- Cullman, Alabama

July 7, 2013

Bruce Tenison designs software tools with broad appeal

WSCC Media Relations

— You give Bruce Tenison a problem to figure out and he’ll work on it until he’s discovered how to fix it.

As the director of eLearning and the Advanced Visualization Center (AVC) at Wallace State Community College, that tenacity pays off not only for Wallace State, but for other institutions as well.

When the old Web CT learning management program was no longer available for use after a buyout by Blackboard, instructors lost a convenient way to check messages sent by students in their classes.

“They would have to go into every one of their courses and check their inbox, which was a time-consuming task,” Tenison said of the results. “So I wrote the My Messages building block, to provide a window into all the messages for all the courses they’re enrolled. They click on it and go right into it.”

Word got out, and several colleges and universities asked Tenison for his building block, including Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., the University of Tennessee and California State University, Chico.

“A lot of people said it was a lifesaver because as they transitioned from Web CT to Blackboard, their faculty were up in arms because they don’t have this particular feature,” he said.

Tenison sees projects like those as goodwill projects, plus it fulfills that need to fix things.

“I’m such a geek,” he said. “I like to code, I like to program. It’s a puzzle.”

Tenison’s ability to solve puzzles came naturally to him, much to the amusement – and sometimes astonishment - of his parents. The Bay Minette, Ala., native said one of the stories his late parents used to love to tell about him involved the family’s first computer purchase back in 1984.

“We spent I think $500 on a machine,” he said of that first Tandy computer. “And for us that was a lot of money.”

About a week after buying it, Tenison said he needed to know how it worked.

“I was playing with it and my mom came into the room and I had every component…pulled out and spread all over the carpet,” Tenison recalled. “She went back into the dining room and everybody said her face was completely white and she said, ‘You’re not going to believe what he’s done. He’s taken the whole thing apart.’

“By that afternoon I had it back together and running,” Tenison said.

That was the beginning of his work with computers. A few years later he was accepted into the Electrical Engineering program at Auburn University, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

After leaving Auburn, he was hired at Reid State Technical College where he advanced from instructor in industrial electronics to department chair for the computer science program. He then joined the staff of WSCC as the director of campus technology after moving to Birmingham, before taking the job as director of eLearning and AVC.

As director of AVC, he helps instructors utilize three-dimensional and stereoscopic imaging into their curriculum. It provides students with a “hands-on” lesson but without using any actual materials and without the risk of damaging expensive equipment.

For example, in a welding class the student can use 3D imagery to complete a virtual welding project.

“If they damaged the equipment virtually, they just hit the reset button and start over,” Tenison said.

With the AVC department off to a solid start, Tenison’s talent for fixing things and the college’s recent migration to the SunGuard Banner administrative software system has meant, most recently, that the IT department has come back under his leadership as well.  One thing is certain – he’ll never be bored.

"Wallace State, long ago, earned a reputation for hiring the best of the best.  Bruce Tenison has been a wonderfully creative and innovative addition to the Wallace State faculty tapestry," said Wallace State President Vicki Hawsey.