Ten questions with Capella education faculty member Dana Sparkman, PhD

October 14, 2015

Dana Sparkman, PhD, has been a faculty member at Capella University since 2010.

She’s also involved in the design of curriculum and courses in the School of Public Service and Education, most recently within Capella’s new Education Innovation and Technology degree programs. These programs are important to the field, as the rapid rise of technology in the classroom means teachers need new knowledge and skills that were previously not required.

In this interview, Dr. Sparkman shares insights into her work at Capella, her thoughts on trends and challenges in the field, her teaching philosophy, and more.

Dr. Dana Sparkman

Q. Why do you teach at Capella?

           A. I have taught a number of courses in K-12 studies including Foundations of Educational Leadership, Standards-Based Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Strategies for Eliminating the Achievement Gap, and Classroom Management Strategies. I have also taught mathematics education courses. Currently, I am mentoring PhD and EdD students and working on developing the new Education Innovation and Technology (EIT) degree programs.

Q. What is your favorite class to teach?

               A. I really enjoy teaching the Classroom Management Strategies course. One of the most challenging things about teaching can be a host of classroom discipline issues, and it is meaningful to give teachers the tools to handle difficult situations that might otherwise turn them off from teaching. I know that the students can take what they learn in a given week and implement it in their own classrooms the next day.

Q. What is your teaching philosophy?

             A. My teaching philosophy in graduate education is much the same as it was when I taught second grade. We all enter a course with a wide variety of experiences and skill levels, so it is my responsibility, as the instructor, to take each student where they are at the beginning and move them as far along the knowledge and skills continuum as possible.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?

                  A. I love working with other Capella faculty and instructional designers, and of course, the students! Online learning can be a little isolating, but I have the opportunity to interact with colleagues and students by phone, Skype, Facebook, and even Twitter. Recently, I have been working more on course development than teaching, and I really enjoy that. Starting with a blank sheet of paper and working with my peers to create engaging, interesting courses is an incredibly rewarding process.

Q. What industry trends are you seeing that will affect educators in the next few years?

                   A. I believe that the rapid proliferation of technology and digital tools will most affect educators, both at the K-12 level and the university level. Students are no longer in a “one-size-fits-all” model, at any learning level, and technology helps support and extend student learning. Truly, there are K-12 classrooms that look completely different now than a mere 5 years ago.

Technology affords the opportunity for learning anytime and anywhere, and that affects how teachers and instructors prepare, teach, and assess learning. Students have far more access to knowledge and skills than in the past. They can access information and create products that show their learning at any time and in any place where they can find an internet connection. My 9th grade niece took a family trip to Arizona recently, and she took pictures and video with her iPad and made a movie of the trip to share with other family and friends. Teachers must change the way they approach instruction.

In the EIT programs, we create our courses so that we can model what our students need to do in their own classroom. For example, when we are teaching on how to personalize learning, our course reflects aspects of personalized learning, such as different readings for those who have more experience with a particular topic vs. those who have less experience.

Q. What is the single biggest challenge facing your field right now?

             A. I think that rapid change is the biggest challenge. As I’ve already mentioned, technology changes things in the classroom quickly. Other changes—like implementing new curricula, adopting new programs, and responding to the ever-increasing diversity in the classroom—offer challenges for teachers and instructors. The change process is often not easy, and I think that the need to change from “what we have always done” to something new is a big challenge for most of us.

Q. How do you keep your industry skills and knowledge up to date?

             A. One of the best ways that I have found to do this is simply by working with my colleagues. They have such a wide variety of expertise; oftentimes, someone will say “Hey, have you seen this?” and I can go and try out the new app or new approach and add that to my “toolbox.” I also attend professional conferences, primarily in technology and mathematics. This fall, I will be attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics regional conference in Nashville and the Georgia Technology Conference.

Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

             A. My best career advice came from my mother. She taught me two things. First, you may not always be the smartest person in the room, but you can be the hardest working one. Second, you must develop a filter; you cannot always say what you want to, in the manner in which you want. She definitely taught me to be diplomatic, and I think both of those pieces of advice have served me well.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

             A. I am a total sports fan. If it’s fall or winter, I’m watching Alabama football. If it’s winter or spring, I’m watching Alabama and Syracuse basketball. If it’s summer, I’m watching the Atlanta Braves. I also have a tiny cabin at the best fishing lake in Alabama, so I go there frequently with my dog, Baxter. One of my Capella colleagues recently got me interested in jewelry making, so I have adopted that as my latest hobby.

Q. Coffee, tea, or soda?

      A. In winter, it’s coffee all day long. In summer, it’s Coke Zero.

Learn more about Capella's Master's of Education Innovation and Technology program and the Doctor of Education degree programs.

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