Justin Olmanson

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Assistant Professor of Learning, Teaching, and Teacher Education in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln


Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, 2011


As a bilingual elementary school teacher in Houston ISD I had lots of ideas for learning technologies but no real sense of how to design, develop, and implement them. After earning two masters degrees, I had the notion that creating open-ended learning technologies that made new experiences possible was the most exciting life’s work I could imagine. The College of Education’s Learning Technologies program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction gave me the freedom to explore that notion through interdisciplinary coursework, peer-led research collaboratives, participation in faculty-led research, and a series of research assistantship experiences. While I took coursework on Artificial Intelligence, Computational Linguistics, Deleuze, New Ethnographic Writing, Instructional Design, Learning Theories, Unix, Sociocultural Theories, and Technology Design I simultaneously started two research and design groups and participated in one faculty-led research group. The collaborative culture in the College of Education allowed me to work together on learning technology designs with fellow graduate students, community members, and faculty—building bonds, creating technologies, and conducting research that continues to this day.

Why UT?

I needed a place that would support me as I navigated an unfolding path toward a life in academia. UT was a place where I could boldly lead, learn, reflect, and contribute in a variety of ways. Learning technology projects such as Alien Rescue and others that were created at UT gave me a sense that here were people who were doing the things I wanted to do and doing them well. It gave me a sense that I could apprentice with mature research and design groups even as I worked to start my own. The College of Education was where I found the sort of learning ecology I needed to realize my dream of creating technologies that change the way literacy and language acquisition take place.

Life After UT

I would not be an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln—collaboratively designing, developing, and implementing technologies in K12 classrooms if it weren’t for: UT faculty like Min Liu, Kathleen Stewart, Joan Hughes, and Walter Stroup; UT graduate students like Steven Greenstein, Chung Kai Huang, Jennifer Jefferson, Jacob Lieberman, and Curtis Brewer; and UT mentors like Felipe Alanis, Kyoko Kishi, Min Liu, and Nancy Guevara. Since UT I completed a three year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and then took my current position as an Assistant Professor in the department of Learning, Teaching, and Teacher Education at UNL where my mission is to change the way youth develop literacy and learn language.

Advice for Students

Swim with the fish and turtles on hot Saturdays at Barton Springs Pool—lie on the hill and watch hundreds of dragonflies as they hover over the water at sunset. Take your articles out to the palm-tree-lined outdoor pools of UT’s Gregory Gym—swim a lap or slip into the twenty-person hot tub between articles. Go to the free ACL Music events, be a presenter or attendee at the SXSW interactive, film, music, eco and education conferences. Hang out with your peers outside of class, start research groups, talk about your big ideas and then try them out. Take courses that push you, live close to campus, avoid the freeway, take advantage of faculty office hours, embrace multiple drafts, learn to trust yourself, bike to class, engage the readings, volunteer in the places where you’d later like to conduct research, listen more than you talk, be both critical and friendly, give yourself time to think and seek out others with whom to collaborate, attend a volleyball game, explore all the buildings on campus, start a writing group, wear sunscreen, ask others about their experiences, and hook’em.