Episode # 55

Adapting to Technology with Dr. Tonya Sanders

April 25, 2024

About This Episode

On this episode, Kara & Caryn speak with Dr. Tonya Sanders, Associate Director of Academics at NWOET, about how technology in classrooms is unavoidable and it’s up to the teachers to make the best use of it without losing sight of what’s really important: the students.


Dr. Tonya Sanders

Dr. Tonya Sanders has been a part of educational technology since 1993. In her first years of teaching 6-12 students, she explored the integration of technology before it was even a trend. Since those early years of adopting new challenges in technology, Tonya has emerged into the adventures of video production, web design, web 2.0 tools, interactive whiteboards, online resources, iPads, G Suite, Chrome apps and extensions, and various other tools for technology integration. After committing 9 years to K-12 public schools teaching students, Tonya took on the challenge of educational technology and integration strategies with teachers in northwest Ohio. Now entering 20 years of educational technology experience with NWOET, Tonya has explored instructional design, engagement, and gamification. She recently graduated from BGSU with her doctorate in the School of Media and Communication.



Caryn: Today we’re talking to Dr. Tanya Sanders, Associate Director of Academics at NWAT. Tanya, thank you for joining us. We are so glad to have you. Thank you for having me. Yes. So we always start our podcast the same way with all of our guests talking about how you ended up where you are in your journey into education.

So would you be willing to tell us a little bit about how you ended up doing what you’re doing?

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Sure, well, I ended up in education because I loved my 3rd grade teacher. Miss thinker. She was amazing. But and I taught for 10 years. Actually, secondary education 7 through 12. English language arts, reading, video production [00:01:00] communications, that kind of stuff, but I was kind of debating on whether I should share how I got into this job because it was kind of like a, a sour grapes kind of thing we, they were having a A new position that was grant funded at the district that I was teaching at and all of us were best friends and all of us worked in technology at that school and they gave it to the person that didn’t have a degree in it.

And. But all of us applied for it. So like, it was, it was weird that I applied anyways, cause we were all friends but I was just a little kind of hurt that I didn’t get the position. It was an integration specialist, weirdly. And at the time, the friend of mine saw in the newspaper that there was this, I don’t even know what it was labeled at, maybe as an educational technology specialist in the Crescent News.

And Actually physically gave it to me as like a cutout, like a piece of paper. And so [00:02:00] I called and interviewed, and that was the only job I went for. And it, and I’m a person of habit. I don’t like to leave something. So, and it was in BG and I had to draw and I lived about an hour away from BG. And so, and I would have to work, you know, all year round.

And I was just like, is this really worth it? Because I was, you know, Hurt because I didn’t get that position. But yeah, I mean, it ended up being great because now here I am 20, 21 years later not regretting a minute of coming to this position. So that’s kind of how I came about it and, and, and I wouldn’t have been able to do this position if it weren’t for the district I was teaching.

And they had amazing technology coordinator and I love doing video editing and anytime anything came out since we were really good friends, he would let me experiment and he would buy anything I wanted. So he got me Adobe Premiere on the Mac when it used to be on the Mac. And then [00:03:00] he got me all this extra equipment.

It was just, it was amazing the things that he set me up with. And so that kind of started my love of technology. So it was, it was pretty awesome.

Kara: How can we build relationships with technology?

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Well, it, so, When I started my research, I really, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that my boss wanted me to, he, his big joke was, I don’t care if you get a PhD in basket weaving. He goes, you need a PhD. And so I was like, okay, so I, I got into media and, and media and communications and started taking some really good classes in regards to gamification in, in instructional design.

And I read a book from Jane McGonigal called reality is broken. It’s really a good book. And I don’t like. This probably sounds awful coming from an English teacher. I really don’t like to read unless it really gets my [00:04:00] attention. And I probably shouldn’t say that, but yeah, it got my attention and I couldn’t put the book down.

