Eight lessons from two months: life as an Instructional Technologist

I’ve now been an instructional technologist for exactly two months so I thought it would be timely to share the top eight things that I’ve learned in this new role.


You might recall from my last post that I have worked in three different Divisions of the University:  Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and now Technology and Innovation.  I’ve had quite a few supervisors over the last 15 years and I’ve seen just as many leadership styles and degrees of effectiveness.  Something that holds true no matter what division I work in is that good leadership is good leadership.  I would be remiss as a scholar of leadership education if I did not tell you how I define good leadership before proceeding.  To me, a good leader is someone who recognizes the strengths of the individuals around her and does all in her power to empower them to achieve goals; good leadership is not about being in front of the crowd, having her name on the press release, or even being recognized.  Good leadership is being willing to make difficult decisions for the betterment of the team, but ultimately in order to ensure we do our best for students.  I’ve seen some pretty bold leadership (in men and women around me) in action over the last two months; things that will remain in my basket of examples for many years to come.  


I won’t belabor this point because it really isn’t a highlight or defining element of my experience, but by golly some of the logistical issues I experienced with the set up of working in a different space make me wonder how a University functions.  It took six weeks to get a desk and create a physical, permanent workspace; and I still do not have key code access to the spaces I need.  I’m not sure where the breakdown is in the system, but I know there’s something not working.


This point may be obvious to some, but having worked in departments one person (me) deep for MANY years, I have not had many opportunities to benefit from the true beauty of team work. I work with an incredible team (I’ll talk about that more later) and it’s so incredibly refreshing to be able to work on projects together where we can really dig in, brainstorm, and collaborate to generate the best result for learning and for… our students!  We’ve subconsciously identified each other’s strengths and use them to be effective in our work.   It’s not just that though… it’s not just about the work; it’s about this care that the team members have for each other.  There’s a genuine willingness to help each other out, forgiveness for our short comings, express interest and care for our personal lives and endeavors. 


It never occurred to me to apply for a job as an instructional technologist because I thought THAT person needed to be able to code and fix servers.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m pretty tech savvy, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet the demands of the job- technology-wise. So, when I got the job, I arrived with a bit of the imposter syndrome (which I’ve come to discover is a frequent visitor in my life as a first generation college student)…. I thought I would have to do a lot of “pretending that I belonged at the table.”  The good news is that the focus in what we do at CI is not technology, the focus is in teaching, learning, and student success; areas of which I have a great deal to contribute.   Sometimes the imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and sometimes I need reminders that I belong, this is why I feel lucky for #8.


Along the lines of what I noted above, I was confused by the title before and I’m still confused now.  And, when I tell others (faculty, students and staff alike) my title, they’re confused too.  The only people who weren’t confused were individuals I met at a recent ELI conference. Instructional technologist doesn’t fit because teaching about technology is such a small part of the job.  We spent very little tim helping people push buttons or “manage their class”, which I think is something one may assume when they read “Instructional Technologist.” What we do is to help lead, inspire, and motivate innovation, teaching, learning, and transformation.  Because I think it’s a bit of a cop out to say I don’t have a better solution, I decided to do a bit of research and thinking.  I came up with a title I think better represents what I do:  Leader of Innovation.  Just kidding.  I like the idea of being called a Teaching & Learning Innovations Specialist.  

Small title

Small title (1)

Sometimes I feel a bit confused about where I’m at… I’m a student affairs person, turned faculty, turned faculty development/IT.  I sometimes wonder if I am where I belong, but I’ve come to realize that my blended experience at the university makes for a unique, interesting fit for teaching and learning innovations.  As we explore conversations about “classroom” learning, I am able to draw upon my knowledge of research in student development, campus culture and retention to understand dynamics beyond the content.  When we work with student affairs colleagues, I’m able to share my understanding of what happens in the “classroom” to provide context for supporting and contributing to the curricular learning experience.  I won’t lie though, not having as much direct or indirect contact with students in my work has created a bit of a void.


You’ve probably noticed something that remains consistent in some of my previous learning lessons: students.  I’m pleased to say that whether it’s a team discussion about a new innovation, a one-on-one chat with a colleague about a new digital tool, or a faculty development program, we always bring the conversation back to the student.  We ask things like:  Will the students learn from this?  How can we communicate this so the students understand? Will students like this?  Will the technology be an aid or barrier? How will this contribute to student success?  It may be surprising to some that these types of discussions occur across campus, even in IT.  I’m pleased to say that students remain at the center of our work.


My last learning lesson has been the most pronounced, yet the most difficult to put into words:  michllethe experience of being a woman in EdTech.  I can’t really say I have been in any other environment where I have felt so… well… lifted up by my colleagues, especially other women.  I have solid relationships with other women with whom I have worked and I value.  But this is different… these women make me see in myself strengths I have not yet identified and they push me toward opportunities that facilitate my success.

They are strong, intelligent, creative, innovative, caring women who could choose to be competitive but jillinstead consciously choose to create a community of support, a community I am proud to be a part of and one that I believe will continue beyond this job.


In closing, I recognize this post may be disappointing to some since I really couldn’t say that I have learned anything particularly ground breaking when it comes to technology.  But then, I guess that’s indicative of the approach that we take with our work; it’s not about the technology, it’s about the innovations, teaching, learning, faculty, staff, and STUDENTS.

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