Teaching Critical Thinking

by Kristen Abell

We are almost constantly surrounded by reports of what is happening in the world today, what with everyone being a reporter on social media. As I paged through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today and saw all that was going on in Baltimore, it became increasingly apparent to me that the one thing we’re not exposed to is critical thinking. What does this mean?

In my opinion, critical thinking is the ability to view differing perspectives and identify what is most likely the truth in the information that is being provided, and then evaluating that information to come up with your own opinion about the events taking place. (Although if someone has another definition of critical thinking, I’d be open to hearing it).

If I depended solely on the media to provide my news, I might see that several police have been injured in Baltimore (but no mention of citizens), there have been massive riots and looting, and this is all occurring over the death of Freddie Gray. If I look further, I can see that it’s likely there have also been citizens hurt – whether by police or other rioters, that there were peaceful protests happening, as well, and this is most likely a result of a much longer systemic oppression of the African-American community in Baltimore (and the United States), and not just the death of one man. But the question remains – how did I come to learn to look deeper, to apply critical thinking to the reports with which I’m surrounded? How do we teach this to our students?

I think there are a number of ways we can do this – discussing current events with students, asking them to report from differing perspectives, etc. – but I’m interested in how our student affairs colleagues specifically are doing this. Are you having these conversations with your students? Are you engaging them in discussion that pushes them to think outside their possibly limited viewpoint? More importantly, are you engaging in these practices yourself so that you can role model this for them?

Please share in the comments below if you are using innovative ways of teaching critical thinking – I’d love to find out more about how we’re teaching this very necessary skill in today’s world.

Teaching Critical Thinking

Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the California College Personnel Association (CCPA) Spring Institute.  You can catch social media highlights curated by the folks at CCPA in this Storify post.  I thought I’d share a couple of my takeaways:

Ascend to what end?

The conference theme was “Ascent: Climbing the Steps of Your Student Affairs Career,” which I found intriguing enough.  Then ACPA Vice President Donna Lee (@DeanDonnaLee) delivered a dynamic lunchtime keynote and brought the discourse to another level when she asked us, “Ascend to what end?”  In sharing some of her professional journey, she encouraged us to reflect on our paths, passions, and purposes.   She also mentioned that ascent doesn’t always mean up, which was a helpful reminder that a professional trajectory need not be a straight slope. Sometimes I feel myself getting caught up in the race to the top and comparing myself to other people.  Checking in with the question of “Ascend to what end?” reminded me to think about my values and to reflect on my journey with that lens.

Think local

If you are not a member of a local professional organization, I encourage you to find one and jump on board now!  Both ACPA and NASPA have regional versions of their national organizations, and many functionally-focused groups also have presence at state or regional levels.  Leadership opportunities abound at this level, and are an especially great entry point for graduate students and new professionals (plug for my CA friends – CCPA elections and appointed position applications are now open).  Professional development programs from these groups also tend to more accessible, both in terms of finances and logistics, as events are typically cheaper and closer than national ones.  And, of course, networking with local colleagues is fun and can be particularly useful for geographically-bound folks looking for jobs.

Gratitude

Shoutouts go to the CCPA Leadership Team and volunteers for putting on a great event, the California College of the Arts for hosting, all the engaging presenters and speakers, and the many enthusiastic participants.

Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

Technology vs. Customer Service

By Kathryn Magura

Forget the whole chicken vs. egg dilemma. The conundrum I face on a daily basis is balancing the conveniences technology provides with customer service standards that cannot be sustained.

What do I mean? Well, in my work we provide a lot of technological ways for students to connect with each other, our office, and request services. I love finding new and innovative ways to utilize technology to enhance the customer service on a college campus. In fact, that very sentence used to play a prominent role in my Twitter bio.

But what are the consequences for providing so many ways to utilize technology for customer service? A challenge I have found on a frequent basis is managing expectations when technology allows for the perception that things can be done with ease. For example, we allow new students to select their own rooms on campus – similar to how you select your seat on a plane. We have gone so far as to allow students to invite roommates into held rooms, and even change their selection multiple times. So what happens when our servers get overloaded with requests due to high volume of traffic? We get calls of complaints on how terrible our product is. I think the juxtaposition of customer service via technology follows a statistical bell curve of when the technology provided enhances the services provided, and when they are a detriment to it.

I also see this playing out in unrealistic expectations of response messages. I have had students email me at 8pm at night and then have a parent call me frustrated at 8am the next morning due to lack of response. How is it reasonable to think a request after standard business hours will or even should be addressed so quickly if it is not an emergency? I’ve seen this scenario get so bad for some colleagues that they feel the need to put an out of office message up from Friday at 5pm until Monday at 8am.

So how do we find the balance? An approach I take is through conversation. When our servers are overloaded and our product becomes slow, I explain to frustrated customers what is happening and why, and then I make a plan for improvement in the future. When someone is frustrated with the lack of response, I try to educate what a typical work shift is, and what our standard expectation of response is. Thankfully this seems to diffuse the situation in most cases. I also start asking the question of if the service that is currently providing more of a challenge than supplement to quality service is necessary. Do we need to provide this fancy and shiny technology piece if it ends up making our customers unhappy?

How do you find balance?

