Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Joel Lowsky, Ed.D.
Dr. Joel Lowsky is a recent graduate of UNE Online’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Program. We recently spoke with him about his career, his research, and plans for the future.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in humanistic studies and English literature; two areas for which it’s tough to find a job! So I went back to school and earned another diploma, this time in Computer Programming. This gave me access to work in the corporate world, in technology. I went on to get a great job implementing software at large corporations, but after a few years, I felt that I wanted a more meaningful work experience.
The turning point in my career was an eight-month volunteer stint at an HIV community center in Namibia, Africa. The organization’s mission was to meet the needs of both youth and adults to combat the threat of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which, at the time, affected 25% of the population. Originally, my visit was supposed to be six months, but the experience was so powerful, I extended my stay. As an Information Technology expert, my job was to improve processes at the center and also to train locals on how to use a computer. As very few of them had experience with computers, I had to first explain the concept of a computer before we could start in on any type of lessons. The students had no idea how to even hold a mouse or turn on a computer. I ended up developing a comprehensive set of lessons as well as a textbook for use in future classes.
When I left teaching, I traveled in Africa and Asia for a few months. I didn’t want to return to corporate life, but I couldn’t travel indefinitely, so I found some middle ground and landed a job as the director of technology at a small independent school in upstate New York. It was there that I discovered my love of the field of education technology! I decided to earn my Master’s in Learning Technologies and then moved on to earn my Ed.D. at UNE Online.
Right now I’m responsible for planning and implementing educational technology projects that improve teaching, learning, and working at Northfield Mount Hermon, an independent high school in Massachusetts.
How did you discover UNE Online?
My wife actually earned her Master’s of Science in Education at UNE Online. She had a great experience and enjoyed her research – so I didn’t go in totally blind. I had the guidance of someone who had graduated from UNE Online.
Dr. Lowsky’s wife Jane was unable to attend her own MSEd hooding ceremony at UNE Online when she finished her degree in 2013. Eager for his wife to receive recognition for all of her hard work, but wanting it to be a surprise, Dr. Lowsky contacted the Education Program Manager, Dr. Erin Connor. Together they worked out a plan.
At this past year’s Hooding Ceremony, after all of the 2017 graduates were hooded, Dr. Connor made a special announcement to the assembled graduates. Jane was called up to be publicly recognized as a UNE Online graduate, and to finally receive her hood.
Now that’s love.
What made you decide to go for your Ed.D?
I wanted to work in education, but not necessarily as a teacher. And if you’re if you’re not on the classroom side, in order to advance professionally, one needs to take a leadership route. I had been moving up in leadership roles, and I needed to take the next step. I had also started thinking about a possible dissertation subject, and I was really attracted to the idea of fleshing out the concept with my own research.
Can you tell me a little more about your dissertation topic, and how you apply it to your current job?
It stemmed from a simple idea. Back when I was working at a small independent school, I was the whole IT department, a team of one. I worked with teachers who were passionate about teaching, but didn’t have the most developed technical skills. When they tried to learn and apply more advanced technology they would get caught up on basic things. It was like teaching cursive to a kid who doesn’t know the alphabet.
My dissertation concept was born out of observing teachers. Nearly all of them were getting caught up in a lack of fundamental skills, having never even taken so much as a computing 101 class. As a result, tech was not being adopted at the rate that the school expected. For example, you can’t use the Blackboard LMS if you can’t connect to WiFi, and you can’t print until your printer is connected to your computer. My master’s degree focused on barriers in educational technology integration like these.
So for my dissertation, I came up with the idea to mine helpdesk data to identify basic skills that were lacking, to help inform professional development in the school. Professional development topic determination is always a tricky area, partly because when asked to self-evaluate, people tend to report inaccurately. They exaggerate their skill level, not wanting the boss to interpret their knowledge gaps as a weakness. This skews the survey data and makes the results less meaningful.
I struck on the idea of using historic helpdesk data because the information from support tickets that had been submitted is genuine and authentic, and most importantly for this purpose, it’s impartial. The tickets deal with IT issues teachers actually struggled with, and that data can be used to accurately inform professional development.
Did you find that the online format worked for you?
I loved it. I’m married with two kids, and I couldn’t quit my day job to go to school. I needed the flexibility of making my own schedule so I could work full time and also be in school. I found that my instructors were usually very prompt at getting back to me via email, and gave very thorough responses when I had questions. I feel that this interaction really makes or breaks a program.
What did you like the most about studying at UNE Online?
My advisor, Dr. Brianna Parsons, was fantastic. She was eager about my project, very supportive, gave me constructive feedback and had very good advice. I ended up finishing early, and I attribute a LOT of that to my advisor. Dr. Erin Connor and Dr. Michelle Collay were also excellent and prompt with answering any questions I had.
If there’s one thing you would want a potential student to know, before starting in this Ed.D. program, what would it be?
Love your topic but also be flexible about it. You may not have an idea at the start, but you know your general realm. Even off-topic courses can function as a guide toward your goal. Go through every course with an eye on your idea.
For example, one of the core courses I took addressed public school policy, which is not particularly relevant to me. But as I wrote my dissertation, I found that data mining could be used as a tool to shape policy. If you keep an eye on the course content and an eye on your project, there’s nearly always something there for you.
Dr. Lowsky’s full dissertation, Mining Helpdesk Databases For Professional Development Topic Discovery, can be found in its published form on DUNE.
DUNE is the University of New England’s centralized online repository. Administered and maintained by UNE Library Services, DUNE collects, preserves, and provides access to the scholarly and creative works and unique resources of the University of New England. University community members are encouraged to contribute works such as articles, presentations, theses, books, journals, conference proceedings, creative activities, media, and other UNE-related items.
If you are interested in the Ed.D. program at UNE Online, or if you would like more information, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (800) 994-2804 or via email at email@example.com or fill out an online application now at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page.
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