It’s OK to be a Technology Nerd

By Kathryn Magura

Hi, my name is Kathryn, and I am a technology nerd. Phew, that felt good to say in this safe space. Is this a safe space? Can I share what I’m thinking here? I’m going to go ahead and say yes.

As I confessed above, I am a technology nerd. What does that mean? It means I enjoy discovering new technology and really learning the ins and outs of a new system. Have a recommendation for a new scheduling software tool? Let me check it out! Want me to look at a new social media site? Don’t mind if I do! I enjoy the challenge of discovery in trying out a system I don’t know, and rejoice in feeling like I truly understand it.

Over time, my role within student affairs has taken on more of a technological spin, and I’m just fine with that. I have blogged before about how I sort of fell into a technology role after years of convincing myself I was no good with technology. Now I get super excited to test out new technology. I even get jazzed about finding the technology vendors at conferences and starting up a conversation!

As we go through some changes at work, it appears that my love for testing out new technology will soon be put to the test. I am nervous, excited, and a bit scared for what this can all mean, so I am choosing to take comfort and pride in knowing that I am a true technology nerd, and will learn a lot about a variety of software packages (and probably myself) as I go through this process.

So tell me, who else is a technology nerd? Or do you prefer the term technology geek?

It’s OK to be a Technology Nerd

Highlight A Woman: Stacy Oliver-Sikorski

By Kathryn Magura

Hello everyone! Today I have the pleasure of highlighting a woman who has not only been a pioneer of advocacy for women in Student Affairs, she is also a good friend of mine. Stacy Oliver-Sikorski has been a mainstay in the Student Affairs community on Twitter. Surprisingly, Stacy has never been featured in this series, so consider that glitch fixed!

  1. Tell us a little about yourself, and how you use technology in your professional role? I currently serve as the Associate Director of Residence Life for Student Success at Lake Forest College, a small, private liberal arts college 30 miles north of Chicago. In my role, I work primarily with housing operations — including room assignment processes , academic programming, and student conduct. Technology is imperative in my role. If our office is a bus, my role is serving as the computer in the engine. I work intently with our student information system, our conduct software, and we recently started the implementation of a housing software solution to assist with assignments and operations.
  2. What advice do you have for women looking to get into a career path of leadership in technology? Very simply, you can’t break it. People, especially women, are intimidated by technology and afraid of breaking something. I jump in, feet first, and start testing the limits of our solutions. I ask questions when I don’t see a function that would be helpful for me. I try new things. I always have a test student in each of our systems so I can run through a series of processes before launching something more widely. I meet regularly with Tonja, my colleague in IT, to talk through what I have going on in my world and what ideas she has for helping. I regularly ask her to teach me things so I can do them for myself, rather than letting her do them for me semester after semester.
  3. SLOWhen you were younger, did you ever see yourself pursuing a career in technology? Absolutely not. I’ve always been a nerd, but in different ways. This position is the first place that all of these separate interests have collided into something that finally makes sense for me.
  4. When you were younger, did you ever see yourself pursuing a career in technology? Absolutely not. I’ve always been a nerd, but in different ways. This position is the first place that all of these separate interests have collided into something that finally makes sense for me.
  5. What are some barriers for women in technology? Women are afraid to ask questions, afraid to look stupid in front of others.  But it’s through asking those questions that we learn. Women are also not always given access to technology in the way men are, even from the time they are young. Open doors for yourself, tear down walls. Even if you don’t have the solutions, asking the right questions is a perfectly valid reason to claim your seat at the technology table.
  6. Who are your female role models (student affairs or otherwise)? Oh, you don’t have time for this list. Deb Schmidt-Rogers at DePaul University is who I aspire to be; Anne Lombard at SUNY-ESF is my cherished mentor of 11 years; Kristen Abell at UMKC is someone whose courage and passion is awe inducing; Kathy Collins at Michigan State University is a force in this field and in my life.
  7. If you were one of the seven dwarves, which would you be and why? Sneezy. I’m allergic to EVERYTHING. I sneeze twice every morning while eating a banana, and I have no idea why (neither does my allergist). 🙂


Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy!

Highlight A Woman: Stacy Oliver-Sikorski

What’s up with WhatsApp?

By Josie Ahlquist

This will serve as my first official post as part of the blogging team on Student Affairs Women Talk Tech, which I am honored to be part of!  I am a second year doctoral student at California Lutheran University, with my research based around social media and higher education.

