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CRS Tech Talk Interviews Joe Way of USC

Posted by Julia Sherwin on Feb 5, 2020 10:48:40 AM

As we delved into audiovisual technologies for higher education last month, we thought it would be fitting to interview a well-known thought leader in the higher education setting. On Thursday, Jan. 31, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Way. Way is the Director of Learning Environments at USC and a co-founder of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance. We talked about his career, connecting with others and trends in this dynamic industry.

 

Please subscribe here to listen to future episodes. Below is the full transcript of our interview:

JS:

Welcome to CRS Tech Talk. I'm Julia Sherwin and with me today I have Joe Way. Joe is the director of Learning Environments at USC and a co-founder of the Higher Education Technology Manager's Alliance, an advocacy organization focused on the higher education AV industry. Joe is also the producer and host of the Higher Ed AV podcast, the author of "Producing Worship" and a frequent writer and keynote speaker. Not to go on mentioned, he's been nominated by AV Nation as  "AV Professional of the Year."

Welcome to the podcast. Joe.

JW:
Thank you so much for having me on. Well, I sound a lot more impressive than I probably really am when you read all that. Well though, thank you so much for having me on.

JS:
You're very humble, and I'm really grateful for your appearance on the CRS Tech Talk podcast. It is one of our first episodes, and I am somewhat of a newbie to the AV industry I have to make a confession. I was a radio host prior to coming on board with Conference Room Systems, and I'm learning a lot in the process. It's people like you who are on Twitter who are really out there helping me become educated and acquainted with the industry. So I have to thank you for that.

JW:
Well, it's always a pleasure and especially on Twitter and on social media to be able to connect with somebody. Great professionals and so much talent in our industry that it's great to be part of communities like that where we can all kind of give back, share and just build that because we know our jobs can be so siloed and alone at times. So I think the community is very important to be able to look to and connect  there.

JS:
And I find that especially to be true with technology. You know, I come from a communications background--journalism, writing, reporting, being a radio host--and sometimes the technology folks are so honed into what they do that the communication isn't always as free flowing. So I'm grateful for our social media platforms and for podcasts like yours and the opportunity to be able to do this show. So, let's dive down into it. For those who may not be familiar with the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance, please tell us a bit about it and what prompted its founding.

JW:
Yeah. As you know, it is an advocacy group that myself and my counterpart  BC Hatchett at Vanderbilt University,  came up with. But I'll say that it really wasn't our idea. It was born out of a trip that we had taken to Japan to meet with a manufacturer who was holding a think tank, a higher ed thing, to show us some product. And you know, part of me thinks that maybe this is just a dog and pony show, you know, take you out there if you buy a bunch of their products. There was an opportunity to share,  and we did. And so maybe at one point we were brutally honest, and then we leave. And you think, okay, that was a fun, fun trip and I got to meet some colleagues. But then it was a couple of months later where, you know, our phones start ringing and they said: "Hey, you know, those ideas that you gave us and those critiques, do you mind if we send you some product and you can tell us whether we made those changes you would  like to see. And we're kind of like, wait, you mean you actually listened? You cared about what we had to say? It was great that this happened at this one time. Can we now make this happen across our industry? And as higher ed, we know we have such a unique voice, not just in the buying power and the volume we get, but we're in a unique vertical in that we are in-house integrators really. We have teams that rival a lot of integrators in the area with skilled professionals on our staff. And we thought, how can we give ourselves a voice as an industry vertical? And that's where we founded the organization and we thought, you know,  now let's start to pull people in.


We did our first virtual conference in December, which was a huge hit. We were just completely, completely honored with the feedback that we got, the participation that we received and the opportunity. It was eight different sessions of some great professionals and industry experts talking about the issues that are important to us. And the work is a great springboard, and we can now start moving forward. That's kind of the history and what we're looking to do with it. The future is definitely bright, that's for sure.

JS:
I'm glad you mentioned the conference Joe, because I listened in through the YouTube channel and I learned so much and I, I actually produced a blog post from that, but I was able to get quite a good amount of information from that. So it does appear that this will be an annual event for you?

