Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with Lou Harrison
As Lou Harrison, DELTA’s director of Educational Technology Services, approaches retirement, he can reflect on a long and prosperous career at NC State as a celebrated staff member and alumnus. Originally from Philadelphia, Harrison earned both a Bachelor of Science (’87) and Master of Science (’90) in Computer Science from NC State. In the years since, he’s used this knowledge to drive innovation and transform the learning environment at NC State.
Harrison began his career at NC State immediately after graduation with the Department of Computer Science (CSC) as a software systems manager, later becoming manager of operations in 1993. With CSC, he and his staff developed WolfWare Classic, NC State’s first enterprise-level course management system and the precursor to WolfWare.
In 2000, Harrison relocated to NC State’s Learning Technology Services (LTS) as Associate Director for Technology Development. When LTS merged with the newly formed DELTA the same year, Harrison joined and has remained a DELToid ever since.
“I’ve worked for DELTA since there has been a DELTA,” he says.
Harrison has overseen massive advancements in learning technology and online instruction at NC State. With his expertise and years of experience, he’s helped DELTA thrive under continuous change.
How would you describe your position to someone unfamiliar with DELTA?
Harrison leads Educational Technology Services (ETS), which encompasses the Applications Development and Systems Support teams.
“My group is responsible for managing all the enterprise technology used at NC State for teaching and learning,” he says.
This includes WolfWare and learning management systems like Moodle and Zoom as well as Mediasite. Harrison is also familiar with Top Hat, a classroom response software and teaching platform that fosters student participation and interaction with course material. Not only did he play a key role in securing NC State’s enterprise-level license for the technology, he works with the creators to make it better for students and instructors.
“I serve on the advisory board for Top Hat, and believe I’ve helped to make their product much better for all their users, including our faculty and students,” says Harrison.
Day to day, Harrison focuses on managing budgets and planning future projects for ETS, but his role extends much further. Associate Vice Provost for Academic Technology Innovation Donna Petherbridge recognizes the small things he does that make a big difference at DELTA.
“Lou is an idea-person who is constantly coming up with things, both big and small, that improve things around the office. The alarm goes off in CTI at 3 a.m.? Lou is the person who gets the security call to make sure all is well. He is also the person who can take you to the roof of the building to check out why the HVAC system is not working to cool the server room. Lou is the guy behind the scenes making things better for DELTA,” she says.
What has been your favorite experience at DELTA?
“I have enjoyed so many things, I couldn’t possibly pick one favorite. Seeing WolfWare evolve has been great. Seeing our active participation in Moodle at the international level is another,” says Harrsion.
In addition to these accomplishments, he’s especially enjoyed his work as a founding member of the Open Knowledge Initiative, which highlights the need for interoperability between education softwares and learning management systems in order to expand and better develop educational technologies. This has led to the rise of open source systems like Moodle.
Harrison credits the group with making learning management systems more open and transparent.
What is your area of expertise?
“My master’s is in computer graphics, and through the years I have held many volunteer positions with ACM SIGGRAPH,” says Harrison.
The Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) SIGGRAPH is a community of computer graphics professionals including researchers, developers, filmmakers, educators and more. Harrison has served the organization as an active volunteer for more than three decades, contributing to panels, committees and conferences. At their conference in 1993, he acted as a course presenter in conjunction with the release of Stereo Computer Graphics And Other True 3D Technologies, a book which he co-authored with David Franklin McAllister and colleagues.
In 2006, Harrison became the inaugural chair of the SIGGRAPH Student Services committee (S3). Over eight years, he helped students attend SIGGRAPH conferences and develop competitive portfolios. He also connected these students with mentors, including industry leaders in film and special effects.
How have you seen your position change over your time at NC State?
“In so many ways,” says Harrison. “At the beginning, things were pretty seat-of-the-pants. Now we’ve got defined processes for almost everything.”
When DELTA was formed in 2000, distance education material and learning technologies were entirely housed and operated on hardware. This was not only harder to store and transport, but more expensive than the digital technologies used today.
“Now everything runs on virtual machines, which affords us much more flexibility and is more economical too,” Harrison says.
As data analysis has advanced over the years, he’s also found an interest in learning analytics. This technology allows educators to predict a student’s success in a course and offer additional support when needed. Recently, Harrison served as a board member of the EDUCAUSE Student Success Analytics Constituent Group with the goal to develop the use of learning analytics in education and enhance student success.
What are your plans for retirement?
“I’m sure everyone has a honey-do list of things they just don’t have time for. I plan to tackle mine, or at least make a big dent in it,” Harrison says.
Though he’s already racked up more than 1 million airline miles visiting places like the Great Wall of China, Bangkok and Tokyo, he plans to travel as much as possible. You’ll also be able to find him cooking and enjoying great food. In the past, he’s cooked with notable chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Alex Guarnaschelli, and he’s not afraid to taste adventurous ingredients.
At home, Harrison may also explore original product ideas, exhibiting the same innovative spirit he’s consistently brought to DELTA.
Petherbridge says she will miss working with Harrison and exploring these inventive ideas.
“Lou is an absolute driver of change. He comes up with ideas and doesn’t hesitate to push them forward. For an organization to move, you have to have people willing to push you, and he does not hesitate to push,” she says, adding, “Lou also has a tremendous heart. If you needed anything, he would be the first person you could call and depend on to solve a problem.”
Vice Provost for DELTA Thomas Miller echoes these sentiments.
“I got to know Lou way back in the late ’80’s when we were building the Eos project in the College of Engineering. It’s hard to imagine now, but back then the concept of having hundreds of workstations connected together with a network file system (AFS) was a real novelty, and not everyone could grasp the potential and significance. Lou did, and he led the effort to conceive and build WolfWare [Classic] on top of that infrastructure. It was truly visionary and the epitome of NC State’s ‘Think and Do’ mantra. Pretty impressive!”
It’s clear that while Harrison will soon retire from DELTA, his transformative contributions to student success, learning technologies and higher education will remain significant at NC State and beyond for generations to come.