I will admit my primary lens of technology in higher ed is through communications, marketing and community development, hence why many of my posts will have roots in social media.  I am not always an early adopter or ‘in the know’ about every new device or platform.   It takes a little convincing and sometimes even a couple tries for something new to sink in.  Many times I will explore a new application, but with the intent of answering two questions: the what and the why.

So, I appreciated the challenge of specifically highlighting an app, which has been picking up steam with youth around the globe called WhatsApp.  Last week a number of articles were released, featuring the strength of WhatsApp, especially to youth.  I caught myself asking, “What’s Up with WhatsApp?!”

As listed on their company website:

“WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.”

The company started in 2009 from previous Yahoo staff, with now 10 billion messages per day.  The reported that CEO Jan Koum announced there are 350 million active users, up 50 million just from August.

What does this mean?  An article from The guardian claimed it makes WhatsApp the largest messaging app in the world by users, even more than Twitter at 218 million.

Finally, what really got my attention was an ABC News feature, on how teens are leaving Facebook for WhatsApp.  The article points to teens finding networks that adults are not on and are instant communication tools.

Armed with information (like a true doctoral student/qualitative researcher), I sought to understand from others why they use WhatsApp.  I took to the Twitter stream, seeing if any of my followers actively used it.

Within seconds, responders cheered.  The common theme: communication with family in other countries.  This makes sense, as WhatsApp has the strongest force outside of the United States.

For me, without close family in other countries, it is hard to know if I would have begun using this application at an earlier date.  Come to find out, I have had the app downloaded on my iPhone for sometime, buried in a folder three swipes in.

Logging into the application was simple and automatically populated with the contacts in my phone.   When I downloaded it over a year ago, I added the byline “exploring.”  While I am still not what WhatsApp would classify as one of their 350 million active users, I am keeping a close eye and, as my byline announces, still exploring.

I encourage my colleagues to do the same.  Applications will surge, settled and compete against the next emerging platform.  For WhatsApp, this is against WeChat, who has a strong presence in China and 235 million monthly active users globally.

No matter the app, what can be assumed is that mobile communication applications are in demand.  Mobile users are looking for alternative methods for messaging other than text, especially those connecting internationally.   As higher education professionals the challenge is not to download every emerging app, rather gaining an understanding of trends and answering the what and the why.

Happy Exploring!




What’s up with WhatsApp?

Highlight an App: Groupme

By Niki Messmore

These are strange times for communication. We live in a period that has dozens of available platforms to communicate with others (phone, Skype, Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, etc) yet it can still be difficult to touch base with those we care about. While 3-way phone calls were a hip thing back when I was a teen, society’s methods for group communication have evolved. Yet besides Facebook and email, what are the best ways to communicate with a group?

If you say texting, you’re only partially correct – while many of the smart phones will create a group text that allows everyone to see all responses, if a person has a different brand phone or a ‘dumb’ phone, then it appears as randomized texting gibberish that gets confusing to understand.

Groupme is the alternative that brings together a group conversation over text regardless of phone type. This app is available for download over phones, tablets, and computers. You register using your phone number and then, upon granting access to your phone, groupme will bring up all your contacts who use groupme. Have a contact who does not? No problem! As long as you have their phone number you can add someone to a group conversation – even if they haven’t downloaded the app.

The app is simple to use and allows images to be sent along with texts as well. All images sent within the group are saved, providing you with a private photo album.

I enjoy groupme for keeping in touch with groups of friends. It allows us all to communicate and send updates on lives at once, hereby making it easier to keep in touch and have ‘real talk’ about life updates. It can also be great for special event planning and other work opportunities when having quick contact with one another can be crucial.

I’m not a heavy user of groupme just yet – mostly because a)I’m a grad student, b)it is October; ergo c)I have less time for social fun – but I think it is a simple and creative way to communicate with groups of people. Special shout out to Courtney Rousseau for introducing me to the app!

So what do you think – is groupme an efficient and fun way to keep in touch with people? Or are there better alternatives out there? Let me know in the comments or hit me up via Twitter @NikiMessmore


Highlight an App: Groupme

Another Running Metaphor

By Kathryn Magura

I know, I know, my title made you groan. But I got your attention right? Well, before you close your browser, hear me out. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks about why I continue to try running. I don’t like it much, and I’m not particularly good at it. Quite the endorsement, right? Why don’t I quit? Good question.

Last night, a friend of mine sent me the following blog post about why one seasoned blogger thinks more women don’t follow a career as a computer programmer. After reading that post, it occurred to me: running is my new technology. Huh? Still with me?

