‘Learning from the People I Teach’

Up close with a veteran instructional support specialist.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Larry LambertPrior to his ‘education adventure’, Larry Lambert enjoyed full-time careers as a musician, journalist, and airline administrator. “I am one of the few long time educators who does not have a lifetime career only in education,” he says. Nonetheless, with more than 28 years in higher education as a full-time, award-winning faculty and administrator, Larry worked for Southwestern College in Chula Vista as an Instructional Support Specialist, Distance Education Coordinator and Instructional Designer. “I work with colleges and universities across the country to help develop their online programs and consult on best practices in planning, strategies, technology and design,” he explains. Larry is past president of the California Community Colleges Distance Educators Organization, a

Be brave and courageous. Take the chance and reach out to your peers for help.

state professional development and representation body for the 113 Community College Distance Education Coordinators. He has won national recognition as ‘Higher Education Teacher of the Year’. He also received a national selection as a ‘Blackboard MVP’ for his skills, experience and his many contributions to Higher Education, and recognized as distance education expert. He works with the California State Chancellor’s office as an Instructional Coordinator, Distance Education Coordinator and selected Co-Chair for the Distance Education Coordinators Committee for the Online Educational Initiative. His online learning department at Southwestern College is the fourth largest in California and was awarded a certificate of achievement from both Blackboard Corporation and the College Accreditation Body. An award winning ‘Judge of Merit’ and a Judge Mentor for The SIIA CODiE Awards recognizing excellence in the educational software and information industries, he judges over 80 content, education, and software categories. In this interview, Larry sheds further light on the work of education, tipping points, paradigm shifts, and who teaches him.

Could you describe your work as an Online Instructional Support Specialist? 

Larry: Interesting question. My answer is consistent for most of us who work in education. What I do and what my job description reads are two somewhat different animals. My responsibilities are described as a technical position that helps faculty and students use our Learning management System (Blackboard) for the success of our students and increased teaching abilities for faculty. What I do transcends both technical and androgogical boundaries to make distance education and successful environment for our institutional district mission, our students, faculty, non-teaching classified professionals, and community members then promote planning and strategies for distance education at the state of California level. My technical responsibilities are to ensure that our learning systems are stable, current and developed to meet our user’s needs. I believe that the technical and androgogical aspects of distance education are inseparable. One only exists at the quality level of the other.

How has your past informed your current approach? 

Larry: I am extremely fortunate to have had a long and varied career in education. I have worked with and for both public and private colleges form Washington State to Southern California. A smaller, private college in Oregon gave me experience as a faculty with no tenure protection, and kept my position by consistently meeting standards balanced between competitive educational ones and profit. In 1997, I was honored with a national award of higher education “Faculty of the Year” distinction for private institutions. That truly was a tipping point for my education career. The national recognition I received afforded me the ability to consult with, plan with and evolve education in institutions of higher learning in broad and creative ways. Through the work and commitment to my careers, I have always had and my ability to positively influence the direction of higher education was increased exponentially as time and experience took hold.

What is the biggest change you have seen in education since the start of your career?

Larry: There has been a shift in the paradigm from traditional, one-dimensional thinking of learning delivery to include a viable distance education component. I began my foray into distance education just prior to leaving my college in Oregon in 1998. I created their distance education program and taught their first online class as I moved to San Diego. To me, the possibilities of teaching and learning from a distance without four walls, time or location constraints to limit learning was a grand epiphany. My creative DNA exploded and I was hooked. Distance education strafed the old paradigm of “Me Teach, You Learn”.   People from all over the world now had the ability to learn anything they wanted from anyone they wanted, any time they wanted and from whatever college they wanted and they could stay home. The archaic system of a “correspondence course” was soon abolished and replaced with a quality, creative and more available one with greater legitimacy.

What has been most rewarding for you?

Larry: It has to be my learning from the people I teach. I always look for the personal and educational characteristics of students, faculty, administrators and others to learn from during the time I have with them in a classroom, the internet, or wherever. My reward has always been their success and my new enlightenment. My philosophy for teaching is, “Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” That’s a quote from Nikos Kazantzakis. By teachers, I do not limit that definition to only those who have a faculty title and are located in a classroom. CODIE provides me with a new perspective and in turn, much of this reward, as a judge.

You are involved with industry programs. What do you find rewarding in your involvement with the edtech industry? 

