S1:E19 Joe Way – Progress in A/V

June 16, 2021 |  News, Students
32 min

Joe talks about how we have advanced education, universal design, and student satisfaction by using proper A/V resources.


Tyler Jacobson 0:01

Welcome to LabChats, a podcast from the team at LabStats. I’m Tyler Jacobson, your host for today’s episode. Each week, we’ll sit down with technology leaders in higher education to get the latest buzz and insights while we discuss current events, trends, problems and solutions. Now, let’s get into it. For today’s episode of LabChats, we are honored to be joined by Joe Way, he is Director of Learning Environments at University of Southern California, as well as recently joined as Chair [the] Board of Directors of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance. He’s been involved in higher education and audio visual elements of that in particular for a long time. And we’re honored to have him. So Joe, is there anything else in your background that you wanted to highlight before we get into the discussion?

Joe Way 0:55

No. Well, thank First off, thank you for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be able to talk to you today. And I think you summed it up right there. Yeah, I’ve had about 30 years and the pro AV industry starting in live entertainment through house of worship and higher ed now for a little over four years. [I’ve] been at USC now for coming up on Tuesday. I [actually] have five years in higher ed. Wow. So quite the change. And now looking at this really from a commercial integration side.

Tyler Jacobson 1:22

Excellent. So one of the things that I wanted to discuss with you is where you’ve been in higher education, how do audio visual elements fit in with the student experience and the teaching experience? And what resources are you needing to provide now that were never really common? Even a few years ago?

Joe Way 1:46

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And you could say, really, even a year ago, because, you know, you would think about higher ed and the image of the faculty member who would say, you know, “You’re going to rip this chalk out of my cold dead hands. Don’t give me that technology,” You know, “Whatever, I don’t even want to use a laptop, I’m going to lecture to my students, and they’re going to sit in the chair, and they’re going to be happy with that.” And that is a real reality, especially R1 institutions that have the tenured faculty, and there’s no focus on online learning or needing to be effective at online learning, right? And that’s really where we saw a lot of the second and third tier institutions take off, right, because they invested in online education years ago, but it hadn’t quite gotten to where it was accepted, and then entered a global pandemic. And all of a sudden, you’re now putting all of this instruction into a virtual world. And over the course of the two years, our world has changed, right? We were all thinking early on about the pandemic, “Okay, we’re taking a break, and then we’re gonna come back.” And yet, now when we come back, we’re coming back into a drastically different world, both in like work from home, who knows who’s gonna stay virtual? You know, it’s just gonna be a different time. And this is where now technology is going to have to keep up with what is our new reality, right? There was just a poll put out by the Chronicle that said in higher ed, [an] average [of] 73% of college age students, after attending classes online for the last year, now want some form of their education in a virtual environment? 73%. That is incredibly high. And so what it tells us is that technology and pedagogy will now always be intertwined, right? We now need to have a faculty member understand that content delivery and how you do your content delivery is as important as your skills in your discipline, right? You can’t just be an expert in archaeology or cancer research and think that the information just comes out. You now have to be a technologist. And this is where we as AV are here to provide the tools for that to be effective, right? The thing I’ve been going around saying is, “UC and AV are now intertwined. We had AV and IT recently, and it’s now an interconnected world. And this is where we have to be able to provide that. And that kind of seamless and frictionless experience for our faculty across the board. It’s a whole different world. No longer in AV are we walking into a room and if there’s a problem having to think, “Oh, they just didn’t plug the HDMI cable in,” or “The projector lamp is out,”. We might have to actually go into a software component. It might be a Zoom setting or a Team[s] setting. It might be settings on their own computer, it might be a DSP audio routing issue. That is very different from “They didn’t turn the system on.” Right? There’s a whole level of different complexity that we’ve had to turn You know, as technologists.

