M.Ed., S.T.E.M., Project: We Must Embrace Our Inner Teacher Geek

TBDGradONENote: This is the introduction to Tammy Dunbar’s M.Ed., S.T.E.M., Project for Teachers College of San Joaquin. Tammy successfully defended her project to the TCSJ Committee on Thursday, May 30, 2013.

The estimated amount of unique information generated worldwide in 2012 is four exabytes. By 2017, that will have increased 13-fold (Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, 2012). The only way to effectively access, parse and use that information is through digital technology. This technology has become a vital part of almost every career for which we are preparing our students.

Some educators remain uncomfortable with anything more sophisticated than an overhead projector and the easy graders online to help lighten their workload. But if we’re afraid to try new technologies and techniques, how can we help our students become comfortable learning not just today’s technology but learning to adapt to the exciting ways technology is going to evolve after they’ve left our classrooms?

When I started teaching in 2001, my classroom in a 60-year-old, title 1 school contained a single iMac computer for myself and 34 students. As I eagerly attended conferences and institutes to deepen my understanding of teaching, I became increasingly frustrated. It was depressing to see all the ways technology could enhance my teaching, but not have access to any of it. Without the tools, it would be impossible to prepare my students for the future.

I soon realized that if my students were going to have access to any modern technology, I would have to help them get it. This led to my “beg, borrow and buy” philosophy. I begged my program coordinator to allow me to participate in a tutoring program that provided participating teachers with an eMac; I borrowed projectors from our county office of education or from my district to use in my classroom for big events; and I brought my camcorder from home so students could use it.

Finally, my district gave me the opportunity to write an Enhancing Education Through Technology grant. It took us two tries, but in 2007 we were awarded a $208,000 grant which included a laptop cart for our students and equipment and training for our teachers.

At my school, I am part of a great team of teachers who were trained in a small collaborative environment using those EETT funds. We had 50 hours of educational technology development during each year of the two-year grant. Serving as one of two lead teachers, I helped create a community in which we could learn, explore and even make mistakes using technology. Though we didn’t know it as Action Research at the time, our EETT professional development experience was true Action Research, and we continue to hone and improve our educational technology proficiency even three years after the grant ended in 2010.

John Merris-Coots of the California Department of Education spoke at TCSJ during one of my classes and talked about “positive uncertainty” — the ability to accept and even be positive about the uncertainty of the future. Intrigued, I researched positive uncertainty and found that its principles form scaffolding for both teacher development and student success. Teachers must be focused and flexible, so that we set reasonable goals. We must feel free to adjust those goals as we learn more about our world and ourselves. Positive uncertainty requires us to be both realistic and optimistic, so that we reflect honestly on our strengths and skills and see them as positive parts of ourselves (Gelatt & Gelatt, 2003).

The majority of professional development in education focuses on what to teach (subject matter proficiency) rather than the ongoing learning experience (Webster-Wright, 2009).

One of the most important thrusts of teacher learning today must help teachers better understand and use technological tools so that they can be shared with their students. My goal is to make a real-world difference to teachers who are uncomfortable using technology in their classrooms.

My TCSJ Masters project will focus on creating an eBook and accompanying website that can inspire technology-shy teachers to try one or two new things, find success and want to do more. My eBook (Teacher Geek is Chic!) will be written for teachers who are beginners (or “newbies”) to using technology in their curriculum and classrooms in order to give them a safe, easy and non-judgmental platform to start integrating technology in their lesson plans. My website (Teacher Geek is Chic!) will give teachers a comfortable online community in which to discuss and share new technologies and learn to embrace them.

Three of the teachers from our EETT Grant experience will be surveyed, interviewed and observed in order to get qualitative feedback on the content and effectiveness of the eBook and website. After TCSJ graduation, I hope to share the eBook and website with any and all interested teachers.

Even though we are mostly digital immigrants, we should be modeling our “positive uncertainty” about learning and using technology so that our students are unafraid of what they’re going to see in five, ten or even twenty years. Our students need to see that we are comfortable learning a new piece of software, manipulating a digital tool (such as a camera) or Googling an answer. They need to see that sometimes it takes two or three attempts to master a new piece of technology or process. They need to see that even though we may be a little intimidated, we are not afraid to learn. They need to know that as technology continues to change, they will need to continue to learn how to use it — just as their teachers have.

We need to overcome our trepidations and embrace our inner teacher geek.

©Tammy Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M., summa cum laude, Teachers College of San Joaquin, Class of 2013

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