Cheers! To a New Beginning

uIn the Summer of 2015 I made a decision that I really did not know all that much about. My career had been a complete and utter whirlwind. I had just completed my fifth year of teaching. I had spent the first two years of my career teaching in North Carolina, the next three years teaching in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah, and was about to embark on teaching Spanish at a new high school in the metropolitan Detroit area in my home state of Michigan, which my family and I had just moved back to. I had also already had some experience as a graduate student. Initially I went back to school so that I could add a physical education endorsement. There would be no more grading tests and essays, wearing basketball shorts or sweatpants to school with a hoodie everyday, living the the dream. I did not make it far into the program before I found out that this was not something that I was really passionate about. I love sports and this move made sense to me because I am a football coach and coaching is one of my greatest passions, but I am also passionate about what I do in my classroom and just could not see myself leaving this behind anytime soon. To keep my options open and to have the opportunity to leave my regular classroom later in my career if I so chose, I next started to pursue my degree in educational leadership. I began my coursework at Utah State University. One of the best things about Utah State University’s educational leadership program is that they thrust you into your internship experience at the very beginning of your first class with them. I am thankful for this as I was quick to learn that the never ending paperwork and dealing with students mostly in a negative way (disciplinary issues) just was not for me.

It was at this point in the Autumn of 2014  that I decided to take a pause and really evaluate what I wanted to do and the direction that I wanted my career to go in. As already mentioned, I am a football coach which occupies my time year-round if I want my teams to enjoy any type of success. In October we also welcomed our first child, Ellie, into the world. When Ellie was born we found out that she had Down syndrome and a very severe heart condition. Ellie has gone through two heart surgeries to date and is absolutely thriving. With the arrival of Ellie I knew that I could no longer chase dreams of wearing shorts and a hoodie to work every day, or tie up money and time in coursework such as educational leadership that I really was not all that passionate about. When we moved back to Michigan I decided that the best way to continue my education would be through an online program because I coached football through most of the year, had a child that was beginning to move around the house freely and get into all sorts of mischief, and we found out not very long after moving home that we were expecting our second daughter.

After researching my options I concluded that I wanted to continue my education through Michigan State University because they offered a wide variety of flexible online master’s degree options. From there I narrowed my options down to topics that I am passionate about and quickly decided on applying to the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program. About to enter my seventh year as a teacher I believed that technology was a means to enhance the education that we are providing to our students, not replace what we are already doing in our classrooms, and certainly not the end-all-be-all of providing an excellent education. As I researched the program a bit and wrote my goals statement for entrance, I got a strong sense that those in the Educational Technology Department at MSU shared values similar to my own and that this program really was a good fit for me.

I entered the program in the Fall of 2015 thinking that I was going to learn new ways to use technology in my classroom. I did learn that, but in my time as a graduate student at Michigan State University I also learned far more. The first class that I took as a part of my graduate coursework was CEP 810 (Teaching Understanding with Technology) with Kim Powell and Emily Stone. While I had already been incorporating technology into my Spanish classes, I quickly learned that there was so much out there that I had little to no idea about. CEP 810 was extremely valuable in my understanding of educational technology, and how it could be incorporated into my classes. This class had an immense impact on shaping my views of what educational technology is. In the past I was using it to replace things that I was already doing, and because administrators wanted to see it, but I was not really bringing any added value to my lessons. This was a fun and engaging course, and taught me that I could use technology to make education fun and engaging for my students as well.

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After my great experience in CEP 810, the next course in my journey would be CEP 811 (Adapting Innovative Technology to Education). This course was taught by Janine Campbell and Amy Pietrowski. CEP 811 was all about Maker Education (#MakerEd) and creativity in the classroom, which directly addressed a problem that I have been pondering for years: the way that our classrooms are organized and the way that many of our classes are run kills creativity. We learned how to take items we already have and repurpose them for new uses (e.g. Using MakeyMakey and Scratch to create a game to help students learn food vocabulary). We were asked to reimagine what our classrooms would look like if we did not have the current limitations that we have, and also afforded the opportunity to try out a wide variety of educational technologies that we had not used before such as StoryBird, SketchUp, Evernote, Zoom, Piktochart, and Easel.ly.

