Imminent Teachnology

Future of Work with Tonya Drake

June 07, 2023 Dr. Ro & Drew Stinnett
Imminent Teachnology
Future of Work with Tonya Drake
Show Notes Transcript

In todays episode, we are joined by Tonya Drake! We discuss a number of things around working in Education and the Future of Work

Imminent Teachnology Podcast – The Future of Work with Tonya Drake


(Drew) Thank you for joining us on this episode of Eminent Teachnology with Dr. Rochelle Newton and Drew Stinnett.  Where we examine current and emerging technologies through the lens of diversity and equality. 


(Drew) Hello everybody and welcome back to a new episode of Eminent Teachnology with Dr. Rochelle Newton and Drew Stinnett. 


(Drew) Today we have an awesome guest. We have Tanya Drake, who is a regional Vice President at the Western Governor's University. I think I said that right. Please feel free to correct. All right. 


(Drew) Awesome. So yeah, so today we're going to talk about technology and higher ed and we'll probably go several different places. But Tonya, would you like to say a little bit about yourself? 


(Tonya) Well, first thank you so much for reaching out. I'm excited to be on your podcast. 


(Drew) Awesome. I'm happy to have you. 


(Tonya) Yeah, so I used the pronoun she and her and I also identify as mixed race. My father is Kawi Chau, which is First Nations up on Vancouver Island. But I was born and raised in the States. So I really appreciate being on here. I've been in higher ed for, I don't know, more years than I care to mention. I guess. But I, you know, I've been in higher ed my entire career and lots of different fields had the opportunity to work for public universities for community colleges. And now as you mentioned as the regional vice president for Western Governor's University. And you know, Western Governor's University serves the entire nation. We've been a private nonprofit for 26 years. Oh well. And are very excited to serve working adults. You know, it's, it's interesting. The history of our university, 19 Western Governors got together thus the name Western governors University and decided to leverage technology. And so, we're truly sort of this hybrid. In the sense of like a technology company meets higher ed and really have pulled together a unique experience, a learning experience for students who have a lot of knowledge and skills and just need to demonstrate that knowledge through a competency-based model. And then they can move on and get their degree. So excited to work for an institution that's very innovative and creative and just very forward thinking. 


(Drew) That's awesome. Where is, does it have a central headquarters or is it just 100% remote? 


(Tonya) So, we do have a headquarters. It is in Salt Lake City, Utah. And we serve the entire nation. So, any student can participate. The coursework is all online. We do have some in person for some workforce areas. For example, teacher education. We do have demonstration teaching so students can get into the classroom and apply their skills as well as our clinicals for our health professions. Our in person within clinicals hospitals. But all the coursework is 100% online. 


(Rochelle) That's one. I think that when before COVID hit, we thought that this online education was going to be a fad. We thought it was going to eventually go the way of the dodo bird, but it's managed to stick around. And what's amazing is like more and more every year we hear statistics where students are leaving brick and mortar institutions and going to fully online courses. When I did my doctoral work, I did my doctoral work on just that fully online education and completion rates because I finished mine in 2016. And at the time, at X, Coursera, and what was the other one? I can't think what the other one. But they came out and they partnered with universities to offer these online courses. And a lot of people were enrolling in those courses, but not completing. And there were a lot of terms thrown around about window dressing and what this was. Teachers were looking to see they were committed to completing. And so, I think that in reality, what we've seen with online education is really a real good option for actually non-traditional students who weren't able to complete their degree while they were in high school or college age. We're seeing more value in this. And the fact that you actually have a clinical piece is absolutely exceptional. You know, of course, they do their practice in hospitals and clinical settings. But that's just pretty amazing. Did you think that that would be what was the outcome for your institution post COVID? 