Tyler Jacobson 5:02

Well, the level of complexity…for example, my…I love my father to death, he was a high school teacher. And he was there when they were starting to say you need to put your lectures on PowerPoint, and he had whiteboards that would slide from one side to the other. And he says, “If anybody ever asks, all of my lectures are on PowerPoint. Here’s slide one” And then he slides that board to the side. “And here’s slide two,” and he slides that board to the side. It was really difficult for him to make that transition to a digital presentation. How are you educating the instructors? Because I know that you’re going to have some that are very, very reluctant or they feel overwhelmed.

Joe Way 5:46

Here’s the thing: the faculty, I need to give props to them. Because when this happened [and] the pandemic hit, they had to come and step into something they were not comfortable with, right? They spent their entire career thinking about, “Okay, how…it’s me lecturing to students,” and now they’re in this weird place where they have to think about things differently. And this is where ‘hypercare’, high level white glove support comes in, but they have adopted it. And they now recognize if you think about our generational gap. The image of: it’s our seven year old, who can use our iPhones better than we can. Well, that’s different. Grandparents, and great grandparents know how to make a Zoom call now. Right? That’s the world we live in. And now faculty are used to having to do that. They know what sharing screen means and to ask for permissions and hitting the reactions. These are things that are very important and are a change in society. And now I think what we need to do is we think about how to support that. How can we now take what you do normally now, and can we make that effective in your learning environments? And so I really like things that we do 24/7, hands on white glove support. It’s interesting that we now have a…we no longer also have to walk into a classroom. Sometimes we support by calling into those their Zoom class, and taking over their Zoom setting. It’s an unrealistic way to think of support, but that’s where you can now [sit there and] go, “Let me walk you through all of these various elements that you do know in normal life now.” And I think that that’s been the biggest change, just in general, and that faculty have to have come to [a] recognition of that, right? They’ve had to, and I think they’ve had to, because if you look, when the pandemic hit in March of last year, a lot of it was just survival. And we’re gonna make it through the last six weeks, eight weeks of class, and the semester is over, and we go back. But now because that wasn’t the case, every school is now going through at least an entire year of online instruction. These skills have now been developed. And so you figure out that like how we’re going to help them move forward, is that we’ve earned a seat at the table, because we had to. We had to understand to be empathetic to a new reality they were facing, that’s also given us respect. And that’s that we’ve been able to align and be partners with them so that as we see these changes going forward, and when they do return to the classroom, and now it’s hybrid. Remember it was all in person and then it was all online. Now it’s a hybrid. We can actually be that trusted partner, and like I said it’s hypercare. 100%, people online in the rooms with them, calling into their class, attending class to help them through this, as they get that learning curve of what it’s gonna be like to have some people online and some people in front of them. And it’ll be an interesting fall coming up, that’s for sure.

Tyler Jacobson 8:53

And that’s very consistent with what we hear every day is that initial disruption was horrific. Like, it interrupted every element of education and every element of instruction. And people have figured out the process. And so as students are starting to come back to campus, are there lessons that you learn from that, that you’re incorporating into the on campus experience? So for example, we at LabStats provide maps that help students to see what computers are available in real time like digital signage. Are there elements that you’re able to pull over from pandemic disruption? That’s going to improve the on campus experience?

