Not only can she hula-hoop for 5 minutes straight, but Toni Pennacchia has some incredible, long-standing talents that are matched by her outstanding contributions to the Ed Tech field. Managing multiple campus' systems is just one of them - read more to find out why this accomplished, knowledgeable IT professional still considers herself a "new traditional student".
Rachel Reiss: Where do you work?
Toni Pennacchia: Johnson & Wales University. I am at their largest campus, in Providence, Rhode Island, but we have other campuses as well (Charlotte, NC, North Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and a growing online campus). I am a system administrator for all of them; the administration is central through academic tech systems.
RR: Tell me a bit about your current role.
TP: I do several different things. For one, I manage the ulearn system, provide QA support and testing for all ulearn upgrades, and resolve any issues that faculty, staff, and students may have. I am less of a technologist, and do more management. Such as, I assist in managing our relationship with Blackboard Managed Hosting vendor support engineers, and collaborate with the IT department members and outside vendors on issues related to Bb integrations. Lastly, I maintain academic technology integrations with ulearn like Kaltura Video, Analytics for Learn, TurnItIn, and Starfish.
RR: What challenges arise when working with both physical and online campuses?
TP: There are some things that our online campus must be using that our in-person campus may not. Most of our in-campus courses offer a blended-learning experience, so students can receive resources and guidance they need from the instructor during in-person lecture, and have them online as a reference. For our online campus, everything - all communication, all instruction, all assignment submission and assessment - takes place online. Therefore, they operate differently then a physical institution, and need to move much faster. If campuses want to introduce a new tool but cannot decide upon a specific one, the online campus usually gets priority in selecting and testing out the tool. I'd say it's the most innovative. A real challenge, however, comes with the different programs we offer. Some are semester based, some are term based (quarterly), and some, like our culinary program, and organized into 9-day labs. Our online systems must reflect each program's specific length.
Sleek, modern lab buildings reflect JWU's commitment to innovation.
RR: I understand most of your expertise and passion about eLearning is because you, yourself, are a product of online education. Could you tell us about your educational journey?
TP: I'd classify myself as a "new traditional student". Throughout my educational career, I've been a day student, a night student, and an online student...through many different places, much of the UMass system. I began in the classroom in the '90s, and in 2007-2008 I started taking online classes through UMass Boston online and eventually began helping folks out in their classes myself. Both instructors and students. I then switched to City University of New York (online), where I finished my B.A. in Business. From there, I did support and training for small to mid-sized businesses in several industries, from real estate, sales and marketing, to health-oriented web solutions. Now, working in higher ed, I am focusing on database design and earning my M.S. in Information Technology from Southern New Hampshire University. I would love to give back and teach online as an adjunct in the future.
RR: How do you use the Community site?
TP: I found this community has been really great to connect and help other folks with questions and answers, but also great to work with internal folks on the product and development side. My primary "go-to" places are my inbox or the System Admin community. Sometimes, I will go on the developer side and the educator side. Oftentimes, people don't know where to go to post things, so I enjoy tagging to connect them to others that are in similar roles or people at Blackboard that can help. It can be like "leading lost sheep" but I experience the same myself getting help from others in the community with my own issues presented.
RR: Would you like to see anything changed or added?
TP: More ways to connect the different communities. Oftentimes, personas in one space may be unfamiliar with or intimidated by jargon or conversations in another space, but breaking down those barriers and fostering communication could be highly beneficial. A great way would be to promote persona-specific events to all communities - for example, if an alert for a webinar for developers were to show up on the main page, educators who may be interested could know to tune in, too. Another great method of connectivity would be to increase multimedia resources on the site. Arts, music, and podcasts oftentimes engage learners more, so people could be more apt to learning about what is going on outside their community and in other areas.
RR: Speaking of multimedia, you had mentioned a few times in the past that you have experience and interest in Media and the Arts. What other cool things don't we know about you?
TP: At JWU's Providence campus, I've served as a staff advisor to the Anime and Gaming Club. Outside of school, I educate people indirectly through film festivals, such as a Womanimation! and the Short Story Film Festival (at MergingArts Productions), where I'm a film curator and media producer. I've been involved in community radio since the 1990s and added in a podcast element back in 2007. Currently, I produce weekly music geared towards world and atmospheric music, and a syndicated radio program and podcast, Spoiler Alert Radio, interviewing craftspeople working in the film world. I think it's really important for Community members to share a part of their lives outside of the Community - that sharing really sparks conversations and brings people together. At BbWorld, I will never forget meeting a woman who was both a Blackboard client and an opera singer. I hope we can bring this type of sharing to our Community site.
Thanks, Toni! Perhaps some of our Community members, in addition to their outstanding contributions, have some outstanding talents, too. Think that is you? We want to know. Share here.