Wednesday, April 18, 2007 Memories of Chris Essex, a close friend, doc student, and colleague...
I got some early news (not good news) today from Joyce Alexander, department chairperson of Counseling and Educational Psychology, that one of my IST doc students and close friends, Chris Essex, had passed away the night before, April 17, 2007. He was still a very young man with so much potential and a dissertation waiting for him to complete. How does one cope with such news? What does one do? Immediate reactions to messages such as this are sorta blank and lifeless as you hear about them in the midst of 50 other things and there is no one immediately next to you to talk about it. Then, perhaps a few minutes, perhaps a few hours, or perhaps a few months or more, it starts to sink in. You will not see him physically again, though he will appear in the many works he has accomplished and the stories that we have to tell about him. As I note below, Chris had many accomplishments and we will tell many stories about him.
1. Chris as English Teacher: I am now stuck in the Cincinnati Airport on way to Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia to train English teachers in active teaching techniques; many of which will entail emerging technologies such as podcasts, wikis, and blogs. Given this focus, it is Chris who should be here doing this training. Chris knows all the technologies one could ever want to know. And he was an English teacher. He knows pedagogy too! I was never an English teacher. I know in my heart that Chris would be able to run these workshops so much better than me. Lots of exciting ideas but without overwhelming them. He could speak to them 1-1. Now I have that challenge in front of me to be like him
2. Chris as Faculty Consultant: Keep in mind that Chris would be someone I would talk to when I got back to let him know what happened. He always kept an open door and a cool glass one at that. People could just show up with a problem or an issue and he would listen attentively and give them candid and calm feedback and guidance. When I stopped by (which was pretty regularly), he would be interested in whatever happened to me in my recent teaching or training. Now he is not here for such support and advice and story sharing. His kind ear is gone. And I am not the only one. Many of my colleagues sought out Chris for advice on a weekly if not daily basis. He knew his stuff and more than that. Sure that was his job—to support faculty in integrating technology—but unlike many in such a position, he was born for this job. 3. Chris as Friend to Visiting Scholars: It is not just faculty and students who need Chris, but also all the visiting scholars who come to IU for a visit. Does anyone have a count of all the people that Chris would mentor or meet with on an annual basis in the IC office? There is rich intellectual capital we have lost here. I have brought visiting scholars from Senegal, Italy, Korea, Thailand, Japan, Australia, the UK, Canada, China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, and many other parts of the world to meet with Chris in the Instructional Consulting office. Karen Hallett has had her share of high quality, sharing people working for her in IC, but Chris undoubtedly was at the top of the list. (Note: a final picture I had of Chris from January 2007 with people from the e-Read Ohio Program is below. Chris had just finished showing the them ideas for podcasting, online assessment, videochat, and other cool technologies.)
4. Chris as the Epitome of the Money Spent to Build the IU School of Education: There have been many changes in the School of Education at Indiana University during the past decade. If you think about it, other than perhaps Drs. Appelman and Frick, Chris Essex was the one constant in terms of innovation with educational technology in the School of Education that you could take people to meet during the past decade. I have had many visitors so I know. All the other innovators have either retired or moved to a different office, school, department, or university. Not Chris—you could still find him in the IC office. If you were visiting the School of Education and interested in technology in education, and keep in mind that the School of Education was built to promote technology in education, you just HAD to stop and see Chris Essex. Yes, we have the Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT) and before that the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), but the CRLT has been moved to Eigemann Hall and the CEE was disbanded long ago. The only cool technology stuff left in this School of Education (again a building built to showcase technology in education—in case anyone forgot) was being done my one man—Chris Essex. He was the lone beacon of light that I could see and take people to. He was a guaranteed stop on the IU tour for all prospective students, visiting scholars, and other expert visitors. The goodwill he generated by taking time to show tools such as Eval Online, the videostreaming that IC did, and the podcasts was invaluable.
5. Chris as Online Learning Course Promoter and Organizer: Chris and I go back perhaps 10 years or more. I am not sure the exact date or place we met. I am pretty sure if was sometime when Chris was indexing the online courses Dr. Karl Smith in language education. Shortly after that, he indexing and promoting of online courses in the School of Education began to expand to other department. It was then that he began asking people like Jack Cummings and I, who were teaching online ed psych courses, just what we were doing. He helped promote our courses and make them better when we asked him for advice. That was in 1997 and 1998. I think Jack dabbled in the online world just prior to that in late 1996 and then he told me I should teach online as he was about to become an associate dean or something stupid like that. But with the support of people like Chris Essex (and Karen Hallett’s entire office), it was a great experience to teach online. Those experiences and conversations about effective online pedagogy resulted in Chris and I becoming close friends. My time here in the Cinci airport is not enough to document it and I do not have a spell checker (smile) but I am trying. As everyone knows, Chris Essex was extremely conscientious, well organized, a voracious reader, and someone who passed along information to those in need.
6. Chris as Rock Music Junkie: His sweeping long hair was a giveaway as to aspects of his personality and hobbies. As many of us know, Chris loved his music; especially rock from the 60s and 70s. He often told me that his older brother was influential his musical tastes. If there was a Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or David Bowie concert or tour that was announced, Chris already had his tickets ordered before the rest of us even heard about it. As an example, last year (May 19th, 2006), he met me at Cheers Pub in London for dinner and a few beers; he had told me that he would be following Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, and several other rock groups around at the time, so we arranged a meeting. Brian Ford, a long-time BBC personality and I waited for Chris for what seemed a long time. I was amazed he showed up at about 6 or 7 pm that night just as my friends and I were about to leave. He livened up the room with his stories of his travels and why he was late and his intended rock concert scenes. We all stayed for 2 more hours to listen to Chris. Later Chris and I found a comedy club in London which I know Chris also was a fan of. Unfortunately, his plans to visit the UK this May for still more rock concerts will not happen.
