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?

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Technology vs. Customer Service

The Scope of Technology

by Kristen Abell

I am often a bit befuddled by talk of technology in student affairs, as it so commonly focuses on social media – which uses technology, but isn’t necessarily technology in and of itself. I also find it interesting now that I work on website development the number of people that assume I work in IT because obviously, websites = technology (note: I don’t work in IT). Also true, and yet not.

The other day I was talking with one of our IT staff in the hallway. She commented how she could set up new computers for people all day, but she had no idea how to train them to develop or maintain websites. I countered with the fact that I could train them, but when it comes to the hardware, please leave me out of it. It’s a commonly accepted fact outside of technology that if you work in computers, you know everything about them. When the reality is quite the opposite. The more I learn about technology, the more I recognize that I don’t know about the broader field of tech.

I believe that one of our biggest challenges in student affairs is recognizing the scope of technology when we’re discussing it. It is hard to say, for example, that technology should be a competency area without defining what we mean when we’re talking about technology. Do we mean coding? Do we mean learning management systems? Do we mean social media? Or do we mean some combination of all of these things?

More importantly, how do we get away from defining just one of these things – i.e., social media – as technology in student affairs?

At some point, I think we need to define just what are the important areas of technology in which student affairs professionals need to have some competency. I don’t believe we necessarily need to have a cross-sampling of all of them, and I don’t even believe we need a deep understanding of some of them. But as a field, we need to develop standards for what we do need to know and how we might use it. I think there has been some headway in this between NASPA and ACPA, but I’d be curious to know what you believe is important for student affairs professionals to know when it comes to technology.

What should we include in a base level for technology knowledge for student affairs professionals? In a more advanced level? I hope you’ll share some thoughts in the comments below.

The Scope of Technology

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

by Rachel Luna

This week, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Lead On: Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women with 5,000 mostly female folks who gathered at the intersection of technology, leadership, and gender.  I attended this event as a volunteer resume reviewer and was also able to participate in the general sessions.  I’ll admit it was odd for me to be in a space so focused on gender as this is an aspect of my identity I don’t often have the opportunity to explore with as much depth and concentration.  Here are some of my takeaways:

Conversations I appreciated

Leadership as a ‘lady thing’

“We’re going to talk about lady things, like leadership and taking over the world in 2016,” said Kara Swisher as she kicked off the opening session.  The conference theme was “Lead On” and this sentiment was palpable in everything from the hashtag (#LeadOnCA), to the background music (“I’m every woman” and “You’re gonna hear me roar”).  Of course, the main draw for the conference was the keynote lineup, which included Hillary Clinton, Jill Abramson, Dr. Brene Brown, Candy Chang, Kara Swisher, and Diane von Furstenberg.  Their stories are remarkable not just because they are women but also because they are leaders.

Opportunities and encouragement to be change agents

Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the "Before I Die" wall.  Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.
Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the “Before I Die” wall. Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.

It wasn’t all talk at this event; leadership was in action in a variety of ways.  For example, conference participants shared goals and contributed to their own “Before I Die” wall, inspired by Candy Chang’s work.  The exhibit hall, which at most conferences is all about commercialism, featured a couple community engagement efforts, namely partnerships with Family Giving Tree (where attendees stuffed 500 backpacks with school supplies and encouraging notes for children in need) and Dress for Success San Jose (which collected donations of handbags and jewelry).  “What you do doesn’t have to be big and dramatic,” said Hillary Clinton, encouraging participants to make change.  “You don’t have to run for office,” she said with a figurative wink and nod but no official announcement about her intentions.

Conversations I wanted more of

I’ll admit I spent most of the day fulfilling my volunteer duties in the Career Pavilion, meaning I only saw the keynote addresses and attended one workshop.  So conversations like these could have happened in other spaces, but I found them glaringly lacking from the general conference dialogue and social media backchannel.

Breaking out of the gender binary

Everywhere I turned, there were examples of dualistic gender thinking.  In general sessions, female attendees were celebrated while male allies were thanked for their presence.  Every statistic was presented with just two options (ex: 70% of Google’s workforce is men and 30% women).  An announcement that some of the men’s restrooms had been converted to women’s facilities elicited a big cheer from the audience, and I couldn’t help but think why some couldn’t have been converted to all-gender spaces.  The result of these binary practices: our nonconforming community members were unacknowledged and rendered invisible.