(Tonya) Well, we've learned a lot in distance education and online learning. And we had the advantage of doing it for 26 years. Whereas most of higher ed just learned in the last couple of years during COVID. And I wish anything pivoted to online. So, I will say that we had the advantage of trial and error and learning what works and what doesn't. What we did learn is what we kind of thought early on that high that high touch really is important to students. Regardless of whether you're in person or remote learner. And so, we did assign a faculty mentor to every single student. So that faculty mentor meets with a student one on one each week. And they start with the student and with the student throughout their entire program. So, they have access to a person. Sometimes that faculty mentor serves as a coach, a mentor. Sometimes they just listen and help direct them to the resources that they need. And so, you know, I think it's really important that they're not alone through this process. That they have someone during that journey that cares for the work that they're doing. And it's a champion for them to make it through. I think about some of my early technology and how I have adopted that into my own life and how companies have learned. I think about my online banking experience when I was young and having to go into the bank to do everything or to, you know, reconcile my checkbook once a month. And now I think about my banking experience and the use of technology in that. And I would probably not go to a bank that I had to go in person all the time to do the work I needed to do. I have really benefited from the leverage of technology in that space. And I think we're starting to see the benefits of learning online for some learners. And I say some because higher education needs to be a strong ecosystem for all types of learners. Right. Vote is one type of learning in person and traditional university serves. Another type of students who is expecting a different experience and a different learning style. And I think we need a broad ecosystem in order to meet those needs across the US. And so I think we have had the advantage of using technology, using it in a way that every student benefits in an individualized learning. Because it's also at their own pace. I don't know if I mentioned that. The students get to take coursework and once they establish their competency, they can move on to their next class. And so, students at WGU usually graduate in about two and a half years for their bachelor's and about nine months to a year for their masters. So, there's lots of efficiencies for them to get their return on investment and get back out into the workforce. So, there's lots of success in being able to demonstrate and not waste time on subjects that they already know and just be able to move on to the areas that they need to concentrate on. 


(Rochelle) And that's amazing. I will tell you, so I did not get my first college degree to I was 42 years old. I went to a historically black college. I got three degrees from there. I got two masters and one, I mean two bachelors and one master. I was a non-traditional student in every way possible. My first day on the campus, right? So, I have no idea what they expect. I haven't been on a college campus. And my first day at school, a girl walks in with a bra and a bikini. And I was just shocked at that. It's just, you know, it's just like, oh my god, this is what school looks like. And it was really like that. People dressed weird. They interacted weirdly. And you know, when you raise your hand, you heard all this noise from the people in the back. Put your hand down. We're trying to get out early. You know, in this kind of thing, I think that it's really amazing. But you just described, you know, for students to learn at their own pace. So, it took me, I graduated from North Carolina Central in two and a half years with two and a half degrees. My master was a two year torture. We'll say we got to go to what's the golf place in North Carolina. Pinehurst, we spent, we did a lot of our practice in whatever that town is called, but where Pinehurst is. It was really fun, but it was arduous. It's really amazing about what you just said. It's one they don't have to spend a lot of time on, you know, like one of the courses left first when the center was understanding the campus. Like I'm only going to be here for however much time, but what do I need to know? So, I had to take a whole course on the campus. And like to me, it was a waste of time. So that's wonderful. You have it in your work and what you've seen. How do you see your work influencing other universities and other academic institutions? 


(Tonya) Well, we did get a lot of questions during the pandemic about how you do this and what works best for that. And we do have some networks now. We have something called WGU labs. It's sort of our applied research arm of WGU. And so, we're starting to leverage that knowledge to benefit all of higher education. There's something called the college innovation network. Because campuses are utilizing different technology and there are lots of different vendors and options in institution, particularly a small private or maybe some of the community colleges who don't have the knowledge and expertise to be able to test all these big systems or know what's best for their students. We're starting to build a knowledge base about what products work best for different institutions. And what those experiences are like so that we can help institutions make the best decisions around technology. And what would be best for their needs or their services. And so, in some of those ways, we are not only sharing our best practices, but also leveraging the best practices of higher education across the country to help each other out to know how best we utilize technology. For learners and for their success. That said, I think we're all about to pivot pretty quickly with this AI coming out. And I think all eyes are on conversations about where it will go. And then in higher ed, what do we need to do to prepare our workforce for the needs and working with artificial intelligence. And more importantly, what is our higher education? What is our social responsibility in that as well? And I think those are broader conversations going on. But I know looking at the horizon, many of us in higher education are starting to have those conversations. And that's wonderful.