7. Chris as Conference Presenter: I have seen Chris at many conferences and situations outside of the School of Education. He always represented us well. In the early years of online learning, Chris kept me up-to-date regarding technology and online learning conferences. One such conference was Ed Media. I remember how excited he was that we would both be attending the Ed Media conference in 1999 in Seattle. Chris arranged a dinner meeting for some IU students (John Savery, Chris, Kurshat, and me) during the conference. I remember that dinner and conference fondly and went to the next 7 Ed Medias as well thanks, in part, to Chris’ initial prompting to go. Two years later, in August 2001, Chris presented with me at the Wisconsin Distance Teaching and Learning conference in Madison. We each took 20-30 minutes and presented our data on the state of e-learning in higher education and corporate training. Remember that this was 2001—the exact time that universities and corporations were trying to figure out how to strategically plan for online learning. Chris helped me design the survey instruments we used in this huge study as well as analyze the data and write it up. He had all the insights we needed as to what to ask and then later present. The talk was packed with people who wanted to know the state of e-learning back then. Without bragging too much now—we dazzled them. We had a similar presentation at AERA the following spring though I do not think it compared with the enthusiasm we felt in Madison the prior August. 8. Chris as Podcaster: For the past 2 years, Chris Essex has been the voice of my podcasts. He would ask preset as well as spontaneous questions and I would answer them as ways to relate to the students in my class the issues and content for the week. More importantly, Chris created 20 lessons for anyone to use on podcasting in our instructional consulting office (seehttps://www.exchange.iu.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.iub.edu/~icy/podcast/index.html). It is an impressive collection of ideas which I have referred many people to. In part it is successful since Chris has a broadcast quality voice for his podcasts. He was a natural. No nerves. In part, it was successful as a result of the time and effort Chris put into these productions. He knew his stuff. And he marketed it to faculty in a nice way. I always looked forward to my podcast days with Chris. We could plan something out at 1:30 and be on the air as it were at 1:35. He was quick with the technology yet never too fast for one to understand. He taught me a lot about how to do a quality podcast. The 20 lessons he created should be archived and transcribed and turned into a book with a coinciding online resource site. This could be a project for an IST student. I am sure one would jump at this or I hope so. And the dean's office might provide a couple thousand dollars to fund this. There are dozens of possibilities with this content.
9. Chris as Teacher to K-12 Kids as well as Adults: I have spoken to many people whose kids had Chris as their teacher in summer camps. And the kids loved his teaching of multimedia and the latest technology tools. Chris definitely looked forward to teaching at Binford Rogers (and St. Charles I think) each summer. And the school looked forward to him. College students loved his online courses as well. I heard from 1-2 weeks ago when presenting at Purdue. She spoke extremely highly of him. Everyone is or now I say was excited by his teaching. It is sad he will not teach anymore. We are very sad.
10. Chris as a Lifelong Learner: Despite his expertise and having been in many of my classes before, he would sit in on one of my classes. He was one of the best students in those classes--a high participator and willing to take risks. See Chris is the funny hat for an activity below from this class.
As shown by the pic below, Chris was in my classes since at least 1999. Chris is on the right--4th from right on top.
11. Chris as Believer in Free and Open Educational Resources: Chris also helped me in my research--whenever I had a question or an idea that involved online learning or technology, I could run it by him. He also helped me develop cool technology tooks. When I wanted to create some free websites for others like LibraryShare, BookstoreShare, SurveyShare, or InstructorShare, Chris jumped in to help. He was at the first mtgs I had to create a company to help faculty share online contents back in December 1999. And he helped me develop the tools for free sharing of ideas by faculty around the globe. We had meetings after work, on weekends, and at lunch. He always was willing to help. Today this is called the free and open educational resource (OER) movement. With free MIT courses online, this is huge. Back in 1999, Chris could see the potential. He always had the insights to help push these projects along. And as an English teacher, he could edit all the text and help systems we wrote. He had quite an eye for editing text. I trusted Chris with many a document.
12. Chris as Videostreamer: I deeply appreciate the fact that Chris went out of his way to promote my classes and talks to others. But he did that for many people. I think he did this for everyone. There are dozens of interesting talks by faculty in the School of Education that are catalogued and indexes due to Chris Essex, Without him, none of this would have been done. For instance , there is one talk he had me do a couple of years ago related to 100 ways making lectures more engaging since he heard I had done the talk over in the HPER building. He wanted me to repeat it as part of the Instructional Consulting office videostreams. Chris believed in videostreaming as a way to promote the School of Education and the IC office but more importantly as a way to get information out to the masses.. While only 1 adjunct faculty and 3 doc students from IU showed up, since Chris videostreamed it, I continue to get people writing to me from around the world about that talk. Just this week, the people at Wikiversity told me that they have indexed it.
13. Chris as Helper: People—my how Chris helped people. He helped kids with emerging technology courses in summer. He helped faculty looking to integrate technology in their courses. He helped students with their technology problems. He helped those in his office understand what the IC office does. He helped the Dean’s office index and market online courses when these things were new to everyone. He provided help to visiting scholars as I noted before. He gave talks in my classes and others when asked. Clearly, Chris touched so many people.
Suffice to say, Chris Essex was a great friend of mine. Kind, helpful, and willing to do a podcast or anything with technology with me whenever I asked. He will be missed by many and in many ways. More than most would immediately think of. As the days scroll by, we will all realize just how many ways Chris touched us and others around us as well as those outside the immediate IU community. Chris never saw a piece of technology he did not like. He never saw a human being he did not like. He never saw a pedagogical idea he did not like. We/I miss you Chris. Sorry I am not able to attend his memorial.
Name: Curt Bonk Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.