Embracing the Possibilities of Educational Technology

A career of collaboration

Embracing the Possibilities of Educational Technology

Bob Maloy and Sharon Edwards collaborate to turn teaching upside down, sometimes literally.

Proffesors Bob Maloy and Sharon Edwards

College of Education faculty Bob Maloy and Sharon Edwards have collaborated on courses, research, books, and projects for three decades. Throughout that time, they have consistently and enthusiastically embraced the educational technology available, reinventing their work and the student experience, vastly expanding access to teaching and learning resources, and, in Maloy’s words, “learning how all of this can transform schools from the institutions of the past to the organizations of the future.”

Maloy began at UMass Amherst in 1981, after working in human services, for the Department of Education, and teaching at Greenfield Community College. Edward’s association with UMass began when she started teaching at Marks Meadow Elementary School in the fall of 1974. From the start, she had a duel contract with the university, which was the norm at the time. She remained at Marks Meadow until she retired from the school in 2007, but has continued at the college as clinical faculty.

Sharon Edwards with student Chan Kim looking at laptop computers

In the first years of their partnership, Edwards collaborated with Maloy on “The Writing Box,” a project that came out of their research on children’s writing, learning, and creativity. “We filled a sweater box full of really engaging materials for kids to take and start writing at home to support what they were doing in school,” Maloy recalls. “It created an explosion of writing because kids were writing and parents were writing with kids and other family members.” It also earned Edwards awards from State Farm and the National Council of Teachers of English.

It’s a pretty powerful way to begin to rethink the reading/writing experience in the digital age.

Bob Maloy
A selection of books that Sharon Edward and Bob Maloy have written

The Writing Box project led to two publications: Kids Have All the Write Stuff and Ways of Writing with Young Kids. This year, the University of Massachusetts Press will publish a new edition of Kids Have All the Write Stuff, refigured for the digital age. It will include a virtual companion in the form of an electronic bookcase, containing supplemental resources. For instance, a section on letter writing will include samples of different kinds communication, from letters to texts, as well as picture books about writing letters, a history of the U.S. Postal Service, and the Beatles singing “Please Mr. Postman.” “I think it’s a pretty powerful way to begin to rethink the reading/writing experience in the digital age,” Maloy notes.

Edwards and Maloy’s most prolific project has been the TEAMS Tutoring in Schools course, which Maloy launched in 1983. The class was a service learning course long before that phrase was part of the educational parlance. Maloy hatched the idea for the class with Jack Hefley, the principal of Amherst High School at the time. Amherst High School had recently had an influx of students from Southeast Asia, and they didn’t have the resources to give the students the support they needed in learning English. In response, Maloy developed a course, through which UMass students would tutor at the high school. Making it a course gave them the structure they needed to properly mentor the tutors and to ensure the continuity that would be hard to maintain in a purely volunteer program.

The TEAMS Tutoring course has run every semester since its inception and is now one of the longest running courses at the university. Edwards joined Maloy in leading the course twenty years ago. Tutors now work in districts all over the region, in K-12, preschool, after school programs, and within UMass Amherst.

Sharon Edwards and student Marissa Best

Approximately half of the students who take the TEAMS course are planning to become teachers, while the rest are students who participate in the experience to build skills for careers in other area like human services or health care or just for the community service opportunity. The great joy for Maloy and Edwards has been when students in the later group discover that they’re really teachers and change their career plans as a result.

While teaching TEAMS over the decades, Maloy and Edwards have embraced opportunities to transform the course with technological resources. When Maloy began teaching the course, they used printed reading packets. When UMass IT began offering blogs, they began providing links to resources on a blog and expanded to multimodal resources. Once the university began offering wiki spaces, they made the move again, especially for the ease and speed wikis allow in updating information. “Wiki has the advantage of living on after the semester is over for everybody, and it’s free—it’s an open educational resource for everybody anywhere,” Maloy explains.

Wiki has the advantage of living on after the semester is over for everybody, and it’s free—it’s an open educational resource for everybody anywhere.