(Rochelle) Yeah, AI may be replacing. Like everything gets replaced, it seems like. And the AI stuff is very scary. When you mentioned mostly like adult education at the campus, one of the things that we talk about a lot on here is to sort of how like automation is replacing a lot of people's jobs. And it’s sort of neat because people's jobs are getting replaced. People need to learn new skills and like maybe what you majored in when you were in college, you know, 18 through 22. It's probably like, you know, not applicable at all nowadays. So having like a way for adults to get like a new education seems very important. 


(Drew) Do you run into many people that are like, do you find that many of your students are coming back to school, either because technology has changed their job or they need. Because of technology, they need like a completely new career or those not related. 


(Tonya) I think there's a big wave of both through. So, we do see a big wave of individuals who are staying within their field, but they need to advance in their degree. Teacher education is a great example of that as education has changed. Many of our teachers are going back for a master's to either specialize in certain areas or to ensure that they have the latest knowledge and information. We actually have seen a downturn in one of the areas and that's in our health professions. We're seeing fewer RNs to go into BSN and I think it's just due to the long pandemic and the stress on that. That group of individuals to be able to then concentrate on going into a BS degree when they're so in need and they're so maxed out. 


(Drew) So, I anticipate that will change hopefully in the future, but IT is through the roof. 


(Tonya) So, our College of IT is seeing huge amount of individuals who are pivoting like you said and recreating. Who decided that they see a lot of need and there's a lot of high demand and high wages in technology. And it's not just in urban centers. We did some research at least in the Northwest on rural areas and rural job demand. And we're seeing a large amount of industry accepting remote workers. And so, in rural areas, you know, you can stay in your hometown and get a really high-paying job as long as you have some of those tech skills. So, we are seeing a wave of individuals both rural and urban who are doing just like you said, you're just pivoting and like making wholesale changes as far as their careers. But we're seeing, I would say, waves of different groups for different reasons. 


(Rochelle) Yeah, it's cool. Yeah. I think that in the grand scheme of things, we probably will see more of this. The question is, what does this mean to the brick-and-mortar students? I mean, institution. What happens to an institution that is built for 20, 30,000 students to be on their campus? And half of those students now go to digital learning. You know, there's got to be somewhere where we were thinking about this and thinking about how to still, you know, report at same type of education that you get in face to face of working water institutions in digital online. So, it was very refreshing to hear that you do have this network and you're sharing your experiences with others. 


(Drew) The question I have for you, so where are the majority of your students coming from? Are they coming from all over the United States? Or are they sent to a region? 


(Tonya) So, we did divide the country into seven different regions. And that's why I oversee the Pacific Northwest. But we do have individuals who develop partnerships across the entire nation. The way WG started is we started with Western Governors Association, and thus the Western Governors University. But we do serve the entire US, as I mentioned. But we had a few governor step up and say, hey, you know what? We want to be partners with WGU. And so we saw some emergence in certain states. So WGU Indiana, WG Washington, WG Texas, WG North Carolina, had stepped forward and said we want to partner for workforce development within their states. So early on, our university really focused on what we called state affiliates, those states who stepped up and said, we want to partner in a more significant way. But we weren't serving the entire nation equally. So, you see big pockets of students like in Washington, where we have large number of students, more than our population share probably should. And so now as a university, we are trying to expand access. So, we still have large pockets of students in the Northwest and in Texas. We're being more intentional about our outreach in the southeast and the northeast, where we traditionally haven't had as much outreach. And so, we're starting to see larger growth. But because they're smaller regions, the percentages are increasing. But the numbers are still fairly small. So, we do see differentiation across the country and quite frankly, in how online education is received in different parts of the country. So, we have a lot of interest in the southeast, but we have a harder time converting in the southeast. There's just a lot of competition. Well, you guys know in your area, the competition in higher education in the southeast is very different than higher education and competition in the northwest. And so, we see those differentiations across the country and higher ed. 


