I joined OST as Academic Director in March 2012. It’s been a hectic ride so far to say the least, but I’ve settled in some and the new year feels like the perfect time to introduce myself and share the story of how I came to OST.
My career spans 25+ years of teaching and directing online programs, most recently for an 18 year stint at University of Illinois. Prior to my career in education, I worked as a software engineer for a company called TRW. During my tenure at TRW, I engaged in many professional development courses including one distance education course that used closed circuit television. In fact, recently I found my certificate of completion of my FORTRAN IV course! I might hang that artifact on my office wall and label it like a museum installation.
Now that you all know I’ve been around awhile, let me tell you why I made the decision to move across the country to work for OST. In a nutshell, it is all about my deep-seated belief in OST’s constructionist pedagogy. In fact, the OST mission statement says it all:
At O’Reilly School of Technology, our passion is Learning by Making. OST fosters exploration, learning, and achievement in an environment where students and instructors are partners in discovery. OST provides distance education where theory is put into practice, and students become accomplished builders of technology.
A colleague of mine at University of Illinois, Bruce Carpenter, once likened traditional teaching to a train that must follow the tracks, thereby capable of taking only one predetermined path to get from point A to point B, while the constructionist approach is more like a car, where the driver can follow any one of hundreds of paths to get from point A to point B. The driver is able to make decisions and continually replot her path based on new information. I find that when we put students in the driver’s seat to steer their own education, they are more engaged, creative, and focused on what they are doing. They take ownership of the educational process not only by learning course material, but by learning how to learn as well. In my experience that constructionist approach has always been the most effective at helping students to succeed, and it’s the style of education that drew me to OST.
Beyond its application of my preferred pedagogy, I was drawn by OST’s formative assessment model which requires students to master the material they are learning in order to complete an assignment or course. Because of that requirement, upon completion of any OST course, students can be certain that they have a full grasp of the material that they signed up to learn. This aspect of OST’s education model offers students assurance that if they do the work, dig into the projects, and engage fully with the material, by the time they complete a course, they will have mastered the skills being presented. Their instructors make sure of it.
Our great instructors are key to OST and student success. Having been an instructor myself for so many years, I’m well aware of the crucial role they play in education, especially online education. In an online learning environment, the living instructor becomes the student’s touchstone and guide. There is no substitute for human exchange in education, and I am gratified to work with an online school that appreciates that.
I am thrilled to be a part of OST’s talented team. Behind the scenes at OST, I have found a group of people who are passionate about what they do and believe firmly in the concept of Learning by Making. It’s my goal to help them continue to build and maintain high-quality, student-centered professional development courses and certificates, and in the near future, degree programs as well.