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Embodying adaptability: Athena Tassis on graduating, education technology, and the next steps in her teaching journey

June 23, 2021

By Perry King
 


 

Athena Tassis and her classmates have had to endure a great deal of obstacles and challenges.

From school board strikes to the coronavirus pandemic, the Master of Teaching graduate has learned a great deal about education technology and a great deal about the classroom itself. But she also realized something.

She wants to be a changemaker.

“When I applied to the MT program, in my letter of intent, I had written, ‘I want to become an exceptional educator.’ But I think having finished my journey here in the MT program, and in the last two years, I've gained so much more – I’ve learned so much more, I’ve become so much more than an exceptional educator,” said Tassis, who has a primary junior concentration.

She’s become someone who is able to think critically about what it means to be a teacher as crises continue to swirl. But, she’s also become more aware about how she can bring change to the educational landscape. “I guess we were always on the edge of our seats, wondering what was going to happen next,” said Tassis, about the strike. “And now with the pandemic, we've shifted how we teach and learn.”

Tassis also highlighted how her research in the MT program provided her the opportunity to develop and carry out a qualitative research study to investigate how educators at the elementary level teach concepts of food literacy. “Being able to examine how theory and practice influence one another has been highly influential in how I think about, and approach critical issues in education.”
 

Athena’s tech arsenal

Picture this. Tassis has asked her junior-aged students to write a letter to their local Member of Parliament about a social issue that was of concern to them – from why there aren’t enough women in leadership positions, to highlighting contaminated water issues that are ongoing in Canada.

And then, Tassis had them create a poster about their letter. And then, she took it further. “And then I put their posters in a virtual Museum! Students could walk through the museum and view every single poster and they also had the opportunity to show their parents,” she said, noting that she made sure that students didn’t put their last name on the poster or add any identifiable features about who they are, for safety purposes.

The museum, this virtual space could be accessed via virtual reality. “That was a really fun experience,” said Tassis, “the students were so excited and parents loved it.”

It is also merely a small slice into the capabilities of Tassis’ tech-savvy classroom. The graduate learned a great deal under the tutelage of Dr. Lesley Wilton, who she took two courses focused on education technology.

Tassis stood out in her courses, says Wilton.

In one course, a required course for the Primary/Junior cohort, Tassis and her peers learned about teaching with technology and theoretical perspectives. “In this course, Athena was a natural leader who was unafraid to take risks and think creatively about new challenges,” said Wilton, who has been teaching in the Master of Teaching Program and the Curriculum & Pedagogy (C&P) program at OISE since 2012.

In the elective course, Athena shared many digital resources, worked well with others and produced an outstanding final project. “Athena was curious about trying new digital tools, was deeply thoughtful about adopting pedagogies to meet students’ needs, and was supportive to her colleagues as they explored new challenges and opportunities,” added Wilton.

“Athena’s discussion contributions were questioning, reflective and encouraging to others.”

Tassis acknowledges how crucial these courses were for her development, and hailed Wilton’s leadership and expertise.

“She's truly spent countless hours online with me, helping me identify where I wanted my path to lead me as I went through this journey, and take my next steps into my career,” she said, praising the OISE community for their encouragement.

“Every time I brought forward an idea – something new, something I wanted to try – OISE professors and the MT leadership team were always so receptive and supportive.”

But, to Wilton, Tassis took the reins and took charge of her growth.

 “Athena made it clear that for her it is not enough to adopt a digital resource without ensuring that it is accessible and truly supports student learning,” she said.

When Tassis hosted the second of two OISE Stay at Home Club sessions, Wilton says Tassis demonstrated her strengths, “and calmly took on the challenge of presenting with a new technology with poise and calm.

“While attending the Master of Teaching program, Athena found the time to become a valued member of the Pepper research group where she regularly contributed to meeting discussions and events,” she added.

 

In this video, Master of Teaching graduate Athena Tassis introduces audiences to three of her favourite ed tech tools. 

 

Why education at all?

Tassis has really etched out an incredible OISE experience, and it lends to a deep passion for education. But, her path to a career in education didn’t begin in the tech lab. It began in the swimming pool.

“I had been teaching swimming lessons, from the age of sixteen, and that was always something that I enjoyed,” she said. “-- I loved seeing students happy, and kids excited and passionate about learning.

“As I take a step back --, and reflect on my experiences at OISE, I noticed that I wanted to shape how educators teach,” she added, “and that's kind of what brought me to this idea of wanting to pursue a path in instructional design, and more specifically how to integrate and teach-- with technology, because I do really see how empowering and transformational it can be to change what it means to teach.”

Her passion has led to leadership roles – she has served on OISE council, is co-founder of the ASL Awareness Initiative at OISE, Director of Academic Development on the Master of Teaching Student Association and is the incoming Chair of the OISE Alumni Association Student Advisory Committee.

It has also led to accolades.

Tassis was a recipient of the Biggar Hedges Foundation Special Award in Teaching and Technology, an award that adjudicated by a committee led by Wilton.

Tassis’ Biggar Hedges submission really stood out to Wilton and the committee – and was more than deserving of the award. “The judges commented that they thought students would love using TinkerCad, a free, easy-to-use app for 3D design, electronics, and coding,” she says. “One judge noted that they loved the connections to coding and the Augmented Reality option, and that it was very compelling technology. 

“They appreciated the good illustrations and screen captures, and commented that it was an interesting activity with connections to a problem.”

Tassis has gone above and beyond to deliver what is needed for the ever-evolving classroom. Wilton is proud to see her student elevate.

“I would like to wish Athena good luck in further studies and endeavors related to curriculum development and ed tech,” she says. “I think any group will be lucky to have Athena join them in the future – Athena is most definitely a shining star in the complex world of incorporating technology into teaching.”

Tassis is certainly proud of where she is. She is now working as an Emerging Professional, Learning Experience Assistant for the digital learning producers training program, which is a collaborative project between The Centre for Teaching and Learning and UTSC Library that is funded by the eCampus Ontario Virtual Learning Strategy.

Tassis is thankful to OISE for giving her the wings to fly.

“It’s a dream come true,” she says.

 

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