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Redefining Student Affairs Through Digital Technology: A Ten-Year Historiography of Digital Technology Use by Student Affairs Administrators

Edmund T Cabellon, Johnson & Wales University


The student affairs profession is at a crossroads (Torres & Walbert, 2010) given digital technology’s growth and the academy’s administrative expansion (Bowen, 2013). Student affairs administrators must simultaneously respond to digital technology’s implications in students’ lives (Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010) and to new state and federal compliance mandates connected to their expanding campus roles (Dungy & Gordon, 2010). Student affairs leaders acknowledge that these competing priorities demand more nimble responses (Manning, Kinzie, & Schuh, 2013; McClennan & Stringer, 2009). Significant research (Barr, McClennan, & Sandeen, 2014; Elkins, 2015; Dungy & Gordon, 2010; Junco, 2014; Kuk, 2012; Torres & Walbert, 2010) highlights that student affairs administrator‘s digital technology use can augment traditional in-person co-curricular student experiences; yet, minimal research exists on how student affairs administrators utilize digital technology. This qualitative, historical, interpretive study analyzed student affairs administrators’ digital technology use from 2005 to 2015. Three research questions and three sub-questions framed the research design, which utilized three data sources. The researcher conducted (N=16) interviews with student affairs professionals and educators. Elite interviews (N=5) were conducted with some of the earlier student affairs digital technology adopters, while (N=11) key informant interviews were conducted with administrators who started their professional careers in 2005. (N=206) documents, including conference presentations and publications, were collected through the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) and College Student Educators International (ACPA)’s websites. Data were analyzed in-case and across cases to highlight overall themes and a progressive timeline of how student affairs professionals used digital technology throughout their work. Using the futurology lens, the researcher envisioned how student affairs should use technology over the next ten years. Analysis revealed that since 2005, student affairs administrators utilized digital technology to build capacity in their campus work, augment existing engagement efforts with students, faculty, and staff, and inspire change within and outside of their institution. Additionally, a historic timeline described how NASPA and ACPA provided limited, yet progressive, digital technology professional development education. Student affairs administrators, professional organizations, and academy leaders leading digital technology implementation efforts might utilize the researcher’s recommendations as a starting point to catalyze the academy’s ongoing evolution.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|Educational technology

Recommended Citation

Cabellon, Edmund T, "Redefining Student Affairs Through Digital Technology: A Ten-Year Historiography of Digital Technology Use by Student Affairs Administrators" (2016). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10013238.