TechCat Joy Bensiger Troubleshoots Technology
Date: May 13, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos by Colleen Kelley
When an education student or professor is looking into how to use technology in his or her lesson plan, Joy Bensiger is one of the graduate students they call for expert advice. Bensiger is one of six so-called TechCats for the UC College of Education's $2.7 million technology initiative to train UC education faculty, students and teachers in the college's partner schools on how to best use technology to enhance teaching and learning.
The TechCats, or technology coordinators, are constantly upgrading their own skills with evolving technology, as they guide others on how to use programs such as Blackboard and PowerPoint as well as web design and digitized video, the last one being one of Bensiger's favorite "movie-making" technologies.
Bensiger is earning his master's degree with an interdisciplinary focus on teacher education and technology in the College of Education's Educational Foundations program. His wife, Rachel Star, is earning her doctorate from UC in curriculum and instruction. Bensiger already had a master's degree in the business field and was working as a marketing manager in southern India, but says he saw there was a need for computer specialists and decided to switch careers when he, his wife and his daughter, seven-year-old Karen, moved on campus at UC.
Not one to back down from a challenge, Bensiger admits that starting out he was not a "technology person. Initially it was very hard for me, so I started teaching myself. It's fun to learn all of that, but if you think it's very hard, then it's very, very hard.
"I took it as a challenge. Most people know about using the software, but they don't know how to go in and troubleshoot. That's where I wanted to be specialized."
As a result of his persistence, his assistance to others and his enthusiasm in promoting the use of educational technology, Bensiger received the 2001 TechCat of the Year Award at a September banquet to recognize partners in the educational technology initiative, called CERTI2, or Comprehensive Educational Restructuring and Technology Infusion Initiative.
CERTI2 is a three-year initiative that is half-funded by a U.S. Department of Education educational technology grant and half-funded by its partners, including the UC College of Education, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, Cincinnati Public Schools, Kent State University, Iowa State University, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, WCET-TV, Ohio SchoolNET and Generationwww.Y. The first phase of the three-year initiative was launched in summer 2000.
The TechCats assist in faculty-student learning partnerships and professional development, and provide their expertise for the initiative's summer institutes which have taken place the past two years, the third coming this summer.
"When we started this project, I wanted TechCats like the other PT3 grantees (the Department of Education's Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology initiative) had around the country. I was envious of the skills their TechCats possessed," says CERTI2 Associate Director Jeff Gordon, UC professor of teacher education.
"This past year, though, I compared the others to my TechCats, particularly Joy, and now I wouldn't trade ours for anything," Gordon continued. "Joy has grown so much that I would trust him to completely rebuild my own computer. There is no doubt in my mind he's among the best graduate students in the country involved with PT3."
Bensiger says he's seeing impressive results of how the initiative is changing the teaching environment, as faculty become more comfortable and therefore more interested in using technology, and as the TechCats assist in "taking the fear out of the process.
"We used to go with faculty to their classes, so that if the technology wasn't working, we'd show them what they could do to get it to work.
"Because of the classroom technology, I see more interaction outside the classroom between faculty and students. Also, some of the faculty who were at first hesitant in using the technology are now teaching online classes."
"His ability lies in finding out what a faculty member needs for improving his or her instruction, then introducing the right technology to meet that need," Education Professor Piyush Swami says of Bensiger. "While he is willing to do whatever one needs, his greatest contribution is in making faculty feel at ease and in introducing them to the application software that would be easy to learn and use."
"Having the TechCats and especially Joy around to help me through instructional technology problems has been really great," adds Professor and CERTI2 co-director Ted Fowler. "I have been able to completely restructure my instructional approaches because of this support."
Bensiger praises his fellow TechCats for their dedication, and adds his brother Sasi has also joined the TechCat crew. "He's a software engineer and worked in the computer field for seven years, so he's a very good troubleshooter and a programmer, too."
He also has advice for the novice who's trying to learn the ins and outs of technology use and upkeep. "I got an old computer and I just played around. I crashed it two or three times, but now I can do it. I can go into the control panel and do anything I want in there.
"You might have to crash it to learn how to troubleshoot. Just try it. I really enjoy the troubleshooting aspect of it."
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