Gender + any other aspect of diversity

I know this was a “conference for women” so it is expected we’d talk a lot about gender, but could we please acknowledge some other aspects of our identities?  While listening to the main stage speakers, I noted less than a handful of comments that directly addressed aspects of diversity other than gender.  And of those comments, most came from women of color.  By not addressing intersectionality, the female experience was painted with the same (white, middle class, well-educated) brush.  “Leaning in” and trying hard were touted as the keys to happiness and success while dynamics of privilege and power were unexamined.

Random things that got me thinking

TableTopics

  • The items in my participant swag bag included two office supplies and four body/cosmetic products, including one item for children (sunscreen). I wonder how these giveaways were determined and what conversations happened around those decisions.
  • A Nursing Mother’s Room was available for attendees.  Although I did not utilize this space, I tracked it as one of the event’s inclusion efforts and was glad to share its location with the woman who was balancing her pumping equipment and bottles on the edge of the bathroom sink.
  • An emphasis on making connections was built into conference process and content.  Intentional spaces for informal conversations were available in the exhibit hall and general session area, Twitter handles for all speakers were included in all conference materials, and almost every major speaker described women supporting women as essential to success.  In these ways, networking was framed with a relational perspective as opposed to a transactional one.
  • All the resume reviewers were volunteers from local colleges and universities.  It was nice to see higher education professionals recognized and sought out for their expertise in career support and guidance, especially in the business-driven environment of Silicon Valley.  I even consulted with someone who currently works in corporate HR and said she brought her resume because she valued the advice of career services professionals.
  • One last thing: shoutout to Kathryn Ward who also represented Samuel Merritt University as a resume reviewer and drove us both around the Bay Area that day!

Have you attended a conference like this?  What were your takeaways?  What would you like to see at a “conference for women”?

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

How we listen determines who gets heard

By Rachel Luna

Despite living only about 15 miles from my office, I usually spend about 90 minutes in the car each day thanks to SF Bay Area traffic.  Radio stations with the same few songs do not hold my interest very long, so I’ve turned to podcasts and audiobooks for education and entertainment during my commute.  Some of my favorites include This American Life (and its breakout hit Serial), The Moth, Radiolab, and TED Talks (audio version).

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my consumption of these media.  From where I sit –  listening to public radio on my smartphone as I drive to my full time job – I represent many privileges, such as education level and socioeconomic class.  Add on lenses from the hosts and reporters I choose to download, and even more aspects of power and privilege influence my media.  All this leads me to ask: What stories am I choosing to listen to?  Who is telling these stories?  How and why are they being told?  What am I doing with the knowledge and insights gained by listening to these stories?  What role am I playing in perpetuating media and power dynamics?

Amidst the popularity of Serial, there was quite a backlash and back-and-forth response about the show’s treatment of racial and cultural dynamics.  Last week Chenjerai Kumanyika published this piece about race and voice in public radio.  Subsequent conversations from NPR’s Code Switch with the #PubRadioVoice hashtag further explored the intersections of race, culture, and media content.  One commenter on the #PubRadioVoice hashtag said that people of color are seen as “interesting subject matter” as opposed to potential audience members.  When the same types of people control the storytelling, certain stories might be left out, told inaccurately, or have harmful impacts.  Homogeneity in the media is problematic for both process and content.

So how can this be changed?  Part of the solution is in empowering diverse voices and promoting multiple platforms for storytelling to create more multicultural content.   But new content is not itself sufficient for change.  As a listener, I need to check myself and look beyond popularity on iTunes to find these multiple perspectives.  I have to intentionally seek out voices that represent perspectives outside of the mainstream.  So far I’ve had more luck finding diverse content in the audiobook arena than with podcasts.  Most recently, I’ve listened to a few texts written and read by the authors, including Maya Angelou narrating I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Khaled Hosseini narrating The Kite Runner.  The synergy of the authors’ words combined with their own voices results in an authentic listening experience like no other.

A popular quote about stories says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world” (attributed to either Hopi Native American proverbs or Plato, depending on the source).  I believe a more complete perspective includes, “Those who listen to the stories choose the rulers.”

For those interested in the tech aspects, I use iTunes and BeyondPod to manage my podcasts, depending on the device.  For audiobooks, I turn to local libraries in the cities where I live and work.  Although I sometimes borrow the actual CDs, I am lucky that both of my local systems have OverDrive, an app that lets me download audiobooks directly to my mobile devices, so most often I don’t even have to leave my car to check out new titles.

