Daniel Newhart is the Director of Student Affairs Research, Evaluation, and Planning at Oregon State University. He is the one of our distinguished faculty members and our faculty voice for this week. Daniel currently teaches AHE 513: Research and Assessment.
LinkedIn Twitter: @danielwnewhart
The best way to start this piece is with an analogy given recently by Shaun Harper at the NASPA regional conference. Shaun addressed a crowd of student affairs educators (yes, educators, that’s us!), making the case that we should be current on our scholarship in the field to best meet our student’s needs. To drive this point home, he talked about a hypothetical situation in which you go to the doctor for something that may be ailing you.
Here is that conversation, in a nutshell:
Hypothetical us: “Hi doctor. I’ve got [insert issue]. What do you think might be ailing me currently?
Doctor: “Well, the last time I read up on the medical research was during my training back in medical school.”
Hypothetical us: “So you’re saying you haven’t led the latest research on [insert issue?]”
Doctor: “I’ve been practicing for years, sure, but…”
Hypothetical us: (says nothing as we run for the door faster than our confidence in our health care provider disappears).
You can see Shaun’s point here: as student affairs educators, to best meet our student’s needs – we need to keep up on the scholarship in our field. Admittedly, this is quite hard to do when we’re not in graduate school (and even sometimes we struggle with completing the readings done IN graduate school…), but we owe it to our students to be up to date on what is happening in our field so we can be sensitive to emerging challenges that our students might face.
The beauty, however, is that technology can help us with this immensely. As libraries get more digital and technological applications become more integrated, there are more systems that we can utilize to help us with this. Since we’re on the internet (say, reading blogs) a lot anyway…
For example, the table of contents alert system allows you to keep up to date on new journal publications in your journals of choice using an RSS reader that can work with whatever browser you might currently use.
Publications that our field generally pays attention to are the Journal of College Student Development, the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, the Journal of Higher Education and the Review of Higher Education (this is by no means an exhaustive list).
Some student affairs educators use their twitter accounts (mine is an example) to push out new research and issue in higher education into the field, using appropriate hashtags for the issue at hand. The side benefit is that this provides a record of research that you have found interesting and/or pertinent to your job duties. The other side benefit is if you ever have to write a grant, publication, or report, these publications are all in one place. Tweet deck even allows you to create custom hashtag searches for areas of your interest, and keep them all running on one screen within your browser window.
Speaking of storage, the Oregon State Library system provides a page exclusively dedicated to keeping current with research. They also provide workshops in which you, as a student, can attend for free about different types of software to store your references that you may one day need.
Keeping up to date with the literature has helped me immensely in my own practice in Student Affairs Research, Evaluation and Planning. My office generally works with each office within Student Affairs, so knowing the research in such a way to help guide conversations around assessment has helped me engage other practitioners where they are, and provides a starting point for conversations about what to assess and why. Knowing the research in your own field and interest area, and keeping updated, will allow you to contribute helpfully to conversations in student affairs, as not only a practitioner, but also a scholar.
And, at some point, once you learn enough, you just might want to publish. Practitioners can, and should, publish too, as we have a lot to say. But that’s for another blog post.