Spotlight on Brett Bixler, Instructional Designer in ITS Training Services

"While he did not find that music teacher job, Bixler did find an opportunity to play trombone with jazz legends Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie."


Brett Bixler, a lead instructional designer in ITS Training Services, was once a music man. In high school and college, he played trombone in the marching band. After giving serious consideration to becoming a musician, Bixler decided that life on the road was not for him. "The musician's life is pretty rough," he said. "You're always living out of a suitcase."

Instead, Bixler pursued an undergraduate degree in music education from Susquehanna University, later working at a furniture factory while he looked for a job as a music teacher. While he did not find that music teacher job, Bixler did find an opportunity to play trombone with jazz legends Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie. "They were coming to the [Williamsport, PA] area doing a tour, and a lot of times those guys will hire local talent for their pit crew so they don't have to travel with one," said Bixler, who was hired to play in that manner.

As a central Pennsylvania native, Brett went on to pursue both a master's degree and a doctorate from his stomping ground at Penn State, but not before he would spend two years as a teenager in Singapore, where his father was transferred as the head of maintenance for a factory that produced microwave tubes. "I got to see a lot of different landscapes, meet new people, and experience new cultures. It was all very exciting," he said, taking the opportunity to also mention the bowling prowess he was able to hone during his time in Singapore.
In the 80s, Bixler enrolled in a master's program in curriculum and instruction and graduated in 1985. In 2007, he received his doctorate in instructional systems from Penn State after defending his dissertation on the use of prompts in online learning. He began working for Information Technology Services (ITS) Training Services in November 2010 and before that had worked in the Education Technology Services unit where, in 2005, he created the Educational Gaming Commons. Prior to his employment in ITS, Bixler worked for the Royer Center for Learning and Academic Technologies and the Institution for the Study of Adult Literacy--both Penn State organizations.
Penn State may be in the genes of the Bixler family, as both of his daughters chose to follow in his academic footsteps. His oldest daughter graduated from Penn State in 2011, and his younger daughter will start her junior year in the fall. Brett said, "I think Penn State is a great place. You can get almost any type of degree here that you want."

Outside of his work at Penn State, Bixler likes to garden and to read. He reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but, in line with his work, he also enjoys reading about current technology trends. Bixler's passion for technology crosses the line from professional to personal pursuits with his hobby in video games. He likes role-playing games the best. As for his musical roots, Bixler hasn't completely lost touch. He still participates in music programs through his church.