How do you hear stories from people of a variety identities and cultures?  What audiobooks or podcasts do you recommend?  Comment below or tweet with me @RachelHLuna.

How we listen determines who gets heard

Why Student Affairs Professionals Should Care About #GamerGate

By Kathryn Magura

**Warning: this blog post contains content of a violent nature that may unintentionally trigger someone. Please read on with caution.**

 

I am not a gamer. I do not go online and play video games with other people. Why then would I purport to get involved with an issue called #GamerGate?

Well, for starters, women are being threatened with horrendous crimes because they have chosen to speak out against #GamerGate. Yes, you read that correctly. Women – a growing population in the gaming world – are being threatened with specific threats of violence like gang rape when they choose to speak out against the sexism in gaming. If you are not aware, there is quite a bit of overt sexism in the gaming world. Everything from female characters who are sexualized to bullying women out of the community, it is truly an ugly world to be a part of if you are a woman. That said, some women still choose to partake simply because they love to game. Something they have every right to continue doing.

Women who speak out against #GamerGate face a real threat of being doxxed (which is internet speak for when personally identifying information like address, age, Social Security Number is published) and thusly sent into hiding. Felicia Day, a famous gamer and actress finally spoke out against #GamerGate, and within minutes was doxxed. Men who speak out do not face the same doxxing threats. Why?  This is wrong, and the only way to stop it is to draw more attention to the issue.

For some more context about this issue, those who are pro #GamerGate claim that the issue is about media ethics in gaming. When I first tweeted about #GamerGate:

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 8.22.37 PM

I received quite a few responses from people who defended #GamerGate under the belief that they were defending the need for more ethics in gaming. While I believe these people wholeheartedly believe this version of #GamerGate, they are also incredibly naive to ignore what has happened to the women who speak out against #GamerGate. These atrocities are happening to women only, not the men who also speak out. How is this an issue of gaming ethics??

Newsweek sought out to answer the question of what the root issue of #GamerGate is, and concluded that #GamerGate is about harassing women more than gaming ethics. In 2014 we have blatant sexism running rampant without consequence. THIS IS NOT OK.

So why should Student Affairs professionals care about #GamerGate? Besides the fact that we have women being harassed and threatened, there is a deeper issue at play here. Many of these gamers who are threatening women and sharing their private information are our students. They are our residents on campus. They are the students in our first year seminar classes. They are the students who attend our events (or not).

We have students on our campuses who think it is ok to publish personal information about a woman, or even threaten to rape her, simply because she disagrees with him. This is not ok. We need to reach out to these students and help them see the true value in other human beings. This is not a game. This is reality, and people are getting hurt. The threat is real, and we owe it to these gamers to encourage them to see the difference.

Why Student Affairs Professionals Should Care About #GamerGate

The “Future Student Affairs Grad Students” Facebook Community

By Niki Messmore

The process for selecting a graduate program in student affairs is changing. The platform for this change: Future Student Affairs Grad Students (FSAGS), a public Facebook group that boasts 4,093 members as of Oct 21, 2014.

Several years in the making, there are 13 administrators who monitor the page. Members include prospective students, currently enrolled graduate students, recent graduates who joined the group during their graduate program search, and current faculty members. It is a highly active group with 55 posts in the last 7 days.

No longer are students exploring programs through just their personal contacts, but now they have the opportunity to explore programs from around the country with a simple post.

I’ve been observing and participating in the group for around the last two years and it is interesting to consider what impacts it may be creating. Here are a few brief thoughts that require further exploration and discussion:

Observed Benefits

  1. There is an online community for individuals who want to enter student affairs
  2. A variety of schools are represented; top-ranked, regional campus, counseling focus, administrative focus, etc
  3. Great opportunity for current graduate students to take ownership of their experience and engage in mentoring activities with prospective students
  4. Information on #SAgrad programs is notoriously difficult to find (NASPA’s website is ok but not easily accessible). Prospective students can easily inquire about almost any program and almost every post has at least one (or twenty) responses.
  5. The group is accumulating a wealth of user-generated resources, such as database on program assistantships (70 positions/schools & counting) and information on graduate programs.

