Technology Empowering Remote Learning

Rick Shaw, Executive Director of Technology, Antelope Valley College

Rick Shaw, Executive Director of Technology, Antelope Valley College

Can you tell me about yourself, your journey, and your role and responsibility in the current organization you work for?

I stumbled into technology by accident when the internet was still in its infancy, having initially planned to earn a Ph.D. and teach history. As a student, I worked on computers on the side, which ultimately ended up paying the bills better than a tenure-track teaching position. My career has taken me through two California State University campuses and the CSU Office of the Chancellor, UC San Francisco, as well as the Ventura and Antelope Valley Community College Districts. In addition to my thirty years in higher education, I spent a little over four years in the private sector as the senior technologist for Red Herring Magazine, during the dot-com era.

I am currently the Chief Information Systems Officer for the Antelope Valley Community College District. My responsibilities include classroom technology, network & infrastructure, enterprise apps, and participation in a couple statewide governance groups.

Along the way I’ve picked up a bachelor’s in history, started but didn’t complete a doctorate in medical information science, and completed a masters in knowledge management.

What were the experiences that enabled you to expand your expertise in mixing IT and educational material to improve the quality of teaching today?

For me, it has always been about connecting tools with students or faculty. In the late 1980s I was the first liberal arts student with internet access, used primarily for finding research materials in the very early days of online catalog search. This led me, as a grad student, to working with faculty introducing the notions of online resource search into their curriculum at Cal State Fresno. Another bleeding-edge project, in the very early days of the web and html (c1993), came while with the Internal Medicine Division at UC San Francisco, assisting in the development of learning modules and cutting-edge integrated queries. E.g., a medical student looks up patient labs via a web form, and those returns include active links Medline or other resources, allowing students to delve deeper into relevant current literature.

Shortly after joining CSU Northridge, as its initial Director of Information Technology for Student Affairs, I chaired several of the initial meetings on how to move the adoption of ADA standards forward. Student Affairs at CSUN houses both the Center on Disabilities, which hosts an annual conference on technology supporting the disabled, as well as the National Center on Deafness. I had to be come instantly immersed in the field, the application of technology in support of the disabled, and the impact of federal accessibility standards on higher education. This was well before the WCAG standards became the basis for federal compliance. It was a formative experience.

Since the leaving the CSU, I’ve been with two community college districts within the California Community College System. At the Ventura CCD, as well as here at Antelope Valley CCD, I’ve had the extraordinary experience of programming new standards, space, and classroom buildings. Working with faculty and administrators to tease out how they use their space or imagining how their disciplines may use their space in the coming years. Then working with architects in designing new classroom, career technical education, and services buildings to serve those needs for the coming decades. It is an amazing thing to see a new building open, and classes happen, in a space that started out as we wish it did….

What are the major technological trends that play a key role in the way of education today?

Today, everything is an unfortunate tangent of COVID, whether it is managing response cycles or forecasting the next six months. As the concepts of on-premises education have had to shift significantly, we must meet our students' expectations with better educational technology – be it in person or remote.

To that end, the college (AVC) established a comprehensive 50-hour technological training program for faculty that includes everything from smart classroom technology to pedagogical training and the incorporation of media tech resources into course materials. Many professors had no prior experience teaching online, and their only exposure to technology was the laptop in their office and using the projector for a PowerPoint presentation. The program has been a success, with outcomes exceeding in-person instruction in numerous areas.

Beyond the classroom, it is about service to our communities. The Antelope Valley, from Palmdale north through Mojave to Edwards Air Force Base, is a hot bed for defense and aerospace employers. When Northrop Grumman announced they would be building both the new strategic bomber and portions of the F35 at their plants here in Palmdale, they approached us with an immediate need. Training to create entry level airframe mechanics. We already had associates and a bachelors programs built around aircraft, airframes, and power plants. To serve Northrop Grumman’s needs, the curriculum was reduced to eight classes. This program now generates a career tech certificate, which is used for entry-level jobs, not just for Northrop Grumman, but for industries across the Antelope Valley, allowing over 600 graduates to find work with a living wage and benefits. Cohorts in the program have been run targeting specifically returning veterans and students with housing insecurities.

In a world where developing tech platforms powered by various technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) is strongly emphasized, how do you identify the critical tech strategies that can provide innovative and integrated solutions to the expanding education landscape?

As many are, we’re still looking for the right application points for AI and machine learning, and their potential impact on education. There are areas where AI and ML could be especially useful, but the industry is not yet ready to capitalize on them. Some of the numbers crunching and business intelligence revolve around filling seats in the classroom or, with a recent pivot, potentially simple remote enrollment. But we need to be careful in their application.

What kind of biases are inherent with AI driven grading services, and do we potentially disenfranchise some populations because their lived experience doesn’t provide them the framework to hit the specific phrases or articulations the ‘engine’ is looking for. Where does the digital divide come into this conversation, and having technology at your fingertips, or internet access to effectively leverage these new tools or opportunities.

Is there the potential for predictive analytics triggering ‘solutions’ for students without a genuine need, due to a profile or a trend?

There are some excellent online periodicals with interesting dialogues, such as the EDUCASUE CIOs list, where I get some ideas, but the majority of them come from interactions with other CIOs who are doing the same thing but in a unique way. Want to have your mind blow, look for the pilot project done at Detroit’s airport with Delta Airlines on targeted information feeds.

What are the major techniques and instructional multimedia operations that teachers might use to pique their students' enthusiasm?

The extensive faculty training program incorporates technology as part of their educational strategy in the classroom, and we guide them on how to find and use resources. Gamification has some real potential for engagement and retention. Look at the growth of E-Sports and the Cyber Patriot programs as examples. Embedded assessment, for just-in-time feedback on lecture materials.

Many of our new students are first-generation students. Many are also working student. It is essential that we provide them with the resources they require to succeed – that could take the form of: a technology literacy module; remote synchronous, asynchronous, or in-person instruction; or maybe an equipment loan program. These are all both lessons, and legacies, of COVID.

We need to be able to provide the resources to bridge such digital divide. Provide them the tools and services they need to foster success. Part of our faculty training teaches faculty about classroom accessibility as well and what is needed to ensure equal access to media offered to students, including those with impaired vision, sound, or motor control. Or where to direct students to get the support they need.

What is your advice for budding entrepreneurs in the field?

Never lose sight of the fact that this is a team sport, and it involves not only the IT team but the faculty, staff, administrators, students, and our community. Everything I do has to be an active collaboration. All my emerging managers and directors are encouraged to build their networks, not only within their profession, but also within the community we serve, because they will find experiences that will shape outcomes in unimaginable ways.

One of the most powerful messages to promote is the need for active collaboration. Candid communication. An essential part of that is active listening. And don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’. No one can know everything, but we know where to go to find out.

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