Language-Learning Strategist

Rocky Tyler

Doctoral Student

Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology Program

College of Arts & Sciences and College of Education



When it comes to the impact of communication, language and cultural nuance, Rocky Tyler has unique insight. Barely a year ago, the U.S. Army Reserve colonel was in Baghdad as part of the official U.S. government team negotiating the future of U.S. military forces in Iraq.


Today, Tyler is a full-time doctoral student in USF’s Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology (SLA/IT) program. He is also the only 2009 recipient in the state of Florida of one of the country’s most prestigious academic awards, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship. The fellowship was established by the U.S. Congress to support graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Highly competitive and prestigious, awards are granted to applicants who demonstrate both the talent and the serious motivation to make major contributions to scholarship and teaching in a field of study.


Javits award recipient, doctoral student and Army officer, however, only begin to describe Tyler’s wide-ranging life experiences. So varied have been the numerous chapters that comprise his life that, in many respects, Tyler feels a certain kinship with Tom Hank’s iconic character, Forrest Gump.


“Like Forrest, I’ve spent my life pretty much in a state of perpetual, childlike wonder at the truly amazing experiences and people I’ve encountered along the way,” he says with humility as well as gratitude.


In addition to his doctoral studies, Tyler teaches Chinese history, culture and politics at USF Polytechnic. An enthusiastic language learner, experienced instructional technologist, and dedicated teacher and teacher trainer, he is convinced that learning is best facilitated in communities built on interpersonal trust and collaboration. As a result of receiving the Javits Fellowship, he plans to integrate those three elements of his professional experience – second language acquisition, instructional technology and pedagogy – and conduct research that he hopes will enhance language learning strategies.


“I’m interested in conducting research on the environmental factors that support language learner peer-to-peer interaction,” he says. “I want to help in the development of new, dynamic collaborative language learning communities in both traditional classrooms and online environments. And I hope that my research agenda will ultimately benefit language learners everywhere.”


While Tyler’s interest in second language acquisition was not his initial field of study, it is a passion that began early in his career. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in engineering, Tyler served as a helicopter pilot. He was then sent to Yale University, where he earned a master’s degree in international relations, and subsequently trained at the Defense Language Institute to become a certified Chinese linguist.


Tyler transferred into the Army Reserve, and after the 9/11 attacks, served a total of 54 months of active military duty at U.S. Central Command in Tampa as a senior international coalition liaison officer and senior policy and plans officer. His most recent tour of duty, which took him to Iraq, ended last year.


In the civilian world, Tyler has experience in curriculum development and teaching at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, technical training for both private and public educational institutions and small businesses, and technology support for K-12 learning environments.


“My heart is in education,” Tyler says. Specifically, he’s focused on using technology to change how students learn. Showing students how technology can empower them is what really excites him, and he can pinpoint the “seminal moment” when that become his mission. He was teaching at a high school engineering academy and had assigned a student the subject of molecular nanotechnology as a research project. It was a routine, independent assignment, so he was totally unprepared for the passion the topic ignited in the teen.


“After doing his own research, this student came back literally ‘on fire’ with excitement for what he had learned,” says Tyler. “It became clear to me that he had taught himself even more about the subject than I knew. That’s when it hit me that the role of teachers is totally changing. Teachers are no longer dispensers of information but guides and facilitators to learning. It’s our job to give students the tools to think critically and the technology to do good searches for information.”


As director of technology for a school district in Wyoming, Tyler designed and implemented a unique professional development program that provided teachers with the pedagogy and technology tools to transform their schools into dynamic 21st century learning communities. He believes strongly in the “power of living and learning in authentic community,” and became the first Tribes Learning Communities certified district trainer in the state, teaching teachers the skills and strategies for successful cooperative and collaborative learning.


“All of these experiences combined, led me to begin exploring the concept of optimizing the use of technology in learning environments” says Tyler – a field of study he was thrilled to discover in USF’s SLA/IT program. “I didn’t know that there was a program that combined these three disciplines – language learning, pedagogy and instructional technology – into one interdisciplinary program,” he says. “This has got to be the only program of its kind in the country.”


Drawing on his military background, Tyler says he would like to contribute to the linguistic and cross-cultural development of the nation’s next generation of military leaders. In fact, he has already started to explore that avenue via USF’s Joint Military Leadership Center and ROTC programs.


“My linguistic experiences and overseas travel assignments with the government make me particularly sympathetic towards those who need to communicate in a language and culture other than their own,” he says. “I’m convinced that our country would benefit greatly from a more culturally and linguistically internationalized military officer corps.


“It would be tremendously gratifying to contribute to the development of these leaders.”


-- Mary Beth Erskine, University Communications & Marketing