Joe Way 9:40

Oh, absolutely. Um, that was actually a great one. And we’ve done that too, utilizing wayfinding and utilizing just the normal…being able to see our computer labs, perfect example. Which one is taken, which one is checked out? Now, we can populate that to an online scheduler so people can come in and be able to check that out. Same thing on campus. We set these tents up during the pandemic so people can come and have study areas. So we utilize scheduling software in order to have that. Well, we can continue that forward. Other things are…pre pandemic, faculty never had to utilize… I mean, something as simple as: post your syllabus on Blackboard or Canvas. Like that was never required. And now, hopefully that never goes away. Being able to host all of your materials using a virtual library. Like half of our campus are old libraries that everyone would say, “You can never close the library,” well, we just closed them for a year and instruction just went on. Those things are now…we can rely and move to a digital world that way anyone in our classroom [can transition to digital]. What we can think of is: the whole idea of cameras and microphone[s], right? Everyone has their laptop [that] has a built-in camera and microphone. You know, we all took that for granted a year and a half ago? And when we would build a classroom, and the bill of materials was above the budget, the first things that we cut off the budget, and the scope was the microphone and camera. And now the first two things that have to go on every bill of materials and a new design is a microphone and a camera. And that will be no different. So those things that again, we took for granted, that came on our phones, that come on our computers are now integral parts of an actual learning experience. And that’s really going to be exciting and the ability…other things. For example, we’ve heard of faculty saying: “Hey, now that we’re all virtual, I can bring a guest instructor who’s a researcher out in the field somewhere around the world.” Maybe that doesn’t need to change. They would have never thought to do that ahead of time. You know, and last year, well, now they’re doing it all the time and coordinating among one another in their specialties. And it’s the students who get the value out of that later. So hopefully those types of things will continue as well. So it’s really neat to see. And it’s interesting that all these things existed before the pandemic, right? These are all things that probably everyone at every company and you and everyone was trying to sell advantages of. But no one recognizes it until you’re thrown into that world and going, “Oh, that was fantastic. Now can we keep that going?” And I think that’s going to be the key for tech managers who are on site. Not just [in] higher ed, but I think anywhere to have people recognize that all of these abilities, we need to keep. We cannot look at this as a temporary thing that we did to survive, but something that we should have always been doing to be effective. And now let’s keep that going.

Tyler Jacobson 12:48

I agree entirely. I’ve always thought that the times we learned the most is when we’re the least comfortable. And I think we’ve gone through a year and a half of being very, very uncomfortable. And so there are excellent pearls of opportunity that we can capitalize on that’s going to enrich our work lives, the education, the curriculum for years and years to come. One of the things that came to mind, as you were talking is: I’ve had conversations with several people on campuses, about universal design and accessibility. Has this disruption shaking things up enough that we’ve made steps forward as far as making this content available in multiple formats for people that either have learning preferences, or if there are limitations in ways that they can absorb material?

Joe Way 13:46

Fantastic question. And one that means a lot to me. So, you know, when we were going through our big upgrade, which started right before the pandemic, we were big on universal design and user-centered design. Bringing in our customers and finding out: how do you actually use the spaces? What do you need out of the space? And things as simple as height adjustable lecterns, right? For ADA, for accessibility. Sight lines, screen brightness? Like people, you know…assisted listening, all these things that we probably set up should have been in classrooms that we never necessarily always put in. Once we got online, it demonstrated the needs of others that could be hidden before. So, for example: [a] Zoom call isn’t great unless you can have closed captioning, right? Maybe live transcription? What about Wifii access? You know, we ended up starting a program for free Wi Fi hotspots for students who needed it. We had no idea how many students relied on the fact that we have had great free Wifi around campus. We thought they were just hanging out at the alumni park to take their class or study, or maybe head to the library because it was a social area to be with their friends. No, they were doing that because they could not afford Wi Fi at their house. Right? We didn’t realize all of these things that we provided that you assumed were natural for people, we didn’t recognize that sometimes people sit in the first three or four rows of class, because they need the screen right there. They need to be able to focus on the faculty member, because they’re reading lips, and things like that. You didn’t recognize those things until they’re gone. And what about it? What was interesting is we had a lot of faculty members early on in the pandemic, teaching surprisingly, with their cameras off. You would think of you know, the students be the ones [doing] that, [but] they’re the faculty. Because they didn’t want people to see their house, “This is my own privacy, I’m [not] going to teach you [from] here,” right? And I get it right, because it’s in the classroom, I don’t want you to see my house, I’m gonna turn my camera off and teach. But what about the students who needed lip reading? What about those students who needed the visual that now didn’t get that? And so equity is very important. Accessibility is very important. And these are things that we’ve had to catch on to. And it’s great to see all of the learning platforms really integrate these tools. And I will say there used to be tools that were very expensive. And now they’re actually being thrown in as features. And that’s kudos pretty much to us as an industry to say, “Look, this is important.”

