Student affairs practitioners have to be good communicators. Whether in-person or online, quality communications is a must. With a historical foundation built upon the counseling and helping professions, higher education administrators have a background in face-to-face communication. In fact, it wasn't too long ago when most people in the profession were positioning in-person conversations as the preferred method of connecting with people. While face-to-face meetings are still prevalent, the rise of online learning and social media (sites and apps) has caused a digital communications evolution in student affairs. However, this transition into a blended communications model has not been without issue.
When Facebook first came online in 2004, it was promptly labeled as a "space for students." It makes sense as the origins of "The Facebook" stem from a student driven enterprise. Early sessions at major student affairs conferences furthered this "students only" mentality with regards to Facebook. Another popular social media site, Twitter, was largely ignored during its younger years. Fortunately, times have changed...a lot. The tipping point largely occurred in 2009 and 2010 with the rise of student affairs specific hashtags on Twitter as well as the promotion of social media platforms by student affairs associations.
Fast forward to today and social media is everywhere in student affairs work. From departmental accounts to individuals engaging on a daily basis, student affairs is all about digital communication. The field is still grappling with what to do with online-only learners. This is mostly due to a lack of focus brought forth by student affairs graduate programs. Again, with most people entering student affairs to work with on-campus students, it makes sense that graduate programs would cater to what the masses want. However, the masses, at least in terms of going "where students are," have relocated from being just on-campus. Online learners are everywhere and it's time that student affairs graduate programs implemented coursework that focuses on this population. And, because of the lack of face-to-face interaction aspect of the online learning space, student affairs practitioners will have to utilize their digital communication skills to reach students who may never see them in-person.
Since most student affairs divisions at brick and mortar institutions are geared towards services for on-campus students, the online student populations that their schools are courting will require major amounts of divisional evolution. Will student affairs divisions split apart and create one cadre of practitioners for on-campus students and one group for an online audience? Or, will student affairs divisions change their entire organizational structure to serve a growing population of online learners?
Student affairs practitioners have increased their digital communications abilities at a pace that has at times lagged behind the students that they are serving. Fortunately, social media has become ingrained in a lot of aspects of student affairs work. And now, it's time to institute formal professional development that focuses on digital communications and online student development.
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