While I think the aforementioned blogger is misguided in his thoughts on why women aren’t getting into computer programming (as evidenced by this previous post), it got me thinking about why I never thought I’d be good working with technology – which made the discovery that I am actually very good at technology that much more of a pleasant surprise!

I never thought I was good with technology, but I never really gave it a shot until I started working professionally. Why didn’t I think I was good with it? I don’t think anyone ever told me I was bad. And I’d certainly been an early adopter of the internet, and all the fun tools associated with it, but I guess I never equated that to technology skill. I didn’t really know if I had any skills with computers or technology until I started using it and my intuitive senses took over.

On many levels, my thoughts about my running ability parallel my initial thoughts on my skills with technology. I have never been much of a fan of running, partially because I never thought I was any good at it. Granted, I never really tried much, but the few times I HAD run, I wasn’t much of a fan. Sound familiar?

So there it is, I run because I never thought I would be any good at it. Am I good runner? Well, I haven’t quit yet, isn’t that what matters? Besides, I’m not competing with the person on the treadmill next to me, I’m competing with my own inner demons and self-deprecating lies that tell me I’m no good at running. I’ve believed those lies for far too long, just like I did when I didn’t think I was any good with technology. Don’t I owe myself the chance to prove myself wrong?

Another Running Metaphor

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

By Kathryn Magura

I’ve had the opportunity to present on a number of topics over the years, and have tried a variety of presentation platforms and applications. Today I thought I’d discuss some of the platforms I’ve used, and what I like or dislike about each:

  1. Prezi: A few years ago, Prezi was all the rage for presentations. As someone who typically embraces new technology, I was eager to learn Prezi. While I enjoyed the online platform utilized for Prezi, and the ability to edit a presentation with co-presenters, I never felt like the usability became intuitive for me. Sure, I could put together a decent presentation, and knew not to have the path of travel jump around, but I felt like I had to re-learn how to use Prezi each time I created a new presentation. Not exactly what you’re looking for when needing to create a presentation. 
  2. Dropbox: One thing I’ve really found useful, especially when working collaboratively on research projects, is the use of Dropbox. Dropbox allows you to save data on servers that can be accessed anywhere. If someone has permission to access your server repository, they can access the data you have there, and use it for whatever collaboration project you are working on. While there is no specific presentation platform associated with Dropbox, I do think it’s helpful for shared data storage – especially if there is a significant amount of data to share.
  3. Google Drive: Lately I’ve been using the software available via Google Drive for a variety of things, including presentations. Google Drive has an application called “presentation” that resembles PowerPoint, which has made the learning curve very small. Google Drive Presentation also allows you to work on something online, and therefore provides the capability to edit a presentation collaboratively. I have been able to work on a presentation simultaneously with a colleague in Chicago, and see the changes she makes instantaneously. Plus, it helps that Google Drive saves automatically and frequently. The last thing you want is to spend a ton of time on a presentation only to lose it when you don’t save it.

So those are some of the presentation platforms I have used recently. What are your favorites?

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

Leading With Technology: Can We Afford Not To?

By Anitra Cottledge and Brenda Bethman

At the 2012 National Women’s Studies Association conference, at a session entitled “Reclaiming Our Staff: Structures, Competencies and Feminist Practices” (which Anitra co-presented and Brenda attended), we discussed competencies for women’s center staff. Brenda suggested that we include technological literacy and marketing/communications in that list of competencies.

Of course, to say that technology is an area that women’s center staff (and beyond that, staff and faculty in student affairs, and in higher education, in general) should have some knowledge of and even develop leadership in, raises some questions: what exactly does that knowledge consist of? How do we add the use of technology to already-full days? How do we, as leaders, find the time to role model the feminist use of technology? How do we provide services both online and F2F with shrinking budgets and staffs?

The two of us will address these questions, but considering the potential length of the response to each question, we will do this in a series of posts. This first post introduces the series. Our next post will provide an answer to our first question: “What constitutes ‘knowledge’ of technology?” To help us get there, we want to hear from you! Please let us know in the comments what you think someone needs to know in order to claim “knowledge of technology.” We’ll synthesize those along with our own thoughts and previous work on this question for our next post.

Leading With Technology: Can We Afford Not To?

Considering the Classroom Technology Policy

By Anitra Cottledge

Somehow mid-July has creeped up on us, and I am beginning to think about teaching in the fall, and useful ways to integrate technology into my course curriculum. This is a conversation that I’ve been having with a number of people; I even had one conversation recently where a group of people contemplated the feasibility of building an entire curriculum around TED talks. (What do you think? Do you think that could work?)

