Northwest Tech Overview
Northwest Kansas Technical College, or ‘Northwest Tech’ for short, is a two-year Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accredited technical college located in Goodland, Kansas. I joined Northwest Tech in 2010 as a faculty member for the Computer Graphics Technology program.
The Computer Graphics academic program had been developed in 2003, but struggled to achieve success in recruitment, retention, and job placement. Adding to the complexity of the challenge was the overall population decline in Northwest Kansas contributing to decreased overall enrollment at the institution. The college had declined in enrollment by over 80% in a ten year period and serious strategic action was required to improve performance and remain viable.
I embraced the challenges we faced as an institution by ‘wearing many hats’ and contributing in meaningful ways throughout my tenure. Among my contributions were marketing direction, a technology-centric approach to teaching and learning, development of new and modern program offerings to recruit new types of students, and overall improvement strategies to retain our HLC accreditation.
Marketing & Recruitment
When I joined Northwest Tech, the organization did not have a marketing coordinator or graphic designer on staff. In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I lead the effort to rebrand the college which included the development of new naming, branding, the addition of a new mascot, and numerous collateral elements to support the rebranding initiative. Following are a few pieces of contributed collateral:
Northwest Tech was the first two-year college in the country to implement a 1-1 learning initiative with Apple iPads. Recognizing the need to differentiate our offerings at a time of great technological modernization created an imperative opportunity for the organization. Possessing a strong technical background, I was able to contribute greatly to this initiative in key ways.
Many of our faculty members had backgrounds in traditional technical industries (automotive mechanics, collision repair, heating and cooling, etc.) and lacked experience with digital technology. To address this deficiency I developed and taught online and hybrid courses to help educators integrate technology into their courses. In all, over 40 local faculty members (including local K-12 educators) participated in my course offerings. Both Northwest Tech and the local school district were ultimately named Apple Distinguished Schools for their efforts.
Integration of technology in to my classroom was key to differentiating our program and achieving student success. Expectedly, being a computer graphics technology program, the devices readily lent themselves to industry applications for photography, illustration, photo editing, and animation. However, every student having an iPad created new opportunities in the way I taught by ‘flipping the classroom,’ and focusing our time together on active (versus passive) learning activities. The overall impact to learning was tremendous, and was a factor in increasing our enrollment, retention, and ultimately job placement.
My efforts in the area of educational technology were recognized in two key ways. In December 2012 I was named Employee of the Year for Northwest Tech–as designation that originates with peer nomination and is determined by committee. Then, following an application process, I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator for the class of 2015. The designation was a considerable honor, as I was one of ~150 educators selected from over 25,000 applicants.
New Program Development
In addition to the progress we made with our educational approach, we recognized the opportunity to develop new programs utilizing modern technology. In 2012 we launched the Mobile Application and Gaming Technology program that focused on the development of mobile applications and the wide-spread ‘app’ boom taking place.
As Chair of the Information Technology division I provided direct support to the development of this program and its curriculum. Working with the subject matter expert faculty we developed a competency-based badge system to ‘gamify’ the curriculum. This allowed students to work at their own pace through hybrid content and perform mastery checks to earn ‘badges’ when themy demonstrated competence in different areas.
The program boosted enrollment and was received with positive acclaim through a variety of educational presentations made on the topic of gamification in education.
Assessment & Accreditation
The Higher Learning Commission is the accreditation authority that provides validity to the educational credentials and degrees offered by hundreds of institutions across 19 midwest states. Continuous improvement in an integral aspect of achieving and maintain program accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission. As the Assessment Coordinator, it was my responsibility to ensure that coordinated efforts were accomplished to drive organizational improvement. This consisted of working with faculty, staff, administration, and students to gather and analyze insights and outcomes. The data was then presented in an annual report to our administration and board of directors. The result was a 2012 site visit with a full ten year accreditation–the best an institution on our accreditation pathway could achieve.
In the spirit of full transparency, I am providing direct copies of my evaluations (cyclical, not annual).
Northwest Tech was an incredibly fulfilling place to spend a portion of my professional career. In addition to the progress we made as an institution, I was blessed with developing many relationships and friendships that continue to this day. There is little in life more meaningful than knowing you had a positive impact on the development of others and getting to see them continue to grow and develop in their lives and careers.