Imagine a world where digital territories of information overlap, interact, and modify existing physical infrastructures of people, places, and ideas.

I’m under the impression that college prepares humans to be critical thinkers, who are future focused, innovative, and socially just citizens—and as higher education professionals, we must be able to navigate emerging geographies of information (i.e. geopolitics or “politics of space”), technologies, and ideologies that form and reform the campus ecology of the 21st century.

I then ask: if we market our events on the internet, what other facets of this online communication medium are we introducing to the college experience?

With my research I intend to explore the impact that the internet has on the participants of mixed-reality college events. The term mixed-reality is in reference to events that are often hosted in physical, offline spaces, while supplemented with digital, public communication. These supplemental communication spaces, such as internet chat rooms, and live-streaming media, have been shown to produce non-authentic, and often hateful communication (Donath, 2014; Enli, 2015; Phillips, 2015). Making use of research in field of science and technology studies (STS), I seek to employ a constructivist epistemology, which is known to explore how humans make meaning of reality through social interaction (Henning & Roberts, 2016; Kleinman & Moore, 2014). The constructivist approach will illuminate the ability of CMC to impact an individual’s perception of what is to be true in the physical world, through a meaning making reality construct and through “embodied cognition” (Lagos, Coopman, & Tomhave, 2014).

New media communication scholarship has identified a necessity for new design practices in order to facilitate authentic communication online (Donath, 2014; Enli, 2015; Lagos, Coopman, & Tomhave, 2014; Tung-Hui, 2015).


An event known as the “Speak-Out” occurred in the fall of 2015 at Oregon State University (OSU), the event, designed by student leaders, was for students of color to speak out about injustice at OSU. I have decided to categorize the event as semi-private, as while the Speak-Out was open to the public and OSU community, members without an authentic interest in the issues of injustice would likely not have been allowed to physically disrupt the dialogue of the event, or jeopardize the safety of the OSU students, faculty, and staff. The event was live-streamed for those who could not attend in person, and a chat room was also created that let both OSU affiliated and anonymous users interact while watching the event. Just as the event started, the link to the chat room was anonymously posted on the website 4chan (, and immediately the chat room was saturated with digital hate speech (i.e., internet trolling) from anonymous internet users.


Student Development Theories

Student events and experiences in college include interaction in mixed-reality spaces. These environments introduce new communication technologies, and changing environments of human interaction, creating spaces that the higher education community currently seeks to understand (ACPA & NASPA, 2015; Stoller, 2016a; Stoller, 2016b). Connection of the OSU Speak-Out to student development theories will be made to better understand the complex interactions that technology has on the student experience. Four theories will be used, providing a lens to examine the mixed-reality case study described above through analysis, consideration, and discussion.

Epistemological Reflective Model (ERM)

Baxter Magolda’s ERM provides a good starting point to analyze the intellectual development that occurs when students (and the researchers observing the students) are exposed to new environments such as the Speak-Out. Newly formed information and communication geographies are created once new actors (i.e., participants) are introduced to the Speak-Out conversation; the online environment then becomes a space for non-authentic speech as well as authentic speech — all of which impacted the OSU students and community members’ experience at the Speak-Out event. Not only does Magolda’s ER account for this changing learning environment, but the theory also makes extensive use of meaning and making, as well as an exploration into how people construct reality from their experiences, which is also a common epistemology in science and technology studies (STS) as well (Kleinman & Moore, 2014; Magolda, 2011). Situating STS scholarship within the context of student affairs, and college student services requires the identification of theories that lend well to both fields.

The ERM will guide the development of questions that assess a student’s comprehension of, and intention to comprehend the impact that geographies of information can have on college student’s learning experience and environment. The ERM provides a framework to determine whether or not students are able to understand the ambiguous and uncertain nature of the internet, which is essential to accurately further determine the impact that the internet as a communication technology has on the student experience. As I continue to articulate the Speak Out as the context for a case study, and begin to inquire into the larger, interdisciplinary, complex, and ill-defined nature of the context that surrounds online, and offline communications and interactions use of the ERM will allow for me to learn more about students and professional staff’s perceptions of the human dimensions of science and technology.