Areas of Concern

  1. Group think can occur. Some posts (especially around Jan-March) cultivate a hive mind that student affairs as a field already has difficulty shaking.
  2. Unsure what the best course is for rules of engagement. There is a list of SA grad program information with current student contact names, but often prospective students don’t take time to look for the list and post general questions. They literally list 12 schools that they are interested in attending and asks “who goes here?”
    • While this is probably helpful for prospective students, it is time consuming for highly engaged folks who reply to multiple posts and – quite frankly – can be terribly annoying after a while.
  3. Who should be a member? Some prospective and current students post fairly personal thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. Should assistantship providers and program faculty stay away from this group so the space is safe? Or do they have wisdom to provide?
  4. It can become, at times, a space that straddles the line between shameless self-promotion & helpful information
  5. There’s a reason why we can’t cite Wikipedia: crowd-sourced information isn’t always accurate. Some advice that is provided should probably, well, not.

Follow-up Questions

  1. Is FSAGS a community? The exchanges are often brief Q&A, so it is difficult to tell if authentic relationships are being built across social media. Will these connections last?
  2. Will this impact how SA grad programs market themselves? Should we be providing current students with more ‘marketing’-esque info since they have a more public opportunity to represent our programs? Already some personnel and students are using the group to share their marketing information, like visiting days and webinars.
  3. Are prospective students being authentic? From reviewing posts (quite a few ‘inspirational’ links about leadership), it appears that some may recognize they are being observed by individuals that could impact their opportunity for an assistantship…or is that just who they are?
  4. Will this even the playing ground for lesser-known or newer programs to market their degree and increase applications? Grad programs rate based on reputation. With easily accessible space provided, programs can really get their name out there.

Ultimately, it is a very cool corner of the internet. This group creates further exposure to student affairs, thus possibly increasing awareness to students who may not have considered a masters in higher education. Currently, the group is a wealth of information for navigating the grad school process and it may also increase accessibility for historically underrepresented populations – which is awesome!

Have you had any experiences with the group? Do you think this is a positive addition to the student affairs field? Please comment or tweet me at @NikiMessmore. I’ve been thinking on this group a lot and what it may mean – I would love to hear your perspectives!

The “Future Student Affairs Grad Students” Facebook Community

5 Ways to Involve Students in Accessibility Efforts

By Rachel Luna

Accessibility is a team sport, and students are great teammates to recruit.  Involving students in efforts to increase accessibility is a win-win solution.  First, everyone wins when campus environments are more accessible.  In addition, bringing students into the process can provide robust learning opportunities for all involved by increasing awareness of accessibility issues and gaining enhanced technical knowledge.  Not to mention, there are potential psychosocial benefits for students particularly in regards to developing self-efficacy, advocacy, and leadership skills.  Here are a few ideas for involving students in your campus accessibility efforts:

  1. Solicit Feedback – Are you updating your website, creating campus accessibility guidelines (see this example at University of Wisconsin, Madison), or considering a new software vendor?  Invite students with disabilities to beta test and provide feedback on your websites, applications, and projects.
  2. Program with Student Organizations – Does your campus have a student organization regarding disabilities (such as Student Awareness for Disability Empowerment at Cal State Monterey Bay)?  What about one for STEM majors?  Perhaps the groups could collaborate on a program featuring demonstrations of assistive technology available on your campus.
  3. Teach Student Staff – Do you have students who produce marketing materials or web content?  Train them on principles of universal design in education and encourage them incorporate the new concepts into their work.  Or, have them explore on their own and present what they learned during a staff meeting.
  4. Collaborate in the Classroom – Does your institution have computer science or programming classes?  Connect with a faculty member and suggest captioning videos as a class project.  You could provide campus videos that have yet to be captioned and students could have hands-on learning of these technical skills in a social justice context by working with content that is relevant to their community.
  5. Provide Student Employment or Volunteer Opportunities – What accessibility services or programs are provided by your campus?  Students can often be hired as notetakers, cart drivers, or other assistive aides.  Technology peer mentors (like the ones at Portland Community College) can teach fellow students how to effectively use computers and technology.

What are ways you involve students in efforts to make your campus more accessible and inclusive?  Comment below or tweet me with your experiences and ideas!

Special shout outs to Kathryn Magura (@Kmagura), Gregg Wandsneider (@blindfaith21), rita zhang (@12itazhang), Amy Jorgensen (@AmyLJorgensen), and Kaela Parks (@KaelaParks) for engaging in discussions with me to inspire this post and introduce some of the examples.

5 Ways to Involve Students in Accessibility Efforts