By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – PowerPoint was a relatively new tool and online education was in its infancy when Martonia Gaskill, an exchange student from Brazil at the time, enrolled in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s instructional technology master’s program.
That was roughly 20 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
Now iPads and Chromebooks are common in K-12 classrooms, students and teachers carry smartphones capable of connecting to the internet at any time, and web-based software makes it easy to share an assignment or engage in an online discussion without leaving your living room.
“Today’s focus is on integrating technology so your students can learn better,” Gaskill said. “Technology is part of the instruction.”
An assistant professor in UNK’s Department of Teacher Education, Gaskill recently took over as director of the instructional technology graduate program.
“It’s been a very successful program, we just need to keep it cutting-edge,” said Gaskill, who replaced Scott Fredrickson following his retirement in December. Gaskill served as director of the curriculum and instruction master’s program the past three years.
Her vision for the instructional technology program calls for revamped curriculum that teaches the 21st-century skills educators need to stay ahead of the technology curve and better reflects what’s happening in modern, mobile learning classrooms.
This includes courses in coding, app development, computational thinking and the educational value of gaming and social media.
“We need to prepare our teachers to use those concepts,” said Gaskill, noting that the increased demand for workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields makes these skills as relevant as other core areas.
The UNK program, which is delivered entirely online, also covers topics such as how to effectively teach distance-learning courses and ways to use mobile devices, Google tools and other technology to solve problems and enhance the learning environment.
Approximately 150 students are currently enrolled in UNK’s instructional technology master’s program, which offers concentrations in instructional technology, leadership in instructional technology, school librarian or information technology.
In addition to teachers, Gaskill said the program is beneficial for technology and curriculum specialists, as well as businesspeople looking to implement new strategies in the workplace.
“The IT program provides a lot of background on all the technologies that are available,” she said.