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Editor's Note:  This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace.  I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time.  The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains.  Enjoy!  *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview! 

Tell me about your general feelings about technology, is it a good thing, is it a bad thing?

It’s a fantastic thing. One of the things that amazes me about technology is the freedom it provides an individual to learn at his or her own pace, and the access to information is also truly amazing. I sit on several state boards for associations. A lot of times you are dealing with state issues, legislative bills, something that is coming up, or a major shift in focus that requires immediate attention. It used to be that when you needed to set forward a policy, or a position paper, or a recommendation, you would write it up, your secretary would type it, you would edit it, retype it, then it was ready to be mailed. The envelopes needed to be typed, postage affixed etc. Eventually it would get to the desks of all of the people you were trying to reach. Then came e-mail. Now, in less than one minute, I can send out a position paper on a proposal by the State Chancellor’s office that I have some serious concerns about in how it’s going to affect urban districts. With the push of a button, because I have the list of all community college executives in California, I sent it to all of the Chief Executive Officers, Chief Instructional Officers, Chief Student Service Officers, and all of the Chief Business Officers. All of these individuals, over 500 people, got my opinion and concerns. This task would have taken days, maybe weeks before the advent of electronic mail and list-servs. Now I’m getting responses from individuals and we are moving forward with new ideas. There is no way of measuring the impact on efficiency that e-mail has created. E-mail has made me more efficient and more effective in how I deal with certain issues.

I’ve studied organizational change. One of the topics I studied was to research if information systems, such as the web, would enable colleges to improve student learning and how it would affect the college itself. Information systems have dramatic consequences for learning organizations, which are organizations that have all of their employees understanding what the organization is, where it is going, and how its working. Information systems enable that learning, and become the historical memory for the institution. If we use information systems adequately, they become a historical record for the institution, and the reliance on individual experts decreases. Its mind boggling the amount of access to information you have with the newer technologies.

 

Tell me about the role of technology within LACCD?

First let me tell you about the division I supervise, and then I will address instructional issues. Part of my responsibilities include the entire information technology division for the district. In the past, Info-Tech answered to the Chancellor or to Business Services. The student services were fairly weak. Through the years what has happened in the District is that very little innovation took place. One of the things we have done with Info-Tech is making them accessible to the students. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how good or how bad our Human Resource or Business systems are if the students are not being served just as the rest of the world is serving them.

If a student in Paris or Rome or Africa wanted to know about the LACCD, we have a web site. You may think that is small, because, you know, everybody has a web site, but let me give you a personal experience on that. Now that I am applying for college presidencies elsewhere, one of the first things that I do when I see a position advertised is I get on the web and I look for their web site and it tells you a lot. I applied for a position in Northern Virginia, and their web site is one of the most fascinating web sites that I have seen. The way they organized it, how appealing it was, how much information it gave you about the students, the programs, the faculty, the direction the school was going. Its very revealing about an organization how well organized their web site is, and the image that they are portraying to the rest of the world.

The priority for creating a web site for the Los Angeles Community College District, as well as enabling the other nine colleges to have their own web sites was a major policy decision for this District. The next step was to automate our registration process. It took me a year and a half to get the bureaucracy of the system to agree to the development of a web-based registration process. Its being launched this Fall, but we still have problems with financial aid, in terms of security and electronic signatures, etc. The next thing we did which is related to instruction, is we wrote several grants for our Info-Tech unit. One of the State grants was to create a series of counseling mechanisms, so that students can, in effect, self-counsel through a series of choices on the web. It also accesses their grades, similar to URSA at UCLA. We have nine colleges, over one hundred thousand students, and we have an enormous course database, which is attached to a prerequisites database, etc. We are creating all of the counseling screens and software and we are going to end up with a really good self-advisement process. We are moving away from mailing. We used to mail student grades, but they can now access them through the web too. So now were are moving into creating user-friendly access to the institution.

 

What about the application of technology to instruction? What’s happening within the Los Angeles Community College District?

 The next step for me was to bring technology into the classroom, and that’s where I have failed miserably. I think that in the community colleges, with their lecture-mode type of instructional delivery, creates a distance from the student and the responsibility of the student-learning concept. In community colleges there is a movement from teaching institutions to learning institutions, and focusing our delivery not so much on how we teach but on how student’s learn. And of course, the end result is student outcomes, other than the grade. With some community college faculty, what happens is that many do not believe technology is going to positively affect their teaching. They do not believe technology will make much of a difference. They don’t see how technology can assist in the learning of their students. And they do not agree that their teaching methodology has to change in relation to new technologies.