So I thought, you know, this is what I want to do my research about. And I, and the whole reason I wanted to do engagement was because at the time my son was like, in 2nd or 3rd grade, and he went to was going to go to school for the 1st school day. And I said, are you excited? And he’s like, no, and it was 1st day.

And I was like, what can we do to change that dynamic? You know, and even the twins now, even my young boys now. They don’t want to go to school. And I’m like, how can we change that, that, that people are like excited about learning. And then, so this book made me think about this intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how that plays in our lives.

And so I thought all of it was going to be about gaming and and I, and having fun and playing. So a lot of my research was done on that. But eventually when I started to put things together [00:05:00] in sections and then interview people, I started to find out it was a different kind of thing. Intrinsic extrinsic motivation was the connection and the relationship thing.

And so the first one was, and I thought about this the last couple of days with all the stuff that I’m doing outside of my job. Connections and relationships are super important to me. And I, and I can only say that’s true to me, but I can’t imagine other people don’t want to have connections to what they’re doing.

So like when I go to the doctor, I want to feel connected to my doctor. When I have a realtor, I want to feel connected to my realtor. And I’m overly obsessed with that. I mean, I’ve gotten rid of so many people professionally outside of my life. You know, like. professionals like a plumber or something like that because I just didn’t like the way they connected with me.

And so the same thing is true for school is we have to feel connected to something. So when you walk in, feel connected to your principal and they greet you at the door or connected to your, your [00:06:00] teacher. I go in and I model for teachers a lot. And so I’m interacting with students all the time. And the one thing that, I, I don’t, I’m not an elementary teacher, but when I’m in the elementary, the thing that connects me to the students, because I’m definitely not comfortable with that, that grade level, I’m comfortable at that age of my own house, but not outside the world, but basically, you know, hearing them and then letting them know that I heard them.

And so there was this little kid in first grade, I was teaching them iPad management, like how they’re supposed to be able to touch it and use it and not abuse the iPad first grader. And he told me about his chickens. And so every time I saw him in the hallway, I was like, how are your chickens? And that would light up and, you know, like he would pay attention to me no matter what I was saying, because I knew he had chickens and, and, you know, You know, it, I made it relevant to him.

And then

Dr. Tonya Sanders: that’s leads us to the second part is that not only having a connection to the person that’s teaching you and [00:07:00] talking to you, but also instead of saying, you know, there’s three chickens and you buy two more chickens or three apples and two apples, you say, I have three chickens and then. We wanted two more chickens and now this kid’s paying attention because he’s like, I love chickens.

You know, who doesn’t exactly? Yeah. So so yeah, so a connection to each other personally and connection to the curriculum or making it relevant to you. Is that, is that really good connection? We are emotional human beings and emotions drive us. So if I feel. Connected to something. I’m going to be more vested which is true about a lot of

Kara: things.

So, yeah. So how can we create meaningful learning experiences using tech?

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the, that’s the crazy part, because after I had that discovery, I, I wrote a course for NWOAT that was called making connections and building relationships. Well my boss [00:08:00] obviously was like, you know, it has to include technology.

And I’m like, yes, I understand that. Yeah. So I’m like, oh, okay. Yes, I will connect it. But I mean, I love technology, but the, so the one thing that I love teaching is socially emotional learning. That’s a huge part of social, of and you can teach social emotional learning. Building relationships through technology with like doing a, an autobiography project that includes videos.

So you do a video editing video edit of one of your first vacation that you’ve ever taken or the most memorable event when you were you know, in school or something like that. And the one thing that I teach Just taught it a couple months ago was the building relationships with Google sites.

So you have this like interview process and that could be using technology with that as well. In my class, we use Google Docs and use the voice [00:09:00] typing feature and the They paired up and the teachers asked another teacher, you know, two questions off of this PDF that I had for them. And then they built websites around that person.

