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Situational Synthesizer

Stepping Forward While Looking Back ...

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It was a summer day back in 2007 when I decided it might be time for me to continue my personal education journey.  I had finished my undergrad 5 years earlier, and I just felt it was the right time.  Back in 2002 I was pretty confident that I wanted to earn my master’s degree, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to study.  The obvious choice was to get an MBA since my undergrad was a technology focused business degree, but I just wasn't sure if that was my best option.  Considering advice from many different directions, I decided to work for a few years and let my path just develop and see what presented itself.  Over the five years from the time I graduated with my undergrad, and the time I decided to go back to school there was a trait that really started to develop.  I found myself constantly trying to teach people things.  I made it a point to learn something from everyone I interacted with, and at the same time I would try to pass on some knowledge that I had stumbled upon over the years.  I found that I really enjoyed helping people be the best person they could be, and that I seemed to have a knack of connecting with people and getting them comfortable so they are ready and willing to learn.

Thinking back further than 2007, I wanted to see if I could identify the earliest sign of wanting to teach and to spread knowledge.  This exercise took me back to a winter morning in 1993.  I was a freshman in high school and was riding into school with my father like I did every morning.  I am not entirely sure how the conversation started, but I remember my father telling me that many times the best coaches in the world are not always the best players.  He made reference that many people can play the games, but it takes the right type of person to be able to motivate and teach these players to be the best they could.  It wasn't that this conversation instantly changed my life, but looking back on it now, I definitely realize it did have an impact.  During my time in high school I was always part of team activities like sports and band.  I didn't think much of it at the time, but when participating in those activities I was regularly voted in by my peers to be a leader.  I am not sure what it was, but apparently there was something there.

After graduation day in 1997, I looked at the landscape unfolding in front of me and realized that technology was something I was interested in, it was a growing market and it was something that showed lots of promise and security for the future.  The idea of being a teacher still wasn't on my radar, but I continued to participate in as many activities as I could, and being put into leadership positions continued.  After first earning an associate’s degree from a local community college to save money, I transferred to a state university and graduated with my bachelors only a few years later.  What a relief it was to accomplish a task that no one else in my family had done before.  I took some time to decide reflect on where I was and where I wanted to be, and then finally found a job where I could utilize my technology skills, and at the same time allowed my inner teacher to begin to emerge.

Fast forward back to 2007 and I was at another crossroads in regard to my education path.  I had been working with technology, and have been doing it in the education industry for a few years, and as I continued to evaluate at the current landscape with a more scrutiny I noticed that this concept of online education was an emerging one, and based on everything I could tell, it was one that was likely going to be a big deal.  Working in this environment had not only allowed me to use my skills and interest in an emerging industry, but it introduced me to a new side of teaching and learning that I had not yet been a part of during all of my education.   It also allowed me to see the way that the education community in general functioned, or more precisely, how it was malfunctioning in front of my very eyes.  It was obvious to me there was a problem, and over the next few years those problems started to be more apparent to the entire state, and the next thing you know change was in motion.  I realized that my technology skills coupled with my desire to help people grow was a great mix of skill.  These together could allow me to push the envelope of education, not just the everyday teaching, but the policy that dictates its direction.  At that point I decided that it was time to get an advanced degree and I choose to do it in educational technology at Michigan State University.

Looking back at the journey at MSU I can think of a lot of highs and a lot of lows.  One thing that I have to say is that while each students experience is unique to them, I feel like mine was even more unique given my situation.  Of all the things I could point to that made this situation unique, by far the one that sticks out the most was the amount of time that it took me to earn my degree.  I started my master’s journey in the summer of 2007 and I finished it in the spring of 2013.  While usually I might say that stretching a degree out that long would decrease from the value, in this particular instance I think it afforded me something that not many people can’t claim; I got to watch the industry I was learning change in front of me.  From the time I started in working in online education in 2004 to the time I completed my degree nine years later, the concept of online education was almost unrecognizable.  It started with simple HTML pages and basic content delivered in a new way, and now we have very interactive experiences like simulations and synchronous video meetings.  We went from taking courses using desktop computers to completing courses on smart phones and tablets.  From what I can tell, this is only the beginning.

When I consider all the course work and all the instructors that I have interacted with over the past six years, there are a few that stand out.  One course that always seems to get referenced was my Technology and Leadership course taught by Dr. Nick Sheltrown in the summer of 2012.  This was not my first course with Dr. Sheltrown and I knew that it was going to be demanding.  I also knew that the content of this course was likely the most relevant for what I wanted to do.  I understood the need for schools and districts to run leaner, and that they need to be more efficient with what they have in order to teach an ever growing population of students.  Technology is many times the answer to this scenario, but all too often we look to technology as a panacea for every situation.  From this class the thing that I always seem to reference is the concept of mission versus instrumental thinking.  The basic way I think about this concept is simple.  Don’t just implement technology for the sake of implementing technology.  Technology is not the focus, the learning or the mission is the focus, the technology just allows you to deliver and accomplish that mission in a more efficient way.  This concept is something that I continue to consider in every situation I face, not just those that are in regard to education and its policy.

Another course that seemed to have a big impact on my development and my thinking is one that I just recently finished.  The course was Creativity in Teaching and Learning and I completed it in the fall of 2012.  The thing about this course that really seemed to resonate with me was both the concept of the course and course reading itself.  The book Sparks of Genius: the Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People written by Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein was an excellent read that was full of small consumable chunks of information that changes the way you consider even the smallest elements in your everyday life.  It is easy for me to say that the concepts covered in this course, and in that book, have allowed me to understand issues and situations from perspectives that normally wouldn't have been on my radar.  I would really suggest taking a look at a few of my examples that I have displayed in my showcase.

Finally, creating a portfolio has been a great way to cap it all off.  Being that it took me so long to complete my degree, I sometimes forget about all the lessons that I learned in my earlier journey.  This exercise of going over each of my courses and considering how they contributed to the final outcome was great experience and way to tie it all together.  Most of all, the one part about the portfolio project that I am going to continue to remember is lesson that I learned from my work in my technology and leadership course, and that I adapted and implemented here.  This concept was the idea that I touched on earlier, the idea of mission thinking versus instrumental thinking.  Usually in the past when I had a task like creating a portfolio, I thought about all the technology I could implement.  Since I was a technology person dropped into education, technology was my crutch.  Looking back to my first course in my master’s course we made a portfolio, but there was a big difference between what I made then and what I am making now.  That one was focused on the presentation, and less focused on the content.  I learned a hard lesson that term, I learned that if it’s too difficult to keep a site updated that it doesn't matter how flashy it is.  The content gets outdated, and when the content is out of date, its irrelevant.  That is why I made a decision at the beginning of this course to focus on the content I present, instead of the way I present it.  That isn't to say that I sacrificed design or aesthetics, but I did make sure to choose a hassle free way to do it.  If this is the only lesson I take away from my capstone course; which I know it won’t be, I would still be very pleased.

The journey was long, and at many times put my patience to the test.  As I sit mere weeks away from the finish line, the thought of me donning a hood as I receive my degree is one that brings a genuine smile to my face.  I think back on all the years that it took me to earn this degree, I think back to the weekends of stress, and the weeks of preparation and hard work that I endured and it only makes the reward that much more satisfying.  While I am not certain which direction the next step will be in, I am very certain that I will always remember the ones that got me to the place I stand at any given time.

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