Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with Alan Regan
Apereo Foundation Fast with Alan Regan, 2022 Apereo Dolphin Fellow
Interview by: Michelle Hall, Apereo Communications
Alan Regan is the Senior Director of IT Client Services at Pepperdine University. With over 20 years of experience, Alan is passionate about helping the academic community use technology to meet teaching and learning needs, create efficiencies, promote accessibility, and identify and address challenges as opportunities. While his primary focus is on education, his department also provides support services and leads special projects. In addition to his day job, Alan enjoys teaching the occasional business computing class as an adjunct professor. Alan is a champion of open source solutions for higher education and has volunteered to chair, co-chair, or support the planning and program committees for Sakai and Apereo conferences for nearly a decade.
In 2013, Alan was recognized as an Apereo Fellow for contributions to the open source Sakai LMS community. In 2022, he was recognized as an Apereo Dolphin Fellow for his continued efforts with Apereo and Sakai.
Michelle Hall, Apereo Foundation Fast (MH): Thank you, Alan, for joining us on Apereo Foundation Fast! We are delighted to have the opportunity to learn more about you. This is your second time being chosen as a Fellow! Congratulations!
Alan Regan (AR): Thank you. I am honored for the opportunity and doubly honored to be recognized as an Apereo Dolphin Fellow.
MH: Please share more about your role as Senior Director of IT Client Services and as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. What are your favorite parts of your jobs?
AR: For me, it doesn't get much better in your job when you can help someone gain an "Ah-ha" moment to either understand something better or overcome a perceived obstacle. In my Senior Director role at Pepperdine, I'm blessed to oversee two amazing teams in our Client Services department. These teams offer faculty and staff development services for the University, where we hope to create those "Ah ha" moments with our teaching and administration tools. So, we lead workshops, we offer consultations, and we help professors with our learning management system (which is powered by Sakai). On the staff side, we offer similar options to help staff with various work-related tools and services.
On the teaching side, I have been grateful to teach business computing classes for many years. When an undergraduate student suddenly "gets it" and you can almost see the light bulb glow over them, that's pretty amazing. It's even more powerful to witness that growth in students who came into class with a preconceived notion that they were not "tech-savvy," and after class, they feel more confident that -- with study, practice, and a little support -- they can do so much more than they originally imagined.
MH: What open source technologies are you most excited about using at Pepperdine right now?
AR: I can't speak for every tool used at the institution, but the two main open source technologies I am aware of at Pepperdine are Sakai and CAS. We have been an adopter of both tools for over a decade. Over the years, it's been not only amazing to see the two systems evolve but also gratifying to be part of the communities that shape the trajectory of tools like Sakai.
The motto of Pepperdine University is "Freely ye received; freely give." In this spirit of service, when Pepperdine funds a bug fix, an enhancement, or a new development for our instance of Sakai, we always make sure that the code is contributed back to the community. It feels good that our relatively small, private institution has helped so many other academic institutions -- big, small, and sometimes on the opposite side of the globe -- with improvements like "Publish Now" or through collaborations like "Auto Groups" and various accessibility fixes. Being part of the community and making a difference for education is very exciting and fulfilling.
MH: Alan, you have been leading or supporting the planning and programming committees for Open Apereo and Sakai conferences for almost ten years. What has kept you engaged in this type of volunteer work with the Apereo community?
AR: It's cliche, I'm sure, but it's the people. The beauty of these projects is the communities behind them. It's a pleasure and an honor to work with bright, creative, passionate, and wonderful people from all over the world. Of course, finding a good time to meet as a committee can be a challenge with all of the time zones to juggle, but we work it out, whether in real time or offline, and get the work done together. So, it's the people of Apereo and Sakai that keep me coming back.
MH: What are the biggest challenges for the conference committees, and how can the Apereo community better support those committees?
AR: Volunteers, or obtaining volunteers, tends to be a major challenge for committee work, whether in Apereo, open source, academia, or other settings. I think people perceive volunteering for a committee as a lot of work, but that's not always the case. Sometimes it's as little as attending a meeting once or twice a week, providing some input, and that's about it. Other times, there may be work, such as drafting communications, designing a graphic, evaluating proposals, or organizing some logistics, but this isn't done in a vacuum. There's generally a team to collaborate with. Also, it can be a lot of fun working with the great people in Apereo. At the end of the day, there's a wonderful sense of fulfillment and purpose that can be gained, so hopefully, more people will be willing to consider exploring volunteer options within the community.
MH: What other Apereo projects, committees, or initiatives (other than the conference committee) are you involved with?
AR: Most of my involvement has been around teaching and learning. I participate with the Apereo Teaching and Learning group, the Sakai Accessibility group, and chime in on the Sakai Users group when I can answer a question, suggest an idea, or echo a concern. In the past, I have contributed to Sakai documentation and User-Experience/User-Interface efforts, too.
MH: Your deep involvement and dedication to the Sakai community were called out in your Fellowship nomination and are part of why you were chosen as a Fellow for the second time in 2022. Continuing in that vein, please tell us about a pet project you would like to focus on during your year as an Apereo Dolphin Fellow and in the future.
AR: Over the years, my institution has submitted many feature requests and bug reports to the Sakai community. While some have been implemented, there are others that have not made progress. My hope this year is to shepherd some of these items and encourage funding from my institution and hopefully other Sakai institutions, too. Locally, we are consulting with a team of faculty representatives from the five schools of our university to prioritize our feature and bug tickets to target the key items to pursue. We have limited resources, so if we can champion a couple per year, I think we'll make great strides in improving the LMS for our constituents and the community at large.
MH: Any exciting plans for your Apereo Dolphin Fellowship award funds?
AR: I would very much like to attend an upcoming Sakai conference in person. I am hopeful that the funds can help with the expenses of attending this summer's SakaiCon.
MH: Alan, as a Conference Planning Committee member, you will remember that the theme of Open Apereo 2022 was “The Value of Open Source.” Could you give us a few thoughts on “The Value of Open Source” both at Pepperdine University and worldwide?
AR: Sorry to answer a theme with another theme, but both Apereo and Sakai are "For education, by education." This is important. While commercial platforms may market to education and may hire some educators, their ultimate purpose is profit. Open source solutions, on the other hand -- like the many projects of Apereo -- have been built for the purpose of helping academic institutions fulfill their educational missions. The academic institutions themselves pool their ideas and challenges, and they work together and with others to develop and offer technology solutions. While any technology today bears costs, whether it's cloud hosting or people to keep things running, open source software doesn't have the extra cost of a commercial license fee. That can save academic institutions thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands in costs every year. So, open source provides great value both as a better mission fit but also by helping the bottom line.
MH: Thank you, Alan, for all your fantastic work on Open Apereo conferences! We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Congratulations once again on being an Apereo Dolphin Fellow in 2022!
Apereo Dolphin Awards and Fellowship nominations for 2023 are open until June 2nd. The 2023 awards ceremony will occur in person at FOSSY 2023, July 13-16, in Portland, OR, USA.