Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tuesday that's really Monday

The bad thing about 3-day weekends is that Tuesday gets promoted to Monday. I don't mind going to work. What I mind is the getting up. I get up fairly early on my own--between 7:30 and 8. On work/school days, I get up an hour earlier in order to have coffee and read blogs. Before blogging, I'd read or watch tv. I have to have that hour to myself or I'll go insane. Really.

Actually, today is my 3-year anniversary. I started this job three years ago today. My boss told me the other day that she thought I'd really grown into the job. Maybe that's true. I think what's more true is that I've made the job what I think it should be. Some of that's based on my own interests, but much of it is based on the culture I'm surrounded by. I think it took about 2 years to really understand how things work. I'm still finding out new things every day and there are little shifts over time as new faculty come in.

My position I feel is an odd one. On the one hand, I do a lot of research which results in presentations or papers. In that way, I am similar to a faculty member. However, since most faculty don't read research in my area (or even know that such a thing exists), they don't see that similarity. I feel the research is important because otherwise I'd be nothing but tech support and I don't think that's what an Instructional Technologist should be. But that's how many (most?) faculty see me. One thing that I've really worked on is to really help people help themselves. I serve over 200 faculty. When I get emails asking a simple question, I answer it and link to the documentation that would have answered their question. Same with phone calls. I've learned to say at the end, "By the way, if this comes up again, you can find that answer at . . ." While not everyone gets the hint, most do learn from this exchange. I now get more phone calls and emails about strategies for using technology in classes rather than tech support issues. That's real improvement in my book.

There are things that frustrate me most about my job and that I try to minimize. One is when people see me only as techie, the mechanic. This is often made worse by the fact that I sometimes get treated like the call center person in India. Thankfully, this doesn't happen often and as I mentioned, I've developed strategies for dealing with it. Another is, and perhaps these are related, a complete disdain for what I do. I am looked at sometimes as the person who wants to ruin liberal arts education as we know it. I am evil incarnate. A lot of people, including people in my own department, don't fully understand what I do. Most people thing that Instructional Technology is about teaching others how to use technology. Often that's a part of what one does, but not all. In fact, my hope is that the technology itself becomes much simpler to use, but the ways one might incorporate it become more complex. I often say that I show people how to leverage technology to improve learning. I'm not, as some people think, an advocate of using technology for technology's sake.

I recently read that an Instructional Technologist creates an environment in which teaching with technology can flourish. At places where there's only one technologist, they often do much more. I do everything from maintaining hardware and software in a lab to running a multimedia program to researching trends in mobile computing to answering questions about Blackboard. With so many different areas, it's sometimes hard to know what to prioritize. I have chosen to prioritize the research and to educate the faculty (and often the staff) about what that research says. Another person might have focused on the lab or on creating learning objects or on Blackboard documentation. If there's one thing I've learned, though, in the many, many years that I've been using technology is that technology changes very quickly and you have to keep your eye on the ball or you're going to lose the game.