Synthesizing What I've Learned
Wow! What a whirlwind my master’s program has been! I have learned so much in this past year and a half, and it has deeply affected how I approach teaching and learning on a daily basis.
When I decided to get my master’s, I initially struggled to find the program that would be the best fit for me. I was driven back to school by my deep love of learning and a desire to know more about the world of education. But I was left asking myself what program intrigued me the most; did I want to get a master’s in education, in Language Arts, in administration, or something else? It took me several months of introspection to discover what I was most passionate about in my career; I thought of all the teaching projects I’ve done that sucked me in, made me excited, and made me lose track of time. I soon realized that I was most passionate about writing curriculum that integrates technology into the classroom, and I wanted to learn more about both of those topics. I had so many questions such as “What does the future of education look like in our technology-centered society?” “How do I keep up with all this new technology?” “How much is too much?” “How do I get other teachers on board?”
When I started looking for programs, I initially sought out universities with Curriculum and Instruction degrees, not realizing that Educational Technology existed as a field. When I came across the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University and several other universities, I quickly became interested! This is what I needed! - to continue studying how to innovate in the field of education and bring more cutting-edge technologies into the classroom. On top of that, a degree in Educational Technology would teach me how to do this well, especially in an ever-evolving state where new technologies come out every day. I fell in love with Michigan State’s program, and all the course descriptions got me excited to learn more. I am so glad that I decided to apply and continue with this program. It taught me some invaluable information that sets me up for success in various educational roles in the future.
My first course, CEP 810: Teaching for Understanding with Technology, was a rude awakening that I had possibly been approaching educational technology in the wrong way. In this course, I learned about a technology integration framework called the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) model which proposes a healthy balance between the content being taught and the technology and pedagogy being used. I had vaguely heard of this before from my technology coordinator at my work, but I really had no idea what it meant. Essentially, I discovered that I had too often been making technology the focus of an assignment and forcing technologies to fit the curriculum instead of vice-versa. In order to properly integrate technology, I had to have a solid understanding of the curriculum design process and realize that everything in a curriculum must point toward the final outcome in order for the lessons to be impactful for the students.
In my second course, CEP 813: Electronic Assessment for Teaching and Learning, we took a deeper dive into the curriculum design process when we read Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design and discussed how to properly design and assess students using various technological tools. I was excited to learn more about Wiggins and McTighe’s backward planning since I had been using their methods for a few years but had never stopped to actually read their book and analyze their theories. I fell in love with the way Wiggins and McTighe describe learning as a growing series of transfer that each student must make and how educators can facilitate that natural transfer of ideas by carefully crafting formative and summative assessments along the way. I worked on several projects in this class that challenged my thinking and made me start approaching student assessments in a different way. For example, playing a game can be a form of formative assessment where students gain feedback based on their performance; this helps them internalize the material and polish their ideas leading up to a summative assessment.
The concept of leveraging the right technologies to assist in the transfer process was further developed when I took my CEP 800: Learning in School and Other Settings course and my CEP 811: Adapting Innovative Technologies in Education course. In these courses, we explored various learning theories throughout history and the role of innovation in our society. I researched and developed my own theory of learning that reflects my understanding that students’ experiences are what matters the most in education. Teachers need to find ways for students to explore new concepts for themselves and to create/innovate something that represents their transfer of knowledge. This also goes hand-in-hand with the “maker culture” that is now popular in certain education circles, and I developed several projects and lesson plans that explore how to bring such innovative projects into the classroom.
Reading about all the various pedagogical theories and models for developing curriculum made me really question how I approach learning in my own classroom and how I assess students and integrate technology on a daily basis. I don’t want to do projects just because they seem fun, but I want them to truly align with my objectives and measure how well each student is able to take in the information and use it in a new, innovative way.
My next big takeaway from the MAET program is everything I learned about leadership - particularly technology leadership. In my CEP 815: Technology and Leadership class, many of our readings and conversations centered on lessons from the business world; publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Forbes have written countless articles on the subject, and I was shocked that there is so much overlap between the world of business and the world of education. We discussed various leadership theories and styles, and practiced taking our current leadership level and moving it up to the next in different scenarios. We wrote memos and vision statements and practiced what we would say or do in certain situations.
I took all this theory and practice to work with me and started identifying various colleagues’ leadership styles. I also began questioning how I can leverage my relationships to initiate certain policies around my campus and around my district. I hope to continue using my knowledge of leadership theory in my current leadership roles on campus and when leading changes in the future.
Meyerson, D. E. (2008). Rocking the boat : how to effect change without making trouble (p. 8). Harvard Business Press.
This class got me to think about educational leadership as a whole and the different forms it can take. There are leaders of districts, leaders at the campus level, and even leaders at the state and national level. But what type of leadership styles do they have, and are they effective for solving the biggest challenges we face in education today, including inequality of funding, access to technology and resources, and teacher turnover rates that can disrupt the learning environment. I started asking myself what I can do about such issues and realized that I can first, continue to ask the hard questions, and second, continue to educate myself about the discrepancies in education and the process of policy creation. I also realized that educational policy is its own unique branch of educational leadership, and there are ways for me to get involved by attending district meetings, keeping up with the state board of education news, and potentially even going to school again to learn more about educational policy.
I would say that the ultimate expression of my learning throughout the MAET program, from innovation and curriculum to educational leadership, is the process of design. I took two courses that focused on design theory (CEP 817: Learning Technology by Design and CEP 812: Applying Educational Technology to Issues of Practice), and I was surprised to learn that most of our material overlaps with engineering processes and principles. This makes perfect sense since design theory can be applied to anything whether it be a tangible object or a teaching curriculum. In these classes, we studied Stanford’s “Design Thinking Bootleg” and Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question” to guide us in our iterative thinking and questioning processes.
The principles I acquired from these two courses have boosted my confidence when designing things like curriculum or lessons for my students. Now, I am sure to slow down and take my time, carefully documenting the questions I have along the way along with the students’ and teachers’ responses to what I create. I want the work I do to have an impact on others and be useful for them, and the design process helps me carefully think through every aspect of a project so that it is the best I can possibly make it.
Overall, I am so happy I had the opportunity to grow and develop my craft as an educator through the MAET program, and I would highly recommend this program to anyone wishing to develop their own pedagogy, educational leadership, and innovative skills.