JW:
Absolutely. We think that. I mean for sure annual, we may even extend it beyond that. Again, doing it virtually and that was also a big, what we thought was a big risk, but turned out to be a huge benefit. Um, and that was really paying a lot of dividends for a lot of people. Cause we know that not every school, I mean I've come from an elite institution, BC as well, you know, so we can get to conferences; we can get resources; we have vendors show up to our institution. But, we know that really most of the industry doesn't have that advantage. There are a lot of smaller colleges in remote areas that don't get those benefits, that can't always have the buying power or be able to have product sent to them just because of location or size or budget. 

So that's a thought. Okay, we'll do this virtually; let's give it a shot. And then the impact that we had and the people who said, wow, I can get all the same great information but all tailored straight to me and what I care about from my industry peers. So we thought, well, maybe we can do this beyond. So we're looking, and we should be announcing soon. You're getting the advance; I'm probably going to get in trouble, but we're even going to be doing this at Info Comm. We're going to be working on being able to do a hybrid model, a half in person and a half online. More details to come out in the future, and then we'll keep this going every December as well. We thought that was a great sweet spot of a time to do it, and we'll see how it continues to develop.

That sounds perfect. Thanks for the scoop. As a former reporter, I always love that. So what do you think Joe, are really like the biggest challenges for higher education technology managers? I know you kind of mentioned that, um, you know, some are more in remote places, smaller schools. We recently worked here are our integration side of the business. Haverford Systems, worked with Rosemont college, which is a small liberal arts school outside of Philadelphia area here. And, we were able to take them through everything. But, I'm not really sure, you know, that proceeded my time here, the beginning of that process. So, you know, I'm not sure if you're noticing that's a big challenge for managers just kind of starting out or is it just a a manpower issue? What, what are you seeing?

JW:
Yeah, you know, I think it depends upon the institution. That is the one big thing that I learned was we all have kind of different challenges. We all face the same challenges, but the scale is different. One of the unique things about higher ed is we probably get a lot of products before other people can and often even before integrators do. But where we might have challenges in staffing, being able to stay on top of trends. I mean, it, just, the nature of education, we are so forward advancing. We can't just put in a room and then that's gonna sit there that way for the next five or 10 years or do a conference room and just let it sit. There are other verticals,  corporations might be able to do that. We have always changing, always flexible users,  who all want to use it differently. We always joke in our industry that, you know, we're one email away from going: "I got to do what?" Then all of a sudden we now have to learn a completely different area than we're used to. I think right now he esports. That's huge and I'm doing that too. It's so funny because I didn't really know much about esports before the conference. So we started talking about it. I'm like: "Oh, this is interesting." Well guess what? I've already gotten an email about it, and I have a meeting on Monday. We're building an esports place here. So it's like, okay, wow, these are things that I need to stay on top of. And that's the biggest challenge is, okay, what's coming next and what are those trends that I need to stay on top of for when that email comes that I can say, yes, we can do this. And it scales different for everyone. For some people it is that you're doing large arenas and for some it's small clubs. But being able to now know what are the resources to take, what's the information that I'm going to need to be able to resolve that?

JS:
Absolutely. E-sports is huge. And we're literally seeing a school develop a new program, it seems like, on a weekly basis these days. You can't escape the news about it. What other trends are you seeing Joe for 2020 and beyond?

JW:
I would say another, another big trend is developing staff in house. I think that is a huge one for our industry because we're moving much more away from just support. We're moving, you know, where it might have been a lot of outside integrators coming in doing the install and then, you know, if it'd be tier three issues, we would be able to, uh, you know, send that out for repairs or whatever. But now that's coming in house. We're not just the tier one that we're handling work, we're getting fully developed, um, you know, fully built teams to be able to do design integration implementation from beginning to end of the project or seeing teams grow or seeing a lot of conversations in our industry about, you know, what is it going to take? Who are those people I need? Do I need to bring in programmers? Do I need Zoom specialists? Those types of things. I'm seeing people say: "Hey, let's bring that in house because we can get added value that way. And the size of teams is growing and also the skill of the team. I think that's another big one. It's probably huge. Also a trend toward managed services and accessibility. How can we take our, even just in higher ed in general, if you were to talk to faculty, there's a big emphasis on open curriculums and accessible curriculums. Well, how can we use our technologies in that way? You know, maybe the traditional push button control system doesn't work as well anymore. We need to start thinking about voice control and things like that. You know, I don't know that we've figured that out, but I think it's going to be a trend over the next year.

