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Brittni Darrington

December 5, 2017
EDTECH 592
Reflection/Research Paper

A Journey Through the Field of Educational Technology

Introduction

I was not planning on getting a Masters degree at this time in my life. I have two small

children, two part-time jobs, and many other responsibilities, and I did not think I needed to add

another to the list. I was looking into some courses for professional development and stumbled

across the Master of Educational Technology program through Boise State University. I was

intrigued and began to dig deeper. I talked to an advisor, and I was hooked. I knew I had to be

part of this program. This journey has not been easy and has required a lot of hard work and

sacrifice, but it has been well worth it. New career opportunities were presented to me due to my

participation in this program, and I have grown as an educator more than I ever could have

imagined. The lessons I have learned have and will continue to impact my approach to teaching.

Lesson One: Reflections on Learning

Student learning has extended outside of the walls of the traditional classroom, and

teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge. The Internet contains a plethora of

resources and allows students to find information and continue learning from almost any

location. Technology has not only affected the amount of information available to students, but

it has also transitioned the types of skills students need to identify quality information and where

learning takes place (Delgado, Wardlow, McKnight, & OMalley, 2015, p. 398). Gone are the

days where students need to memorize dates, formulas, facts, and figures. It is not sufficient to

ask questions to which students are able to Google the answers. It is time to begin asking

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questions and creating assignments that require students to use critical thinking skills,

collaborate, and that are relevant to their lives. As I have researched project-based learning, I

believe it is a method that accomplishes these three things and improves student learning.

The Buck Institute of Education (2017) defines project-based learning (PBL) as a method

that motivates students to gain life skills and knowledge through an extended, student-

influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully

designed products and tasks. I created a PBL unit about gender, and I learned a lot about how

students learn in the process. A crucial component to a PBL unit is the creation of an authentic

task. Student learning is no longer constrained to a certain time period during the day. It

continues long after the school bell rings. It is important that teachers understand this and help

students connect the learning that occurs in the classroom to the learning that occurs in the real

world (Darvin, 2006). In the PBL unit I designed, students examine the world around them to

identify areas where gender stereotypes and discrimination exist. The PBL unit requires students

to analyze songs, movies, books, advertisements, images, etc. and then create their own form of

media to combat the stereotypes or discrimination they found. This portion of the PBL unit

teaches students a life skill in evaluating the media that is surrounding them and connects a

psychology concept to their lives outside of the classroom.

Jacqueline Darvin (2006) states, People do not live in isolation, and they only rarely

learn in isolation (p. 388). I have found this statement to be especially true. Throughout the

M.E.T. program, I have learned the most when working with my peers whether through

collaborative projects, discussion boards, or peer reviews. I believe my students are much the

same. As I have realized the importance of collaboration to student learning, I have tried to

provide more opportunities for my students to work with and learn from one another. I

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rearranged the desks in my rooms into pods of four to encourage discussion among students. I

began trying to incorporate a collaborative activity into my lessons at least once a week. Students

are able to work in small groups to complete many of the gender PBL activities and interact with

one another through class discussions. Duke, Halvorsen, and Strachan (2016) point out that

literacy research supports the benefits of project-based learning. Studies have shown that

students develop literacy more quickly, and have greater motivation when reading and writing

for purposes beyond school, reading and writing material they see as relevant to their lives, and

collaborating. PBL meets these needs for current learners and has greatly influenced how I

attempt to cater to my students learning preferences.

Lesson Two: The Art & Science of Teaching

My knowledge concerning the art and science of teaching has expanded a great deal

since my participation in the Master of Educational Technology program. Before beginning this

program, my teaching was very instructor-focused. I spent most of my time front and center

trying to keep my students attention while lecturing. Occasionally, I would stray from the routine

and incorporate some sort of technology, but it was not always used in a way that would add

instructional value to the students learning experience. I knew there had to be a better method to

reach my students, but I did not know where to begin until I read about the theory of situated

cognition during the program. The theory of situated cognition is the concept that learning is

most effective when it occurs in the context in which knowledge is created and used (Lauzon,

1999, p. 263). This means learning occurs best in real-life situations. When I read that

definition, it dawned on me that I was trying to get my students to learn concepts without making

them relevant and meaningful to them. I know I do not remember the large majority of what my

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instructors have said during lectures, and I should not expect that to be any different for my own

students.

I started trying to create learning experiences that my students could relate to. Authentic

activities are most simply defined as the ordinary practices of the culture (Brown, Collins, &

Duguid, 1989, p. 34), so I began relating lessons to my students everyday lives. I began using

technology with a purpose rather than to just be able to say I had used it. For example, I had

students record their voices and create a presentation on the gender stereotypes they see in the

media. Lauzon (1999) declares, In order to acquire knowledge a learner must become actively

involved, or socially participate, in a community (p. 263). Throughout the M.E.T. program, the

importance of building a community in which learners can feel comfortable and be involved was

heavily emphasized. Standing up and lecturing was not allowing that community to form. I had

to give students more opportunities to interact and get to know one another. I began

incorporating more group work, discussions, and projects. The atmosphere in my classroom

changed dramatically, and I began to act as more of a facilitator rather than the head of the

classroom.