Tyler Jacobson 16:39

Well, and I think that that’s fantastic. Because from the feedback that I’ve gotten a lot of the reluctance was that some of the professor’s didn’t want to have their lectures recorded. Or they felt like they were doing a disservice in some way for the students that were actually attending class in person, by providing for people that didn’t bother showing up. And I think that this has changed that mindset. And by default, things are getting recorded, which means that it can be made available in a way that it never was before. When I was in school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we didn’t even have laptops that we took the class with. The professor’s were giving lectures on those projectors that had the plastic that ran from one wheel to another. And if you miss something in your notes, it is gone. Like you either relied on other students to be able to get it, or you just missed that part of the information. And now being able to go back and listen to a recording or watch a video or get the transcript of these classes, I would have utilized that in many different ways when I was in school. And so I think that’s an exciting step forward that has been forced upon us due to the pandemic.

Joe Way 17:59

And I want to speak to that too, because I think it’s important. You know, as someone myself who has a PhD, so I understand intellectual property rights that the faculty members say like, “Don’t record my lesson, because it’s mine, I own it, etc.” Sure, fine, whatever. But I’ll say this as someone who is a fellow Dr. of theirs. There is nothing you’re teaching in an undergraduate class, [that] I cannot get by Googling it, period. Okay? [There is] nothing you are going to teach, [that] I can’t get by Googling it. It is not IP until you are a Master’s or Doctoral student. Sorry, it’s not. Okay. So now, effective teachers, those who are experienced in their craft, yes, those tend to go to more elite institutions. And there’s added value to that. But the information is the information, right? So what we’re seeing is those faculty who are being effective, are the ones who are recognizing the power of recording the lecture. And some of them are not even using the time that they would have lectured at the whiteboard. But they’re pre recording their lecture in their office and posting it to the LMS. And then saying that: this is not all we’re going to do. This is just the information. Still come to class, because now we’re going to use that as discussion time. We’re going to use that as a way to work together and collaborate and discuss these various issues, right? Where you can ask questions, which there wasn’t always time for if they were having to use the lecture to provide the information, right? And now we’re seeing that this is, I think, why students are recognizing the value. And they’re not skipping class, right? Because they can go “Okay, I’m going to watch this. I’m going to watch the lecture when it’s convenient for me, when I can focus. And then I’m going to come to class prepared to dive into it, to get real world discussion about how this applies.” And that is really great and then beyond that, if it does, in a real tangible way, if you think about…like you even alluded to. You know, if you miss class, you have to find somebody who did attend and hope that he made decent enough notes that you could find out what they talked about, right? Well, now, if you happen to miss a class, because you have a conflicting thing, a job interview, whatever: it’s not that big of a deal, you can go back and get that because really, it’s the tuition dollars that are lost. If you look at USC, where $60,000 a year in tuition, right? Every hour, they’re sitting in classes like 250 bucks, all right? I mean, this is not cheap. So they should still have a right to that information still. And you know, if they’re sick, same thing, if we look at what’s going to be an effect of the pandemic moving forward. The days of showing up anywhere, with a little sniffle or cold are done, right? You used to be able to show up and, you know, if you took like a half a bottle and NyQuil, you could probably still show up to class and you know, kind of suffer through, or even work, right, this applies to the workplace. Well, those days are gone. Do not be the person who shows up to work a little bit sick. That is your work from home day, or that’s why you have sick days, right? So this also allows students…you know, if you’re sick for a week, that was two classes you might have missed and the semesters are only 12-14 weeks long. That’s good for…10% of your entire course, if you happen to be sick for a week, right? Well, now you get that value.

