#SAtech profile: Duke University's @TABounds - The "Controller of Chaos"

My last #SAtech profile was two weeks ago and consisted of

May 26, 2011

My last #SAtech profile was two weeks ago and consisted of two posts. Joe Sabado from UC Santa Barbara shared a wealth of information about student affairs and technology.

For this week's profile, I decided to interview a student affairs techie from the other side of the country. I've been following Tim Bounds and the Duke University Student Affairs Information Technology Services account on Twitter for quite a while. As the Director of Information Technology Services for Duke University Student Affairs (or as it says in his email signature - the "Controller of Chaos", Tim is in a unique position in the student affairs world:

What is a typical week like for Tim Bounds?

I'm not so sure there is a typical week for me. I'm always working on something new, which is what makes this position so interesting. I was thinking about this just last week when I had three afternoon meetings on completely different topics. One was to start planning the implementation of upcoming housing changes. In another I spent almost an hour discussing HIPAA, FERPA, medical records and security. And in the last one, I was meeting with other campus IT leaders to discuss upcoming email server upgrades and how each of us needs to prepare. It was probably unusual to have these meetings all in one day, but it's a good example of how many different types of issues we face, not only in IT, but also in Student Affairs as a whole.

Why is it important for student affairs divisions to have their own technology unit?

Having IT units within each division or school on campus is important, but at the same time we can't afford to completely isolate ourselves from the larger IT community. In many ways we need to be both student affairs professionals as well as IT professionals.

Since we are a part of student affairs, we are more able to directly meet the needs of the division. We are expected to understand the mission of the division and of each individual unit so that we cannot only respond to problems, but we can anticipate needs before they arise. Our position within the division also allows us to see where efficiencies can be gained by improving technologies or processes across departments.

At Duke, the student affairs IT office is comprised of people with IT backgrounds. Even though none of us worked in student affairs before coming to Duke, we have intentionally hired an IT staff with diverse backgrounds to best serve the division. Technical skills are important but critical thinking, communication and other soft skills are just as valuable when working in this environment. All of us in the ITS office are highly proficient in our technical role, but our education backgrounds include degrees in English, Music Education, American Studies, and Biology.

At the same time, we must recognize that managing a technology infrastructure is increasingly complex. We need to understand everything from desktop applications to large-scale data storage solutions while we ensure compliance with FERPA, HIPAA, and PCI regulations. It would be impossible to do this on our own which is why we must work closely with other IT units on campus. We utilize some services provided by our central IT organization as well as form partnerships with IT units from other departments or schools when necessary.

In what ways has having a dedicated technology unit enhanced the work being done by student affairs at Duke? Do you have particular examples that you could share?

This may be a good question for others within student affairs to answer, but I'll give you my opinion. I think the main reason we are successful is because we are able to build and maintain relationships within the division. It is important for us to be seen as a part of student affairs and I don't think this would be possible with an external technical support unit. One way we do this is by participating in most of the division-wide events. We do academic advising. We volunteer to assist with first-year move in day events. And we even participate on division-wide working groups. Having these relationships makes providing technical support much easier since there is a trust in place. We all know that we are working toward the same goal.

I'm a big fan of the Duke SAITS blog. I noticed that you've started offering sessions on social media best practices.

We've been doing professional development sessions for division staff for at least the last seven years. We've done general sessions on topics such as Web 2.0, security, managing email and more. We also provide training when new technologies are introduced. A little over a year ago, we moved to a new group calendar system and offered a series of sessions to prepare the division for the change. So as we are moving some of our communications efforts into social media, a session on the topic was just a natural part of the change process.

Why is it important for student affairs practitioners to be well-versed with social media?

We have been working closely with our director of communications on this one. We all think that it is important for a couple of reasons. It seems clear that simply relying on a website to get our message out is no longer an effective strategy. We need to use social media to get our messages out and to drive traffic to the website where more information can be provided. We also recognize that our students are in the social media spaces, especially Facebook. If we want to get information to them, we need to engage them where they are.

What information was included in the social media best practices session?

We started with a quick video introduction that was intended to explain the power of social media. You've probably seen this Social Media Revolution video on YouTube:

Then we talked about some of the specific social media resources that we are already using to some extent within student affairs. We quickly looked at Facebook Pages, Twitter, Flickr, foursquare, and blogging. I did this part of the session and used my own personal accounts for most of these to show the relationships that I have established on them.

From there, we tried to make this as much of a discussion session as possible while talking about the main concepts that we see as important to social media usage within the division. In most reading on best practices the concepts of authenticity, honesty, and community come up over and over. These are also concepts that are valued by student affairs professionals. We hope that by stressing these ideas, we can overcome some of the anxiety of using more technology in our interactions with students.

At the same time, we stress that we are not trying to replace any personal interactions with online communications. There is actually some evidence that social media, when used effectively, will actually increase personal interactions with students.

Did you share any resources online from the session that I could share with readers?

We didn't create anything specific for these sessions. We are hoping to create a webpage where all of our division resources are available, but that isn't in place yet. We did reference the Duke social media web page to show what other departments at Duke are doing.

Duke SAITS is on Twitter, Facebook, and has a blog. How have those platforms benefited the people/areas that you serve?

We primarily use the blog and Twitter to communicate with division staff. We try to have everyone on the ITS team contribute to the blog since we each have unique roles and would have different things to contribute. We have used the blog in the past to share information on various technical topics. For example, if we find a number of people asking the same question we may write a blog post to explain how a certain task is done. In some cases, we'll even create a short instructional video for this. These are also on the division's YouTube channel. Here's one:

While our desktop support staff may post the technical information, many of my own entries are intended to introduce new technologies or new ideas to the division. I recently posted a series of reflections on what I learned at SXSW in March. We like to try to make division staff aware of the new technologies that are out there even if we don't yet have plans to implement them. Maybe someone will read the post and think of a way to use it. If so, we'd be happy to help them.

Twitter has been very useful in getting timely messages out to the division. We may share links to interesting technology articles or retweet a message from another department on campus that may be of interest to student affairs staff. We also find this a valuable way to share information about service outages or issues. This is especially useful when email may be unavailable.

We also just started a group on LinkedIn for division staff to share thoughts on social media implementation. We created this as a closed group in order to keep the conversations within the division. It's fairly new so there haven’t' been a lot of discussions yet, but it has the potential to be a good resource for people looking for answers in developing a social media plan for their department.

Do you know someone who I should interview for the next #SAtech profile? Post a comment with their name/title and I'll do my best to reach out to them.

Do you tweet? Let's connect. Follow me on Twitter.


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