A Lasting Legacy: Dr. Robert Reiser Retires After 46 Years at FSU

George Kantelis

Robert Reiser
Dr. Robert A. Reiser

After over four decades of exhibiting high levels of motivation, work ethic and rhetorical mastery, Dr. Robert A. Reiser is retiring from Florida State University.

Reiser has held several titles during his time with the university. He began as a research associate in the Learning Systems Institute and an assistant professor in the College of Education back in 1976. “I was very fortunate to come here to Florida State,” said Reiser. “For many years, the Instructional Systems program at Florida State was considered the number one program in the country, and many of the biggest names in our field, like Robert Gagné, Walter Dick and many others were here.”

Being surrounded by several established scholars in the field, a persistent theme of motivation naturally arose as Reiser worked with them. “Within academia, junior people shouldn't be afraid to reach out to people who are more well-established in the field and ask them to share some of the work they did or ask them questions about their work,” he said. He consistently developed connections with other scholars simply by having the ambition and the determination to reach out. “They’re usually flattered, actually, when somebody who's more junior reaches out to them. Even if it doesn’t go beyond that one time with them, I think it’s a good thing to do.” Reiser’s ambition—backed with a lot of hard work—kicked off a very successful career at Florida State.

In 1981, Reiser earned the Florida State University Developing Scholar Award, which is given to junior faculty who demonstrate evidence of productivity, high-quality research and creativity. This award would be the start of a long list of awards that Reiser would receive during his 46-year service at the College of Education.

Over the next several years, Reiser would earn several more honors: he became the recipient of the 1985-86 Florida State University Teaching Award, the 1986 Presidential Award for Outstanding Service to the Division of Instructional Development (an award that he would earn several more times in the future), the 1994 Research in Education Award and the 1999 Florida State University Professorial Excellence Award.

In 1987, Reiser was approached by former Instructional Systems professor Robert Gagné. “He asked me to write a book chapter on the history of our field in a book he was editing,” Reiser recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I’m pretty young. I hardly even know much about the history of the field. I know a little bit about it because I teach a course that has a unit on history, but I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I should take this task on.’” Of course, Reiser would eventually accept the challenge, and through a lot of effort, he managed to write an exceptional chapter. “It turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life,” he said. “Over the course of my career, I've done a lot of writing about the history of our field, and it all emanated from that one experience. Don't pass up on opportunities that you think might be too hard to tackle.”

Look ahead to the turn of the century: in April 2000, Reiser was awarded the Distinguished University Teacher Award— the highest teaching award at Florida State. He became the first faculty member in the College of Education to receive the award. “You know, as an instructional designer, you want to be a good instructor! I taught some classes for 25 or 30 years, and my wife would see me late at night working on the lesson and she’d say ’Bob, you’ve taught this class 30 times! What are you doing?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, I could make it a little better.’ I never was quite satisfied.”

Reiser with COE faculty
Clockwise from bottom L: Robert Gagné, David Redfield, Robert Reiser, Walter Dick, and Raoul Arreola

Reiser taught in the Instructional Systems program for 34 years. After winning the Distinguished University Teacher Award, he developed a presentation entitled, “Planning Effective Instruction: One Professor’s Opinion.” This presentation, which talks about the key principles that he followed during his teaching career, would be shared across multiple universities and became a regular occurrence at FSU’s Program for Instructional Excellence (PIE) conference, an event held to orient and guide new teaching assistants and instructors at the university.

If you’ve ever been a student in the Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies program, then you’ve likely been assigned one of his works; Reiser has written five books and more than 75 journal articles and book chapters in his field. One of these books is what he considers to be his other proudest achievement, along with the Distinguished University Teaching Award. “Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology,” which Reiser wrote with former student Jack Dempsey, spans four editions that were published between 2002 and 2018. The work has won several awards from major organizations, including the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) and the International Society for Performance Improvement.

To add to a list of impressive accomplishments, Reiser also founded AECT’s Division for Design and Development (D&D) Awards Program. Reiser began the awards program within a decade of earning his doctorate. “Early on, I went to some of the D&D board meetings, and at one of those sessions, they said ‘It would be really nice if we established an awards program. Anybody interested?’” And the rest was history. Reiser’s willingness to assist and motivation to tackle new challenges led to 25 years of successfully running the awards program, meeting new people and advancing the field, all at the same time. He also served for 25 years as an editorial board member for AECT’s Educational Technology Research and Development, a premier research journal in his field.

Reiser has enjoyed a long career of blazing the trail for future instructors and scholars—so much so that he passed on his first opportunity to retire 11 years ago. “They had an early retirement program back then, and I was about to take advantage of it, but as it came close to the end of this 35-year period, I said to Marcy Driscoll, our dean at that time, ‘You know, Marcy, I'm really not ready to retire.’” Afterward, Reiser was offered the chance to lead the College of Education’s Office of Research as the associate dean for research, and he has been doing so up until now.

“I thought I'd do it for two or three years,” Reiser said. “I've done it for 11 years now, and I love it because I'm helping people again. I’m working with young faculty—as well as more senior faculty—helping them find grant opportunities, helping them prepare grant proposals…so, it's just been a delight. I have very much enjoyed working with the staff in this office and all the faculty who I have worked with, they are so wonderful. It’s been a true pleasure.”

Reiser, who has taught for over three decades, has seen many of his former students evolve into being colleagues and friends. Through enthusiasm and a strong work ethic, Reiser developed an impressive and caring community of students and colleagues over the course of his career. “They’re almost like your second family. It’s like having another set of children. I can't thank my current and former students and colleagues enough for making my career here at Florida State so wonderful. It's just been a real pleasure.”

Reiser will be officially retired at the end of the Fall 2021 semester. He will be spending most of his time in New York City—his home city—with his wife, three married children and six grandchildren.