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After CEP 811 my next stop was CEP 812 (Applying Technology to Issues of Practice). I took CEP 812 with Allison Keller. Thinking back about CEP 812, this might be one of my very favorite courses in the program. It was both extremely challenging, and extremely engaging. The goal of CEP 812 was to take what we had learned previously in terms of evaluating technology and resources and think of how we might apply what we had been learning directly into our own classrooms. The most important part of this course was learning how to walk through “wicked problems” that needed to be solved within our entire system of education. This project encouraged brainstorming and collaboration with others through the use of technology, and gave me the knowledge and confidence that I needed to begin addressing these issues within my own school. This project was also of the utmost importance because it showed me that there is more than one approach to every problem out there, and that there can be multiple solutions, and sometimes no solution at all to a problem. It also showed that overtime these wicked problems can evolve, or that new problems can arise as we work through trying to solve the old problems. 

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With my ideas and the ways that I viewed technology in education rapidly evolving, the next course that I took was CEP 815 (Technology in Leadership). Being a football coach and leader of men, I was already deeply fascinated in leadership, different leadership styles, and the roles that leaders can play and how they impact those around them. I felt very comfortable and at home in this course. CEP 815 addressed the idea that not all technology leaders necessarily had to be teachers. I realized that I can take my passion for education and technology and apply it in a wide variety of career fields. Unlike some of the other courses in the program this one was not aimed specifically at teachers; but at those who were passionate about leadership in the field of educational technology. As such, those who took the course were exposed to articles and theorists with new and different ideas about leadership. This course allowed me to hone my skills in problem solving, communicating with those that I am leading in a professional manner, and project development. It also provided experience with communicating with members in the community, addressing their concerns, and addressing problems that may arise when dealing with a diverse collection of stakeholders.

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CEP 800 (Learning in Schools and Other Settings) helped me to develop the skills that I would need in integrating valuable technology into smaller, everyday lessons as opposed to in my courses as a whole. By using my own courses and lesson plans that I was already preparing to guide my learning this course was valuable in helping me to evaluate the technology decisions that I make and also to help me enhance the education that my students are receiving in a positive way. By focusing so closely on my own classroom and the work that I was doing within it, I was able to make a deeper evaluation of my teaching strategies and to apply what I had been learning in the program within my own classroom. Being forced to apply what I was learning was a great experience as it helped me to greatly improve as a teacher, and to get a bit out of my comfort zone and to try new things with my students.

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CEP 816 (Teaching and Learning Across Curriculum) and CEP 820 (Teaching Students
Online) go hand-in-hand for me. In CEP 816 we spent a great time discussing cognitive load, how it can inhibit students, and how we can incorporate New Media Technology Tools (NMTT) into our courses to help reduce that cognitive load that students often experience. CEP 820 was all about experimenting with different online learning management systems (LMS), and redesigning a course that we teach or a unit that we teach within that course. The opportunity to play and experiment with a wide variety of LMS was really beneficial because ultimately it allowed me to pick one that I will be using regularly in the courses that I teach going forward. I experimented with Google Classroom, MyHaiku, Moodle, and with just designing a course website using Weebly. Because I took these courses concurrently, I was able to redesign a unit on Spanish fairy tales so that it could be taught face-to-face, online, or even as a hybrid unit using MyHaiku as the engine to drive the unit. I opted to build a hybrid unit, which incorporated the use of varius NMTT such as
YouTube, Diigo, Popplet, pod-o-matic, Google Docs, and Google Classroom.

As I write this essay I am currently in CEP 807 (Capstone in Educational Technology). CEP 807 thus far has been extremely helpful for a variety of reasons. We are developing a portfolio which will serve a variety of purposes. It can be used as a product in future job searches. I also intend on using it as a resource for teachers that I am collaborating with as we take the time to upgrade our courses. This will allow for the use of technology to enhance our teaching and provide our students with a plethora of real world experiences and the opportunity to collaborate with others in order to develop the problem solving skills that they will need to be productive contributors in a global economy. I also plan on using it to share my knowledge with others and will add to it resources that I gather from conducting professional development among my peers.

As I have reflected on my experiences as a student in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at Michigan State, I have been reminded about how hectic and rewarding my experiences in this program have been. Looking back at my original goal statement of learning how to incorporate technology into my courses I can say that I have been successful, but I am also increasingly aware that my own learning will never be done, and that problems that I have to address within my classroom may never truly be solved while others will only evolve over time.

Should I choose to continue as a classroom teacher, I feel that I have learned many of the skills that I will need to address technology challenges for my students as well as my colleagues in significant ways. In the event that I choose to follow a different path, I also feel that I have been equipped with the skills and knowledge to be a successful technology leader. No matter what I choose to do as time passes, I know that I am now more capable of creating meaningful experiences through the use of technology, being a more effective teacher, and being a truly effective leader.