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5 Tips for Hiring a College A/V Specialist

It wasn’t long ago that a college A/V specialist was a fairly simple role to fill. Technology hadn’t advanced to its current state yet, and the equipment and tools being used in the classroom were much easier to learn, teach, and maintain.

Fast forward to 2012 and the A/V specialist’s role has become much more complex. In fact, some universities distribute the traditional specialist’s tasks and responsibilities across multiple individuals, each of whom handles a specific aspect of the job.

"The job is no longer just about using VCR tapes and projectors," said Andrew Broadhurst, academics multimedia team manager for the American Public University System (APUS) in Charles Town, WV. "Things have gotten a lot more complex and the innovation is never ending. It’s quite a challenge."

With the role of the A/V specialist expanding and becoming more complicated, institutions should be prudent when searching for the right person to take on this responsibility. Here are five tips to keep in mind when recruiting, hiring, and/or promoting individuals for the position:

  1. Look for someone who has a passion for technology and education. Hard job skills are a requisite, but don’t overlook the value of true passion for education when filling A/V positions. "Pick individuals who want to improve the student learning experience," advised Broadhurst. "You want folks who can put themselves in the students’ shoes and figure out how to enhance both the learning experience and student retention." Individuals who like to learn new skills and tinker around with multimedia also makes good candidates, he added.

  2. Seek out good communicators. It’s one thing to be able to operate A/V equipment, said Broadhurst, but being able to communicate the technology’s capabilities and limitations to others is a special gift. "You want someone who likes to dig into the finer details and who can then share that knowledge with others," he explained. Those "others" could be program directors, deans, professors, IT professionals – or all four. "Skillsets can always be improved and enhanced," said Broadhurst, "but good communication skills are a critical, core component that you should be looking for in your A/V specialist."

  3. Break up the job into multiple components. Sometimes the job of A/V specialist isn’t just one position – it’s actually three different jobs. That’s how Waterbury, Conn-based Post University’s Online Education Institute divvies up the A/V duties, according to Frank Mulgrew, president. Falling under Post’s A/V umbrella are instructional technologists, instructional coaches, and instructional designers, each of which has its own specific set of duties. All of those tasks revolve around infusing multimedia into the college classroom. "We’ve gone from having one, minimally-technical A/V specialist who knew how to get things up and running," said Mulgrew, "to a pool of three specialists who can cover the entire gamut – from determining which technology is most applicable, to setting it up, to showing everyone how to use it."

  4. Emphasize the IT-instructor liason role. If the idea of being a middleman makes the A/V specialist blanch, then you might want to move onto the next candidate. "These folks have to work in partnership with IT and the instructors and often serve as liaisons between the two," Mulgrew said. Put simply, the specialist has to interface with the institution’s information technology group and help faculty and students use the A/V technology in a functional manner in the classroom. "Technology has to enhance learning and not be a barrier to it," said Mulgrew. "That’s where these specialists can really help bridge the gap and make a difference."

  5. Let academic affairs do the hiring. The fact that A/V specialists work closely with IT and academic affairs can help to create a strong bridge between the two. To maximize this benefit, consider hiring someone with a solid background in instructional design, said Mulgrew. In fact, he said the academic affairs office should be in charge of the hiring and not the IT department. "I’ve found that it’s easier to build the bridge from academics to IT and not the other way around," remarked Mulgrew. "If the specialist can bring the academic wants and needs over to the IT department, then he or she can provide a new, valuable link between the two."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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