It was tough getting ahold of teachers to take part in our upcoming “Educating for a Digital World” panel at the Vermont Connected Summit which will be held at the Vermont State House on Tuesday, September 23rd. That’s because they were all enjoying their last few weeks of summer before the start of another school year. It’s my great fortune that one innovative teacher returned my email right away: Betsy Calhoun, from Lake Region Union High School in Orleans, Vermont.
What a find Betsy is! She’s from Coventry, Vermont, and has a unique educational path, both as a student and a teacher. She graduated early from North Country UHS in 1979, obtained an A.S. in Microcomputer Applications from Community College of Vermont in 1994, completed a B.S. in Human Services at the Springfield College of Human Services in 2003, and earned her M.S. Ed "100% online" through the University of Scranton in 2006.
Betsy teaches business application courses at Lake Region UHS, the Community College of Vermont, and occasionally at the North Country Career Center (NCCC). I asked her about how digital tools have transformed her classroom and she replied in a heartbeat: “I’ve been teaching for over 21 years and I’ve always relied on technology in my classes. I don’t know any other way to teach, so I cannot speak to what it was like before integrating digital tools and after. I rarely do anything in my class without touching the computer.”
She went on to explain that student learning in her accounting class can be all web-based. Although they still have a text book, they can access it online, and “we didn’t bother to purchase the physical workbook, because we’re using online worksheets.”
The advantages of the digital version are clear: “The digital aspect of a worksheet is that you avoid the long process of having students fill in the worksheet by hand, having it graded by hand, all the while waiting for it to be returned with the student’s score. By the time they get the worksheet back, they’ve forgotten how they did the assignment in the first place! Now, they get results right away. It’s much more timely -- and that aids quicker learning,” said Betsy.
Betsy also integrates technology a number of different ways in her classroom. She’ll tell Vermont Connected Summit attendees all about that in the morning “Educating in a Digital World” panel discussion. She will also talk about her involvement with the Tech Savvy Girls(tm), a summer camp with the mission of “connecting women and girls to provide strong messages and models about the need for increased participation of women in high-tech careers.”
The program is a mentoring program that uses “junior leaders” who are high school students who take part in a 40 hours week-long volunteer/intern program to work with girl campers in 4th through 9th grade (9 to 14 years old). Students are invited from all schools in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) and the NCCC.
“Tech Savvy Girls is a well-rounded experience centered-around technology,” Betsy explains. “The key is not to be afraid to try technology. That fear is not exclusively a gender thing, but it is a lot a gender thing. We teach our girls to be confident to try something they haven’t done when it comes to technology and that ‘engineering’ is not a dirty word. It’s just researching how to make something work better. Our campers and our mentors both leave the camp so empowered,” said Betsy.