30 08 2010

Our story begins in with the wind howling and snow on the ground. The faint smell of a nearby feedyard greeted anyone daring to venture outdoors. Tumbleweeds from the previous summer’s hurrah raced down city streets, only to be snagged eventually by a barbed wire fence.

And I, still a fairly young faculty member, was bundled up like Nanook of the North as I plied my way from the Classroom Center to the Killgore Research Center. Although technically a short walk (it was right across the street, for crying out loud), I felt like I may as well have been summoned to trek to the North Pole. Dr. Vaughn Nelson, then the Dean of the Graduate School, had called me in for a meeting.

Little did I know that my compass was about to be reset, my operating system rebooted, my career redirected.

You see, it was that point forward that I became an online professor. WT was busy forging a trail through an academic jungle few knew about or had ever dared traverse, and Dr. Nelson handed me a machete. “Go that way,” he said, pointing in the general direction of the internet. “Huh?” was about the best I could muster. I hadn’t a clue how to proceed.

But my life has not been the same since that epic moment.

Ditching the tin cans of classroom communication stretched me in ways I could not imagine. I had to rethink everything. Somehow I had to find a way to cram a three-dimensional experience into a two-dimensional array. Oh, and make it engaging enough that folks would not fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” pothole.

Now I cannot claim to have mastered the format just yet. In many regards, I feel like it has mastered me. Little did I know as I started that new journey that I would have to reboot more than once. In fact, I find myself rebooting quite often these days. Sure, this fall marks the 51st online class (as well as many uncounted hybrid courses, equally supported by online content). Long ago I trained myself to think, even dream, in HTML. But the world is changing so fast around me. The wind continues to blow. And more tumbleweeds are coming down the pike. You know…ideas, some of which will stick in the sharp barb of a twisted steel line, while others keep rolling southward.

In the 13 years that have passed since my first online course (the MBA Marketing Seminar), I have had to come to terms with a plethora of changes. The ubiquity of cell phones, and now smartphones. YouTube. Text messaging. Facebook. And the precipitous decline of email. Heck, in 1997 email was still a novelty. And now it is passe.

For that matter, online and web-supported classes are no longer anything over which to get excited. They are part of the academic fabric, a tapestry that now better reflects the changing needs and wants of the knowledge marketplace.

As for me, I labor to stay up to date. No, make that struggle. This dang wind just won’t let down. The scenery is changing before my very eyes.

And you…you are now along for the ride.

I like to think Dr. Nelson would like what his initiative has produced. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that dude changed my life. And by virtue of that, yours.

As we go forward, may you find it easy to push the restart button of your life. May you refrain from cursing the fact that the things in which you once found comfort are now uncomfortable. And may you give me a little grace because I am going to be the one challenging you with new ideas and bringing on a lot of this discomfort.

Because that’s what Dr. Nelson did to me.

Dr “Change Is Good” Gerlich



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