Student affairs practitioners have often used the perceived diminishment of face-to-face contact as a rationale against implementing certain forms of technology. Communications tools, like the various forms of social media, are seen as being valuable avenues for connection-making, but face-to-face is still widely held as the favored method of providing support to our students. However, what happens when all of our students are experiencing higher education via the web. Online learning is the sole form of collegiate access for an increasing number of students.
What happens to the traditional cultural norms of the student affairs profession when face-to-face is simply not an option? Are graduate programs preparing student affairs practitioners for a future where e-interaction is the only form of interaction. Do our popular publishers have student affairs + online learner texts in the publishing queue? Will our brick-and-mortar functional areas translate to the digital realm? Will "Community Management/Facilitation" become a functional area in the CAS Standards?
Having a strategic student affairs communications plan will be a vital component to supporting online learners. Strategic communications can utilize social media channels to convey information, create community, and make connections with students who are on-campus or in another state.
Student Affairs, as a profession, has not fully realized the potential for online learning to revolutionize the work that we do. Academic affairs professionals are engaging in student affairs work because we simply aren't there. Every story about a new online learning initiative, either for a for-profit or a non-profit, should get our attention.
What does student affairs look like when it transitions from face-to-face to Skype-to-Skype? Those of us who are the most adept at using web-based tools for communications will surely have an advantage. Our experience with the web will accelerate our ability to support online learners. Identifying as a student affairs luddite will no-longer be seen as a pseudo badge of honor. If you're not ready to support online learners, someone else will gladly step up to help out.
What is your student affairs division doing to support online learners at your institution? How has your higher education graduate program prepared you for a future in which student affairs practitioners will be supporting online learners?
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*The closing theme from Blade Runner seemed appropriate as an accompaniment to this post.