(Rochelle) And so, what you mentioned technology a lot, we all know that now everything is rooted in technology in some way. So where are the technology issues and how do you see them changing with things like artificial intelligence or automation or some of the other things that are going do you see that influencing your curriculum and how you recruit? 


(Tonya) I think it will, how I think is still emerging. So, from a student perspective we saw during the pandemic, it was a digital equity issue, who had access to online and resources being able to just physically log in and do remote work. And so, we needed to partner with companies like T-Mobile to create an online access scholarship. So, I do think remote learning, there are still a long way to go across the country about just having access to the internet. And that impacts more than education impacts, economic development in communities or access to even food, food deserts. 


(Rochelle) So, we are seeing that as a continual issue and as we emerge into an artificial intelligence, I think that gap will grow and grow because if you don't have access to emerging technologies, I think communities' abilities to grow, and change will be impacted. That said, it's hard to say what's going to happen with AI. I think we're all playing around. Drew's a little nervous. I'm a little excited. But I think that... Not being enough fearful. I'm a little fearful. So, we've got to use a bit of poverty. 

(Tonya) Yeah, I played with it a little but not enough to be dangerous, true. So, I've even learned from my kiddos who are using it in very different ways and starting to learn how we use it and how we will benefit from using it. I think we'll be really, really interesting. So, some of the work that is going on in my kiddos' classroom is knowing that artificial intelligence can whip out essays or without responses, those types of things. Teachers are starting to grade more on what are the inputs? What are they asking it to do? Why and for what reason? How then are you going to utilize that information? I think are intriguing. I'm also intrigued about the possibility of how that changes us as a society and if there are some technology advantages of doing some basic work, it may free us up to be more creative, innovative, dynamic, and how we approach work, which I think is refreshing also. But I am cautious because I think that there could be also some harm done and so understanding our social responsibility. I don't think we fully understood our social responsibility when we launched the internet. Do we think about social responsibility with all this social media? And now with artificial intelligence coming out. Now is the time we really have to figure out what is our responsibility in launching technology that could be helpful or harmful to our Earth, to people, to two lots of different things. I think that marginalized communities suffer most. I mean, we were describing food deserts and people. My husband is a third grade teacher and it was a nightmare. It was children didn't know how to start zoom. They wanted to hide their backgrounds and no one prepared them for that in schools. As you can imagine being overworked and understaffed, didn't have time to educate students on how to use a technology like zoom. You know, what the pitfalls of it because was it a year into zoom and Duke where we zoomed, finally locked it out because you have been in the middle of a zoom conversation and someone from somewhere else would join your, I mean, these kinds of things. And then, you know, with AI as well in a different way, not from not chat GPT, but on the other side. And poor communities ensure it's a higher because of artificial intelligence. They were already high because of bias and discrimination, but you add AI to this and you get another place. You know, I love to pick on Google and their facial recognition software when it's saw someone of a certain complex and they put a picture of a gorilla. We have a long way to go and the safeguards are not in place and it doesn't seem like anybody's working to put those safeguards in place. So learning on the job, the problem is the consequences of learning in the job. Yeah, it's really hard. This is maybe changing the topic a little bit, but what all this makes me, I guess, this sort of shakes my initial thought of, I'd always thought, online education would increase belonging. One thing that we hear a lot is people from marginalized communities when they go to a college campus, do not feel like they belong. They feel like, I paid my tuition, university gave me a big hug and said, come on over here. And once they cash that check, it's a do whatever you want. Good luck. And I always thought maybe technology would help that, because if everybody's just doing online learning, in my brain, there's not just as much cultural pitfalls. 


(Drew) Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. But hearing you all talk, now I'm sort of blipping that around, because now technology is a requirement to all of these things. And if you don't have the ability to get online and attend these things, then that's the way beyond the longing. 

