The measure of one’s education is a product of the efforts in the classroom and the impact made as a result. My academic and professional backgrounds have given me an excellent foundation for launching a successful research program in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET). My training at MSU will enable me to expand and enrich my role as a leader in the thoughtful integration of innovative and effective technologies in a broader institutional setting.
Upon graduation from Gwinn High School, I entered Northern Michigan University with the goal of becoming a teacher. After two semesters there, I decided that a transfer to Central Michigan University would best advance my professional goals. While working nearly full-time at an Anheuser-Busch distributor off-campus during academic semesters, I maintained a high GPA and graduated from CMU in May 2005 earning Cum Laude honors. Just days after graduation I was offered my first teaching job.
During my tenure at Union City Community Schools (UCCS), I have had the advantage of comparatively sophisticated technology resources and have made nearly every attempt to maximize what has been made available. It soon became clear that my interest in education and instruction were intertwined with educational technology. During my second year of teaching, I enrolled at Michigan State University in the Certificate in Educational Technology with the intent of continuing to complete the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program. Simultaneously, the technology coordinator at UCCS revealed plans to pursue a 1:1 program and began discussing the possibilities of a pilot within my grade level due to my position as a technology integration leader within that team of teachers. The content and conversations absorbed during the MAET proved vital to my role while assisting in the execution of the one laptop per student initiative that our district currently enjoys. From the early stages of acquiring the hardware to developing and leading staff training, my role as a teacher leader in the area of instructional technology specialist has proven to be the defining characteristic of my early career in Union City. I have since made significant strides in defining my own instruction and in the design of resources and online environments with the goal of maximizing the potential of the tools at our disposal.
Since the summer of 2008 and the completion of the MAET, I have been a participant in the Battle Creek Schools Consortium Teaching American History (TAH) Turning Points Project. Headed by Bonnie Garbrecht, this two-year, grant-funded, professional development opportunity emphasized models of developing history instruction and collaboration that are also at the forefront of the educational technology community as well. The project mandated that participants work within professional learning groups and provided structured exercises for intensive cooperative learning and work tasks. At the close of the project my command of the craft of history improved, as did my experience and understanding of collaborative professional development and group leadership.
The conversations, instruction, and collaborative work in both programs coordinated a revision of my personal instruction and technology integration. During the 2008-09 school year I intensified the way in which I employed Wikispaces in my general education U.S. History class. I began to incorporate methods of publishing student work and including authentic elements of peer review and student reflection. By the following school year, I redesigned the wiki to include a class calendar for daily instructional pieces and an interactive curriculum guide listing the Social Studies High School Content Expectations for U.S. History and Geography. The emphasis of the site is a student portfolio platform which creates individual pages for each student on which students posted links to their demonstration of mastery directly aligned with the content expectations. This wiki served as our online environment and offered a place to work collectively, collaboratively, and cooperatively. Wikispaces as a technology tool intensified our capabilities as a class and exemplified the capabilities of technology within Union City.
Our district’s experience through the 1-to-1 initiative has not been without trials and tribulations. Students are continuously contesting the boundaries of acceptable and ethical use. Members of the staff objectify the tools as rewards for desirable behavior. Parents complain about the perceived ineffectiveness of the laptop. A constant barrage of requests from staff members to block sites inherently prohibitive of the learning environment became impromptu agenda items at staff meetings. As a student of educational technology, I recognize the need for more effectual technology instruction among my colleagues. However, as a classroom teacher, I was disabled by my position to affect change where and how it was needed. Witnessing the agonizing steps through the second year of our initiative has worked to inspire my resolve toward a new role in the field of education.
The MAET, in combination with the TAH Turning Points Project, has ignited a passion for improving 21st Century instruction through the wise and deliberate use of networked technologies. This unquenchable flame leading has led me to inquire about the direction in which I would like to take my career. The combined programs in history and technology have generated a deep interest in understanding how online collaborative environments and tools can advance the pedagogy of classroom and pre-service teachers beyond outdated traditional instructional models. I believe that the EPET program’s curriculum and resources are superbly suited to achieving my goals.
