There’s a new “geek” in town. His name is David Levin and he is the newly anointed senior director of academic technology.
His mission: “To partner with faculty and any others on campus to try to see how we can use technology wisely to serve the teaching and learning goals of the university,” said Levin.
Or, as his direct boss, Hilary Baker, vice president of information technology explained, “David’s role is to collaborate with, to coordinate all of the different resources on campus in order to provide appropriate academic technical support for faculty and students.”
Until last September, when Levin was brought on board, there was no such position.
But with the campus spending more than $1 million on technology every year, not counting personnel costs, and an increased emphasis on expanding online offerings, it became necessary to create a central source for information on what technology to use and how it can best be used, Baker said.
By all accounts, Levin has the perfect background for the job.
“I was trained as a philosopher,” he said. While that may seem to be a non sequitur, he said has a Ph.D. in philosophy and spent 15 years teaching at a state university in Wisconsin.
“I got very interested in philosophy of mind and, from that, in artificial intelligence,” said Levin. In the late ’80s, he spent a year doing graduate work in computer science, particularly in expert systems and artificial intelligence.
That got him excited about using technology in teaching and learning, leading him to use some early computer-aided instruction programs. Levin knew he was on the right track when his symbolic logic course, not usually the most sought-after class, became popular just by virtue of the technology he was using. Plus, he said, “the grades improved and the students enjoyed it.”
He was later hired by DePaul University in Chicago to be their first director of distance learning. “I was involved in designing the School of New Learning online program,” he said. “That program is unique because it’s one of the few really successful?full online programs for undergraduate studies.”
By the time he left DePaul eight years later, they were offering “about 80 to 90 courses per quarter online,” Levin said.
Having weathered winters in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York growing up, and also while working in Wisconsin and Illinois, Levin said he and his wife were looking for an opportunity to live in a warmer climate. That led him to Cal Poly Pomona, where he was director of the learning department for three years.
“The learning department’ was their cute name for academic technology, and it was essentially the same kind of position as here,” said Levin.
His previous experience is not all that Levin brings to the table.
“David is engaging,” said Baker. “He has strong interpersonal skills, he’s a good listener, he has good analytical skills and he brings a level of collaboration and coordination that is really necessary for this position.”
Baker said, “His skills as a former faculty member really allow him to be well-regarded within our academic community.”
Or, as Provost Harry Hellenbrand put it, “We hired him because he seemed to be adept at talking in the language of both those worlds.”
“You don’t want to hire a geek who comes from geekland. That doesn’t do the rest of us a lot of good,” he said. “You want to hire a geek who comes from un-geekland, who understands what the normal folk need?the geeks know what they want (from technology) and how to get it. The rest of us, we need help.”