TED talks and their ubiquitous awesomeness aside, I am wondering about the utility of having some sort of technology policy in an age of smartphones, iPads and tablets. I have a faculty acquaintance who is real serious about the use of technology during class. For them, the act of Student A texting during class is both rude and akin to that student flushing their discussion/participation points for that day down the toilet. How can one participate in a class discussion if they’re playing Candy Crush Saga on their iPad?

I get that approach and am in favor of stating expectations around technology usage upfront and in the syllabus. The sticky wicket is, how do you formulate a tech policy that allows for some use of technology that may help students engage with a topic or idea? What if you want the whole class to experiment with Twitter during class time? What if you have a great idea for students using Facebook as a means of sociopolitical engagement?

Of course, engaging in some of these experiments during class time comes with an assumption that every student has access to the tools (i.e., phone, laptop, etc.) that will enable them to participate and/or that you have access to the resources that will allow you to provide those tools to everyone. There’s ways around this, of course, and possibilities that take into consideration both accessibility and creativity.

So, to those of us who teach, how do you manage all of these issues? Do you have a technology policy? I would love to hear your ideas and reflections in the comments.

Considering the Classroom Technology Policy

Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

By Kathryn Magura

As I sat down to write this post tonight, I felt uninspired for a topic. I asked Twitter if anyone had a suggestion, but came up empty handed (to be fair, I had only given people about 30 minutes to respond). I then decided to check the #sachat hashtag to see what the Student Affairs community on Twitter had been talking about today. Perhaps I could find inspiration there? Sure enough, I came across this tweet from Erica Thompson that got my attention:

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Before I get into discussing my thoughts on websites in higher ed, a disclaimer: I am not responsible for my departmental website. I do not get to say what goes where, or edit the content. That said, I am part of a team that continually revises our website, and am responsible for the customer experience our current and future residents have via our website. I’m also a big fan of social media, and helped get our department started on Facebook and Twitter years ago. What does this mean? While, I do not have the web development or programming background to make a quality website, I DO have strong thoughts on how a website should be organized. Basically, when I don’t like something on our website, I’m that pain in the ass who will continue to talk about it until something changes. 😉

I have spent a lot of time looking at higher ed websites. If I have a job interview, I like to research the website for the office and see what information is available to me. I have also done quite a bit of research for the work I do with my national association in terms of benchmarking best practices based on what I can find on other university websites. So when I say this, know that it comes from a lot of experience. For the most part, I find most higher ed websites I encounter to be difficult to navigate and unintuitive. Basically, they suck. Sorry, it’s the truth. Why can’t I find things like a staff list or departmental policies easily? Why can’t I figure out what your department does when I go to your website? Isn’t that sort of the point?

One thing I stress with our web management team is to continually look at our website through the eyes of our customers. Can a student find everything they need to know to make an informed decision about the services we offer? Can a parent find who to contact about a specific concern? Why do we in essence “bury the lead” so often? In my experience, most higher ed websites are organized in ways that align with various departmental desires and goals, not for easy navigation by a customer. Does the content on your website help a customer (yes, students are customers, that was the topic of another post) get the information they need without having to call or email you? Does your website look like a boring link farm of over-saturated information? Do YOU know how to find information on your website without using the search tool?

So here’s my challenge to you: I would love to see examples of higher ed websites you perceive are doing things well. What do you like about their site? Let’s share examples of best practices with each other so we can help each other improve for the better.


Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

App Highlight: Key Ring

By Valerie Heruska

Recently, I joined Boston Sports Club. When I joined, and like other gyms that came before it, they gave me a pesky plastic tag to put on my keys. This tag has my barcode membership on it and will allow me access to my gym.

I hate plastic key tags. With a passion.

The membership coordinator who helped me out that day told me about an App for my smartphone called: key ring. He said that all I need to do is download it for free and them scan the barcode of my card. Simple.

I immediately went home and downloaded this app. Let me tell you: this app is amazing. Not only am I amble to put my gym key tag on there, but all my loyalty cards: ranging from grocery stores to clothing stores and everything in between.

The app is simple. All you do is scan the barcode and then tap add new. You search the list of merchants and then select the corresponding store. Bonus: you get coupons and fliers updated weekly. For example, CVS will add the most up-to-date flier and store deals on there. There are also coupons, and the ability to make lists.

Key Ring is a great app for anyone who has a ton of those pesky loyalty cards that are just taking up space in your wallet or on your keys. A disclaimer is that some scanners can only read the barcode if your screen brightness is all the way up. Other than that, the app is simple to use and a life changer.


App Highlight: Key Ring