Larry: Speaking on the technical side of my career, the SIIA CODIE awards has been the highlight of that aspect of my career. The technical side feeds my perfectionist of logical systems and my need for tactical creativeness. I joined the CODIE awards judging panel a few years ago at the behest of one of my college administrators who had been judging and was leaving to retire. She thought I would be a good candidate to take her place. The years have been exciting, informative and wonderfully filled with the most creative, energized and trend setting technical entrepreneur’s on the planet. I was in awe of the strength of their success and the love for their products. I was inspired by geniuses like Manish Gupta from UCertify and so many others that I was recharged with a new pathway to contribute to my institution and all the others in California and beyond. I felt a sense of honor and responsibility to do the best job I could. Locally (my college and others) I became the expert in emerging software in categories including but not limited to education. Because of the educational technology experiences and learning about their technical systems I was more prepared to work the magic in my career, making me versatile and a more multifaceted employee and consultant.

How do you recommend educators get more involved in industry programs?

Larry: I wish I had a whole book to write my perceptions of this questions answer. First of all, the cohorts of educators need to undergo a cleansing. Good educators are worth their weight in gold and bad ones are worth their weight in carcinogens. By “educators”, I mean administrators, faculty and everyone else tasked with learning. Getting educators involved in industry programs has to start with filtering out ones who are failing. Educators who have a passion, skills and a homeopathic yearning for educational Nirvana have an almost moral obligation to spread that wisdom to others. A new awareness with technology combined with new learning paradigms and you have a petri dish saturated in new ideas. Educators need to make the time to reach out and expand their knowledge. Sometimes with time restraints, it is easy to avoid other untested and unfamiliar responsibilities. I would recommend that educators get involved with the list serves first and then professional groups to network and find their best opportunities. Be brave and courageous. Take the chance and reach out to your peers for help.

Any trend predictions in K-20 education for 2016 and beyond?

Larry: K-20 is finding a synchronicity with technology but failing to keep up with positive trends. I predict that 2016 is going to be the year of “technotherapy” where institutions will find that heralded middle ground between technology evolving too fast, too ambiguous outcomes and the understanding of what systems will work for their schools. 2016 will be more of a collaborative year as well between K-12 and Higher education.

Many of the educational technology entrepreneurs have evolved their products through the K-12 ranks where they are more collaborative, more sophisticated and are more willing to share.

K-12 is restricted more and more accountable for high quality outcomes, not just for the sake of bells and whistles but also for the result of student success.

Higher Ed is being repurposed and accountable for the END of their students’ education as much or more than what happens when students first start their educational careers.

States are beginning to form cohorts and initiatives that include K-12 but more memorably inclusive of involving many other institutions. California is a good example of that. The “Online Education Initiative (OEI) for distance education is expanding to include all 113 community colleges and probably will move to Universities in the near future. Instead of operating in 113 silos, the state chancellor has tasked a very talented group to bring it all together for the goal of student outcomes and transferring to universities faster and more prepared. California has the largest number of colleges and universities with 400 total. I see this catching on and revolutionizing the way we learn.

Edtech is constantly evolving. Besides reading EdTech Digest, how do you stay up-to-date with the latest tools?

Larry: I stay up with trends and emerging technology by being a CODIE Judge and other professional networks. These are where I find the most useful and accurate educational (and other categories that I judge) information and see firsthand what is coming over the horizon. I am also on several list serves with my peers from all over the world. They are a professional group that will snatch a new technology and deconstruct it then tell the rest of us what it can and cannot do. I work for the state of California on educational projects and have a chance to network with leaders and brilliant minds up and down the state. Combine all this with my fervent need to be up on the latest edtech fits in very nicely with my goals and vastly improves my versatility at my own college.

How do you spend your time when you are not teaching? 

Larry: I am a voracious reader of Tom Clancy, David Baldacci, Lincoln Child and Doug Preston amid others. I was a musician so I will annoy my family and sometimes neighbors pets with a heartfelt revival of my suspect talents. I love to be near the ocean. I can still scuba dive and maybe a little sailboarding still. I do consult with Colleges and Universities in and out of California for their Distance Education programs. That is so very gratifying I would do it, as a fulltime job is possible. I have a black belt in Tae Kwon DO Karate that I earned 30 years ago, so I try to help others with personal safety. And I laugh a lot and try to outsmart my 10-year-old rescued greyhound racing dog—I fail miserably at that.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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