So it’s almost like you’re honoring that person from talking to them, asking them questions, documenting that information, and then building something to represent them, that you know them. And then what we do after that is all the websites are available to, like, for instance, if I’m doing this in an elementary classroom.

The students are doing it. So the students are building relationships with each other. Then we share that information in the classroom. And so now I’m connected as a teacher to those students, and then we can even take it to the next level because the communication and the connections doesn’t stop with just student to student or teacher to student.

It has to go to teacher to administration School district to community. So there’s all these connections that are really important at education and [00:10:00] technology can help us do that. Whether it’s sending an email or an electronic newsletter or documentation of some sort technology can connect us in meaningful ways.

And we just have to understand that that connection is important to everybody. So it doesn’t just stop at student to student or teacher to student. It’s got to go spread out all around the whole district.

Kara: Yeah, well, and sometimes I think those simple things get lost a little bit because the whole like simplicity of it.

So you’re, you’re using technology, but you’re not I don’t know, I guess one, it has intention behind it, but two, it’s meaningful and it’s not like where the technology is the focus. Do you know what I mean?

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Right. And, and the tool should never be the focus that the curriculum, the curriculum should always drive.

That’s my first message to anyone that takes my class is that if you have to force it to work within your curriculum, [00:11:00] then that’s not the tool for you. And I’ve had teachers before, say, you know, be panicky and Tanya, I, I, you know, we’re having this Chromebook and we’re going to go one to one. I have to use it.

And I have my daily math lesson and how am I going to use it with my daily math lesson? And I said, well, what do you like about your math lesson? And she’s like, I like the fact that the kids use colored pencils and they, I like the way they interact with and get the piece of paper. I said, then don’t use technology for it.

Oh, you know, she was relieved and I, and she’s like, but this other thing, it would be simplified if it was digitized and put online and use the Chromebook with, in this program. And, you know, and so I always tell the teachers to never complicate or stress over using technology, that the technology, that’s why it’s called integration and should seamlessly be used within your curriculum.

It shouldn’t be you know, driving your curriculum. It should be supporting, it should be supporting it, not, not forcing anything from it.

Kara: Yeah. And I’m glad you said that because that’s a good reminder for everyone.

Yeah. [00:12:00] Yeah. When it

Kara: comes

to technology.




Kara: would you say that we can maintain those authentic connections like you’re a little chicken guy?

Like in a technology saturated world so we know that to a lot of [00:13:00] times like our students are leaving us and they’re on technology all the time. And then sometimes we feel as though they’re always on technology when they’re in school as well. And we want to create some authenticity, but to just like with the video games, we understand that sometimes those skills and opportunities that those offer are meaningful.

So I, maybe the question is about balance.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Yeah. I mean, originally when I started my dissertation, my advisor wanted me to do device time because I mean, everybody’s got their opinions about device time, either people have opinions about video games, which a lot of my research is about video games too.

And I, I disagree with all of it because I think video games are good. I think using devices is good. I think using technology is good. I really had a question about. AI at [00:14:00] first, I refused to use it because I felt like it was taking away the authenticity of us and our creativity of of what we need to do.

And I think the answer to your question is, is it’s, it’s difficult to answer that because I have several different ways of solving it is classroom management. So, if you’re aware of something, this is the boring answer, but if you’re aware that something could impede. Or hurt your students in any way, then you need to manage that time.

And my happy answer is instructional design does that for you. And I think that’s the way we need to look at technology as well is when we’re using technology, are we having the students just sit there in silence?

Okay. Let’s use the analogy of a busy family at a restaurant or a restaurant at a. Restaurant and they want to have some peace and quiet. So they give their kids a cell phone. That’s not the answer to [00:15:00] technology. The technology is, you know, like if we’re sitting at dinner, we don’t have our phones out. If someone asks a question about something, I might yell out.

Hey, and I don’t want to get Google riled up. Now. I’ll say, hey Google, how did you know? You know, how did they upgrade planet coaster for the 2. 0 upgrade, you know, or something like that. And because we’re talking about it, but we use technology to keep the conversation going, not to silence the conversation or bury the attention of the students in it.

