Kyle Bowen making a point

ETS Director Kyle Bowen (photo by Lauren Beal)

Education Technology Services, a unit within Teaching and Learning with Technology, has a new director, Kyle Bowen. In February of this year, Bowen left Purdue University to become the ETS director, and was immediately was thrown in the spotlight as a member of an IT Matters Breakfast panel on IT’s role in teaching and learning.

Bowen did quite well, and the reception to what he had to say was positive. This is no surprise because Bowen has built a strong reputation via his work at Purdue and his public speaking gigs, presenting at a wide variety of national conferences. In fact, at the 2012 HighEdWeb conference in MIlwaukee, his presentation on mobile learning won a Best in Track Award, also known as The Red Stapler Award. Now, while many IT people at Penn State got to know Kyle a bit more via the IT Matters event, we thought it would be great to interview Kyle so people can find out more about him.  I recently sat down to talk to him about his career in higher education, his vision for ed tech at Penn State, and how he’s adjusting to life in State College. You can either continue reading, or if you like, you can listen to the interview via podcast: .

Jamie Oberdick: Kyle, talk a little bit about what first got you interested in educational technology?

Kyle Bowen: Sure, one of the first jobs I had, early in my career, was as an instructional designer on a project with Bethlehem Steel. They were looking at how to overcome some of their challenges around training a new workforce because they had an aging workforce that was beginning to retire. And what was happening was they were passing along a lot of their shortcuts and unsafe practices on to a new generation of steel worker and that created some safety issues. So part of that was kind of introducing new types of instruction around using multimedia, using 3D simulations, and whatnot to help explain the steelmaking process to new employees.

This was one of the first times that I really got involved and it was very easy to see how  education or teaching and learning, in this sense, really made a difference for people. It actually saved lives in many cases. And so that’s really what got me interested in this space. I approached it through technology and as a result, I worked at Purdue working with faculty, as part of faculty development, doing instructional development around multimedia and it just kind of progressed from there.

Jamie Oberdick: Now, you did actually talk right there about your background in educational technology, did you want to touch a little bit more on it at all? And what are some of the examples of some of the things you worked in the past?

Kyle Bowen: Sure, so over the last several years is really been where I’ve focused a lot on educational technology, mainly how can we re-imagine so many different parts of the traditional classroom experience or the traditional course experience that we have today. You know, the construct of the classroom is a generations-old model that really, even if we look back hundreds of years, looks virtually the same today. And so how do we begin to rethink how that happened, so that it’s not just taking and putting courses online, but rather, how do we change those interactions? There’s this new classroom that emerges where it’s on the phones in students pockets, it’s in the social networking connections between students, it exists in bricks and clicks the same time. And so how do we bring that together and have technology that really supports that idea?

Jamie Oberdick: What will your new job here in Teaching and Learning with Technology, as director of the sub-unit Educational Technology Services, entail?

Kyle Bowen: So part of that, what I’m really excited about, are all the great things that are already happening, certainly with the Media Commons and the One Button Studio. These are already examples that other institutions use when they begin to evaluate their own spaces and put into place things that are very similar. In addition, we have rapid innovation around the technology itself. So we’re creating new technologies, like the One Button Studio, but also the new technologies folks in digital badging and other strategic areas will be growing out.

And then also the kind of innovative uses of instructional design itself. This is one of those areas where there’s pure rubber-hits-the-road type of opportunity, where a student or faculty begin to reevaluate their courses, the inclusion of technology into those courses. You know, how can we help with that transition? And how can we help to, again, kind of rethink so many of those traditional models that we’ve applied in the past to help our students be more successful?

Jamie Oberdick: Now, what are some ideas and plans that you have? The one thing that really caught my attention was something you mentioned at the recent IT Matters Breakfast about Penn State becoming a bellwether for ed tech. I think that’s a fantastic concept and idea.

Kyle Bowen: So I think one of my past successes has really been looking at, how do we communicate better related to the impact of educational technology? And a lot of that has to deal with how we position that technology and really begin to talk about its philosophy, why it is the way it is, and why it works the way it does.

Then also the research that goes into that, which is really the critical aspect. Is it having the necessary impact inside of the classroom? Is it moving the needle in ways that we want to see? And so that’s our real opportunity. Once we have that, then we have this extraordinary opportunity to communicate that around the campus and then also across the world because, you know, education is something that happens globally. It is a universal language.

This is our opportunity to really position Penn State as a leader in this space, as we have already been in other areas like with the Media Commons, for example. We can also lead in so many different facets of what we do here. And, I think, a big part of that is sharing those stories, our faculty stories, with everyone. And so much of that is the faculty we work with on a regular basis to execute that research to put in place that instructional design. These are the stories that we should be really good at telling. And it not only promotes what we do here, but really, it promotes our faculty and the work they do.

Jamie Oberdick: Now, could you give a few examples of some ed tech things that have caught your interest, raised your excitement levels, maybe like an app or a technique or a trend you’re seeing, new kind of software, things like that?

