I have been remiss in mentioning that one of my favorite people this side of the Rappahannock, Martha Burtis, was awarded the 2015 Hurley Award. This award is presented to an administrative/professional faculty member who performs exceptionally meritorious service to the University; demonstrates strength of character; and maintains steadfast dedication to the University’s mission.
Martha does all that and more. So when Jeff McClurken asked me to write a letter in support of Martha (he was a genius for nominating her), I knew it was going to be a long one. There’s so many good things to write, and I think of her as my mentor during these past four years of DTLT directorship. What’s more, Martha has been so central to every creative, crazy thing we’ve done at DTLT these last years—I’m thinking here about ds106 in particular, Summer of Oblivion #4life. Despite the fact that so many folks associate me with DTLT’s success because I happen to be the one who writes and presents about it most often, it’s always been a team effort. And everyone in that team has consistently turned to Martha for leadership and guidance no matter our title.
Just this morning while we were talking with the good folks from Georgetown’s CNDLS about everything from Domain of One’s Own to the Digital Knowledge Center to the new Convergence Center, Martha can effortlessly articulate the inter-relationships of all these things like no one else can. It’s truly a treat to listen to her while she unleashes her immense insight, wisdom, and strategic circumspection.
So, I figured I would share the letter I submitted below as a way to document at least some of her accomplishments over the decade I have worked with her at DTLT. Truly one of the most rewarding professional relationships of my life. I can’t say enough about how central she has been to the broader transformation of UMW’s digital culture, not to mention my own understanding of what it means to manage institutional culture.
Martha Burtis has been a primary driver for much of the innovative work that has taken place in UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) over
the last decade. In her more than thirteen years at the university she has served in a variety of capacities from Instructional Technologist to Director to Special Projects Coordinator. Most recently she has become the founding Director of the Digital Knowledge Center (DKC), a new center within DTLT designed to provide peer-to-peer tutoring for students working on digital projects across the university. It is impossible to capture all the amazing work Martha has done for UMW in a single document, but it might be useful to trace some highlights of her service to give a broader sense of the impact she has had stewarding her alma mater into the digital age of teaching and learning technologies.
Martha defined the course of this group during the first experiments with commodity web hosting and personalized domains in 2004. Her willingness to experiment with open source applications and build hybrid tools to demonstrate what was possible for the rest of the group was a really powerful catalyst for much of the work to follow over the coming years. In Spring 2006 she organized and executed one of DTLT’s most ambitious course development projects ever. She worked with Theatre professor Gregg Stull to completely re-design the department’s senior capstone course to be an entirely online, digital portfolio that was managed across an impressive ecosystem of open source tools. This was one of the earlier integrations of WordPress into a course at UMW, not to mention various other technologies such wikis, mapping, RSS, and multimedia to name just a few. It was a level of web-facing instructional technologies that was radical for the moment, and it took a technical fluency, broader vision, and organizational acumen that is a rare combination in any one person.
Her work that semester made Martha the logical choice for director when Gardner Campbell left the university in Spring of 2006. Martha’s time as director demonstrated another dimension of her talents: strategic planning. Martha proved to be adroit at managing DTLT’s move from the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) into the Provost’s Office, understanding our group’s mission needed to be rooted in the academic side of the house. Our work was given a new sense of purpose and promise under Martha’s leadership because we were encouraged to fully engage exploratory research and development with faculty during her tenure. The commodity hosting experiment burgeoned, and services like UMW Blogs were established. What’s more, the idea for Domain of One’s Own (a project she would manage many years later) was first introduced as a goal we would all aspire to over the coming years.
After the birth of her second child, Martha made the choice to work part-time as the Special Projects Coordinator. This era of her career at UMW demonstrated the group’s continued reliance upon her keen advice and understanding of how we should navigate myriad challenges. This is also the moment of her career wherein she returned more directly to web development and programming for the group. She re-designed UMW Blogs on more than one occasion and did extensive plugin and theme development for this system. Additionally, she started working on more focused faculty projects with various professors to build research focused databases, such as Andi Livi Smith’s Survey Database.
These programming skills along with her broader vision of the field and the university were brought to bare in some truly remarkable ways when she turned her attention to teaching the Digital Storytelling course at UMW ds106. Not only has she proven to be an amazing instructor of this open, online course, but she developed some of the most innovative parts of its technical infrastructure: the assignment bank and the Daily Create. These are two extremely impressive examples of Martha’s continued commitment to making the integration of technology into the course a meaningful and relevant experience that models the open web, rather than siloing it off in a learning management system.
More than ten years later, Martha is still pushing hard on her remarkable ability to balance strategic thinking, technical prowess, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning technologies. Arguably the formation of the Digital Knowledge Center this past fall is her most impressive work to date. She has trained nine student tutors to support our student community on a wide range of digital projects, making DTLT’s ability provide that much more support to UMW’s academic community. Thanks to Martha, our group has built capacity to provide more integrated support for faculty and students alike. Which undergirds the very raison d’etre of what it is DTLT does, help the UMW community make the long, important transition into a digital learning environment. UMW could not have a better steward than Martha Burtis in this regard, and I can think of no one on campus who deservers the Hurley Award more.