So instructional design does that. So a flipped environment, a is perfect for interacting with materials. and technology and integrating the teacher’s professional expertise in that. I do love project based learning where the students are continually working on something together and they use technology as a tool to find answers, build it, do the research, whatever they need to do.

So I think [00:16:00] instructional design is the fun answer. And that’s why I love teaching instructional design so much.

Kara: Well, and this May touch on the project based learning, but can you talk about the importance to, of connection to the curriculum or what’s being taught?

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Yeah, I think technology, I think, I think technology helps with that a lot.

Technology definitely can help the relevancy of. Of a topic to a student because you have virtual tours, you have VR technology that’s out there. You have we can Skype or look at me old school. We can Zoom or Google meet with someone in regards to you know, An expert, you know, all the way across the world and, and talk to them it’s brought us closer.

I mean, when distance learning came out, all that technology came out, everybody was so excited. Now we can have you know, a meeting with the, you know, the guy at the zoo and, [00:17:00] and we don’t have to get in the bus and take, you know, 30 kids to the zoo. But I, I think that. Probably getting off topic a little bit here, but I think we can make things relevant by using technology because technology is getting so real.

And and I think that we’re smart enough as teachers to navigate that in the classroom, but also to challenge our students to look at what technology is giving us and decide if it’s an appropriate answer. If it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a sufficient answer. So but, yeah, I hope I answered your question there.

But yeah, that’s what I would say. I would, I would say that you can get the relevancy of what you’re doing. So if I’m working on tangent and cotangent in my classroom, then I can, you know, find some simulation that will show the students the relevancy of that instead of just answering it. For instance, when I was in school and doing trigonometry, I, I mean, perfect.

I was just like, okay, I got to get an a. That’s my motivation, that extrinsic motivation. I [00:18:00] had no intrinsic motivation to be good at that other than a grade. And then when I graduated I had to get a construction job and we were building stairs and I was like, Oh my gosh, that’s, that’s blah, blah, or whatever.

And he’s like, yes, yeah. You know, and, but so yeah, I think relevancy and connecting people to the curriculum technology can have a huge part of that. I’ve never really thought about that. Really consider teaching a class on that. But now you got my brain rolling on the classroom. I could teach with that.

Kara: So we’re like, well, cause I think that comes up so often anymore. And like, now that kids are in touch with so many different things, it is kind of like, well, when am I ever going to use this or why am I doing this? Like, you know, and if you can answer that question with real world experiences or examples or things that they can try or do.

Because I feel like those things that you, if you think back in school, the things that you [00:19:00] remember are those experiences or things that kind of hit on your loves.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Well, and also, you know, when I started my research, there was some, I guess I would call radical thinking that came in one of the articles.

It was actually kind of an old article is that the structure of school should be. Altered and that would be instructional design, of course, and the my twins went to a Montessori style school for early their early years of school, because yeah, it doesn’t matter why, but anyways, they went and and they’re in the instruction was great because they had this freedom.

I mean, there’s no structure to it, but there was

Caryn: like,

Dr. Tonya Sanders: Like semi, there was semi structure to it because some people think of Montessori is you go and you get to choose what you want to do. Yes, that is true. What you get to do and [00:20:00] the manipulatives and the stuff that surrounds these kids allows them to choose what they want.

But we were lucky to have teachers that would, because our 1 kid would have stayed in the peace corner all week all day. He would have stayed and read a book in the, you know, on the bean bag chair with a peace rose, you know but, but basically you can’t do that. You got to learn, you know, you got it.

And so they would kindly move them to another space to be able to learn, you know, math, reading, whatever. And both of our kids. I attribute to, you know, their high reading level and their success in academics to one going to that Montessori school and having the freedom to explore at the pace and the rate that they wanted with, with minimal structure and two to video games.