Discussions with instructors and colleagues from the MAET program that were in turn realized through new experiences within my professional community, both at UCCS and elsewhere, inspired me to pursue this research degree. The timing of the hybrid doctoral program release could not have been better. My experiences with technology and instruction in a K-12 educational setting reflects the larger contemporary issues in American education. The need for a new and updated model of instruction in America is past due. The rate at which technology is expanding far exceeds the rate at which instruction utilizes it. Dwindling school funding is an easy scapegoat for a problem that already has a partial solution. Students entering the field of education can be provided with the content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge1 sufficient to become thoughtful and skilled adopters of technology in both education and society. However, millions of educators ignore, resist, hesitate, deny, or refuse to acknowledge the role current technology is already shaping students’ lives; they overlook the role it could play in shaping and improving their education.
Therefore, as a research goal, I aim to explore and define the impact of online collaborative environments on student learning and achievement and to develop instructional pedagogy toward this end that can be delivered to districts as professional development. This research goal is a very natural and fitting descendant from the point at which the MAET had left me. Referencing the Synthesis created to capstone the MAET, the elements set in motion as a result of the final three courses coalesced into the online environment employed in my classroom. “Learning Technology Through Design”, “K-12 Online Teaching” and “Electronic Portfolios in Teaching and Learning” (CEP 817, CEP 891, and CEP 813, respectively) collectively led me to consider what I believe to be an ideal classroom environment. Since the summer of 2008, I have designed and employed the closest approximation of that goal with amazing gains in student understanding and achievement, accompanied with increased interest and participation. The total cost of these efforts amount to zero dollars, given the technology that was already in place.
My intended research will pursue ways to bring needed support to classroom teachers within the realm of proven models pioneered by MSU faculty and employed all over the world. Students are encouraged by teachers who employ tools that they believe are making their education better. However, they are limited by teachers whose instruction is rooted in a bygone era, whose style of teaching and management see technology as a distraction to be eliminated rather than embraced. This view hinders the progress of education and demands a solution that delivers effective professional development to districts.
Preservice teachers are increasingly predisposed to view instruction and technology as inherently intertwined. This creates a generational change toward technology-infused instruction. I contend that such a shift comes at too great a cost. Shifting the paradigm of those who are classroom teachers is the challenge of our current educational system. Current efforts at increasing the technological knowledge of educators are negligible under the constraints of intensifying curricular guidelines and the pressures of standardized test scores. Districts are unable to provide needed attention to technology due to state fiscal pressures and dwindling budgets.
Over the past several years, Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra, Associate Professors in the College of Education at Michigan State University in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, have developed the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework describing the interrelationship between the sources of knowledge present in successful teachers. They contend that current educators are inhibited by current professional development and workshops due to an incorrect focus on how technology should be used and an emphasis on specific competencies. It is within this framework that I hope to pursue solutions for problems identified by Koehler and Mishra and to help educators 1) overcome the rapid rate of technology change, 2) identify technology instruction that is specific to content, and 3) attach technology to pedagogy by refocusing on how technology is learned as opposed to what technology.
This EPET program will place me in a position to advance my role in education. I currently consider ways in which to influence our technology related professional development to reflect the “TPACK” model which emphasizes the role of technological knowledge in order to employ the correct tools at the correct time to maximize student learning. Conversations on instructional design are still fresh on my mind, and I am eager to add new elements that will inevitably stem from the rich environment of the summer proseminar and the face-to-face interaction with other educators. Together with the faculty of the nationally renowned MSU Educational Psychology department, I aim to be part of a larger movement and influence the field of education positively and ways consistent with contemporary concerns about literacy, technology, content knowledge, and citizenship in the 21st Century.
The measure of my education continues to be redefined as I seek to add strength both to the efforts in my own learning as well as by increasing the impact I can have on the field of education. The EPET doctoral degree will create opportunities to develop the leadership role I have already assumed and shift educational practice toward the future. A teacher’s education never ceases, therefore creating a lifetime of reward.