(Rochelle) That's like whatever the step before belonging is, just entering the door. Yeah, I think that a lot of places put hot spots like here in Durham for the public school that created hot spots and gave kids hot spots to take home with them. And that too came with pitfalls, right? It came with problems, right? Because if you don't know how to join it, you don't know anybody who gets the information, it has some of the same issues initially with Zoom. But more importantly, I think that what we are with this is like for black and brown communities, and you know, even making that statement black and brown, because I do not use people to color people of color, it's more like it's not a good term, but even black, some black people don't identify as black, some brown people don't identify as brown. So you bring all of this to an online forum, or an online class, you know, and not including the bias in prejudices this and you know, like, you know, do I think you remember this? There was a time when we were sending emails about tone, like there was a tone in your email, you had to tone your email down so that somebody wasn't offended and you had no offense intended, you know, but so navigating that in online education is what Dr. Drake said is still growing, you know, like it's still being developed in what I, what I would say all the time is like online banking needs regulation, online education needs safeguards to put in place so that shows an arts is unable to harm, that adults know how to communicate without offending each other, these safeguards need to be developed and whether it's developed in higher ed or whether it's developed in government, it needs to be developed somewhere to protect us, and it's like we talk about all the time Drew, you know, you see all these ads for medication, you know, and so here's this commercial, it says, hey come take this medication and you might die if you take it, but it's going to cure what's hurting you, where's the education before that, you know, so do you need to ask your doctor for this medication, all of these things are in front of us and it doesn't seem like they've been mapped out, there's no clear roadmap how to get from one into the other, this, and I think technology might be the solution, but it also might be the problem. 


(Tonya) Well, I definitely think that we learned a lot at WGU around curriculum and assessment, so because we're competency-based, I will say our secret sauce is assessments, right? So you have to have the assessments, right, in order to identify competency, and one of the cool things that we did is it's um, as unbiased, I think as we can get as far as the instructors who grade the assessments, they don't know who the students are, so students could be in North Carolina, they could be in Washington, they could be in any part of the country, regardless of gender, race, if you establish your competency, you can move on. And so, I think we have seen taking some of that biases away. That said, there's still a lot that we need to grow and learn, and my experience is language changes, how we use language changes, we're continuously evolving and growing, and we need to do that for education also. What we say, how we teach what the curriculum is, needs to be constantly reviewed, to ensure that we are benefiting those who have traditionally not been successful in higher education. 


(Drew) That is  absolutely wonderful. What sort of, what are some other ways that people can help get biases out of maybe not necessarily assessments, but other things? Like you were mentioning, you know, sort of anonymizing the assessments, which is like a great way, because you know, you don't see a name, you don't have any preconceived notions, you have nothing. Are there other ways that people can use to do that? I know like some folks do things similar in interviews where you know, you'll wipe people's name and background, or maybe not their work background, but all the personal stuff out. Like, I guess I'm just curious, are there other good ways to like scientifically reduce bias in things like that? 


(Tonya) Well, I'm sure that there's there's lots of great ways. I can tell you some examples of some successes that we've had. We also have what's called a national curriculum. So, your university, you may have five different faculty members who are responsible for developing curriculum and minister, they're administering the curriculum, doing the assessment and signing the grade. So, if all of them are English faculty members, their class might be a little bit different, even though their outcomes are supposed to be the same. And that's academic freedom. And I think that works great for some traditional institutions. We have a national curriculum. So, every student who goes through our coursework, all gets the same national curriculum. So anytime we do updates or changes, it can change nationally. And we can measure the impact on that. And so, you know, some of it is just trying things, doing the best that we can, but then measuring and being willing to adjust and make changes. When we know that things are not successful or things that might be impacting that success, I think is incredibly important. We have done more research more recently on just sort of the steps and just following the data and where are some of our gaps. And so, we call them hero moments. Hero moments are things like we found particularly for all user term black and brown students like myself, who maybe have applied to the university, but didn't move on to that next step. One hero moment was they didn't have the resources to get the transcripts into us. And we're like, wow, we could solve that. Like that's an easy solve for us. We'll work with the national student clearinghouse. They can send it to a less electronically. We can bypass the, you know, small amount that the student might have to pay for that and resolve those issues. And so, ensuring that we're being responsive and understanding what the barriers are and then being proactive to eliminate the barriers that we can. 


