By TYLER ELLYSON
The coronavirus pandemic created unprecedented challenges for K-12 educators.
When schools across the country closed their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19, teachers who rely on in-person classes and face-to-face interactions to connect with students were suddenly thrust into the world of online learning – whether they were ready or not.
The rapid transition to remote education was met with fear and uncertainty in many classrooms, but Angie Palmer had a different reaction.
She was prepared to take up the challenge.
“I had no anxiety, no worries about making this adjustment,” Palmer said. “I was ready to go, and that was a great feeling.”
A business teacher at Broken Bow Public Schools, Palmer is enrolled in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s master’s program in instructional technology.
The knowledge she’s gained through that program became an invaluable resource when the central Nebraska school district announced it was moving to online learning for the final seven weeks of the academic year.
With just two weeks to plan for the change, Palmer found herself a step ahead of most colleagues.
UNK’s instructional technology program introduced her to a number of remote-teaching tools – many of which were offered free of charge during the pandemic – and she already had the training to succeed in an online environment.
“I didn’t feel like I had to spend extra hours learning how to do things first, and then apply them to my online classroom,” said Palmer, who teaches accounting, entrepreneurship, IT applications and personal finance at the high school level.
She used Flipgrid and Padlet to create and share videos and other instructional materials, posted assignments in Google Classroom and met with students via Zoom. It was a big adjustment with some “stressful moments,” but Palmer is confident her students won’t miss a beat this fall.
“Overall, I think it’s been a great learning moment for the kids,” she said. “Those who are juniors and seniors, they really discovered how ready they are for college life, where you need that self-discipline, time management and structure.”
The coronavirus pandemic was also an eye-opening experience for educators, who quickly recognized the value of utilizing technology in the classroom.
Martonia Gaskill, director of UNK’s instructional technology program, has seen an uptick in applications over the past two months, including people who want to start graduate classes as soon as this summer.
“We offer courses that prepare teachers to create web-based learning environments and motivate 21st-century learners using a variety of tools and top online technologies. Educators at all levels are looking for these skills right now,” Gaskill said.
The UNK program shows teachers how to effectively harness the power of technology and trains specialists who become technology leaders in schools and businesses. Concentrations are offered in instructional technology, information technology, leadership in instructional technology and school librarian.
“Our IT students enroll because they’ve embraced the potential of technology and our program will prepare them to become innovators and leaders in K-12 schools,” Gaskill said, noting that a master’s degree in instructional technology often leads to career advancement opportunities and salary increases.
“I believe our IT program is going to be even more popular in the next few years,” Gaskill added.
More than 100 people are currently enrolled in the program, which is delivered entirely online to accommodate working professionals.
Palmer, who earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching endorsement from UNK, plans to finish the program this fall.
No matter what her classroom looks like then, she’ll continue utilizing modern technology to prepare her students for life after high school.
“This program has been really beneficial because it opened up a whole new world I didn’t even know really existed,” Palmer said.