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Roads Taken and Not Taken
June 12, 2011 - 9:15pm

A good friend from grad school came to visit this weekend. He is the chair of his department, and has had an incredible academic faculty career. Spending time with him has gotten me thinking about roads not taken, and the different lives of an administrator working in a campus technology position (what I'm doing), as compared to progressing through a more traditional faculty academic career.

Someday I might go back to the faculty route, (as I love and miss teaching and would like to find a way to spend more time doing research and writing), but the whole tenure track road at a research institution is probably closed off to me at this point. (And I'm not even sure if what academic discipline someone who has spent 15 years in educational technology would associate with.)

What words would you use to describe your life working in campus technology? How would you describe your life as a faculty member?

Some thoughts to get us started:

Administration (…someone working at the intersection of higher ed and technology):

  • Velocity: The job I'm doing now did not exist when I was in grad school. The pace of educational technology evolution may lag behind the pace of consumer technology change, but we still benchmark our ability to improve the productivity and quality of teaching and learning by leveraging technology against the consumer world.
  • Disruption: The people I know who are most passionate about our ed tech jobs are also passionate about figuring out new ways to do higher ed. The status quo drives us nuts, we want to find ways to make our lectures feel like seminars, and our degrees available to people who have been excluded from the gift of higher learning.
  • Interdisciplinary: Ed tech professionals are in the enviable position of getting to work, and learn from, people across the institution. Faculty who are motivated to find new and better ways to construct their courses, or their research, come partner and work with us. Beyond faculty from every department, we get to work with a range of campus professionals - from registrars to librarians and everyone in between.
  • Beyond Campus: One of my favorite aspects of my job is the opportunity to collaborate and learn from the people who work for the technology and publishing companies that we partner with.
  • Professional Community: EDUCAUSE, our educational technology professional organization, connects, supports, and promotes the people and the work of our discipline. I have found my work with ECAR and EDUCAUSE committees, as well as opportunities to publish and present at EDUCAUSE related venues, to be incredibly rewarding.

Faculty ((…here I'm thinking of folks who are on the tenure track, on longish term (1 to 5 years?) teaching contracts, or the tenured faculty)):

  • Specialization: A tenure track position at a research university demands specialized and focused work. This specialization creates new knowledge. The best teaching, in my experience, is informed by research - and often involves including students in this research.
  • Teaching: For most of my academic career I've been able to teach (both on-ground and online), and those times when I'm not teaching (like now) highlight how much I miss the classroom. We don't really learn something (at least I don't) until we teach it. To be a teacher is to be blessed.
  • Independence: Not all faculty work with a great deal of autonomy. In the life or physical sciences it seems that research is done with large teams and many collaborators. In the social sciences, which I came out of, research is often done with colleagues - but opportunities exist to set an independent course of research and to work independently. Everything I do in ed tech is with a team, and everything is on a schedule that I do not control.
  • Tenure: I'll say it. I miss not having tenure. Without tenure, the ability to take risks, to take unpopular stances, and to speak one's mind is more limited. If you have devoted your life to disrupting the status quo in higher ed, not having the protections of tenure might be a liability (we shall see….).
  • Autonomy : When I was a faculty member (on a 3 year visiting contract at the beginning of my career - not tenure track), my time was my own. The demands of teaching, research and service meant long hours, many of which were spent working at home. But the ability to come and go as I pleased, to have the autonomy of a faculty member, is by any measure a major plus.
  • Mentoring: I think I would have really enjoyed the opportunity to mentor graduate students, to train new Ph.D.'s, and to help start them along their academic careers. My dissertation advisor was, and is, a wonderful mentor - a gift I have not yet been able to give back.

No academic career is perfect, and there are always pros and cons. I love my discipline, and I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work at the intersection of education and technology.

I'd love to find some way to have these career conversations with you, and to hear what you think about roads taken and not taken.


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