I have since taken on a new role within my school district. Because of the dramatic

changes in my classroom and the knowledge I have gained from the program, I am now a

technology integration coach for the high school and two middle schools in the district. Part of

my job description is to provide technology training and professional development to the

teachers in each building. I have tried to create a situated learning environment within those

trainings by allowing teachers to interact with each other and with the technology. Learning and

acting are interestingly indistinct, learning being a continuous, life-long process resulting from

acting in situations (Brown et al., 1989, p. 33). We are all life-long learners because we never

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stop acting. I plan to continue giving my learners, regardless of their age, opportunities to act

and therefore opportunities to truly learn.

Lesson Three: The Design and Evaluation of Instruction

The way I design instruction has changed significantly throughout the course of this

program. I am still relatively new to the field of education as this is only my fifth year as an

educator. Most of what I knew about designing lessons before this program came from my own

teachers and my colleagues. I was a little stuck in the lecture and Power Point rut. I have since

tried to diversify my instruction and have taken some ideas from the theory of Universal

Instruction Design (UID). UID highlights the need for a varied and flexible approach to

teaching because no single method supports or challenges all students (Pliner & Johnson, 2004,

p. 107).

I have started incorporating more group work, collaboration, discussion, reading, writing,

multimedia, etc. into my classes. One of the basic principles of UID is to design instruction that

meets the needs of all students, not only those with disabilities. Instruction should cater to a

variety of learner preferences, cultures, and abilities. One group of students that is often

overlooked is those who are considered to be gifted. I have been finding new ways to

differentiate my instruction, and I try to provide resources for students who need further

guidance as well as resources for those who need more of a challenge.

One of the artifacts I am most proud of from my time in the MET program is also one

that required the most time and effort. I created an online course using the Blackboard Learning

Management System. The course covers the Articles of Confederation and the creation of the

U.S. Constitution. There is a great variety of resources and learning activities used throughout

the course. There are materials to read, videos to watch, a VoiceThread presentation, and an

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interactive map. The activities include a jigsaw group activity, creation of shared documents and

presentations, reflections on a learning log, class discussions, synchronous meetings, a role play

activity, and more. The course is designed in a way that is easy to navigate, and it uses a wide

variety of tools. There is something in the course to engage and support all students.

While designing this course, I also learned a great deal about the evaluation of

instruction. I used to think of evaluation as assessing whether or not students had met the

learning objectives, but I have learned there is much more to it than that. I now know that I also

need to evaluate the effectiveness and the design of my instruction. For this online course,

students are required to take a pre and post assessment to gauge their understanding and

achievement of the learning objectives. Before I participated in the M.E.T. program, I probably

would have left it at that. Because I learned that evaluating my instruction is extremely

important, I also included a student satisfaction survey and a subject matter expert evaluation.

Marc Romainville (1999) says students are best qualified to describe their workloads, the

quality of lectures, the enthusiasm of their teachers, the attention teachers pay to student

problems, and the difficulties they might have in understanding course objectives (p. 420). I

agree that we need to know how our students perceive our instruction. The instruction is for the

benefit of the students, so it only makes sense that we take their opinions into consideration and

try to improve it for them. Subject matter experts can also share valuable information that can

improve the quality of instruction.

My instruction is now geared more towards teachers themselves, and I have discovered

my instruction greatly improves when I take into consideration their thoughts and ideas. At the

end of each session I teach, I now administer a survey where teachers tell me what they liked

about the instruction, how they will implement what was taught, and what they would like to see

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done differently. I try to incorporate their feedback, and it is making a difference. I can see that

they are more receptive to my instruction, and I am becoming a more effective instructor.

Lesson Four: Networking and Collaboration

My school district is relatively small. There are five teachers in our Social Studies

department and each teaches different age groups and courses. When I was teaching, there was

not a lot of collaboration among our department. We all felt we had our own content to cover. I

will admit I was perfectly happy with this arrangement because I have always been an

independent person. I like to do things in my own way and on my own terms. This character trait

translated to my work as a teacher. I usually chose to do my lesson plans at home where I could

work alone. I did not see the value in networking and collaborating with other teachers because it

can be time consuming, and I thought I was perfectly capable of designing and implementing

lessons on my own. It was not until I had a couple of assignments as part of the M.E.T. program

that required me to come out of my shell that I began to realize how beneficial networking and

collaboration can be.

One such assignment required me to join a professional learning network. I chose to join

a few different Google Communities involved with educational technology. As I began to

browse through the resources in these communities, I was amazed at the amount of ideas and

resources there were. I was excited to see how many people are working towards integrating

technology into their classrooms just as I was. My excitement made me want to get further

involved. I now use Twitter as a networking tool. I follow many people involved in the

educational technology field and follow many of the Twitter chats between them. I also found

blogging to be a great way to network and communicate with others. I set up an RSS reader and

follow many education blogs. I enjoy reading new posts, commenting, and interacting with other

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educators. When listing the benefits of collaboration, Sharon B. Moore and Randall L. Wells

(1999) stated each participants knowledge base is enhanced and expanded (p. 230). I now

know this statement to be true as my own knowledge has greatly increased as I have become

more involved with other communities of learners.

