Ron Bleed’s Chosen Focus: It’s Alchemy

A Conversation with Ron Bleed

Ron Bleed has long been known as an exemplary leader in higher education and a pioneer in education technology. As Vice Chancellor for Information Technologies at Maricopa Community Colleges (AZ), he has overseen technology implementations that have had far-reaching impact for the Maricopa Community College District and have served as important models for community colleges nationwide. This year, he received an Educause award for Excellence in Leadership at the 2005 Educause annual conference, which was held in Orlando this past month. CT spoke with Bleed at the conference.

CT: We understand that you will be retiring soon from your role as Vice Chancellor for Information Technologies, choosing to give your full attention to the work that inspires you most at Maricopa. After nearly 40 years in this field, you have an incredible perspective on what’s important for IT in higher education. Could you tell us what you think is important for IT to focus on in the coming months and years? What will your focus be?

Bleed: There are three banners I’m going to wave as I go into the sunset of my career. One is hybrid courses, because I have discovered that the greatest problem working against student success in courses is life interruptions. Hybrid courses go a long way toward giving greater flexibility to students by not committing them to such a fixed time schedule. The second crusade is, when they do come to campus, to have social spaces for them—spaces that are much friendlier for students, places where they want to congregate. And we can look to Borders, Starbuck’s, and those kinds of places for models of how to make seating and other physical arrangements attractive. The third banner I’m waving is called visual literacy—trying to introduce that further into the curriculum, because it includes the skill sets that are needed for the 21st century. It’s what our younger students have aptitude for, and I think we could greatly improve learning if we were to use some of the tools they are most familiar with and adept at. Visual literacy takes many forms and has many definitions; were just beginning to sort that out. It needs to be introduced both as a separate course and in assignments within courses, and it should also be addressed in teacher education. There are many ways in which students can learn from and create materials in digital media formats that include visual and sound elements.

CT: Those are three big challenges. It seems like there are a lot of different things that have to come together to make these things work.

Bleed: I think the challenge for us in IT will be to bring together all kinds of forces. I’ve used the analogy of alchemy. We need to mix up a different blend of things and produce a different kind of gold than we have been traditionally producing with our work. This means drawing not just from those of us in IT, but from a lot of other people that need to be part of the picture. We’ll be creating a product that is important to our students and to higher education’s future. We need to look at just what that end product is—what that gold is. But I really do believe that it will include more visual images, more flexibility in course scheduling, and better design of spaces.

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