A Shameful Confession

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my first stint at Mary Washington, now close to 10 years ago. (wow!) I’m not sure why, except that a few things have reminded me about how different the job I have now is compared to the one I had then.

In early 2000, I joined the staff of the then Department of Instructional Technology at Mary Washington College. My job involved working out of an office in duPont hall, where I supported the faculty in the fine and performing arts. The job was a very different one from what we do in DTLT now. Located as we were in the academic buildings, we became, by default, the de facto user support system for the faculty. My job consisted more of fixing printers, installing software, and troubleshooting scanners than it did of consulting or partnering with faculty.

I worked in virtual isolation, only seeing my colleagues in DTLT once or twice a week for staff or project meetings. We actually collaborated on projects rather infrequently; our technical support duties didn’t leave us much time to imagine or create.

Professional development was pretty non-existent. At one point, my then boss recommended that I might consider becoming an Apple Certified Technician as a developmental step. I’m sure that’s a great certification, but it wasn’t really what I had gotten into instructional technology for.

All of this said, I deserve no credit for either challenging that situation or even thinking very far outside of the box. Whereas a year prior I had been in grad school in New York imagining how open source software development practices could inform education and the development of educational software and tools, I found myself at a loss of how I could continue to think creatively in my new job.

Recently, I remembered two examples of my failure in that job.

About a year into the position, a faculty in the music department approached me about a project she wanted to work on. Every summer, she and the other music faculty auditioned dozens of students for placement in the program. She really wanted to take the registration process for this activity online, allowing students to sign up and reserve slots through a Web site. She asked me for help.

I remember telling her there wasn’t anything I could really do for her.

I thought about this the other day when, searching for a good event plugin for our new WP-powered DTLT site, I came across one that allowed for the very functionality she was describing.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my response to her. Why couldn’t I help her? Was it because the technology wasn’t there yet? I didn’t have the technical chops that were required in 2000 to do what she asked? Or was it a failure of my own imagination and initiative?

Now, arguably, what she was asking me to do wasn’t *really* instructional technology (whatever that is), but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than un-jamming printers.

Sigh.

Around the same time, I was asked by my then boss to start leading a workshop we offered on computer-mediated communication. I remember trying to put together a plan for that workshop and being completely flummoxed. What was I going to show them? How to use email? In 2000, showing a professor how to instant message seemed ludicrous, unless it was the “virtual classroom” in Blackboard. As the workshop drew closer, I grew more and more anxious about my job. One faculty member signed up; on the day of the workshop, he didn’t show up. I was relieved.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

I wish I could say I had risen to these challenges. I wish I could feel alright telling myself that it wasn’t my fault, but I have this nagging feeling that it was.

When I think back on both of those experiences, what I remember feeling most was fear. Fear at being asked to do something I couldn’t do. Fear of being exposed as a fraud in my job.

Occasionally, I find myself drifting towards the same fearful reaction when asked to do something that is new, uncomfortable, or now what I expected. I guess I need to try and keep reminding myself of how far fear didn’t get me before.