Technology vs. Customer Service

On Web Usability

by Kristen Abell

Lately, I’ve been digging into the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (if you’re tempted to read it, I’m going to suggest you read his updated version – we just had this one at work, so that’s what I’m reading). I often talk with my clients about the end user experience on a website – something we all too often forget to consider when we’re planning a redesign or new website. We think about how we want it to function without thought for how the end user will want it to function. This book is a great reminder that the end user is always who we should be thinking of when planning. A few takeaways from this book:

  • Usability testing – Do it and do it often. This is usually the first step to get cut from our website development process, but after reading this book, I know I’ll fight harder to keep it a part of the process in the future. It usually doesn’t take much time, and we always learn something from it – even if it’s that there is no “typical” user. I especially loved the idea Krug presented about pre-testing – having users test websites you’re looking at for inspiration to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Accessibility – Do it because it’s the right thing. To be fair, I’ve been trying to work on accessibility on most of my sites for awhile now, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been doing the minimum. This book makes me want to do more than that. I suspect I’ll be digging into some reads and training on accessibility next so I can take this further on my sites.
  • Good design does not always equal good usability – Not that I didn’t sorta already know this, but this clarified it a bit better for me. For example, one of the current trends in design is to make links as unobtrusive as possible. However, that means that a user has to work harder to find these links – which means they are more likely to get frustrated. Even looking at my personal blog, I’m frustrated by the fact that the links are barely noticeable compared to the regular text (will be making changes there soon). This means that when we’re designing websites, we may have to compromise on our aesthetic to make a site more user-friendly.

After reading this book, I’m looking forward to digging into Krug’s other book – Rocket Surgery Made Easy which delves a little deeper into usability, as well as putting some of his thoughts and approaches into practice.

What are your usability tips and tricks? How do you approach usability when building a new site?

On Web Usability

The Important Things in Life, according to Leslie Knope

Parks and Rec_Leslie Knope quote_meme

Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation) is one of the greatest fictional female characters, right up there with Buffy Summers, Alana, Khaleesi, Storm, and Eowyn. And even though she is a fictional character, she provides great advice on an assortment of life needs, from waffles to politics, to friendship.

The quote in the meme I created above is one that popped out at at me this week: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

Feel free to substitute “waffles” for whatever is your favorite culinary treat. In fact, grab that favorite treat right now (fruit? fruit flavored products like Gushers?), and mull that quote over a bit.

How often does that statement apply to you?

If you’re reading this blog then likely you work in student affairs (or else you’re just my #1 fan, aka my cat Loki) and our field is rather notorious for mocking this idea of “work/life balance” and how it doesn’t exist. Perhaps you make it work. Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps it just depends on the day and your caffeine intake.

Regardless, take this blog post as your official notification that it’s A-OK to ‘punch out’ outside of standard work hours and live – whether that includes people, pets, your favorite book, or your serious relationship with Netflix (notice: watch Daredevil, it’s amazing)

Technology and social media is amazing. It provides opportunities for us to connect and build relationships in authentic ways. When great outlets like #sachat on Twitter and numerous student affairs groups on Facebook exist, we can easily connect with folks across our profession.

However…this has it’s faults as well. I can only speak for myself but many times over the last couple years I have become very involved in the social media world of student affairs, having great dialogues and ‘meeting’ brilliant people as I learn from so many perspectives. Social media became part of my professional identity, and with that it encroached into aspects of my personal identity.

Where does personal identity and professional identity end? Does it end in our current world of social media? I believe there are many answers to those questions, and they’ve all been debated before in the Twitterverse. What do you think?

Essentially, it can be fairly easy to become overwhelmed with all things student affairs, between our long work weeks, stressful work, social media, social groups, and more. It’s like we’re stranded on a desert island, surrounded by a sea of glitter, conduct reports, theories, and event planning checklists.

So take a break, friends. Student affairs isn’t a 7/11, open all the time and dedicated to smothering you like an old-fashioned grandparent wondering why you haven’t birthed a litter of children yet at the ripe old age of 29.

Have some waffles. Spend time with people/things you care about.

Remember – work is third.

(and possibly even further down the list).

The Important Things in Life, according to Leslie Knope

#HonoringWebFolk with shoutouts and thanks

By Rachel Luna

Inspired by a grassroots effort from author and web expert Molly E. Holzschlag (@mollydotcom), today is “Unsung Leaders of the Web Day” as folks are invited to shout out messages of thanks.

Who are the unsung leaders of the web in your community?

  • Was there a digital ambassador who helped you get on board with web technology?
  • Do you have a great IT support team?
  • How about an awesome content manager?
  • Can you send a virtual high-five to your favorite bloggers?
  • Who is that person in your life you can always go to with web tech questions?
  • Who do you count on to be the innovator and push the envelope of the web?

Check out the #HonoringWebFolk hashtag on Twitter and add your own acknowledgements.  Perhaps you can extend the spirit of this movement beyond social media and take the time to show these folks how much you appreciate them with a hand-written thank you card or even a face-to-face conversation.

#HonoringWebFolk with shoutouts and thanks

Grace Hopper – “Queen of Code”

by Kristen Abell

If you follow this blog and don’t know the name “Grace Hopper,” I hope to amend that in this blog post. Grace Hopper was a programmer during World War II and essentially created COBOL – the basis for computer code. But that’s just a brief bio. Recently FiveThirtyEight featured a short film about her on their Signals series that is well worth a watch: Queen of Code. It’s about seventeen minutes long, and you should definitely take the time to find out more about her. As far as women in tech go, she’s one of the more amazing ones.

I also appreciate that this film was directed by a woman – Gillian Jacobs from the television show “Community.” How can you not love it now?

Let us know – who are your favorite women in technology?

Grace Hopper – “Queen of Code”