They played Minecraft is very young kids and, and they’re both at. They’re in third grade and both of them are at above a seventh grade reading level, and that is because of Minecraft, my opinion. But [00:21:00] they were coding and writing, writing things in Minecraft before they were like five, six years old.

So but yeah, I think the instructional design has a huge part of all of that. I think we need to minimize the structure of. This, this, and this, I think you have to have goals, but I don’t know if we have to have this probably get me smacked here, but standards benchmarks to pace ourselves. I think some of us do, but some of us don’t need those guidelines.

We just need this, this this goal of moving forward to something and I don’t think there’s a teacher that doesn’t have goals to move towards something. But, yeah, but I think it needs, you know, this schools need to be less structured and more. Open to allowing students to discover I’m a big supporter of discovery, learning discovery education.

I really not the, not the product. I didn’t right. Right. But but for students to kind of explore on their own and discover the [00:22:00] places that they. They want to learn and want to go and they’ll learn those skills that they need to know to move forward. When necessary.

Kara: I know Michael Moore is controversial among people, but Michael Moore has a documentary called, where should we invade next?

And so basically he claims different aspects of different countries that he would like to bring to America.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: You know, I heard him talking on the radio once about this and he, I think he was the one that said it. Said something about gamification has been in, and maybe it was Finland or Norway, I feel like it was Norway or something like that, but the United States is way late to the game on gamification and that was all my research.

And I remember hearing him say something about like, there’s all these amazing things happening in other countries. So, okay. I’m sorry. Go ahead. But yes, I’m familiar with

Kara: that. No, no, no, no. But it’s like, yeah, that it’s like that idea of like kind of ditching the traditional like school day. Yeah. And yeah, looking at things, it is just looking at things different [00:23:00] and how Finland, they were behind in the world standings and they decided to shift things and then magically they are no longer behind, but we still are.

Yes. Yes. Because two, especially when kids are young, that’s how they learn. Exactly.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: And I remember when I started doing my research because I, I thought I was going to be doing it on play and how play is important. We went to a couple like, and whatever the Cincinnati 1 was the children’s hands on stuff.

And, and I just stood back. We would let our kids just play. It was the water thing where they have all the things and, and they were just playing with it. And this 1 kid was not playing with it. Right. And the mom and dad stepped in and said, this is how you use it. And I was like, I’m learning so much from just standing here, from the way that we, whether we step up because we don’t want our kid to look like the, the not smart one in front of everybody, because they’re exploring something differently.

So then [00:24:00] we navigate them toward this like normal way of conforming to the way society uses that toy or uses water. You know, and I think we’re always kind of moving our kids in the direction that we think society is observing them as. So we, we don’t want to be judged. So, like, standing in front of all those parents, the kids are playing, and that parent didn’t want their kid to be seen as the kid who didn’t know how to play with the boat in the water.

Yeah, so I think a lot of times we. We restrain our kids from learning exploratory learning because we’re, cause of our own issues because of our own things. And that was the toughest thing for me with the Montessori learning is my boys would get themselves dressed every morning and every morning, one of them had either their pants on backwards, their shirt on backwards and I was told that’s the Montessori way, or, you know, that’s the way they’re going to learn.

And And it took me a long time to be okay with them walking out with a shirt, wrong side out or whatever. [00:25:00] And but yeah, they need to explore that on their own. And now they’re nine and they don’t walk out with their shoes on the wrong feet anymore. I don’t know what I was worried about, but yeah, so I mean, learning has to be from them.

And those are, like you said, very crucial moments of learning at that age.

Kara: And I don’t know how you shift our education system because sometimes it seems like too big of a beast.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: It is it is, and, you know, I’m like this instructional design kick that I’ve been on for the last 8 years trying to really push it out to school districts.

It’s tough because school districts will say, well, I’ve been teaching, you know, a teacher will say, I’ve been teaching this way for 15 years. Why would I change now? You know, but we would, and I’m reading 2 books right now. 1 is called control. I always call it control theory, but I think it’s. I always have to look at the cover of it.

