Combining Ideas Into a Complex Whole
By: Angela Marocco
Combining ideas into a complex whole is exactly what I have done in my MAET coursework---I have learn to develop a complex personal learning network in order to create several educational technology projects that are related literacy, a key aspect to education.
When I started the MAET program I had just completed my second year of teaching and I was ready to learn new approaches to my teaching practice. I had always been interested in technology and I began to experiment with technology in my third grade classroom. So, when I heard about the Masters of Arts in Educational Technology program (MAET) I was immediately interested in what the program had to offer. When I first began my coursework in MAET I enrolled in cohort held on the campus of Michigan State University during the summer of 2011.
The six-week summer cohort encompassed three courses as an introduction into MAET. Although MAET can be completed entirely in an online setting I chose to enroll in this cohort that meet both in person for four weeks and online for two weeks. During this intense six-week cohort I began to discover what every teacher should know: the educational purposes of technology are endless. My world as an educator suddenly became much more complex, every lesson and unit that I had planned could be changed to incorporate technology with content and pedagogy, which is also known as TPACK. I learned what it would take to adapt to my 21st century learners and be an influential educator.
With my discovery of what it meant to be a 21st century teacher, I quickly realized that in order to evolve as a teacher I needed to develop a strong personal network. As I completed my first course within my cohort, CEP 810: Teaching for Understanding with Technology, I learned how to use my two most important tools: technology resources and my peers. The fast pace course demanded that I was constantly learning new applications. Although I had the drive to learn independently, I learned the value of collaborating with my peers. The cohort provided me with the affordance of both in person and online collaboration. My peers helped me to troubleshoot, which allowed me to become masterful at several technology applications for the classroom. I was introduced to online tools such as Google docs, screen casts, blogging, RSS feeds, video tutorials, and pod casts. These collaborative tools continue to allow me to reach out to fellow educators as I presently develop new uses of technology in the classroom.
As I continued on in my summer cohort I began CEP 812: Applying Educational Technology to Issues of Practice. A major assignment within CEP 812 was the Wicked Problem Project. This extensive project challenged me to pin point one glaring problem within education and propose a technology related approach to address the problem. At this point in time I had just finished my second year of teaching. One area of concern that I was noticing in my teaching and across my school was that many students struggled with reading, which made school a frustrating environment for them. I found this to be a huge concern, or in other words a wicked problem.
Once I identified this problem I developed my wicked problem project to address struggling readers in the classroom. I proposed a plan that incorporated audio books, blogging and online comprehension quizzes through a program called Accelerated Reader. I was challenged to incorporate the theories of TPACK so that I could be sure to address content and pedagogy with the technology tools in my plan. I also was able to research and apply the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL helped me to devise a plan that would meet the needs of all of my literacy learners. My devotion to this project motivated me to implement my plan into my classroom the following school year. My students experienced tremendous success and growth with this plan in place. It was very powerful to put my Wicked Project into practice and see my students grow as readers. It was at this time that I became passionate about improving literacy in the classroom setting.
As I finished my summer cohort classes I began a literacy course titled TE 846: Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners in fall of 2011. I was excited to take this course due to my newly developed passion of improving literacy with technology. This class offered me the opportunity to complete a case study project. The case study project entailed studying and tutoring two students in my classroom that struggled with literacy skills. I chose to study two students in my class that were two years behind grade level in their reading. Both these students also struggled with spelling and writing. The case study challenged me to design tutoring lessons that meet the specific needs of the two students. I was then able to implement the lessons and collect extensive data on the students in order to gain a deeper understanding of their struggles with literacy. I wrote a case study report that closely analyzed student work, running records and assessments. Completing this course and case study allowed me to understand various factors that cause learners to struggle with literacy such as phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension skills and confidence.
After completing TE 846 I decided to follow a lifetime dream of mine: studying abroad in Europe. I always waned to study abroad and I was very pleased to discover that I would have the opportunity to do so as a master’s student. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to complete my second year of MAET courses in Dublin, Ireland with an overseas cohort during the summer of 2012. The overseas cohort was designed to complete nine credits in a four-week period. I knew this would be a challenge for me, especially while living in a different country.
The biggest surprise to the overseas experience was the amount of group work that was assigned. Over half of the work that I completed in Dublin was collaborative in nature. Although group work can pose it is challenges, I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and experience that I gained from working with my peers. I was again reminded of the benefit of learning from my peers and teaching my peers. I was able to explore new technologies in various group projects such as video production, photography and digital story telling.
