Josh Blazer: Choosing Tech for Creative Classrooms
Filed under: Animation & Effects
December 15, 2014
Josh Blazer, Regional Director of Technology for The Art Institutes schools, has worked in education for the past 20 years, and specializes in visual arts and related technologies. He has taught 3D animation and other media arts classes at The Art Institute of Seattle, and currently leads technology integration and implementations for The Art Institutes nationwide. In his spare time, he enjoys game development and recently released the game "I, Marble" for windows phones."
The Art Institutes: Describe the partnerships we have with leading vendors, from HP to Apple. How does that benefit our students?
Josh Blazer: Our relationships with our partners tend to be very symbiotic. Many of the features and technical innovations that make their way into products that are used by our students in our campuses are the direct result of product feedback sessions we engage in regularly. It turns out that the features needed by our students often are beneficial to the larger public and partners can benefit from the feedback we are able to provide on both how existing products are being used, and help shape the direction for future offerings.
Having a national presence allows us opportunities to interact with our partners in a way that a smaller university just couldn’t. This results in a variety of benefits to campuses, faculty and students—new features, contests and other sponsored events, better pricing—even little things like prioritizing shipments to ensure equipment arrives at a campus prior to class starts.
The Art Institutes: How do you ensure that the most recent technology is available to our students?
Josh Blazer: Our goal is not as much to have the most recent technology, but more to have the right technologies in front of our students. Engaging with technology partners to receive early versions of hardware and software allows us to thoroughly test systems and software before we deploy to our locations. Feedback is very important to our solutions, and we continue to solicit feedback from our academic teams, faculty and students to ensure we're placing the right solutions in our campuses.
The Art Institutes: How do you plan for upgrades to our technology or new equipment that may not have been available up to this point?
Josh Blazer: Much of the work in IT is around projects, whether it is deploying a new version of software, upgrading a computer lab, reconfiguring a space, or implementing a new piece of technology.
With so many campuses, the coordination and communication across many geographic sites becomes critical to the success or failure of our projects. While there is always room for improvement, we do our best to ensure our staff has the tools and resources to execute the projects.
One of our competitive advantages is the frequency of updates to our computer labs and other academic technologies on campuses. We plan technology annually, but deploy on a quarterly basis to ensure technology has a continuous refreshment cycle.
The Art Institutes: Provide an overview of the approach you took to upgrading our audio production studios across our network of schools. What was the total investment?
Josh Blazer: The Art Institutes has a long history with audio production, with two campuses (The Art Institute of Seattle and The New England Institute of Art) that had pre-existing programs that date back to at least the early 1990’s. In about 2006 I was requested to participate in overseeing a series of new installations to support new program offerings, and I reached out for additional expertise in this field. I partnered with John Storyk who is a leading studio designer to assist with these projects. We designed an academic model for a studio that would still retain professional acoustics, but would also incorporate certain features and instructional technology to assist the learning process.
In terms of actual process—as campuses planned for programs—to roll out we started with site visits, photo sets, and concept sketches that led to one or more test fit drawings. These test fits would be evaluated internally and we would look at the best configuration for the campus. Permits would be obtained, construction started, and we’d order the large console that often could take months to build. As we neared completion of the studio, we’d order the remainder of the equipment and schedule the technology installation.
The investment in our audio studios was extensive—a $25m investment over a seven-year period in 19 locations. I’m very proud that Ai was willing to make the investment to put the right facilities and technologies into these spaces that students will appreciate and use for many years to come.
The Art Institutes: When it comes to technological advancements, what are you most excited about in terms of what's available to students—or will be in the near future?
Josh Blazer: Every so often, groundbreaking technologies come out that will have incredible impact to consumers. I get very excited when I see things that will shift the paradigm and impact people’s lives for the better, and even more when I see things that will have a positive impact to our students.
There are many changes happening today in education and I love that I have an opportunity to pioneer not only our programs as we rewrite them, but also impact our delivery mechanisms. Computers are increasingly moving off the desktop and into the daily lifestyle of the student. While I believe the best education will always incorporate the advantages of both on-ground and online education, there will be new technologies like the Oculus Rift that could open up virtualized learning experiences or at least enhance the delivery model for certain courses. I’m really having fun exploring these new technologies that could radically redefine what it means to "go to school."
We all know anytime, anywhere access to course content is becoming a reality through cloud technologies, and this is exciting to help deliver platforms that can create flexibility in how and when students learn.
I’ve loved our partnership with Wacom and particularly working through the Cintiq product deployments that have been so well received by our students. I think there’s more to come in this area, and we could see a true digital sketchbook that everyone can afford come to market soon. Regardless, I’m excited to bring more tablet and individual computing devices to our students that can help with this transformation.
The information and opinions expressed herein represent the independent opinions and ideas of the faculty and/or staff and do not represent the opinions or ideas of The Art Institutes system of schools.
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