It’s not near me right now, but I think that’s the big thing is people want control. And I think that’s my issue with having the boys have their shoes [00:26:00] on the right feet or their shirt, the right side, right side out, or the parent telling the kid to use the boat the certain way is we feel like we need to control the situation for whatever reason.

So if I’m, you know, I’m upset as a teacher because this student isn’t paying attention to me. I need to control the situation instead of understand the situation. And you know, we still have teachers saying and young teachers saying things that my teacher said when I was young, you know, you sit in this confined area and you do this work and you do it the way I’m telling you to do it.

And we don’t like it. I like the way my son’s learning math, but my, the one twin doesn’t like the way he’s learning math this year. And you know, we have to have conversations with the teacher and say, does there have to be a timer? Does there have to be a buzzer that stresses him out? You know, and I’m almost sounding like, you know, wimpy kid can’t handle a buzzer, but that’s my control.

That’s my control coming out of me is just like, suck it up buttercup. Let’s go, you know, Just do the best you can and push [00:27:00] through. And when the buzzer goes off, you’re done. But, yeah, I mean, I think it’s the whole control theory of things. We want to control things in our life and our, in our education and our profession and our personal life.

I think it’s a control thing when it comes to education that people don’t want to go away from the traditional way of teaching. So the teacher who’s been teaching for 20 years and lecturing for 20 years is very. concerning to me that they’re not willing to stop lecturing for 45, 50 minutes at a time in a high school class and just relinquish control and allow the students to do the learning instead of thinking you’re going to deposit all that learning into their brain and they’re going to retain it.

So but I think, you know, technology would be the answer. Technology use. Is going to help us do that. And I have a perfect example of a teacher who was that dude that likes to hear his voice. He teaches and lectures all day long. And then we’ve gone in and done this initiative in their district where we’re meeting with each teacher [00:28:00] and talking to them about certain technology.

Well, now he loves these tools. He hated technology. Now he loves these tools we’re showing him and, and his, his strategy and his structure of his classroom has changed. So now he’s doing some more. group work and project work, and he allows the students to interact differently, to discover. You know, so I think slowly but surely, like you said, little baby steps but I think technology definitely can help us get there.

Kara: Yeah, well, and technology can help differentiate, too, you know, to meet the needs of more learners. Exactly.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: You’d think that that would be more of a Okay, acceptable thing for teachers to be. Yes, but I’m in a lot of districts and and I’m, you know, I’m talking about a very low percentage of teachers who are saying things like, well, why, why do I have to do that?

That’s more work for me. If I have to differentiate. Well, it’s easy to differentiate these days, you know, and so it still surprises me when we, we hear young teachers, not. Understanding that this student is at this level and [00:29:00] the students at this level and we have to make a difference between that. You know, we have to be okay with that.

We’re not our job isn’t to force this kid to be up here. It’s to make sure this kid keeps going and this kid doesn’t fall behind and and just keep, you know, keep at it. That’s what differentiation is. To kind of swing back around, maybe tie everything together is that relationships are important. Relevancy is important and education is important.

Education is the only thing that 100 percent of the population in the world is expected to be successful at. And. We need to make that more of a an important thing than it is. So we need to raise it up above some of these other things that don’t include everybody in the world. But it is important that we educate people at the rate that they can.

not burying them in the technology where they’re just biding their [00:30:00] time before they get out of school. And then they can go on and do whatever the thing they want to do. This is our chance to allow them to learn what they need to learn to be successful at the story they want to create for their future.

And all of that has to use technology because technology runs our world right now. So it is important, but we have to create the connection to be able to expand to that, to allow for the learning to happen.

Kara: Couldn’t have said it better. Thank you, Tanya. You’re welcome.

Dr. Tonya Sanders: You’re welcome. [00:31:00]