Kyle Bowen: You know, a big part of my focus over the last year or so has really been around open badges. And this is one of those things that even though, like I said, we’ve been talking about it for a year, eighteen months, really it’s something that’s just starting to grow. And it has a lot of potential. Because it can be applied in so many different ways. Really when we look at badges, it overcomes so many traditional challenges that we’ve had and how to recognize learning in all of its different forms. So if we look at curricular learning that happens inside of the classroom, co-curricular learning that happens as part of, you know, informal opportunities. We also have cross curricular learning. So this is learning outcomes that are embedded in multiple different courses in very complex areas like ethics, and leadership, and creativity, where we don’t necessarily have specific programs in those places, but we do have outcomes in multiple courses that contribute to a common shared idea. And then also with open curricular aspects. So these are things like MOOC’s, like other types of informal, non-credit bearing learning opportunities gives us a way to recognize those as well. At the end of the day the student has a greater composite view of what they’ve learned. And it creates a picture that they can share with potential employers or as they go into graduate school or however they want to move through their career.

Kyle Bowen smiling

Photo by Lauren Beal

Jamie Oberdick: Now, we talked a lot of business here, let’s talk a little bit about your background and some personal stuff. First off, where are you originally from?

Kyle Bowen: I grew up actually about ten miles from Purdue University. So I literally grew up in the shadow of the university. I’m used to kind of living in that college  town style community. And it was one of those things where everyone when they started to go to college, especially in a college town, usually have every intention of  leaving it. Certainly it wasn’t necessarily, you know, when I was in school, my plan was to stay in West Lafayette. But it was one of those things where I found it to be very  exciting to work inside of that culture, working with the faculty, continuing to work with the students, it was something that just was very exciting to me.

Jamie Oberdick: Now, what do you like to do when you’re not working, like what are some of your hobbies, things along those lines?  

Kyle Bowen: Well, I have two kids. And so most of my hobbies circle around the kids. But one of the things I do enjoy doing is public speaking. So I’ve taken  opportunities to speak in a lot of different venues. And it’s afforded me the opportunity to go to other parts of the world and share with them ideas around innovative  thinking, new approaches to instructional technologies.  

But then I’ve also been able to engage other types of speaking engagements. I had the opportunity to do a TED Talk a few years ago. Also, Ignite is also another similar  style of presentation that I’ve had the opportunity to do. And so that’s something that I really like to pursue that in the same way that some people pursue, you know, gardening or skydiving or whatever the thing is they like to do. In my case, I examine public speaking and I kind of actively work to improve that.

And one of the things I’ve done here recently; I was getting so many requests related to my presentation materials that I launched, which is my website where I share all of my slides via Creative Commons. It has been really exciting because people will pick them up and use them in their presentations. And it’s always been exciting to me when someone sends one back, because they’re Creative Commons they can remix and reuse them. I’ll see my work being translated into other languages, for example. So I have one slide, particularly, that’s very popular and I’ve seen it translated into Dutch, and into Russian, into French. So that’s where it’s been, kind of an interesting way of connecting with people through kind of a Creative Commons art license. Which was one of those things where I just kind of did it at the time just to see what would happen. And it’s certainly been a very positive thing.

Jamie Oberdick: Yes, the first time I ever even heard of you was when I was at the HighEdWeb conference, I think it was in Milwaukee, and I asked a couple of people what session are you going to next? And they’re like, all, this Kyle Bowen guy. You gotta see Kyle Bowen. And, I think, didn’t you win a Stapler Award then?

Kyle Bowen: I did! I walked away with a stapler that year.

Jamie Oberdick: The Red Stapler, for those who don’t know, is like the best in conference award that High Ed Web gives out at their conference every year, which is really cool. But, yes, you knocked it out of the park.

Now, how are you and your family liking State College so far?

Kyle Bowen: We enjoy it here. It’s great. So many of the community activities. And certainly, you know, coming in the winter time has been interesting.

But at the same time, given the terrain here, my kids are loving the sledding and these kinds of things. So, it’s been great. Like I said, it feels a lot like home. It feels a lot like where I come from, with that kind of college town atmosphere that we’re so used to. My wife grew up and came from the same area. So we’ve enjoyed our first few weeks here.

Jamie Oberdick: Can you give a few examples of a couple things that you found here in State College or in University Park campus you really like?

kyle bowen gesturing while talking


Photo by Lauren Beal

Kyle Bowen: Well, certainly the athletics here on campus, there’s such a diversity there. In addition to some of the things like the Spikes Fest with the minor league baseball team and these kinds of things. So really kind of taking in those community events has been really great. And having such a close knit community, getting to meet so many different people, and even through the schools and other different kinds of programs, that’s just been a really good positive experience for us.

Jamie Oberdick: Okay, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Kyle Bowen: Nothing I can come up with.

Jamie Oberdick: Thank you very much for your time, Kyle. It was great talking to you.

Kyle Bowen: Sure, I thank you.

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