Cindy Etherton is a cool teacher. This was clear during the interview for this article. Calapooia Middle School was on a two hour late start so Etherton had some time to talk before her technology classes. A few minutes in to the interview, two giggling girls came in to her classroom asking to borrow tape. Etherton grinned as she handed them her tape dispenser; she learned the girls were decorating the locker of a boy for his birthday. It was clear that Etherton had a reputation of an approachable and friendly teacher. Her wit and humor are evident with everyday conversation. And it’s obvious to anyone who talks to her about her teaching – she loves what she does. Her classes are more than a basic introduction to computers; she wants students to take away practical skills in technology that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Etherton, a graduate of WOU’s information technology master’s program, teaches two regular classes. One is a basic computer course that is required of all sixth and seventh graders, which focuses on Web 2.0 and Microsoft applications. The other is an advanced course that focuses on Web 3.0. Students who have completed the basic class may take her advanced one, and often take it several times as the course content is never the same twice.
“The thought is that I’m teaching them technology, but every one of my classes has a real world connection,” she said. Currently, the real world connection for students in her advanced class is getting a taste of ecommerce. Etherton made a professional connection with Dave Wood, president and CEO of Willamette Community Bank, and Joan Reukauf, vice president and senior operations officer of the bank. The bank’s staff works with Etherton’s students to review loan documents that they have filled out for their imagined business. The students work collaboratively on five separate businesses. They are actual working businesses that will run through the remainder of the school year and range from Web design to a t-shirt design company. The students used Google Documents to create their own business plans.
“Those students need the opportunity to learn the effectiveness of good communication. Technology brings that in different ways.” She said that the class has often collaborated on documents using Google Documents and other online mechanisms as opposed to talking in person.
Wood enjoyed his involvement in the class project. After creating their business plans, financial plans and filling out their loan applications, the five teams of students took a field trip to Willamette Community Bank to meet with Wood. He interviewed each group about their plan and found the students to be respectful and well-prepared, which showed him that the students respect Etherton and that she fostered a positive and professional classroom environment.
“The students really saw the value of what Cindy was coaching them on and what future opportunities there were from putting together this business plan. They took the classroom theory then applied it for business application,” said Wood. “I enjoyed the experience and I think the students enjoyed the experience.”
When asked if he would participate in a project like this again, he said, “I would do it again in a New York minute and you can take that to the bank.” Wood added that any student who gets Etherton as a teacher is very fortunate, “they don’t come much better.”
Other real world projects in Etherton’s classes have included working with the city of Albany and an Albany police detective to develop an internet safety website and multimedia production. Etherton has also taught a photography class, which developed far beyond her initial expectations. The class learned about photo editing, techniques, and even took field trips to take pictures. The class culminated in an art show at a local coffee shop. The students mounted their work, named each piece, wrote a description for each photo and crafted bios about themselves. A professional photographer even took a picture of each student to accompany their bio and work.
Sharon Konopa, mayor of Albany, attended the event and asked Etherton if the photos could be shown in City Hall. The exhibit will next be displayed in the Albany Public Library in June. “This ended up being wildly beyond the expectations I had,” said Etherton.
At the heart of all of these classes is Etherton’s passion for technology. Throughout teaching kindergarten through eighth grade, she’s found that the common thread has been technology and wanting to do a better job of teaching and understanding it. “I don’t want to learn and use technology for the sake of technology,” she said. “I want it to benefit students.”
Etherton decided to pursue a master’s degree in technology and found that WOU’s information technology program was a perfect fit. It contained both the tech and education elements that she desired and she liked that she could continue working full time, raise her children and take classes in what she calls an “effective triad.” When it came to the structure of the program and classes, Etherton appreciated that there was both an academic and practical element. “We can get closed in and intra-focused as teachers and the academic pieces help to broaden the perspective,” she said. Ultimately her classes at WOU helped her see many perspectives of how a tool can be used.
Part of her job at Calapooia Middle School is helping other teachers incorporate technology into their classrooms. The graduate program helped her look at technology from an instructional perspective, not just a teaching perspective. “I think I bring more into the classroom as a result. I have better information to give to students and more accurate information to give to them,” she said, adding that “I think I also have more to offer other teachers as well.”
The information technology master’s program has led to great opportunities for other students in the program. Etherton has planned a computer camp for this July and has invited other students from the WOU graduate program to join her. This will help them learn how to run a camp and expand their knowledge of computer languages, specifically ALICE 2.2 and SCRATCH. Students, aged 10 to 16, attending the camp will learn how to develop their own video games using these languages. Through this process, the students will develop problem solving skills and determination as video game development is a challenging process. The camp is partnering with Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, which has a connection to Google. Google has been hiring youth from 13 to 18 years old to develop applications for the company. Etherton hopes that some of her students will have this opportunity.
“I would have never tried anything like this before my education at WOU. I wish more teachers had the opportunity to just sample what integrated technology can do for their classrooms, teachers would benefit,” she said. Etherton added that being a part of the information technology program has made her a better teacher, more intentional and more successful.