Staff Interview: Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart, Graduate Student Researcher

I began my PhD in Education in September 2011, and have been working as a Graduate Student Researcher for Academic Technology Services since then.  My main job at ATS is to assist Dr. Andy Jones, especially with The Wheel and the Faculty Users of SmartSite meetings. I write most of the blog entries you find here on The Wheel and maintain the twitter account, and I help plan the monthly FUSS agendas. I’m always on the look out for new ways to use technology in the classroom so I can share them with fellow graduate students, faculty, or other members of the educational technology community.

What brought you to UC Davis?

Before beginning my program, I was immersed in online education for adult learners; I taught introductory composition online and I was also involved with curriculum development, student services, and marketing. The experience revealed both the potential and the limitations of online education, and I wanted to be a part of the conversation that explores how we can use technology to teach writing.

UC Davis offers a great program that is very interdisciplinary – I am in the School of Education, but I also have a designated emphasis in writing, rhetoric, and composition studies, and this allows me to approach writing from both a Composition Studies and an Education perspective.

What are your research interests?

I am interested in researching the affordances and limitations of teaching college composition in online or hybrid environments. I am still in my first year so I don’t have all the details nailed down, but I think this research will involve theories of digital literacy, usability research methods, and teacher education. I am also very interested in the relationship between the rhetorical concept of invention (the process by which we generate and develop ideas) and the digital concept of tinkering.

How does your job at ATS fit with your goals as a student?

Working at ATS provides a unique opportunity to experience the administrative aspects of higher education, and to see how technology is approached and incorporated from this vantage. My studies provide theoretical and methodological lenses, but my work at ATS requires me to consider the practical applications of educational technology. Since my ultimate career goals all involve producing something tangible that can help students and teachers, my work at ATS is invaluable.

What have you enjoyed most about working for ATS?

As I mentioned before, many of my hours are spent working on the blog or maintaining the Wheel’s social media presence. This was all brand new to me, and it’s been more fun than I would have expected. I feel so victorious when I figure out a new thing I can do in WordPress (e.g., when I got the Facebook and Twitter buttons to show up), and I’ve been surprised by the meaningful community I’m entering via Twitter. Using these social and collaborative tools has completely reinforced my initial interest in teaching with technology, and I’m learning more every day.

I should also note that it’s not just my own explorations and research that have been helpful; the folks at ATS are incredible resources and have been very generous with their time and advice.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our faculty readers?

I may have a background in online teaching, but I am still fairly new to educational technology. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about and a little skeptical of digital tools, but I have been so impressed by the usability of those tools and the helpfulness of the ed tech community. If you aren’t connecting with that community, I strongly recommend it.

So, enough about work. What do you do for fun?

Well, I’m in graduate school, so there isn’t too much time for fun, but I have enjoyed exploring Davis and the surrounding areas! My husband and I have been hiking over by Lake Barryessa a few times, and we’ve ventured to Napa, San Francisco, and Point Reyes, as well. I love to explore new places and taste new things (wine, for sure, but also tea tasting in Chinatown or olive oil tasting in Sonoma), and I try to be near the ocean as often as possible.

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