Another assignment forced me to work closely with some of my peers within the

program. We were given case studies with problems to solve and were required to collaborate on

a presentation to be shared with the rest of our class. I found myself enjoying having others to

converse and share ideas with. I learned much more than I would have if I had completed the

assignment on my own. It made me realize that there is a lot of value in collaborating with other

educators even if they are not within my same content area. Moore and Wells (1999) also state

that collaboration must be approached with a positive attitude in order for outcomes to be

successful (p. 230). I went back to school with that positive attitude and began talking to the

English teachers about how I could better incorporate writing assignments into my classes. I

began talking to the other Social Studies teachers about how they might approach a particular

topic. As I worked more closely with other teachers, I began to see growth in my lessons, my

teaching abilities, and my relationships with both my coworkers and my students.

In my position as a technology integration coach, I have continued to try to collaborate

with others as well as encourage others to collaborate with one another. I work closely with the

other technology integration specialists in our district to share ideas and tools that will help us

succeed. I also created a You Can Book Me account that allows teachers to schedule time with

me to come into their classrooms to brainstorm, discuss, lesson plan, etc. The collaboration effort

I am most proud of is the creation of what we named the Learn.Teach.Change. Cohort. I am

the facilitator of a group of teachers that meet once a month to discuss how to better integrate

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technology into our classrooms. In this group, we collaborate on lesson plans, share new tools

and ideas, and share our successes and failures. I have learned that collaboration can create a

safe climate and build trust between teachers, which then provides opportunities to give feedback

and reflect together (Dobber, Akkerman, Verloop, & Vermunt, 2014, p. 70).

Lesson Five: The Research-Practice Connection

As a technology integration coach, one of my main responsibilities is to encourage

teachers to make changes and implement new tools and strategies in their classrooms. Teachers

are not always enthusiastic about the changes. In fact, there are some teachers who are openly

resistant to the changes they are asked to make. I have found that if I present research that

supports the tools and strategies I am asking them to use, they have been more willing to give it a

try. Research can open our minds to new ideas and possibilities. Throughout the M.E.T.

program, I have made many changes to my own pedagogy and teaching. Two of the most

influential changes came due to the research I conducted.

The first change I made was the way I approach social media in the classroom. I

completed an annotated bibliography with sources examining the use of social media in

education. One of the studies done found that social media created digital spaces where

teachers and students work together to sustain learning and improve their relationships (Nowell,

2014, p. 112). I found many resources that supported the use of social media to improve student-

teacher relationships. It also got me thinking about our job as teachers to help students learn how

to be safe and communicate appropriately when using social media. I decided to give it a try. I

created an Instagram account for one of my classes, and my students loved it. We would post

photos of the assignments we were completing in class, discuss ideas through the comments, and

remind one another of important dates. My students saw that I was trying to meet them at their

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level, and the interaction on social media added to the sense of community in our classroom. If I

had not done research on the use of social media in school, I probably would have continued on

thinking social media should be banned from schools, and my students and I would have missed

out on a great opportunity.

The second great change I have made due to research is my understanding of digital

natives. The term digital native is one that I have heard many times since I began working in

education. Technology can be seen all over in our society, so it was easy for me to see how it

could be perceived that todays students have a deeper understanding of technology than

previous generations. I did not think much about it until one of my courses in the M.E.T.

program presented the idea of digital natives being a myth. Helsper and Eynon (2010) state that

breadth of use, experience, self-efficacy and education are just as, if not more, important than

age in explaining how people become digital natives (p. 504). Because our students were born

at a certain time, many assume they have sophisticated digital skills. The problem with this

notion is no one is born with digital skills. Kirschner and Bruyckere (2017) point out the skills

and competences attributed to this generation of students are the same as any other skills and

competences, namely that they need to be properly taught and acquired before they can be

applied (p. 137). This research made me rethink how I was choosing to implement technology

in my classroom. I quit assuming my students knew how to use the technology and began taking

the time to teach them how to use the tools before applying them to the classroom. For example,

before asking my students to write blog posts and interact with one other through comments, I

spent a class period allowing students to explore existing blogs and then taught them how to

create one and begin posting. Before doing the research, I would have thought my students

would be familiar with blogs and would not have taken the time to teach them how to use them

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properly. I have seen the importance of research and staying current in the field of educational

technology. As a result of the M.E.T. program, I am continually researching and trying to

improve myself as an educator.

Closing Thoughts

My journey through the field of educational technology has been exciting, enlightening,

and enriching. My participation in the M.E.T. program renewed my enthusiasm for teaching. As

a result, I was given the opportunity to make a career change and become a technology

integration coach for my school district. I have found that I am very passionate about helping

other teachers integrate technology in their classrooms, and I want to share all the lessons I have

learned from this program with others. I will be forever grateful to Boise State University and the

Master of Educational Technology program for restoring my love for teaching and for instilling a

desire to be a lifelong learner.

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References

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Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

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strategies derived from situated cognition research. Journal of Adolescent & Adult

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