When he’s not volunteering, brushing up on his history knowledge, or writing books for his many godchildren, Robert (Bob) Dougherty spends his time as the IT director for the College of Liberal Studies (CLS). A well-known veteran of the college’s information technology department, Bob has been a part of the CLS family for 25 years. He stood at the technological helm as OU’s distance education college took its classes from onsite to online, and he is instrumental in ensuring that the needs of students, staff, and faculty alike are met each day. This winter, Bob graciously agreed to sit with Inside Outreach to discuss tech, life, and how the organization has grown since he joined the team at the College of Liberal Studies.
It was 1992 when Robert (Bob) Dougherty saw a position with the College of Liberal Studies listed on the job board for the OU campus. Rather than the online job boards that are typically expected today, the board Bob saw that day was just that—a physical board located in the NEL building.
“Back then, none of this information was online,” he said. “You had to go to the OU job board, fill out a card identifying the position, and then put it all in an envelope and drop it into a lockbox they had next to the job listings board.”
Bob had worked in the corporate world for eight years before that position caught his eye. Looking for something more meaningful than his previous job, Bob was very interested in the opportunity to help people and stop focusing on profits.
“I thought the corporate world was a very negative environment and it wasn’t very fulfilling,” he explained. “Working at a university is just the opposite. What could be better than being a part of a place that educates people and helps them realize their dreams?”
The office Bob walked into when he started working at CLS was very different from the one seen today. In 1992, the College had only nine staff members and a very simple information technology system.
“We all had Macintosh computers,” Bob said. “We were not connected to the internet and nobody had an email address. That was the first thing I noticed. All student information was on the CICS mainframe. I was in charge of managing that data and producing reports as needed, as well as workstation support.”
A Technological Revolution
As the world became more technologically connected, the IT department quickly grew into the integral part of the CLS experience that it is today. Bob explains that this evolution happened along two tracks: workstation support and online courses.
“When I started, the modern internet really didn’t exist,” he said. “We had services like AOL and Earthlink that you could dial into and that was it. As the internet evolved, so did OU’s networking infrastructure. Bigger and faster computers were needed once the internet came about.”
Once implemented within the organization, the internet represented a new world of opportunities for the college. For an organization that specialized in providing learning opportunities to nontraditional students, online access meant there would now be even more ways to deliver course material to their audience.
Bob remembers this transition as a turning point for the college and for his career.
“As part of the distance education arm of OU, we were one of the first units to take the lead in exploring online courses,” he said. “Not long after our first online course, we began offering full degrees online. Now students could complete a degree without ever coming on campus. Once that got rolling, my position quickly went from a basic workstation support position to directing a whole bunch of IT resources.”
Bob describes his job at the college in simple terms, but IT’s influence is more significant than many realize. Today, most of CLS’ course offerings occur online, and each piece of the students’ coursework is hosted or delivered using technology of some kind. Bob’s department has grown from data management, workstation support, and reporting to providing all IT-side support for every office in the College. This includes things like workstation, website, server, database, multimedia, and software support, as well as reporting, custom coding, file sharing, and acting as the communication liaison with IT departments across the OU campus.
No Longer the Outlier
Bob has seen quite a few general changes in IT as well. When asked about some of the most significant developments he had the opportunity to witness in the field, Bob cited a relatively recent innovation—YouTube.
“After YouTube, video over the internet became common,” he explained. “This led to a bandwidth revolution, because everyone wanted to stream video. This allowed us to do a lot more with online courses.”
Bob believes that OU’s implementation of a campus-wide Learning Management System (LMS) was also very significant for the college. “For the first time, we were no longer the outlier; putting your course materials online was normalized.”
‘Normalized’ is certainly the correct term. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most undergraduates are nontraditional students or have nontraditional characteristics. These students—many of whom have work and family responsibilities that younger students do not—often search out course formats like those Bob helps make possible.
While their focus will always be on fulfilling student’s needs, CLS is now looking forward to merging with several Outreach departments in an initiative that will combine the strengths of each group. When asked about what he’s most excited about moving forward, Bob cited the opportunities he thinks this change will afford.
“We are at the beginning of a reorganization,” he said. “The possibilities are unlimited for creating new things and expanding our horizons.”