If you just look at the newspaper, and you look at the movies, now every single movie advertisement has a web site, and every commercial message has a web site. Even in the face of this, faculty still do not think technology is affecting their classrooms and it is. The old traditional approach to learning, which is still present, is “I have the knowledge and I get paid for that knowledge, and I’m going to give you this knowledge.” But this same faculty is failing to understand that technology is equalizing the knowledge base. You can look up most information on the web now. Students are learning better and faster from using their home computers, in some cases. The whole idea of the university with the medieval concept of “we are the keepers of the knowledge and we are the privileged ones” is being redefined by the advent of new technologies.

The role of the faculty has to shift from teacher to a knowledge navigator. It is a completely different role, you are more of a coach than a teacher. I don’t think technology is isolating people, a faculty member who is brokering knowledge among students will have a lot more personal interaction with students than an instructor who is lecturing to hundreds of students. This is an area where I have failed miserably. In the LACCD we have a large percentage of faculty who are ready to retire within the next five years. If you think like one of these faculty, with prepared lecture notes that have been used for the last five to ten years, its a lot easier to come into a classroom, tell you what I think, and walk away. Why should they learn to use the web, to be accessible through e-mail? Unfortunately some of these faculties are in the leadership positions in the District. The argument for computer literacy, which was publicly made, was that students are now coming to our colleges with MORE computer literacy than the faculty have, so it would be embarrassing to have to require the faculty to become computer literate.

 

Everyone else is moving forward, but some institutions and some individuals are not.

 We are losing enrollment, and it is because other colleges are getting their act together, offering a variety of appropriate courses and topics. They do not see what these new courses offerings are going to do to the LACCD enrollments.

 

Beyond the actual computer skills, are there other skills that are necessary? What are some skills that educational leaders need beyond the basics? What advice would you give to aspiring leaders in any field about understand the future of technology?

Technology is a field that is moving so rapidly, that it takes a lot of energy to stay on top of the possibilities, of the potential of technology constantly, to make sure that your institution is not a hundred years behind. The speed at which change is occurring is so fast, and the potential for technology to do good things in education is evident. I think the most important thing is to maintain your own education about technology. To understand and stay on top of it.

When I wanted to create the web site registration process for the LACCD, I was confronted with a lot of challenges. My ability to analyze the amount of time and personnel costs to create this project stemmed from my personal knowledge in creating web pages for my transformational change project. I was in a position to understand and thus analyze, based on my own personal experience.

Its not that everybody needs to be proficient in every aspect of technology. But you need to be sufficiently well-informed to make the decisions that are going to have an impact, especially when you are in charge of resource allocation, when you are in charge of hiring people, or training. Because I still have programmers in this district that are working in Pascal, we’ve had to invest money to retrain them in other platforms and languages because they are good people and we don’t want to lose them. You need to understand, to keep abreast of what is going on.

Hand-in-hand with staying abreast and knowing what the future holds, as an educational leader you must know how to apply this knowledge. Mainly, tying in what technology is and where the population you are serving is, and where both are headed. One of the things that frightens me the most, because of the speed at which technology is developing, is the concept of access. Who is going to have access and who is not going to have access in society. With the advent of the $100 Web-TV, I’m a little less anxious, because the cost of Internet access is dropping. Web technology is going to automatically increase literacy levels, because much reading occurs while interacting with the web. Its really a self-teaching mechanism. Students are learning and teaching themselves in their quest for personal information.

When I was Vice-President at Mission College, we built a new technology building, with a whole room with 300 computers, all with web access. Its a state of the art building, its incredible. And I remember having fierce debates with faculty, who were telling me “how can you do this? You are raising the expectations of the community around this college to expect that everybody’s going to have access to this information and then when they go home they won’t have access.” And I would reply, that’s why they come HERE, to a community college, to get the access! That’s what college is for. Why promulgate the ghetto mentality? This is what the world has to offer, don’t you want to give them this? Unfortunately, only those with a vision are going to get there.

  

Reflective Questions:

  1. How has technology reduced/increased the workload of college administrators? 
  1. Does a well designed, informational web site provide insight into an organization? Might a poorly implemented site, or the total lack of a web presence, signal problems in an organization?
  1. If you were called upon to develop a web site for your organization, how would you go about it?
  1. How is technology being used to reduce expenses and cut costs?
  1. Do you agree with the statement that “the role of the faculty has to shift from teacher to a knowledge navigator?” How is technology redefining the role of the faculty?
  1. In your opinion, why was it easier for Mrs. Richart to implement technology in an administrative role, rather than an instructional role?