College of Education > News and Publications > 2018: 10-12 news > LDT graduate embraces online learning to help students

LDT graduate embraces online learning to help students

After 10 years working as a technology director and teacher for a small, rural school district, Marty Petrosky knew the best way to help his district was to return to school himself.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Completing a graduate program is rigorous and time-consuming. Just ask Marty Petrosky, who returned to being a student after spending more than a decade educating students.

"I contemplated starting a master's program for probably five years before I finally took the proverbial plunge," said Petrosky.

Petrosky Family
Marty Petrosky, left, and his family — daughter Mariya, son Kai and wife Heidi (class of 1995) — have always been Penn State fans. Now, Petrosky can also say he is a proud alumnus.
As the technology director for the Shanksville-Stonycreek School District (SSSD), a position he has held for the past 13 years, Petrosky said continuing his education was something he wanted to do in order to help his district advance 21st-century learning. But that would mean that he would have to become a 21st-century student — and that was an intimidating thought.

"I had never taken an online class before and I wasn't sure if I could handle it or even what to expect," he said. "I was concerned for a long time about acclimating back to being a student and being comfortable with online learning. That's probably what scared me the most and made me apprehensive."

In 2015, Petrosky faced his fear and enrolled in the College of Education's educational technology integration graduate certificate program offered through Penn State World Campus. The structure of the program made it easy to transition back to being a student, he said, and his first class — LDT467: Emerging Web Technologies and Learning — was perfect in helping a returning adult student acclimate to online learning.

"We were learning about web technologies to integrate into learning environments. But while we were learning, we also were modeling it so it was a situation where we were learning by doing," Petrosky said.  "The class was very interesting to me and was student-oriented. It really helped me transition into the online learning experience."

Petrosky said that first class showed him that he could handle the commitments of a graduate program and he decided to enroll in the master of education in learning, design and technology (LDT) program. Ironically, at the same time he started his first class, he unexpectedly started coaching his son's travel soccer team and both of his children decided to add travel hockey to their already busy extracurricular schedule. Together, his children currently are on a total of five different teams throughout the year.

"All of a sudden my biggest challenge was time. How do I manage my family, who always come first, my job, my coaching and my coursework?" he said. "I had to figure out how to juggle everything and get the coursework done when I could. It ended up being some odd situations of where and when I was doing work, whether it was the middle of the night or if it was in an ice rink or in a restaurant."

His busy schedule and time management even impressed Petrosky's faculty adviser, Joshua Kirby, assistant professor of education and coordinator of the online LDT graduate program.

"Luckily, it has not been my role to figure out how Marty has done it all," Kirby said. "I don't always exactly know how Marty fits in time with his family, his teams, his work and his studies. Thankfully, our online program is flexible to meet his personal schedule constraints and he always contributed thoughtful discussion points to his classmates and submitted quality work."

No place like Penn State

When Petrosky decided to earn a graduate degree, he said Penn State was an obvious choice. Not only is Penn State a highly ranked university, he said, but it is also place he has always enjoyed visiting.

"My wife is a Penn State College of Education graduate and we've spent a lot of time on [the University Park] campus, and I've just always marveled at how there was this educationally nurturing feeling when you are on campus," Petrosky said. "For being such a large school, I am amazed at how welcoming Penn State always is."

Ultimately it was David Popp, retired professor of learning, design and technology, who suggested Petrosky look into the online graduate program.

"Since it was Penn State and I've always had an interest in Penn State, I looked into it. It took some time but I eventually applied and enrolled," he said.

Now, three years after he took that first class, Petrosky is set to graduate on Dec. 15. In addition to earning his master's of education in learning, design and technology, he also will have received three postbaccalaureate certificates — Educational Technology Integration; e-Learning Design; and Teaching and Learning Online in K-12 Settings (TLOK12). He is the first student at Penn State to complete the TLOK12 certificate program, an approved provider of the state's Online Instruction Endorsement for licensed educators in Pennsylvania.

"The mentality that Marty applies as a coach for his youth sports teams is also applied to his work life and studies, and that is to strive for excellence through careful, well-planned, personal development," Kirby said.

"I've just always marveled at how there was this educationally nurturing feeling when you are on campus. For being such a large school, I am amazed at how welcoming Penn State always is."

— Marty Petrosky

The flexibility of the online LDT program is a key characteristic that attracts adult learners, especially current teachers.

"The program and the TLOK12 certificate prepares K-12 educators for the evolution of schooling and the accommodation of the diverse needs of learners and families," Kirby said. "We are seeing that evolution happen today as the access to a quality online education grows essential for increasing numbers of students."

The online course design skills and education technology knowledge that students learn in the program are immediately relevant to educators and their students. In fact, according to Kirby, "most LDT students use their course projects as the start of new curricula or methods that they launch in their professional workplace."

This certainly was true for Petrosky.

Impacting students and teachers

Working in one of the smallest, single-building districts in Pennsylvania (SSSD's K-12 enrollment is less than 350 students), Petrosky is constantly busy. He is the sole technology professional in the district and in addition to being the "wires and pliers" guy, he also helps teachers integrate technology into their classrooms and he teaches various technology education courses to high school students.

"Learning more about educational technology and online learning is really important to me because I want to help advance the teachers and students in my district," he said. "I had some goals for my district related to integrating technology and I wanted the foundations to be able to do that and do it well."

One of his goals is to provide more authentic learning experiences for students in his district, something he believes is necessary in order for students to be successful.

"I have already created an online course for one of the classes I teach," Petrosky said. "And there are some students that struggle and they're not sure what to do. If I didn't meet with them once a week and tell them what to do, they wouldn't be able to function in an online course. And this is a problem. Our students — all students — need to be prepared to function in the real world."

Changing the culture of SSSD to be more 21st-century based is another goal, he said.

"Sure, we want to improve teachers' use of technologies to instruct and students' experiences with technology, but there's also the culture of classrooms that needs to change as well," he said. "Classrooms need to become more student-based and active-learning with project-based learning rather than the typical lecture, notes, test structure."

Petrosky said he is lucky to work in a district that is receptive to change and supportive of his goals. In addition to creating an online course for students, he also has created online professional development modules for teachers so that they can experience authentic online learning too. On staff in-service days, much of the trainings are delivered via Google Classroom, he said.

"With this approach, teachers are at least experiencing what it is like to learn in an online environment and that has value for both our teachers and our students," he said.

His superintendent agrees. "Marty has been creating online lessons for our staff and has built-in assessments for each project as part of our professional development programming, and it forces our staff, most of whom have not participated in online courses themselves, to have their first experiences with online learning just as our students have been," said Samuel Romesberg III, superintendent of SSSD.

Petrosky is epitomizing the "value-added" concept of public education, Romesberg said, adding that their small district is impressed with Petrosky's dedication and perserverance. It is those qualities that make Petrosky a role model in his district.

"Our district is proud of him for completing this program and we appreciate his creativity and progressive thinking to be able to develop and offer valuable educational experiences to our students and staff," Romesberg said. "Beyond the skills and talents related to his job, Marty also possesses important qualities that we hope to instill in all of our students such as creativity, honesty, caring and high standards for his students as well as himself."

Petrosky said completing a graduate program at Penn State and earning the additional certificates is something he is proud of.

"The whole experience has been overwhelming but it's one of the biggest accomplishments of my life," he said. "It feels like the end but I know myself and I'm always looking for something more so I see myself to maybe further this down the road."

"It is great to visit and step on campus and have it feel different because I feel like I belong. I am part of that Penn State family now," he said.

By Jessica Buterbaugh (December 2018)