Tyler Jacobson 21:27

Yeah, that actually made me laugh off the anxiety of needing to cough in public that we didn’t have two years ago.

Joe Way 21:37


Tyler Jacobson 21:38

So a very good point. Now, one of the other things that you were talking about is the equipment and stuff like that. Have you seen an increase in demand from students for use of this equipment, and not just from lectures and things like that? Have you needed to set up like conference room spaces where they can actually utilize the cameras and the microphones in order to interact with each other or their instructors in a different way than they wouldn’t before?

Joe Way 22:04

Yeah, you know what we have. Honestly, not a ton. But this is where I want to kind of when I was saying that you didn’t recognize the inequity that existed. Because now they have to have, for example, you have to have a computer to attend class, you didn’t have to have a computer to attend class before right? You could show up, see your faculty member, you could take notes, and that was fine. Well, now you have, you have to have a computer. So we had to use our labs, and we had to social distance them. Or they could check them out. Whether they had to have Zoom clients added to iPads and tablets that we would give out. These are things that we recognize the services that we had to continue to provide. And more of the traditional AV? No we’re not getting those. Have people asked me for microphones and webcams? Not so much because the computers have them on there. But sometimes, right? Headsets, maybe they live in their fraternity house, right? They never actually went home, they’re just in their fraternity house. So having a headset is helpful. So we’re seeing more of the peripherals, but not necessarily the actual systems.

Tyler Jacobson 23:21

Okay, the reason that that question kind of came up is: as you said, most students have a computer now. But are those computers capable of doing everything they need to do? Because if they are coming to school with a Chromebook that their grandmother gave them as a graduation present, that Chromebook may not be able to run certain software packages, or it may be limited on some of its capabilities. And the students are often requesting or expecting the school to fill the gaps of what…and the example you gave was internet access, because they probably most of them have some form of internet access at home, it just may not be robust. And it’s nothing like what you can provide on campus. And so what do you think we’re going to see over the next couple of years, as far as what students and faculty expect and where we’re going to be? If this process of growth continues?

Joe Way 24:22

Yeah, um. Oh, that [I] mean, that’s the crystal ball question. And obviously, you know, who could a crystal ball to anything of COVID? We were all wrong in whatever prediction we made. But, you know, I think what’s going to happen and because we’re seeing this in life, right now that we’re seeing, “Hey, guess what? Your local bands are now scheduling dates for the end of the year,” Right? We’re all looking forward to going out in a group hugging over cocktails somewhere. I think you’re gonna see a swing back to that initially. Right? You’re gonna see a “Whew it’s over. I want to go back to the way it was,” But then we’re going to, and that might be over this next semester. But then what we’re going to recognize is how ineffective we were, and how much more the tools helped us be more effective. And then we’re going to see it swing back towards some happy medium. I think over the next couple years, I’ll be honest, I can’t picture any device coming out now, by any manufacturer, that does not work in a UC environment. Why would you come out with any microphone, camera computer, you know, video streaming, anything, that doesn’t work with my, you know, with Teams, Zoom, whatever, you know. Even if it’s part of some ecosystem, cameras, [etc.]. I think that what we’re gonna start to see is this, and I really alluded to it earlier, the: every room must be a hybrid environment, or effective in a hybrid environment. Every room, every conference room, you have to plan that not every attendee will, will be in person. Right? And so every space you plan, you have to plan for that. I also think that when you use it, every faculty member, every student, every version has to think, well, not everyone will be in attendance. And I think that goes all the way down to the smallest meeting up to the largest classroom. And so I think that’s where we have to be thinking when we do our designing.

Tyler Jacobson 26:29

And I agree with that as well. Do you anticipate that at some point in the next year or two, when all of this pandemic funding starts to dry up, that there’s going to be budgetary stress? And if so, how’s that going to change the priorities on what to keep and what cut?

