Nine years after The West Wing went off the air, I still find myself thinking about it a lot. I guess that’s the mark of a good TV show. One of my favorite recurring lines is Jed Bartlet’s “What’s next?” I love that a single question can ask so many different things — is Bartlet curious? hopeful? ambitious? or just tired of a conversation and ready to move on?
For the past year or so, I’ve been considering what’s next for me. I’ve been at Virginia Tech three and a half years, and before that I spent two years at St. Edward’s University. I’ve been lucky to work with wonderful colleagues and impressive students at both institutions. In a world where getting a tenure-track position in the humanities is often compared to winning the lottery, I hit the jackpot twice.
And yet, something wasn’t clicking. I was thriving in the classroom, having a blast working on digital humanities projects, and getting invited to guest lecture on digital pedagogy at other universities. But publishing single-authored research articles and monographs? Uh… not so much. I’ll save the story of my crippling writer’s block and imposter syndrome for another blog post (just kidding — you’ll probably have to buy me a burger if you want to hear that one), but suffice it to say that the divide between what I loved to do and what I needed to do to earn tenure seemed to be growing wider with each passing year.
What to do, then? Leave Virginia Tech for a smaller school with a greater focus on teaching? Search for tech-centric positions in industry or government? Become a full-time freelance web developer? Take up knitting and open an Etsy shop? My very patient wife talked through all of these options (and oh so many more) with me dozens of times, and we kept our fingers crossed that the right opportunity would present itself.
And it did. I’m thrilled to announce that today was my first day as the Director of Academic Innovation and User Experience for TLOS (Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies), Virginia Tech’s learning technologies group. When I arrived at VT in 2012, I felt an immediate connection with many of the faculty and staff who conducted the “Faculty Development Institute” courses I completed during my orientation, and I’ve had the good fortune to partner with TLOS on several grants and DH initiatives. I’ve seen how powerful TLOS can be in building a culture of technological innovation on campus, and I’m excited to be joining that effort.
In my new role, I’ll be partnering with faculty across campus to ask “What’s next?” in educational technology and then develop sandbox and pilot projects that will help us answer that question together. I’ll also be working to improve the experience for faculty, students, and other stakeholders who interact with TLOS. (A new website, social media accounts, and some nontraditional storytelling experiments are all coming soon!) For the past decade, much of my research and teaching has focused on online communities and digital pedagogy, and I’m excited to be in a role where I can extend that work to the larger Virginia Tech community.
So what’s next? It feels great to have a new answer for that question, and it feels even better to know that I’ll get to keep asking it every day.