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Q&A with Educational Technology Expert Dr. Michele Estes

“Educational Technology empowers the work of higher education,” says Dr. Michele Estes, the director of James Madison University’s online Master of Education (M. Ed.) degree with a concentration in educational technology.

Educational technology is continuously developing and expanding. It seems like almost every day a new method of e-learning is established for the growing number of nontraditional students. I thought it would be interesting to conduct a series of interviews with various individuals who all have experienced different aspects in the world of e-learning.

The first interview in this series is with Dr. Michele Estes, the director of James Madison University’s online Master of Education (M. Ed.) degree with a concentration in educational technology. Dr. Estes is also the director of three M. Ed. graduate certificate programs. While her primary responsibilities are teaching, scholarship and service, Dr. Estes’ role with online learning is largely to solve problems that impact online students and faculty associated with her online programs. She hopes that her efforts will help the field progress and will assist students in becoming more established educational technologists.

When did you first become interested in the field of online education and technology?
I first became interested in this area as an undergraduate co-op student at the IBM US Education Media Center in 1990-91.

What memorable positions in the field have you held?
My most interesting responsibility was to manage multiple projects while working with artists, publishers and subject matter experts to edit electronic instructional manuals for internal training. At IBM I learned to take risks, take notes and take care (many co-workers were laid off). I also learned much about my own preferences, strengths and weaknesses in the workplace.

Afterward, I completed an M. Ed. in Instructional Technology then worked for ten years in higher education at the state and university levels in a variety of roles including but not limited to technology trainer, project manager, instructional designer and coordinator. In 2008 I earned a Ph. D. in educational technology. Through each opportunity I learn more deeply about the field and the research, theories, technologies and processes associated with it.

What, in your opinion, is the purpose of educational technology?
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology defines educational technology as, “…the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (2007).[1] Educational Technologists work in education, business, industry, government and consulting – wherever ‘teaching and learning with technologies’ is valued – for this purpose.

Why is educational technology important to the future of higher education?
Educational technology empowers the work of higher education. It guides and extends its reach in meaningful ways.

How is educational technology beneficial to both on and off-campus students?
Educational technologies benefit all students (whether on- or off-campus) because they facilitate accessible and meaningful learning experiences, empower pedagogical best practices, help solve instructional problems, improve performance, etc.

How do institutions and organizations implement educational technology?
Institutions and organizations implement educational technologies in a variety of ways. No one model for change is a best fit for all, and there are many different approaches to the diffusion of innovations. If a technology is intended to serve an entire university population there may be an enterprise group responsible for that. Information about enterprise issues in higher education, including but not limited to authentication, security, implementation and support can be found on the Educause website.

Because information technology and educational technology differ, some institutions have a separate unit that is responsible for implementing educational technologies like learning management systems and innovative applications for the classroom. This group will typically engage faculty and students, the target population, in a comparison of systems where resulting data heavily influences adoption and implementation decisions.

Additional factors such as cost, required support, ease of use and the ability of a solution to solve real educational problems will naturally influence adoption decisions in education. These approaches generally work well in my opinion. In recent years a new approach has become increasingly popular through the 4-VA initiative where faculty apply for mini-grants to collaborate and test new methods and technologies for teaching and research.

What institutions have been the most innovative in using educational technology?
I will describe a few institutional efforts here although there are many more that could be included. In addition, it is important to recognize that faculty use educational technologies to empower best pedagogical practices in the content area everyday. Faculty work with educational technologies may be less public than institutional initiatives but is certainly no less important.

  • Virginia faculty at George Mason University, James Madison University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University actively collaborate online using a wide range of innovative technologies that empower best pedagogical practices and collaborative research. Online collaborators use innovative tools like Beam remote presence, Kubi robotic mounts and Cisco Telepresence systems to support best practices in a distributed and remote environment. 4-VA has been successful in serving students in critical needs areas, testing new instructional models, increasing access to learning experiences and supporting collaborative research efforts.
  • An early adopter of online and educational technologies, the University System of Georgia offers undergraduate online degrees through its brick-and-mortar institutions via the eMajor program and gives students the option to complete the core curriculum online through the eCore program. Services are embedded in each program website. Public institutions in the State use interoperable information and instructional systems making collaboration efficient and affordable.
  • Penn State’s World Campus is widely recognized as a leader in quality online learning. Enrollments currently exceed 13,000 students with anticipated growth to 45,000 students in the next 10 years.
  • MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative emerged in 2002 and has continued to lead the way for open initiatives. A recent example is the joint venture involving MIT, Harvard and others, called EdX where the mission is to “give a world class education to everyone, everywhere, regardless of gender, income or social status.”

What do you think is next to come in the realm of educational technology?
A helpful guide to emerging educational technologies is the New Media Consortium Horizon Report. The 2013 Higher Education Edition predicts one year or less as the time to widespread adoption for MOOCs and tablets; two to three years for games/gamification and learning analytics; and four to five years for 3D printing and wearable technologies. When there is widespread adoption in higher education, my prediction is that…

  • Analytics, if managed correctly, should have a profound impact on the way we design learning experiences to meet the needs of individuals, particularly in asynchronous environments.
  • Wearable technologies will likely replace more bulky hardware used in education, making it easier for instructors and students to participate in collaborative, informal and/or off-site project-based work.
  • Massive Open Online Courses offer widespread access to information and instruction that, in many cases, would not otherwise be available. However, many call into question the quality of the learning experience, the authoritarian approach and the implications for unethical practice. I predict that while MOOCs may find their niche, alternative models that challenge common practices will be sustained.

Contributed by Marisa Cagnoli

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A Student’s Guide to Online Education


[1] Definition and Terminology Committee of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski & M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A Definition with Commentary (pp. 1-14). New York: Routledge.