Human Developmental Ecology (HDE)

Another approach that will guide my research is based on research in the field of psychological and human developmental ecology; specifically, the time based models of human ecology, drawing from the research of Urie Bronfenbrenner, and more recently the work of Karen D. Arnold, Elissa C. Lu, and Kelli J. Armstrong (Arnold, Lu, & Armstrong, 2012). Using human developmental ecology (HDE), an exploration of how the internet acts as an ecosystem of information, one that can be visualized through each component of the HDE: process, person, context and time (Arnold, Lu, & Armstrong, 2012; Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010). Furthermore, the HDE illuminates a connection to information geographies, which will be connected to geopolitical design theory, as well as Parks’ faith development theory (Bratton, 2015; Donath, 2014; Parks, 2011). Currently, there is much scholarship regarding the internet and its ability to create new information geographies that may impact aspects of the real (i.e. physical) world in ways that offline communication networks, boundaries, and borders do as well (Dijck & Poell, 2015; Donath, 2014; Enli, 2015; Lagos, Coopman, & Tomhave 2014; Rogers, 2012; Tung-Hui, 2015). Using the HDE, I will explore how the internet impacts process, person, context, microsystem, mesosystems, exosystems, macrosystems, their interconnections, and their relationships in respect to context and time as defined in the theory (Jones, et., al., 2010).

Reflective Judgment Model (RJM)

Critical thinking and understanding the world through attempting to solve ill-structured problems was at the foundation of King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Model (RJM) (Love & Guthrie, 1999). The model provides a platform to analyze how college students attempt to solve the problem of accountability and the internet — especially when anonymous, non-authentic communication can impact a college student’s future judgments. The 21st century internet — and the cloud, more specifically — is an immense, complex, and global socio-techno system that many people use every day, yet know little about the technologies and information geographies embedded within (Bratton, 2015; Donath, 2014; Enli, 2015; Tung-Hui, 2015). The RJM can be used to situate the internet as an ill-structured problem, to further understand how using the internet as a communication medium can impact society, higher education, and the college student expedience (Love & Guthrie, 1999). Questions and scenarios can be framed so that the internet is presented as a societal problem that needs a solution:

  • If offline communication does create a sense of knowing who you’re are talking to, what then, is needed to provide you with an authentic conversation experience? As non-authentic? Furthermore, what would it take for anonymous, online communication to be categorized as authentic? As non-authentic?
  • When the internet is used to support offline events (i.e., for marketing, promotion, internet chat rooms, live streaming, and accessibility for extended campus students) it has been shown that the internet creates a new information geography — do you think that this is possible? If current infrastructure, policies, and culture is not equipped to manage this new information geography, what do you think would happen?

Faith Development Theory (FDT)

Much research in the connection between technology and human ideology can be found, and will be used to construct the focus group questions, and guide the data analysis performed (Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011; Ellul, 1964; King & Kitchener, 2011; Parks, 2011; Taylor, 2009). The faith development theory (FDT) of Sharon Daloz Parks will be expanded upon to identify any connection between technology, and young adult identity and ideology development. The FDT outlines areas of thought including forms of Knowing, Dependence, and Community, as well as exploration of the human Imagination, Mentoring Communities, and Higher Education as a community of imagination (Evans, et. al., 2010, p. 208). This ideological framework will provide a way to explore any influence that the Speak-Out may have had on the students’ faith development, without focusing on a specific religion, worldview, or ideological background — rather, I intend to focus on how the students are impacted by what Parks’ refers to as mentoring communities (Parks, 2011). These mentoring communities can include media environments, academic environments, family, and peer networks (Evans, et. al., 2010). Furthermore, Parks theory allows for higher education institutions to be seen as imagination communities, and meaning-making is situated in a globalized world (Evans, et. Al., 2010; Parks, 2011).