Joe Way 26:49

Sure, I mean, tell you a lot of there have been a lot of cuts on campuses, except for the AV departments. It’s been printing money, because we had to to be effective. I think this is where it falls on us, as technologists to discuss this. For example, I cannot have a conversation when I’m asked “How much is it gonna cost to upgrade this room to make it a hybrid room?” I can’t just give them a dollar [amount], right? I can. But what I also do is educate and say, “It’s this much money to turn the room into an environment. It is also this much money each year moving forward for subscriptions for this, for planning for updates. You know, we live in a software world now. So who knows [when] one of these UC platforms comes up with an update might mean we have to change other hardware out. Who knows?” So these are things where you have to educate and make sure that we recognize that this is an ongoing expense. It is now no longer the days where you could build a room, in a little legacy self-contained space, and then hope it lasts for seven to ten years. And before you have to do anything to it. We have to plan that every space needs to be upgradable at all times. And that’s the education we have to give them and that just becomes part of our new reality. And hopefully I’ve been effective with that. We’ll find out when it comes time to update everything again that I keep that conversation going. But that is going to be a big change.

Tyler Jacobson 28:22
So where are you guys at right now? Are students returning to campus already? Are you really in the mix of hybrid summer on campus, summer off? Where are you at right now?

Joe Way 28:35

Yeah, we officially opened campus yesterday. So…

Tyler Jacobson 28:38


Joe Way 28:39

Yeah, for summer session one. That said, I think that there are currently…I’ll round this to the closest zero…zero classes that are actually in person, even though we have opened. So, and that’s also because there aren’t that many summer classes and the faculty have chosen to stay remote for the first half. We have about 20% of our classes being used as a hybrid environment for summer two, which will start at the beginning of July. And then we are supposed to be full open in person moving forward starting in the fall. That said it’s an asterisk even though we’re going to be fully in person. We already know that India, China, Japan and even possibly Mexico, even though you can’t get back and forth, will have Visa issues. Not all of our students will be able to return even if we choose to open and that is a you know, as a lead R1 institution, international students are a very big percentage of our student population. So we have to have every course be able to be hybrid, even if we choose to open up and I think it’ll be that way for all of this next academic year.

Tyler Jacobson 29:52

And I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little or anything but the challenges associated with coming back to campus are going to be even more pronounced in the challenges for the exodus from campus. Because at least when the pandemic hit, everybody was going in the same direction. And so everybody was trying to deal with getting people functional away from campus, the return is going to be some students are going to feel comfortable coming back, some are not, some may not be able to get here as for the international issues you discussed. Some of it’s going to be a very different scenario coming back than it was when we transitioned away from campus. And I think that people need to make their plans very flexible on the return to campus, because they may not be a whole lot more stable than when they were trying to make those plans that change daily, when we were leaving campus a year ago. So yeah, it has been an honor to have you on. Are there any final parting thoughts that you wanted to share?

Joe Way 31:02

See, whenever you get that question, you feel like you have to have a parting thought. So here we go. Here’s my soapbox. Now, you know, I’ll just say this…whenever I start thinking that, you know, I’m looking at, at our higher ed in a “we’re coming out of a global pandemic.” And my hope for us is that we continue to remember those who were not as fortunate to make it through this as others. You know, when I think about accessibility, and I think about, as you mentioned, universal design, when I think about those students who rely on us, let’s not take that for granted, especially as we kind of come out of it. You know, this was a very difficult time. People lost family members, people’s families lost jobs. And while we’re happy to come out of a pandemic, let’s remember that it was the community and a virtual community that kept us moving forward. And hopefully, that is something that we can keep and keep in mind and will take with us after this.

Tyler Jacobson 32:12

Well said. So thank you very much for joining us, Joe. This is a great conversation that we can share.

Joe Way 32:18

My pleasure.

Tyler Jacobson 32:20

That’s all for today’s episode of LabChats, be sure to subscribe so you’ll be notified when a new LabChats episode is posted each week. We’ll see you next time.


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