(Rochelle) Yeah. And there are many. I'm sure one of the many is applying for a job, right? And so even though there are ways to anonymize it, there are also problems. So, if you look at a student who went to an historic with black college, automatically assume that's a black or brown student automatically. And that might not be true.  So, the student might get done. You know, they might have all these experiences, but they look all the way down and, you know, we've got applications to do this sorting for us to get us through the first level of noise in the application process. But then later on, you get caught by it, right? And I talked to Drew about this a lot, you know, black and brown people often less in first out or first in and first out, you know, so you have there's in order to address the biases that exist in life and as home, there needs to be an effort to address bias in our whole society, right? So how we see people, right? So, um, Dr. Drake, you don't know this, but I got very sick, and all my hair fell out. You know, I have won an Afro before, but never, never like this. And there are so many assumptions made about who I am. I'm an angry black woman. I'm not, but that's what people think, you know, the way I talk, the way I phrase things, my voice is very aggressive. I never knew these things, you know, like how do you get this out of a simple conversation? But it's easy to when you look, and you could see the person and make your assumptions and assume your assumptions are correct. And I think that in higher ed more than any place, so you look at completion rates between black and brown people and white people, their hundreds of miles ahead of us. I mean, like the completion rates are not even close, which is why when you look at the workforce, it's not diverse. You know, it's why Google could release facial recognition software with only white men developing the technology. You got exactly what you expect. Same this. We have to move away from sameness and see more reasons to be inclusive. You know, I've become a diversity expert and I consult with a lot of companies. You know, I tell people product productivity equals inclusivity. It goes hand in hand if you don't have inclusive diverse people. You don't have successful or more successful products or outcomes. You have to have more ways to see productivity and inclusive as a part of a thought. You know, and so I applaud you what you're doing. I applaud what you are coming up with. And you know, if you need me, I'm happy to help. I don't charge a whole arm in a leg. Just the arm. But if I can help, please, I'm happy to help because I would really like to see us do more in education. And there, I will tell you in a lot of ways, education is fixed and dilated.  You know, it's they don't believe they can move. That's why higher education and online learning is still a challenge. And what you have done, what it sounds like you have done is overcome that challenge. What you have to do is get these other universities to see the value of online education. And that it's not necessarily taken away from them more because think about that. They reduce their carbon footprint. You know, they reduce how much money they have to spend in utilities. You know, they give their faculty a break. You know, you don't have to drive and you know, navigate where you're going to park and all that stuff and get your thing. You're at home aware of you working from and you can do that without the impact. So, I am so grateful that you talked to us. And I'm so grateful you came on and shared these stories. And you will make sure we get it into some format and get it out there because I think it's very important for people to hear this what you've done. It's very, very, very important. And thank you. Thank you so much. 


(Tonya) Well, thank you. I think what you guys are doing is equally important. And that is sharing the message. Getting out there, the importance of how we use technology and using it responsibly. And how it connects to higher education. You've created a wonderful platform and just applaud you for all the efforts you're doing. And thank you one more time for, and I guess having me on board also.


(Rochelle) So I appreciate anything else. I can do to help support you. I'm happy to as well. I appreciate that. I'm really happy. Thank you so much. And those horror movies Drew right? I can't help you. 


(Drew) I got some non-horror movie recommendations too. Don't worry. I got endless recommendation of movie lists. But thank you both for today. This is a really good and interesting one. And we like to thank all of our listeners as well. If you have questions, comments, anything at all, feel free to email us at And we would love to hear from you. And thank you.