Working with multiple people on multiple projects taught to me lessons in leadership and collaboration. Often times our group work didn’t go as planned, but together we overcame obstacles and produced high quality work. One example of this was a project called the Understanding Understanding project. For this project a group of us decided to create a video research project that explored the misconceptions people had in regards to Saint Patrick’s day. We thought this project would be perfect considering we were living in Ireland at the time. However, we found that the data that we collected did not match what we expected. This made the video production very challenging for the group. However, together we pulled together to look closely at our data and revise our project. We ended up with a well-received project and we all felt an overwhelming sense of teamwork and pride. This experience was invaluable because it taught me what it takes to be a technology leader: perseverance and patience.
An additional experience that I had in my overseas program was a project to create and host a technology conference with my classmates. Hosting and producing this large scale conference was a major aspect of CEP 815: Technology & Leadership. My classmates and I invested endless hours of time and energy and discovered what it meant to lead others in a group setting. I organized and held a literacy themed workshop on digital story telling with another classmate during the conference. This was a perfect opportunity for me to practice my leadership skills once while also further exploring literacy. Through this project I was able to master digital storytelling and teach local educators how to implement the tool into their classrooms. I am grateful for this experience because it allowed me educate my peers in technology, which is a common duty of a technology coordinator. Many participants were very receptive to our workshop and excited to have the opportunity to learn from us. Hosting this digital story telling workshop at the technology conference inspired me to consider pursuing a position as a technology coordinator.
Soon after celebrating the success of our technology conference I was challenged with a project called Dream It as part of CEP 822 Approaches to Educational Research. Dream It was a grant based project that challenged me to research and propose a technology based grant. After exploring various options I was again drawn to the theme of literacy. I revisited my Wicked Problem project proposal for inspiration. In my Wicked Problem project I proposed the use of audio books to increase reading fluency, comprehension and student motivation. However, my implementation of audio books was often times limited due to budget constraints. So, I decided to write my Dream It project for an audio book library and the correlating equipment. I appreciated the opportunity to merge two projects from two classes within the MAET program. Dream It truly was a culminating project that pushed me to apply what I learned about TPACK in my MAET coursework along with I learned about literacy in TE 846.
After completing my overseas coursework I started my final class within MAET, CEP 807 Proseminar in Educational Technology. In CEP 807 my task was to complete an online capstone portfolio to showcase and reflect on my work within the MAET program. As I completed this course I was again reminded of the idea of combining ideas into a complex whole. The online capstone portfolio gave me a chance to gather all of my hard work and compile it into an appealing online showcase. Initially it was a challenge to decide how to display and represent 30 credits worth of dedicated work. However, once again I had the benefit of collaborating with my peers in order to produce my best work. A major component of CEP 807 was working in small groups to provide feedback to one another on the progress of our portfolios. Like the many times before in MAET, I was given the invaluable opportunity to learn from my peers and teach my peers. With diligent feedback to one another I was able to help my peers produce their best portfolios and in exchange they supported my efforts to make an exemplar portfolio.
As I take a final look back on my MAET studies I am proud to say that I had a meaningful experiences that taught me how to be a technology leader while following my passion of literacy in the classroom. From the beginning in my summer cohort the Wicked Problem Project taught me how to tackle the educational dilemma of literacy struggles while applying my knowledge of TPACK. I focused in on my passion for literacy in TE 846 and later was able to apply my research to technology-based projects such as Dream It. As I continued my studies overseas I quickly learned to use my peers as resources and was given many opportunities to shine as a technology leader in projects such as the technology conference. I am confident that I have had many influential experiences with MAET that equate to a complex base of knowledge and skills that I can apply in my future as a technology educator.
As I prepare to complete my master’s degree in Educational Technology I find myself experiencing a variety of emotions. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I look back on all of the coursework and assignments I have completed. I feel prideful when admiring my new frame I purchased for my graduate diploma. I feel nervous and anxious for the next chapter in my career. Most importantly, I feel reflective as I sit down to write this synthesis paper. To inspire my reflection of my graduate studies, I looked up the meaning of synthesis. In the dictionary I found “the process of combining ideas into a complex whole.” This particular meaning struck home for me.