Exploring the Vast Possibilities of Educational Technologies
If you scan her CV, you might assume Assistant Professor Torrey Trust is a seasoned academic, given the long list of publications, presentation, projects, awards, and leadership positions she’s held. Yet Trust has only been in the field for a short time, having earned her masters in educational technology in 2010 and her doctorate in education in 2014. Trust’s quick success in the academy comes from her assiduous approach to her work, but even more so, it is her passion for finding strategies and tools for educators and then making sure they are shared to as wide an audience as possible. Trust is also proactive in seeking out and embracing opportunities for collaboration and mentorship—not surprising for a scholar who researches the value and effects of professional learning networks—and this has significantly enhanced her career. Finally, as one might expect of a student of innovative technologies, Trust rarely hesitates to take a leap into something new.
I think I just grew up with that ingrained understanding of the value of education.Torrey Trust
Having been raised by parents who where teachers, it was likely that Trust would pursue a career in education. “I think I just grew up with that ingrained understanding of the value of education,” she observes. Initially, Trust worked in student affairs and was planning to get a masters in the area, when she switched gears and entered a master’s program in educational technology. It was the right move—she loved the program and because it was was entirely online, it gave her the opportunity to work with classmates around the world.
Even though her school had technology like interactive whiteboards and laptop carts, Trust saw that they were rarely used in ways other than to distract students. It occurred to her that the teachers simply didn’t have the time or resources to learn how to use the tools to really engage students. Drawing on what she learned in a graduate course in building professional learning networks, she turned to her online professional communities—on Twitter and blogs—and began curating technology tools and information for her colleagues.
“I was in these online spaces and seeing teachers doing incredible things and sharing technology,” Trust recalls. “And then I go in to my classroom setting and see the frustration of teachers who are so stuck without professional development or support or knowledge of how to use the technology.” Trust built a collection over 2000 online tools based on grade level and standard on a website that was eventually shared to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
I was in these online spaces and seeing teachers doing incredible things and sharing technology. And then I go in to my classroom setting and see the frustration of teachers who are so stuck without professional development or support or knowledge of how to use the technology.Torrey Trust
This experience propelled Trust back to graduate school for a doctorate in education to better understand how teachers can support each other and solve problems with technology. After finishing her doctorate, she took a faculty position at UMass Amherst, in part because the job was an ideal match for her background and interests and in part for the research collaborations among the faculty and the program’s flexibility.
In her current research, Trust focuses on a few different strands. The first is a continuation of the work of her doctoral program—understanding how teachers’ engagement in online spaces and digitally enhanced professional learning networks impacts their teaching and learning. “It’s just a whole different world online, of teachers who are sharing incredible ideas, success stories, things that didn’t work, supports, and offering advice and feedback,” she explains. “What I’m finding from my research is that teachers who are connected digitally are finding these spaces with other educators, who are sharing ideas and challenging them in their thinking. They say they’re rejuvenated in their practice, and they’re excited about teaching and learning again.”
Trust’s work with Maloy and Edwards has recently taken a shift, as often happens with the rapid pace of technological advances. They now are focusing on open educational resources and how they can be best designed and utilized for teacher’s professional development.
In her courses, Trust and her students get hands-on opportunities to see the impact of technologies on teaching and learning. Her classrooms are essentially research labs, in which students try new ideas, explore the possibilities and push the limits of the technology, and propagate their ideas through social media, web courses, and their own teaching. “I’ve been able to do incredible things with my teaching because of the caliber of students in my classes and because they somehow follow me into these crazy ideas that I have.”
I’ve been able to do incredible things with my teaching because of the caliber of students in my classes and because they somehow follow me into these crazy ideas that I have.Torrey Trust
In her second year of teaching, at a conference, Trust heard faculty talking about about tasking their students to design and run a massive open online course. Since she didn’t yet have a complete syllabus for her upcoming educational web design course, she decided to give the idea a go. In four weeks, her students designed a new open online course, and then ran it for 400 international educators, who participated over a five week period. In the end, the course’s online community had 800 posts and the weekly Twitter chat had 1200 tweets. “What I really love about my teaching is how I can break down the walls of my classroom,” Trust observes. “I feel like there’s so much to learn and share with technology that I don’t want to share it with just 10 students. I want my students to become teachers and develop things that are shared with educators around the world.”
Since this first course, Trust students have launched two more open online course, and are working on another around augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3D printing. In another course, her students are designing videos and interactive resources to help faculty incorporate open educational resources in their classrooms. Other students have designed a database of tools for teaching and learning, with extensive details on price, access, and usability, along with tutorials about how to use each tool and how to incorporate it into various classroom subjects. Since 2016, it has been viewed by 130,000 people in more than 190 countries.