This edition of the Exchange features Dr. Oliver Dreon, assistant professor of educational foundations, director of the digital learning studio and center for academic excellence.
Q: Are there any significant moments that happened during your lifetime that inspired you to become an educator?
A: I received my undergraduate degree in physics with plans to focus on research upon graduation. During my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring math and science courses at a local high school and caught the teaching bug. After graduation, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in teaching instead of going to graduate school for physics. After teaching in public schools for 15 years, I began working on a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with the hopes of working with pre-service teachers someday. That someday came a lot sooner than I had expected!
Q: What was your first job after receiving your college degree?
A: My first job after finishing my master’s degree was teaching middle school math and science and high school physics in a school district in Western Pennsylvania.
Q: What about Millersville University left a lasting impression on you, which in turn made you want to teach here?
A: I was a student at Millersville. I completed the Supervisory Program in 2000 before starting my doctoral program at the Pennsylvania State University. When I first came to Millersville, I was struck by the dedication and commitment of the faculty. Everyone is absolutely committed to student success and learning. I experienced it firsthand as a student and I’ve tried to live up to these same expectations as I’ve moved into a faculty position myself.
Q: You teach several courses in the educational foundations department that relate to technology. How has technology shaped how student teaching is conducted at Millersville University?
A: Technology can be a powerful catalyst for change in education, especially in teacher preparation programs. We’re already seeing signs of this at Millersville. In the Professional Development School program, pre-service teachers (called interns in the program) are using iPads as reflective tools during their field placements. Interns use the devices to record themselves teaching and then reflect on how they’ve taught. The videos and reflections are shared on a secure server to be viewed by other interns and Millersville faculty. The devices not only help to foster reflection but they help to build a collaborative learning community with faculty and students.
Q: How much of a role do you think technology will play in classrooms in the upcoming years?
A: Some technologists predict that traditional institutions of higher education will be completely replaced by online programs offered by large educational conglomerates. While we’re seeing some of these entities emerging in the educational arena (i.e. Coursera, Udacity, EdX), I still believe that face-to-face learning environments will exist. We’ll just incorporate more technologies to engage, assess and educate students.
Q: Do you believe that students are at a disadvantage if they take an online course versus a face-to-face course?
A: I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations regarding the quality of online instruction. As a student, I’ve had some great online classes and some really poor face-to-face ones. I don’t think the delivery method itself is the deciding factor. Students benefit from having courses that are designed with their learning in mind and structured to support their conceptual development. That can happen effectively in both face-to-face learning environments and online ones as well.
Q: What do you want students to take away from your classes?
A: I hope they understand the role that technology can play in the learning process. While I’m often labeled as “the tech guy” or as a “gadget geek,” I’m fundamentally someone who values learning and someone who sees technology as an educational tool. I hope that my students see this both through the content I teach and through the modeling I do in my courses.
Q: Do you think it’s important for potential teachers to learn to “not take their work home with them,” or do you feel an educator should be immersed in the field 110 percent?
A: New teachers will always bring “their work home with them.” When they’re fresh out of Millersville, our graduates are some of the most caring and dedicated individuals and they want the best for their students. The key is to help them bracket these emotions so they can have productive personal lives without losing their passion for teaching.
Q: Are you involved in any organizations or current efforts at Millersville University?
A: I am the faculty advisor for the Student Pennsylvania State Education Association organization at Millersville. This student group supports pre-service teachers through a wide range of community programming including the Study Buddies program with local school districts. I’m also the director of the Center for Academic Excellence, which organizes professional development activities for faculty on campus.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. Though I’ve been working on it for years, people can still hear a slight accent in my voice, especially when I say words like wheel, towel and iron. I’ve purged the word “pop” from my vernacular but the accent remains.
Q: Where is the most unique place your job has taken you?
A: While I travel a good bit to present at national and international conferences, I think one of the most unique places this job has taken me is online. I’m an avid blogger and my blog (the8blog.wordpress.com) allows me to communicate and interact with people from around the globe. Even though I study the power of social media, seeing people visit my blog from Uganda or getting comments from people in India still continues to amaze me. The blog has been online for three years and more than 35,000 visitors have read one of my posts.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
A: I like to spend time with my family. I have two active children who keep me very busy. Besides chasing them around, I enjoy traveling and helping them develop into well-rounded individuals.
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: In terms of scholarship literature, “Legitimate Peripheral Participation” by Lave and Wenger shook my educational foundation and helped me to see the world differently. In a completely different realm of literature, “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak was really powerful and moving. Books are like children, it’s hard to pick a favorite one.
Q: If you were given the week off from Millersville, how would you spend it?
A: I would start to tackle the growing list of books on my “to read” list. To be honest, it’s not a written list. I have a stack of books on my desk that beg for my attention daily. Given a week off, I would give them the attention they deserve.
Q: What’s the best way to start out the day?
A: I usually start my day off with a hot cup of coffee and a newspaper. Despite being labeled as the “technology guy,” I still like the smell of newspaper ink and the sound of rustling paper each morning. I’ve tried to move to reading news online but I miss the routine and pageantry of retrieving the newspaper from the front porch and unfolding it on the kitchen table.
Q: Complete this sentence. I wish that I had _______________.
A: I wish that I had kept my original computer from the 1980s. It would be a cool physical metaphor for evolution and innovation.