JS:
I'm glad that you said support and actual professions in this area. When we often think of technology, we think of it replacing people. And I would imagine that these are all positive signs for the economy, for the future too. What about training and certifications for this new generation of AV professionals?

JW:
You know, that is a wonderful question because it's so funny. You know, here at USC, we just went through a digital transformation, but it's not just moving everything to the cloud or virtually. We actually completely reorged our entire staff. And it was so funny because I was brought in as director of the department and had to reorg my staff. What I did at first was I took a whole chart and said, what are the skills I want? I just not going to hire it AV tech, but maybe I need people who understand coding because we're moving towards more HTML type of touch panels. They even people who know the program, maybe I need to know space design, marketing, customer service and customer experience, and operations. I mean, there's so many different aspects of the skill set and people who understood pedagogy and understand how faculty want to use technology.  I started making this long list of all these skills, and I started hiring based on who can fill those roles because our technologies nowadays, and I think that's the thing that's changed and we're, we impact in so many ways. You know, even just in general, outside of higher ed. What about IOC? You know, when people want to come in and they want to use their Alexas or their iPad or whatever, it's not just bring your own device now, but it looks, connect everything together. Um, so and especially in higher ed, you never know what someone is going to want to bring in or a faculty want to bring into a room. So it was kind of developing those skill sets from, you know, computer science to business, uh, to design. My architect is actually a real architect. You know, he claims he cheats now by being able to just get the title and not have to, you know, build buildings it, you know, and, and by bringing in someone who understood PR and marketing help run our digital signage deployments, right?


It's these skills that they spend in so many different ways, which I think are, is a huge opportunity, not just in higher ed but our industry, the AV industry in general is how, if we're smart in the next year or two, how we could really take over and have an impact in other people's verticals. We spend so much time focusing on, well, what do we need to do because they're impacting us. I think it's actually the other way around. We have an opportunity to impact so many others, and that's kind of the way I look at it here. And we can do that within our disciplines here on.


JS:
It's certainly an exciting time to be involved in this industry and especially the higher education area. So dynamic all of those, um, you know, areas that you mentioned and those skill sets are going to be very important. And um, you know, it's great to also be seeing some of these things implemented into curriculum. Um, you know, everything from social media and marketing to that, the coding and how they can really go hand in hand. Um, what about, uh, Joe, any like what are the must haves on college campuses today? The non negotiable items? We talked a little bit in our webinar yesterday with one of my colleagues about, you know, lecture capture systems and auto tracking cameras and things like that. But what are, you know, do you consider those must haves?

JW:
Well if you ask a college student what a must have is they're going to say wifi and pizza. It's actually about connectivity and community, right? Wifi is about connecting people everything to everything. So are you able to lecture capture?  Are you able to have people join remotely? Are you able to have people share from their device in the room and connect with one another, not just physically desk to desk, but around the globe? And then food, it's about community. How can you use our social spaces in ways that develop technology? Can put a conference room system, maybe in an open study area? Can they make that a collaborative area? It's rethinking the way that we use technology to make it connect people with technology and allow the technology to not be a burden but actually to enhance person to person interaction.

I think that really says a lot about our our next generation. Again, they're digital natives. Our current college students do not know what it's like to grow up without technology. Maybe we were bad parents. M youngest is 19-years-old. I gave her the iPad when she was four-years-old, you know. Was that awful parenting? Probably. But you know the fact is she doesn't know what life is without a device. So we have to understand that's the college student who's showing up on campus nowadays, and so we have to be able to use technology to create interaction among one another. So yes, lecture capture, uh, I think it's huge. Cameras, camera capture, voice lift, all of those other things that maybe you don't always think about.

And it's interesting because even in our summer upgrades that we're going to be doing, we're going to be adding voice lift to rooms that are only, you know, maybe 20 people big where you would never think that you'd have to do that. But guess what? Now I might want to create a hybrid classroom or capture, you know, lecture capture. We now have to think about those things, which again, another huge opportunity in the industry. You know, I think streaming and recording. It also means privacy, right? Once you put it on a network, are you thinking about, you know, who could, who could access that? Um, there's, there a lot of things you have to think about. Um, and so I think connectivity of, uh, no I don't, I don't know if a lot of say brands on your, but let's say let's take that CatchBox or something like that. Can you make the little learning environment fun? Because again, you can't just have interaction without thinking how am I going to record that interaction now? So a lot of things, I think open up possibilities.

