TitleAssistant Professor, Instructional Psychology and Technology, Brigham Young University
Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, 2013
I grew up in a poor community in rural Texas and was the first college graduate in my family. After receiving my BA in Philosophy from Brigham Young University, I realized that no one would pay me to philosophize and began pursuing a career in high school teaching. While earning my MA from Southern Oregon University, I worked as a mentor for at-risk kids and later helped to found a charter school that emphasized positive student relationships, project-based learning, and 1:1 technology integration. Though my license was in English, I never taught an English class. Rather, I was thrust into the technology administration roles of a fledgling K-12 school and quickly realized that I was in over my head, managing a 200-computer network by myself during my off-period between teaching digital media and computer literacy courses. Hoping that someone, somewhere must know what they’re doing with technology in education, I applied to the Learning Technologies program at The University of Texas at Austin and hoped that through this program I could become a stronger force for positive change in helping K-12 schools to effectively integrate technology in their classrooms.
Being unfamiliar with the field, I didn’t initially recognize the high-caliber faculty that were in the UT program. I originally applied for two reasons: (1) it was the top-rated college of education in the US and (2) it was close to my family in Texas. After beginning in the program, it was great to learn from and be mentored by current LT faculty, including Dr. Min Liu, Dr. Joan Hughes, and Dr. Paul Resta, as well as affiliated staff and other faculty, including Dr. Karen French and Dr. George Veletsianos. While going through the program, I appreciated the opportunities that I was given to work with faculty on their research projects and in the IDEA Studio (now OI2). I feel like my experience at UT gave me a nice blend of research and practice as well as a negotiated corporate and academic mindset. The faculty I worked with helped me to publish early and often, and this has been a great asset to me in my subsequent career.
Life after UT
My first appointment upon leaving UT (2013) was a joint position as the founding Director of the Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning and as an Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID. In that role, I was able to merge research on learning technologies with practice in teacher education and school change to lead and support technology integration initiatives throughout the state of Idaho. Some of our team’s major accomplishments included providing devices and training to thousands of Idaho teachers, developing various open educational resources for the state, and publishing our work in a number of rigorous, impactful journals. In 2015, I accepted an appointment as an Assistant Professor of Instructional Psychology & Technology at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, where I now spend my time teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students as well as researching digital participation divides, particularly in the areas of classroom technology use, social media, and open education.
In the six years that have passed since graduating from UT, my teams and I have authored 35 articles published in prominent research journals as well as 22 conference proceedings or book chapters. My teams and I have also received various awards and recognitions including the ETR&D Young Scholars Award (2017), the AECT Annual Achievement Award (2016), the Nancy Peery Marriott Outstanding Scholar Award (2017), and the AERA TACTL Early Career Scholar Award (2017), as well as various other best paper and publication awards at conferences. (See publications and awards information here.) Currently, the project that I am most excited about is the launch of our new open textbook website at EdTechBooks.org, which is intended to become the go-to place for providing free, high-quality texts in our field as well as providing cutting-edge analytics and testing features for UX and media research.
I now devote my time to balancing between being with my amazing wife and daughters; serving in a variety of volunteer capacities in my profession, my community, and my church; and seeking to excel in a job that I love.
Advice for Students
As a mentor for many graduate students, I now get the chance to give students advice on a daily basis. Here are some of the main points that I think transfer appropriately to students in any program in our field:
- Don’t feed the impostor syndrome. Our field and our graduate programs include many, many high-achieving professionals who sometimes feel that they just aren’t good enough. But you are good enough! You were not admitted to graduate school by mistake. You did not achieve the things you have in life by chance. You are strong and capable, and you have tons to offer the world. We need you! We need your talents and unique perspective, and in the end, your success will not be measured by your title or publications or projects but by the lives of the people you impact for good.
- Your life’s work comes after graduate school. Too many students get bogged down in trying to change the world through a single research study or project. Guess what. You won’t. And that’s okay. Rather, graduate school is the process you go through to signal to other people that your life’s work is worth encouraging and investing in. Your graduate work should be meaningful, yes, but it is most meaningful as a gateway to bigger and better things, not as an end in itself. So, be smart and committed to get through that gate so that you can actually do the work that matters on the other side.
- Be nice and humble. I hear this advice over and over again from senior colleagues at various universities. No one wants to work with a jerk, and many of us operate on cultural expectations that graduate school should make us pompous and self-righteous. Your importance and intelligence are not measured by how dismissive you are of other people and their ideas, and humility does not mean that you pretend like your accomplishments don’t exist or matter. Rather, being nice means that you have learned one of the most fundamental of all human truths – that everyone has value and should be treated with love and decency – and being humble means that you celebrate the accomplishments of others and recognize with gratitude that your accomplishments are not your own but are shared with all those who have shaped and empowered you along the way.
- Put first things first. In graduate school it’s easy to get your priorities out of order, and throughout my studies, my wife consistently provided the sage advice that if I spend my life ignoring what matters most that in the end it will not matter what I have tried to fill that gap with. We do important work. Your work matters. But, take the time to meditate, and in your quiet, contemplative times be sure that you have a healthy perspective toward your work and that you aren’t allowing things that are important to supplant the things that are essential.