Parks (2011) recently revised their book on “mentoring emerging adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith,” and provides the definition of faith as “the activity of making-meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of our awareness,” (p. 13). These dimensions of awareness are examined by Parks in the context of the academy, as well as in a globalized world — one that fosters “hopes and anxieties [that] are fueled by events taking place half a world away,” (Parks, 2011, p. 213). Considering that the OSU Speak Out involved actors from outside the OSU community as well as outside of the country, the ‘events taking place half a world away’ that Parks examines appear to have taken place at the speak-out and warrant further analysis in this research project (OSU, n.d.). Parks’ FDT will provide a theoretical space to fully understand the development that takes place when a student interacts online.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Using the “Speak-Out” event at Oregon State University as the context for a case study, I intend to explore how college students, faculty, and staff prepare for potential shifts in the geographies of information on the college campus. Emerging communication technologies have the potential to change geopolitical forces, border strucutures of information, and ultimately entire infastrucutres of college events, the student experience, and campus ecology.


[1]Refer to the following for documentation of the use of 4chan during the OSU Speak-Out event:

References and Further Reading

ACPA College Student Educators International and NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in

Higher Education. (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Retrieved from

Allenby, B. & Sarewitz, D. (2011). The techno-human condition. The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Arnold, K., Lu, E. & Armstrong, K. (2012). Ecology of college readiness. Hoboken, N.J. San Francisco, CA: Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Jossey-Bass.

Bratton, B. (2015). The stack: on software and sovereignty. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Dijck, J. van, & Poell, T. (2015). Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space. Social Media + Society, 1(2), 2056305115622482.

Donath, J. (2014). The social machine: designs for living online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dunne, A. & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Ellul, J. (1964). The technological society. New York: Vintage Books.

Enli, G. (2015). Mediated authenticity: how the media constructs reality. New York: Peter Lang.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Development of faith and spirituality. In Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

Henning, G.W. & Roberts, D. (2016). Student Affairs Assessment. Sterling: Stylus.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (2011). Reflective judgment: Theory and research on the development of epistemic assumptions through adulthood. In M. E. Wilson (Ed.), ASHE reader series: College student development theory (2nd ed.) (367–384). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Kleinman, D., & Moore, K. (2014). Introduction. D. L. Kleinman & K. Moore (Eds.). Routledge handbook of science, technology and society (pp. 1–17) London New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Lagos, T. G., Coopman, T. M., & Tomhave, J. (2014). “Parallel poleis”: Towards a theoretical framework of the modern public sphere, civic engagement and the structural advantages of the internet to foster and maintain parallel socio-political institutions. New Media & Society, 16, 398–414.

Love, P., & Guthrie, V. (1999). King & Kitchener’s reflective judgment model. In Understanding and Applying Cognitive Development Theory (pp. 41–51). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Magolda, M. B.(2011). Evolution of a constructivist conceptualization of epistemological reflection. In M. E. Wilson (Ed.), ASHE reader series: College student development theory (2nd ed.) (385–400). Boston, MA: Pearson.

OSU. (n.d.). Leadership changes, program initiatives to support a more inclusive community [website]. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from

Parks, Sharon Daloz (2011). Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring emerging adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can’t have nice things: mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Rogers, R. (2012). Mapping and the Politics of Web Space. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(4–5), 193–219.

Sandvig, C. (2013). The internet as infrastructure. In William, D. (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of internet studies (pp. 86–106). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stoller, E. (2016a). 9 Reasons why digital capabilities matter. Retrieved from

Stoller, E. (2016b). #Digifest — The power of digital. Retrieved from

Taylor, T. L. (2009). Play Between Worlds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

The Virtual Knowledge Studio. (2007). J.H. Edward, A. Olga, E. A. Michael, W. Judy, & B.E. Wiebe (Eds.) The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Tung-Hui, H. (2015). A Prehistory of the Cloud. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

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