Winner of educational award brings aspiring teachers into the virtual world


“Oftentimes, people say, ‘I don’t want to teach online, because I want to teach real students,’” said Dr. Susan Poyo, assistant professor of education at Franciscan University. “(But) any student that wants to learn, no matter what environment they’re in: whether they’re homeschooled, whether they’re Catholic school, if they’re public school or an online school they’re all real kids, and they all want to learn.”

Poyo’s commitment to online learning is what led her to become the recipient of the 2016 International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) award. iNACOL presented Poyo with the award for her research on preparing teachers and students for online learning environments. She shared that this was part of her doctoral dissertation, and only helped in her motivation to keep exploring new ways to teach.

Education professor Dr. Susan Poyo with seniors Cathleen Nelson and Rachel Clark delves into studies via the virtual world. (Photo FUS provided)
Education professor Dr. Susan Poyo with seniors Cathleen Nelson and Rachel Clark delves into studies via the virtual world. (Photo FUS provided)

The learning environment in K-12 has changed since when Poyo’s education students were in that grade level, she said, so she wanted to give them an experience in online education from a teacher’s perspective.

Poyo said her hope had been that through the two-week online instruction module, her students would have a better understanding and attitude about teaching online. The focus of her research was to help her students become better educators through gaining an understanding of both online education and how to teach in that environment.

“Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught,” said Poyo. “But our classrooms have changed and our learners have changed.”

Poyo said many future students of the education majors she teaches have had technology at their fingertips their whole lives. Teachers must be able to adapt to that type of teaching, Poyo said, in order to give their students the best education.

“It’s not (always) about the tools, it’s not about the technology,” said Poyo. “The students always have to come first, so sometimes the best technology is a paper and pencil, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Poyo said the iNACOL award definitely took her by surprise.

“I felt very humbled,” said Poyo. “First of all, it’s an international organization, and their focus is K-12, so for them to see the value in the research being done with future teachers, in other words, the idea that there is a partnership here between higher education and K-12…it makes education more effective for everybody.”

Although she received the iNACOL award for her dissertation research, Poyo said her work is not done.

“The challenge is real, for all of us,” said Poyo. “And as a teacher, I’m a lifelong learner too, so it’s exciting to… achieve something like that … I’ve got to keep learning now, I can’t stop there. And that’s why I love technology, because it’s always changing, and I can try it out with my students and say, ‘What do you think? How could you use this in your classroom?’”

Her students are her motivation, said Poyo. “(They are) what gets me up in the morning, because the more I can learn, the more I can share with them.”

Poyo said this award has motivated her to keep working and learning more in the educational field, “because someone acknowledged the hard work (I’ve) done, but also acknowledged the partnership, and I really think that partnership is important between K-12 and higher ed.”

Poyo added, “We have to work together, because that’s the learning environment, and that’s where my students are going to be teaching.”

Poyo’s research has also led the Education Department in creating a course called EDU 366, Preparing Educators for the Virtual Context, which offers students online teaching experience.