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  • Learning About Technology and Student Affairs:Outcomes of an Online Immersion
  • Kristen A. Renn (bio) and Dawn M. Zeligman (bio)

The topics of technology in higher education and online teaching/learning have for many years received increased attention among higher education researchers. Research on student learning abounds with examples of the ways in which technology is influencing teaching and learning in higher education (e.g., Lewis, Coursol, & Khan, 2001; Twigg, 2004). Ways that computers, in particular, have changed faculty and student attitudes, behaviors, and identities have received increasing attention (e.g., Arabasz, Pirani, & Fawcett, 2003; Tapscott, 1998), and a parallel body of research has emerged on how higher education administrators are responding to these changes (e.g., Distance Learning Task Force [DLTF], 2000; Green, 2003). It seems clear that whether students earn degrees completely online, participate in a combination of face-to-face (F2F) and online courses, or take courses that are hybrid F2F/online formats, they will continue to require an array of student services (Barratt, 2001; Broughton, 2000; Schwitzer, Ancis, & Brown, 2001; WCET, 2003).

Recent research (Bowman & Cuyjet, 1999; Kretovics, 2003) has shown, however, that the individuals charged with providing student services in face-to-face settings—typically student affairs professionals—are not being well prepared to deal with the challenges of integrating technology and online learners into their work. Although scholars and practitioners have called for increased attention to technology in preparation programs (Baier, 1994; Bowman & Cuyjet; DLTF, 2000; Engstrom, 1997; Kretovics, 2002, 2003), the standards guiding graduate preparation program curricula (Council for the Advancement of Standards, 2003) pay relatively scant attention to technology and computer-related competencies. While many student affairs specialties have moved ahead to incorporate internet use and task-specific software into daily operations, student affairs graduate preparation programs themselves lag behind in addressing technology and the needs of online learners (Bowman & Cuyjet; Engstrom; Kretovics, 2002).

In spring 2004, we attempted to address this issue in the curriculum of a required course in a student affairs administration graduate program through a hybrid F2F/online course designed to teach student affairs master's students about technology in higher education. The study we report here was designed to examine the experiential and learning outcomes of this intervention. We address the following questions related to the course immersion: [End Page 547]

  1. 1. What is the experience of student affairs master's students immersed in an online course format where the focus of the instruction is technology and student affairs?

  2. 2. Does this immersion experience influence the attitudes of student affairs master's students toward online teaching, learning, and student services?

  3. 3. Does this immersion influence their self-reported skill level with regard to technology and student affairs?

Study Context and Method

Site and Sample

Data for the study were generated throughout and immediately following a one-semester course that is second in a pair of required courses that introduce first-year students in Student Affairs Administration (SAA) to the profession. The course took place at a public research extensive institution with an SAA master's program that draws a national student body and selects about half of applicants annually. The 19 students enrolled in spring 2004 participated in the study. It is important to note that the course instructors are also the co-authors of this article, the implications of which we discuss below.

The course was taught in three loosely linked units of five weeks each: assessment, technology, and multicultural education in student affairs. The assessment and multicultural units were taught in traditional classroom format, with minimal integration of technology or course software. During the first five F2F weeks of the course, instructors provided tutorials on technology-related skills (e.g., creating newsletters, PowerPoint presentations, and personal web pages). The middle unit—on technology and student affairs—was taught entirely online using the commercial courseware to which the university subscribes.

Data Collection

Data for the study consist of pre-, midsemester, and post-surveys of student attitudes and skills in relation to technology and student affairs, transcripts of asynchronous online discussion, and student assignments (e.g., case study solutions, reflective essays, and sample projects). Data relevant to this article are the student surveys; scaled survey items and...


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