Education Technology

Innovate from where you are: Supporting, celebrating, and connecting innovators


  • Michael Berman, Chief Innovation Officer and Deputy CIO, CSU Office of the Chancellor
  • Mihaela Popescu, Professor of Media Studies, CSUSB
  • Berhanu Tadesse, AVP for IT/Infrastructure Services, CSU Fullerton
  • Max Tsai, Coordinator of Digital Transformation and Innovation, CSU Fresno

Michael discussed the size & scale of the CSU, 3.7 million living alumni! CSU is focused on teaching and learning and economic impact. A single entity, 23 presidents, 24 CIOs, more than 24 IT departments(!)

Innovation Focus Areas

  • Enabling innovation at the campuses (in response to Campus CIOs: “Is there something the system can do that would allow us to be more innovative on our campuses?”)
  • Building innovation infrastructure: building things that will allow us to innovate faster.
  • Fostering a culture of innovation: providing a space for staff to innovate.

Innovation mini-grant program has been very successful: 29 projects funded at 14 campuses for a total of $222,500 distributed. We also have cloud credits from AWS and Microsoft Azure. “Innovate at the core so that campuses can innovate at the edge.” We do community building, including a webinar series called “Innovate Live!” an innovation cafe, AWS webinar series, Cal State Tech Conference (which attracted over 400 attendees this year)…more info here:

Mihaela Popescu talked about extended reality at CSUSB. Mission is to explore the technological affordances, design and implementation principles, and impact of immersive media for learning while promoting high-impact practices for students. We wanted to build open-source solutions for what we were building. We do all XR experiences (360 video, AR, VR. We built an immersive media and learning lab so that students could participate in high-impact practices: build and learn. How to produce assets on a shoestring? work with faculty from art (3d assets), music (3d sound design), and other faculty as SMEs. We built a VR experience for nursing, a fully-designed environment where students practice a discharge process; Ambrosia: gamified fully-interactive, multi-player archeological artifacts in experiential situations; cyber security experience; VR for public good: GenCyber, Native American Art, In|Dignity Exhibition.

Berhanu Tadesse talked about CSU Fullerton’s investment in innovation projects (stipends are provided for coursework). We have an organization to support this! All projects are tied to strategic goals. Examples include Adobe integration into digital literacy programming, iTuffy an AI-powered chatbot to address basic student questions about services on campus. A video was shared that described the iFullerton app, the iTuffy chatbot, and other support services.

Max Tsai talked about what’s happening at CSU Fresno, through the lens of limited resources. Started with very little resources! We built up our innovation, resource and development/hub of digital transformation. Getting started was hard…we looked at ourselves like a startup (limited $$ and staff resources, early times for the tech we wanted to work on). We revised our product line so it would support student success. We did technology support well, so we built on that strength, investing in people and building up the culture around that. We also collaborated with multiple campuses to leverage the skills we didn’t have on our campus…this went a long way toward building up our team’s skills! Doing the work is great, but you really need visibility to grow your team. On top of this, we work with vendors as partners…we don’t want to be just their customer, we want to be their VAR (Value-Added Resellers). As an example, we helped AWS with the RoboMaker project.

The keynote this morning (Steven Johnson) set things up nice: by providing people with a place where they can play, we can accomplish a lot through experimentation and innovation, while simultaneously keeping people’s careers fresh. In our central office, we have a small team that isn’t so much about doing innovation, as it is about enabling folk on our campuses across the system to do the innovation. How to take this home for use on your campuses? Top-down commitment helps, we built this into the system-level strategy; a bottom-up approach is to find people doing innovation across your system. Find those innovators and bring them together…having that support and exchange will go a long way. If you’re going to build it, you need to find a way to include everyone…i.e. it’s no good if you have a small group of “innovators” while the rest of the team is “doing the real work” of keeping the lights on. Max described the role of the innovation architect (building capacity) and innovation engineer (building operational support) at CSU Fresno…these roles balance out needs.

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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