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Online Master’s Degree in Educational Technology Makes Positive Impact in Schools and Corporations

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – JANUARY 17, 2012 – As administration, faculty, staff and students gathered on Friday, Jan. 13 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the College of Education at The University of Texas at Brownsville, special attention was paid to a recent high ranking of the College of Education’s Online Master’s in Educational Technology.

Marie Evans visits with students in a computer lab at Donna High School.This program, now entering its 12th year, was ranked 14 out of 151 institutions of higher education in U.S. News & World Report’s first-ever rankings of online higher education programs on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

“Our graduates in this program are making tremendous impact both in education and in the corporate realm,” said Dr. Michael Sullivan, Associate Professor in the UTB College of Education’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation. “We are proud to have numerous success stories.”

One such story is 2007 graduate Marie Evans, who was named Director of Technology at Donna Independent School District that year.

“Four years ago, the main concern was servicing and providing equipment,” Evans said. “It was clear we needed to shift the focus to instruction techniques, practices and learned applications. We were consumed with operating the hardware, not concentrating on opening up ways for teachers to learn effective use of technology.”

With the positive impact the addition of educational technology was making at Donna ISD, Evans teamed up with Dr. Janice Butler, Assistant Professor in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation. They co-author a Connections Grant through TEA and received $850,000 that is providing 70 master technology teachers throughout Donna ISD. The grant also includes a 1:1 laptop initiative for 1,000 8th grade students in the district.

“Our goal is to have one or two master technology teachers at each campus,” Evans said. “Thus far, about half have completed their coursework, and another half are soon to finish. This way, every school will be equipped with teachers, no matter their subject area, who can assist their campus colleagues in creating meaningful curriculum using technology.”

UTB now leads the state in the number of MTT graduates, and Donna ISD now boasts more MTT certified teachers than any other school district in the state.

The field of educational technology is applicable in not only education but also private industry. Elizabeth O’Connor, who just graduated from the UTB program in December 2011, is a curriculum developer for Apple in Austin, Texas.

“When I was interested in the position at Apple, I asked around to find out what I needed to learn in order to get one of those jobs,” O’Connor said. “Colleagues and mentors in the business recommended I enroll in UTB’s online masters in educational technology to complement my existing education and experience.”

O’Connor said the program was tailor-made for her. She and her husband were working full-time and had two small children, one not yet in school.

“There was little time to attend classes at traditional times,” she said. “I did most of my work after the children went to bed.”

Both women had high praise for the support they received from their instructors and advisors throughout the master’s program.

“My advisor, Dr. Sam Pan, was great,” O’Connor said. “Everyone in the program was so willing to help. And I liked the diversity of my online classmates, being able to meet exciting people on different paths and in different careers. Many of us are still in touch, sharing news and networking about job openings.”

O’Connor and Evans said developing relationships with classmates as online students is no different from sitting with them in a traditional classroom. Their assignments incorporated both working alone and working online with classmates, using various tools including Blackboard, Blackboard’s newly acquired Collaborate and Second Life.

Master’ degree graduates in educational technology walk away with not only a degree but also an e-portfolio that demonstrates their ability.

“For me, it was really cool that I was able to apply my studies to my job immediately,” O’Connor said. “I graduated hitting the ground running.”

Evans did the same, being appointed to the position of Director of Technology at Donna ISD upon graduation, when she immediately began changing the culture at the district regarding the approach to technology.

“Donna teachers are becoming highly adept at using a variety of technology, and they are sharing it with one another to enrich our educational environments,” she said. “It’s very transformative. Using Web 2.0 technology is engaging, authentic, fast, free, easy and collaborative. It is not a substitute for good teachers; it is a tool for teachers.”

Evans has success stories too many to count. One of her favorites is about the senior English teacher who connects with her students using technology while they read The Canterbury Tales. She engages the class by creating a Canterbury Tales wiki and online poster; students enjoy learning as they integrate the glogster into the wiki, using links and pictures and videos and posters online.

“We don’t need to redo everything to include technology,” Evans said, “but to use it just as we would another tool like a pen, pencil or sheet of paper.”

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