An innovative leader in emerging tech is keeping things real at Full Sail University.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
For more than 35 years, Rob Catto, Simulation and Visualization Program Director at Full Sail University, has been a leader and innovator in emerging technology and education. The last two decades, he’s been laying a foundation for the future with the institution’s bachelor in Simulation and Visualization and master’s in Game Design degree programs. His acumen in edtech has helped keep the university on the leading edge, and he’s not done yet. He is the winner of an EdTech Leadership Award in the category of Higher Education Technology Leader as part of The EdTech Awards 2022 from EdTech Digest. In this interview, Rob reveals what happened when schools were forced to go online, provides more detail about what he calls ‘extended reality’ and ‘deep learning’ — and tells who will bring the necessary changes to technology to create the future of learning.
What prompted you to first get involved with education and technology?
While I was working as a cabinet maker in the ’80s, I enrolled in an Adult Education woodworking course at a local middle school so I could work on my own projects. The middle school teacher also ran the woodworking course and after talking with him about being a teacher, I decided to go back to school to become a technology education teacher at University High School in Orlando, Florida. While there, I helped author the first high school computer-based TechEd program in the State of Florida.
What prompted you to author several degree programs at Full Sail University, including the ones you currently direct—what problem were you trying to solve?
When I first started at Full Sail University in 1995, I was brought on to teach the first VR course at the university within the Digital Media degree program. The executive leadership at Full Sail has always believed in me and promotes continued innovation, so I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to author several different award-winning degree programs that continue to be offered at Full Sail University. These degree programs include the Game Development Bachelor of Science, Game Design Bachelor of Science, Game Design Master of Science, Computer Science Bachelor of Science, and the Simulation & Visualization Bachelor of Science. Each program is unique in its curriculum. However, the common denominator among them is that they are further developing the technologists of tomorrow to advance the fields under the emerging technologies umbrella.
How have you managed and led through the last couple years—what purpose has driven you forward, and what’s been key?
The last couple of years have been an interesting experiment on how to teach a hardware centered program during a pandemic. Much like the rest of the world, we had to figure out how to navigate the evolving “new normal” the pandemic kept introducing. To accommodate the early onset of the pandemic, we had to rearrange the class sequence to shift student’s schedule to take the online courses first. Fortunately, with our preexisting robust online course offerings and proprietary LMS system, those courses already had an online component. As a university, and in following safety guidelines, we worked to implement a safe return to on campus learning early on to give students hands on access to the campus hardware. As for what purpose has driven me forward, it has always been, and continues to be serving our students. Leading a talented team of educators who are passionate about technology and having the opportunity to educate future tech leaders is what drives us forward every day.
Congrats on your big win from The EdTech Awards! What does an honor like this mean for you and your team?
Thank you! It’s an honor to have been selected among such a distinguished list of educators. As for what it means to me, and our team is validation. My “success” is not based on my individual abilities, but rather the result of a highly talented and incredible team. I learned long ago, one person does not have the skills to do everything, you need to find people who offer skills better than your own to accomplish amazing things.
What key lessons from your past inform your current success and your vision forward into the future?
As I mentioned, it’s the team you surround yourself with. I have had the distinct privilege in my career as an educator to find people smarter than me with a common interest to participate in my crazy notions. I have always thought outside the box when it came to technology education and have had talented people willing to participate.
It’s been a wild ride these last few years—what is the state of education today?
We are on the cusp of a technological revolution when it comes to education. With the advent of new technologies for distance learning like Zoom tied with Extended Reality and Deep Learning, the next ten years are going to be eye-opening for educators. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved with the first wave of Virtual Reality, having had a full immersive VR lab in a high school in the early ‘90’s.
‘We are on the cusp of a technological revolution when it comes to education. With the advent of new technologies for distance learning like Zoom tied with Extended Reality and Deep Learning, the next ten years are going to be eye-opening for educators.’
I saw the potential then, but the technology and the cost of technology was prohibitive. Today both these glass ceilings have been busted and the future potential is incredible.
What’s tech’s role in education? How about your organization’s efforts with this?
Education has now migrated to the online world and there’s no “putting it back in the bottle.” Forced to go online, so many educational institutions now have an online component and they’re seeing the advantages. The pandemic has demonstrated the need for online education and the only way we can accomplish this is with technology. The pandemic has revealed the strengths and weaknesses in current technology, and it’s up to current and future technologists to bring those necessary changes to life.
A question many asked throughout the pandemic was “how do you engage an online student when they need to interact with hardware, they don’t have access to?” This is one of the many questions that can and will be answered through the use of extended reality technology. From the early onset of online education over two decades ago, Full Sail University saw the need for a different Learning Management System (LMS) and began developing an LMS tailored to our type of learning. At Full Sail University we have always been on the cutting edge of technology and will continue to add new degree programs that address this technology.
What’s ahead for education—trends to watch? any you are setting?
As I mentioned in the previously, online education is going to be the leading advancement in education. From my point of view, there are three trends to watch in education:
1. Online education
2. Extended reality
3. Deep learning
Trends two and three are what’s going to push online education into the next revolution for education.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: email@example.com