Q: So why are you so in love with computers and technology?
A: What I love is introducing people to technology that enables them to accomplish the things they want to do better, faster and easier. Confucius said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Sharing the knowledge I have of computer technology is what I love to do, and they actually pay me to do it! Today every job, every facet of life, is impacted by digital technology and the internet. So improving computer skills is important to every major. Students need learning experiences that connect with the world the way they see it, through the technology that’s been in their life since childhood.
As for my introduction to technology, before I entered into the teaching field, I worked for 15 years as a computer expert and manager. My experience with computers goes pretty far back.
Q: How far back?
A: Way far back. Back to 1966, when I was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. My introduction to computers—like a lot of things I’ve done—was a mistake that turned out to be incredibly lucky. I needed to take an additional class. As I walked through the bookstore, I saw a book titled MAD Primer. As someone who loved Mad magazine, I thought it was related to that. But MAD was actually an acronym for Michigan Algorithm Decoder, which was one of the first computer languages. I bought the book, took the class, and I was hooked.
Q: Computers in 1966? What were those like?
A: Big, slow and very difficult to use. The first computer I learned was the IBM 1401 while I was working at International Paper in NYC. (As a peg-point, the Smartphone in your pocket runs about 100,000 times faster and has 1,000,000 times more memory than that machine did.) We were preparing from the arrival of the IBM 360 computer, which would automatically send orders from the various sales offices to the different paper plants. To learn the system, I worked in the teletype room manually switching the orders. This, for me, was really experiential learning.
Q: Somebody said you worked for Exxon.
A: Yes. I worked in the computer science research area for five-and-a-half years. I was in charge of investigating relational databases, a brand new field back then! I visited IBM and spoke to the pioneers who were developing SQL and Query By Example, QBE, which eventually became Microsoft Access. My Exxon team wrote our own relational database. Before Exxon I had worked for a bank in Boston, and at Massachusetts Blue Cross, and Westinghouse Electric. For over 8 years, I worked and also attended college at night for my bachelor’s and then master’s degrees. Though it is a long time ago, I understand the time pressures of today’s Union County College students.
Q: So how’d you wind up here at Union?
A: Another stroke of luck. I quit Exxon to try my hand at full-time motherhood. A few weeks of it revealed it was not the career-path for me. So I checked the Courier News newspaper’s Classified and saw Union was advertising for a teaching position to finish the semester of a computer course. You know, the Courier News building is now our Plainfield Campus, where I teach both regular F2F classes and one evening per week hybrid section.
Q: But there was no Plainfield Campus then. It was 1982, the year Union Junior College merged with the Union County Technical Institute, right?
A: Right, the UCTI. That’s who hired me to teach computers in Scotch Plains. I was hired to fill in the rest of the semester, but then continued after that when the UCTI merged with the junior college to become Union County College.
Q: So then at Union, you found a way to combine your interest in technology with teaching.
A: My hobby and passion is learning about learning. I follow YouTube videos and podcasts by innovative educators like John Seely Brown, Michael Wesch, Eric Mazur... I read what they have to say on Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs. I stay current by getting email newsletters from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, and many (too?) many more. I forward the best of these to my faculty colleagues.
Q: You’ve got a reputation among students for having innovative classes yourself.
A: For students to learn and remember, they need to use the technology to solve problems. When you do it, you own it. Some students want a teacher to tell them exactly what they need to know. But that makes less and less sense today where knowledge is expanding exponentially and “Google knows everything and anyone can find it.” I feel the more a teacher talks, the less a student learns. Every time I catch myself talking too much, I shut up. In our classes, students work on assignments and I’m there to help. I try to get students to help one another. This helps both students learn. But learning isn’t always just about getting a successful outcome. It’s about failing and trying again. When students work together as peers in small groups, they struggle together and solve problems together. That’s when they really learn (and hopefully have some fun doing it.)