When family members or friends ask me what I do for work, I have to weigh the benefits/costs of giving them a full explanation. I usually mumble something about academic technology and online courses and they’re content to leave it at that. Many of them still have the impression that I teach at BYU (which I do, on occasion, time permitting). My “real” (i.e. full-time) work is academic technology strategy. My official job title is Assistant to the Academic Vice President – Academic Technology. (Yeah, I know. It barely fits on the placard outside my office.) Essentially, I provide strategic advice and guidance for the Academic Vice President at BYU. Much like a provost at other institutions, the Academic VP at BYU oversees all of the colleges and academic support units, such as the Library, BYU Broadcasting and the Center for Teaching & Learning. He has a complicated, multifaceted job. And technology is an integral part of almost every function under his purview.
So how does someone end up with a job like mine? Well, obviously, the natural course would be to go off and get a doctorate in political science . . . At least that’s how it started for me. My plan was to get a PhD and become a faculty member somewhere, teaching and writing about American government and politics. But something funny happened on the way to my tenure track job. The arc of my career began to bend in grad school. Having always been something of a technology nerd, I thought it would be a great idea to start building web pages for my poli sci students at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1990s. And it was pretty cutting edge stuff. I had to include instructions in my syllabi about downloading Netscape Navigator (via FTP) so my students could read the documents I posted for them online.
Along the way, I wasn’t offered some jobs I wanted, turned down a couple I didn’t want and, in hindsight, inexplicably decided to try my hand at an Internet startup (ThisNation.com). But my family wanted food, so I took a job at BYU as an Instructional Designer. I eventually became the Director of the Center for Instructional Design (now the Center for Teaching and Learning) at BYU. A little over a year ago, the Academic Vice President asked me to assist him with academic technology strategy and planning.
So here I am, attempting to provide useful insight and advice in a complicated and uncertain world. How can you tell when a technology is adding value to the faculty and students at your institution? How can you tell when youâ€™ve selected the right product from the right vendor? Which new technologies should you implement to make your institution an even better place for teaching and learning? Well, those are all subjects for future posts.
For now, let me just say I love my job and the constant supply of interesting, complicated and challenging problems is provides for me to grapple with on a daily basis. Not a bad way to make a living.