For most human makers of things, the incompletenesses and inconsistencies of our ideas become clear only during implementation. Thus it is that writing, experimentation, “working out,” are essential disciplines for the theoretician.
~Robert Brooks - The design of design : essays from a computer scientist
My first 2.5 years at Syracuse University have been a time of significant change and direction in my research and professional orientation. When I arrived at SU in August 2008, I really didn't have a clear established research agenda; what I had been doing was getting stale and I didn’t see compelling new directions to take. I finished up a few projects I had going in that area (social and cultural approaches to technology), and began to explore new areas to pursue. I was hired as an Associate Professor based on my having had 3 years in a tenure track position at North Carolina State University, and my work and experience overseeing learning technology across the 13 campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It was an honor to be hired at this rank, but the reality is that in many respects I came here behind where I would have been fresh out of graduate school or coming from another faculty position. I haven’t had the opportunity to publish with my advisor (she actually left the field of Education). I didn't have a dissertation to publish out of or a line of research I had established at my previous tenure track position. I didn’t realize how much effort I would need to expend to get “ramped up.”
By the end of my first year, I knew I was going to have to make a wholesale shift in my areas of focus and my approach to my career. I had spent the last few years of my career focusing on issues related to disability and accessibility - this was productive and important work. It was work tied to my personal life having a blind family member. It was work tied to my interest in issues of social justice and equity and it gave me a place to engage in progressive work. I came to my work in this area through my background in web development and my research in identity and equity in technology - disability studies gave me an excellent lens to explore these questions, and accessibility and usability have offered technical and empirical spaces within which to work. While my passion for disability rights and access hadn’t diminished, I had begun to see that as a research focus, it had started to play out for me. I was beginning to miss some of the aspects of what got me into technology to start with - namely the iterative and emergent nature of technology development.
I spent the spring of 2009 exploring different areas and meeting potential collaborators. For example, I observed Dr. Sharon Dotger's Science Teaching courses for much of the spring and did some initial writing about technology use in science teaching, particularly the applied and experiential nature of it. I observed classes several times a week, made observations, and took field notes. This activity is a good example of my time spent in 2009 and the longer-term results of the work. While my efforts of that semester didn’t directly result in an article submission, it provided a foundation for collaboration with Dr. Dotger, and helped me refine my interest in situated and active learning. I also confronted the challenges of analyzing and categorizing video data both in my research and in conversations with Dr Dotger about her research projects in the schools. These observations and conversations were components of my activities that ultimately led to the development and submission of the NSF MRIR2 grant proposal I wrote later that year.
That semester I also conducted a small but ultimately important usability and accessibility study on the new SU website. This project provided input to the web design process that improved the site’s accessibility. Both of these activities and others pointed me toward design and development research focused on emerging learning technology development.
During the summer of 2009 I started to put together the proposal to NSF that would ultimately be funded in May 2010. I saw this as a first step in building the resources I needed to work with technology in the School of Education. Starting in the spring of 2011, the School of Education has a state of the art research and teaching computer lab funded by this NSF grant for digital video analysis (DiVA). I am now able to teach courses focusing on technology development and implementation, and now have the space and resources to conduct design and development research projects.
I had spent most of 2009 figuring out where I was going, how I was going to get there, and then starting the process. I spent several months developing the grant proposal that was funded in 2010. While I have Co-PIs on the grant, I wrote almost the entire proposal myself and was solely responsible for revisions, which doubled the original budget, and have managed the acquisition and implementation of infrastructure on the grant.