JS:
Yeah. You raise a great point. Catch Box. We recommended that to some of the instructors we were working with at Rosemont the other day who want to implement microphones. And I've said so much more fun for students to have that, you know, have a couple of catch boxes in your, in your closet and you're in that room. And um, you know, just again, it's promoting that collaboration and fun and the technology should enhance their lives, not, not hinder it. So, um, all excellent points and I to have children that are very much engaged with their technology. I won't tell you though, when I went to school many years ago, I had a Brother word processor, so, we're probably around the same generation. Joe. Before I let you go, I have to ask you to tell us about your nomination as AV professional of the year and, also what's in store for you for the future?

JW:
Oh boy. I have to say I'm an awful workaholic. I'm like whatever, whatever idea I have, I run with it. I will say, as far as, uh, I'm sure when this comes out cause we're in the final voting for AV professional of the year. It's just a fire. I mean, honestly, I sit there and go, I don't do this stuff because I want to get an award or whatever. I just cause I'm the type of person that loves community and investing in our community. I just think, you know, maybe again, once you get a certain age and years and into the industry. And also I think in higher ed, right? I work with so many youth, and our student workers are just rock stars. So I look for these opportunities to be able to give back. And maybe that's kind of where this AV professional of the year nomination just kind of shows that, you know, maybe that there has been impact giving back into our industry because it's given me so much.

And so I'm just, I'm just blessed. I'm honored to even be nominated and you know, we'll know soon whether or not I win and how the finals go. But even looking forward, I really hope that this year, I think that with the Higher Education Technology Manager's Alliance really is something I hope to see. flourish, because I, I believe, again, even just in that sense of giving back and the sense of how much can I move my vertical forward, um, I look forward to really seeing that take off in ways that it hasn't before. I'm just blessed with the Higher AV podcast completely and seeing how that has built the community.  That's kind of where I'm at. I mean, who knows. Talk to me in a month, and I'll probably have another crazy idea I'm running with. But, ya know, here we go. Let's make these things a success.

JS:
Well, I ideas are fantastic and it's great to see your mentorship in the community and everything that you're doing.  For those who are interested, they can learn more about the Higher Education Technology Manager's Alliance at HETMA.org. That's HETMA.org. And give us a little information about your Higher Ed AV podcast. Joe.

JW:
Yes, Higher Ed AV podcast is, you know, you can find it all at Higher Ed AV on all your social media. It's great. I love it. I started it. It's funny, it's kind of the same story. I spent 25 years in the entertainment industry before coming into higher ed. So I came into higher ed, which is really the same thing. But then all of a sudden I didn't know anyone. Right? Like I spent 25 years building connections and now I'm in the exact same line of work, but now I don't know anyone because we're siloed. We have this different work method. That was the reason why I started the podcast. I thought, well, if I talk to one person a week in a year I'll know 50. You know, why not?

And the next thing I know, it just kept snowballing and snowballing and snowballing and then we're, , meeting up at conferences, and and I'm speaking at conferences. It was kind of like, wow, okay, what is going on here? It was again, just a huge blessing to be able to bring somebody on every week kind of like you're doing here. And we talk about, we talk shop, you know. I think people are shocked like I do  no prep for the show. I'm pulling back the curtain. Because I'm like  just come on and talk. Let's just, you know, what's going on, what is the challenges you have and let's talk shop for awhile. And I just love so many different people, and I've had everyone from new service techs all the way up to CIOs and faculty and everyone in between, from designers to R and D,  to you name it. And, I think that that's been such a joy to talk to so many people that input so many different ways into our industry, So you know, and I give you kudos for exactly what you're doing here. Because I think that, you know, in our industry it's a lot of black boxes, but really it's about the people. And that's what I keep coming back to.

JS:
I couldn't agree more. And I think it's so important to have those organic conversations and just to be authentic and to bring it down to the human level. You know, technology is great, but at the end of the day, it's humans who are using it. So I thank you so much for being on today's podcast. This has been wonderful and interesting. Joe Way is the Director of Learning Environments at USC and the co-founder of the Higher Education technology managers Alliance. Thank you so much.

JW:
Oh, thank you so much for having me. This has been fantastic.

JS:
I certainly hope to have you again. So,  have a great rest of your week and good luck again with the nomination. Take care.

Topics: audio visual technologies for higher education, higher education technologies, Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance

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