Job descriptions for Student Affairs professionals frequently list technology proficiency requirements. Most of the time, those requirements include fairly banal things like email or MS Office. In 2012, those items feel like they are equivalent to making fire. We've been making fire for a long time folks. What's the next standard technology-related item that we should include on position descriptions? I think that one of the next items is going to be fluency with conducting conversations via voice/video over the web.
Face-to-face is no longer the only and/or "best" way of conducting Student Affairs practice. We can no longer adhere to the idea that an in-person interaction is our professional "normal." We engage in a tremendous disservice to the diversity of student learning (and living) situations when we narrow our scope in this way. Framing face-to-screen (F2S) communications as being developmental, engaging, and necessary represents a colossal shift in what we "do."
I understand that this type of interaction makes some folks nervous. That's okay. With practice, you'll get better at it. Anxiety passes. Competency increases. Students are thankful.
Officially, your institution may already have a system in place for web-based conversations. Products like Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate are good options for engaging in F2S conversations with students. Additionally, services like Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and Facebook Video Calling ("Skype light") can offer terrific options for conducting F2S conversations. Most of my F2S interactions are split between Skype and Google+ Hangouts.
In terms of hardware requirements, gear does matter. If your computer has dust bunnies in it that are the size of real bunnies, that's usually a good indicator that it's time for a new machine. A newer computer is usually a good idea when it comes to conducting conversations via web-based audio/video. Unless you have an iMac or a Macbook, I would suggest purchasing an external webcam. Spend $100 for a web camera that will give you a high quality image. While some PCs have built in webcams, the quality of the video hasn't kept up with Apple's built-in iSight cameras. Sorry, I have to pull the Mac Fan Boy card on that one. I'd also recommend purchasing an external USB microphone. For another $100, you too can have high quality audio to accompany your high fidelity video. Lastly, wear headphones when you're having a F2S conversation. It's easier to hear the other person (or persons), background noise is lessoned, and when all are wearing headphones - audio feedback from computer speakers is eliminated.
Resistance is futile. This train has left the station. Professionally speaking, F2S capability/competence isn't that unique anymore and our position descriptions need to list it as a technical requirement. Not familiar with Skype? Never hung out on a Google+ Hangout? That's okay. Ask someone in your office to practice with you. F2S gets easier the more you do it.
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