 

Bob Maloy

The new tools pushed Maloy and Edwards to radically rethink how they taught and thanks to the technology, they have transformed TEAMS into a flipped course. Rather than listening to lectures in class, students learn the material on their own time, using online resources, and then use the class time to discuss and reflect on the material and their tutoring experiences, lead workshops, try activities, etc. “We make the two and a half hours of the college class a lot more like what might be a very wonderful and effective elementary, middle, or high school class, where there’s some large groups, small groups, individual work. It’s interactive. It changes rapidly,” Maloy notes. This model also allows them to change the curriculum and teaching materials as needed, with the course always evolving. Further, not only is the class more participatory and engaging for the students, it models for them how they can lead their own interactive classes in the future.

Wiki technology has also been key in another resource that Maloy developed with his students as the result of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). When the state introduced the test, secondary education history students started facing the challenge of reviewing vast amount of history to prepare. Maloy and his students in “New Developments in History and Political Science in Secondary Schools” (Education 613) started making paper study guides, but that proved to be an inefficient and unwieldy solution.

Bob Maloy in his office

To solve the problem, Maloy and his students turned to wiki technology and created the resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki. They began by listing the state learning standards, and then creating a separate page for each. Students researched the topics and collected resources like historic texts, primary sources, and lesson plans to add to the wiki, under the appropriate learning standard. The technology made it easy to go beyond text, and they were able to include multimodal and multimedia resources like videos, podcasts, and games. For example, the page on the Trail of Tears includes an event summary, links to the Cherokee Nation and the National Park Services websites on the subject, videos, contemporary accounts, a letter from the Cherokee Chief John Ross to the U.S. Congress, information on related court decisions, and a classroom project.

Recognizing that the state’s curriculum frameworks were short on multicultural history, they started challenging their students to find resources on the often “hidden” history of African Americans, Latinos, Native American, Asian Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community, and added those to the wiki.

Before long teachers in the field were using resourcesforhistoryteachers. Teachers also began asking for resources for AP history courses. To date, they’ve expanded to AP World and U.S. History and AP Government, and have started working on resources for AP Art History.

Because it is an open educational resource accessible to anyone, resourcesforhistoryteachers is now used far beyond Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Department of Education recommends it as a resource. Each new class of students preparing for the MTEL edits, refines, and expand the resources. They’re also working with a former student to create a wiki for English Teachers. Edwards has long been a consultant on the project, researching and finding new online resources—serving as a walking archivist, as she calls it.

The wiki not only provides necessary resources, it models for students and teachers how to undertake effective web research. Edwards points out that most students and teachers only know how to Google for web searches. “What the wiki provides in stark contrast are resources that students and some teachers don’t know exist,” like college libraries, presidential libraries, the Smithsonian institute, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “This is more of a curated library,” she notes, and one without excessive ads and clickbait.

As the result of their various collaborations, Edwards and Maloy have also co-authored the textbook, Transforming Learning with New Technologies with College of Education colleague Ruth-Ellen Verock-O’Loughlin and computer science professor, Beverly Park Woolf. The text gives K-12 teachers strategies on using desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, apps, interactive educational websites, learning games, blogs and wikis, assistive technologies, digital portfolios, and other new and emerging technologies to create interactive, inquiry-based teaching and learning experiences. Not surprisingly, beginning with the second edition of the book, they created a wiki companion to the textbook called Transforming Text.

Students have to be taught how to use technology for learning. They know how to use it for their social means. They also know how to use it to find out things they choose to learn, but they don’t credit their self learning as being equal to what school asks them to learn.

Sharon Edwards

In this textbook, as in their work over the last several decades, Maloy and Edwards have modeled for educators in K-12 as well as in higher education how to embrace technology in education, how to adapt pedagogy to these ever changing tools, and how to engage their technologically savvy students. “Students have to be taught how to use technology for learning,” Edwards observes. “They know how to use it for their social means. They also know how to use it to find out things they choose to learn, but they don’t credit their self learning as being equal to what school asks them to learn.” The tools allow teachers to equalize the two and make the learning feel far more personal. “That’s what learning ought to be in school,” she asserts, “a way to relax and find interesting things.”