Guitar hero by night, course builder by day

It’s after midnight, and Tim Wheat ’04 can’t sleep. His mind is working overtime on a creative conundrum. Tonight, he’s pondering ideas for a Bradley online course. What could he do differently with this one? How can the professor encourage more interaction? What new widget in the course software could be tried?

Such is the inner life of a man whose inventive juices seem to have no “off” switch. From rocking with Megadeth to writing books, Bradley’s instructional technology designer always has a project on his mind, whether it’s for work or fun. 

“I don’t like to lie around and do nothing,” he said, noting he only sleeps about five hours a night. “Being creative drives me. If there isn’t a place in my job to innovate, what’s the point? There’s always another course to build, book to write and album to do.”

Using an expanding set of digital tools, Wheat lives to find new ways to educate students. He can help faculty produce videos and interactive assignments to keep students engaged during 2019 J-term snow days, or he can experiment with virtual and augmented reality to prepare for the day simulators are standard health professions training equipment.

Tomorrow’s classroom is a challenge, as Bradley’s business and engineering complex will open this fall. To prepare, Wheat helped faculty navigate a model room equipped with the new building’s technology. In one coding course, a professor asked for suggestions to generate engagement. Wheat suggested a competition live onscreen. In that gamified environment, all students responded and showed they learned from the activity.

“I like instructional design because I get to do everything,” he said. “When I taught junior high, I met all the experts in other subjects and mixed them into whatever I was talking about. What I’m doing now is just like that. I’m genuinely interested in everything people teach and want to help professors be better at teaching.”

These academic designs build on the classroom projects Wheat tried while teaching history in nearby Washington, Ill. Wheat had written a couple action thriller novels about a fictional hero, and, looking for a new challenge, he decided to show his eighth-grade students how to write a book. His first group produced historical fiction about the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing. His last wrote a fictional Civil War account based on the diary of a former student’s ancestor whose diary was kept by McHenry County historians.

As if these expressive outlets aren’t enough, Wheat is an accomplished musician who keeps a guitar near his office desk. It’s a perfect stress reliever, an excuse to write a few lines of between work projects and a reminder of a lifelong interest in music. 

Long before he set foot in a classroom, he worked crowds for a decade as a guitarist in a heavy metal band. The group, Counterstrike, toured the Midwest and opened for the likes of Megadeth, Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society and Lamb of God. Though his touring days are long over, he’s still busy composing music. His solo albums touch metal, blues, rock and acoustic.

“Music surrounds me at all times,” he said. “It’s the backbone of my creative life. If it isn’t actually playing through speakers or headphones, it’s running through my head, and I oftentimes relate various portions of my life to music I was listening to at the time.” 

With all these innovations, it’s no wonder curiosity keeps Wheat awake at night. If there’s a problem to be solved, words to be written or chords to be crafted, he wants to engage the challenge every waking moment.

“If you aren’t growing, what else is there to do?” he said. “Some lessons I’ve learned as a young man make it clearer to me with each passing year that I don’t want to lay on the beach sipping Mai Tai’s for the rest of time. Now, writing a book or an album on the beach while sipping Mai Tai’s — that might be alright.”