from Dr. Les Cook to form a committee to address the 2035 vision of “High Tech, High Touch.” Central idea behind the group to consider how we embrace and push the technology agenda.
  • Technology Advance Committee: multi-member group from all areas of SA and Advancement; research & present seminars/trends and work with professional development committee and leadership team to provide recommendations.
  • Challenge: small surveys work great, redundancy of seminars, needed a plan

Our Process

  • Large doc; how to apply, how to inform, how to standardize?
  • Break down the competency
  • Assess the areas: technical hardware/software; professional dev (networking); technology like SoMe and collaboration tools.
  • We let our IT division know we were planning to do this assessment. Bring them into the conversation!
  • Use your professional networks!
  • Every department has its own SoMe accounts; we needed to figure out what was going on and who was in charge of things. Transition was a concern .
  • How to evaluate? Create a baseline evaluation and rubric survey for all staff members. NASPA HAS DONE THIS FOR YOU!
  • Our survey: questions a user can self-rate; comfort levels; open questions; 50 questions in total including department identification.
  • Our VP helped to hype the survey, including how we planned to use the information to inform increased resources/training.
  • CampusLabs is the backbone of our survey.
  • 39.75% response rate; largely mid-ranged responses; additional areas of professional development needed
  • Wanted to figure out where our people were uncomfortable. It turned out that a lot of our people didn’t know where to turn for help.
  • You can use our assessment for your own campuses, and we encourage you to use it!
  • Next Steps: present findings to SA and Advancement directors; meet with professional dev committee for recommendations; assist in professional development; reassess one year from initial survey.
  • We’re right in the middle of this process…we hope to see improvement next year!

You & Your Campus

  • This is very accessible, and the model we think is useful for any size campus
  • Join TKC
  • Self-assessment:Figuring out what you’re comfortable with is important
  • Training resources: YouTube, knowledge base, ticket database
  • Reach out and ask! People out there have had the exact same problem as you in the past.
  • What to do at the campus level?  Join the TKC; create a committee (does not have to meet on a regular basis), talk to others; use the rubric/create an assessment; training resources; reach out and ask.
  • To get people to complete your assessment, tell them what you’re doing and what they’re going to get out of it.
  • The main thing is to TRY SOMETHING! Now is the time to jump on this!

Questions

  • How were the survey results shared with your IT division? How were they received, and did it result in changes in service/collaboration between divisions? Our IT department gets 250 tickets a day, they’ve been able to use our assessment to help streamline some processes and develop some training materials to help improve services.
  • Did you have others in your division who were interested in participating in the competency area? Yes, but we were able to use this assessment and model as a starting point.