Olen Burkholder Looks Back
April 1st will arrive before we know it--but there will be no fooling around in one major respect: Olen Burkholder, a linchpin and mainstay of media services at JMU for 30 years, will officially retire at that time.
Not all of his 30 years, of course, has been under the current Media Resources department. First, Olen recalls, the department was “the Instructional Media Center, which split off from the Television Production Center and began to operate as AV Services.”
How did Mr. Burkholder come to that department, so many years ago?
He remembers…. “After graduating from Blue Ridge Community College, I worked for a short time for a full service TV & appliance dealer in Harrisonburg doing mostly low level stuff like deliveries and TV antenna installations. I was anxious to work doing real TV repairs and was rather impatient about paying my dues doing grunt work and was dreaming about having my own TV service business.
But a year passed before the job materialized. Then… “One day, out of the blue, I received a call from the Dean of the Library, Dr. Mary Haban, about working at Madison College. She had my employment application and wanted to know if I was interested in an interview.
From its tiny office in Keezel Hall, AV Services moved about two years later to Carrier Library and became Media Resources. Olen’s original job title was Lab Mechanic. “My work was almost exclusively bench repairs, mostly 16mm projectors and Kodak slide projectors as that was the most heavily used technology. At about that time, we started to acquire a number of 1/2 inch EIAJ format reel-to-reel videotape recording systems. These became a popular format.”
“Lab Mechanic” was succeeded in the Commonwealth classification scheme by “Laboratory Instrument Maker.” It has an odd ring these days, with the huge expansion of technology in our campus classrooms and its convergence with networked computing. It was not until the close of 2001 that Olen’s position, and those of the increasing number of classroom technicians he came to supervise, were reclassified with the more apt “Information Technology Specialist.”
By 2001, Media Resources was well on the way to establishing what is now the “technology classroom” or “TC.” Olen’s dedication to its development in a way that truly meets the changing needs of faculty on campus has been constant. As lead media technician, he pioneered the teaching console design.
Since Olen has seen so much in his years at JMU, I asked him to think about key changes in the use of instructional technology in our campus classrooms. He considers the following developments to be important.
The advent of the VCR and its effect on our services: “These units gradually made there way into classrooms at JMU, first as 35-lb 'portable' recorders. The cost of the early VCRs (about $1000) and the competitive war between VHS and Beta formats tended to slow implementation in classrooms at JMU. Another factor that tended to slow implementation was the fact that budgets for technology were not centralized and coordinated very much. My role for the most part was to provide repair services for our small pool of equipment and equipment inventories held by various departments around the campus. While I did what I could to coordinate the consistency and availability of technology, there tended to be "technology empires.”
The rise of personal computers: “This was not technology that we encountered much as a presentation tool in the early years but it did prompt the purchase of early video/data projectors. These projectors were interesting but difficult to work with, considering the ‘portable’ mode that our operations were based on and the fact that these units were bulky and required at least an hour of critical tuning each time they were set up! So we tended to use the early projectors primarily for special setups and events.
The advent of the truly integrated, centrally supported “teaching system”: “In the early 1990s, Media Resources did get the resources to develop a few tech classrooms in Duke and in Harrison and Godwin Halls, which were fully integrated with custom designed furniture and control systems that were intuitive and easy to use. These systems were about four times as expensive to develop as our current TCs are. Our design was very successful as all but one of those systems are still in use today, virtually unchanged from the original design concept.
Olen Burkholder--now a long way from repairing TVs and the like--has left an imprint on classroom instructional technology that will remain at JMU for a long time to come. His co-workers in Media Resources feel this so strongly that they put it permanently into these words: “ In honor of Olen D. Burkholder for 30 years of innovative service in James Madison University’s Media Resources. The teaching technology in this room was designed and realized under his guidance. His admiring colleagues and friends will endeavor to keep the standard he set, here and everywhere at JMU, for the benefit of all faculty and students”. You can find them on a plaque in the Media Center tech classroom (Carrier Library 16A).
And these days you can find the “retired” Olen Burkholder in his new business venture, Integrity Audio Systems. This two-partner local company specializes in church sound and video installations, as well as AV presentation systems for conference rooms, schools and occasional outdoor facilities.
What could be more fitting for a man of Olen Burkholder’s unique experience and talents?
Copyright ©2005. JMU Libraries.
All rights reserved.