John Chaides / Courier Catherine Datko, an ESL Instructor, sits in the Alumni Commons at Pasadena City College on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Datko is the winner of the Ron Lee Technology Award from CATESOL.
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As a college professor and a mother of a 10 year old daughter, Catherine Datko understands how important technology is. From having to use a typewriter to write her papers in college, to now having a cellular device where papers can be written from one’s fingertips, Datko has witnessed the constant improvements technology has had within the past decade. She has always been passionate in helping people which is why she became an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and through her testimonies and accomplishments, one can see exactly how passionate she is.

Datko was awarded the 2018 Ron Lee Technology Award last month after presenting a project to implement open education resources (OERs). This award was given to her by CATESOL (California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) an organization that serves teachers in ESL.

The Ron Lee Technology award offers $1,000 to an ESL teacher who is also apart of CATESOL, that intends on improving educational technology. Datko focused on OERs, resource centers that are free or low cost to students, as well as openly licensed, so that other teachers are able to implement them in their classrooms however they see fit.

“When I went back into the classroom I thought it’s really important to go put these two aspects of my career together and develop something that would benefit a lot more people,” said Datko.

Her goal was to create a textbook where they can download it in multiple formats, such as an ebook, html webpage or a link. She also wants to be able to implement the OERs to Canvas.

Datko is all about helping people in any way she knows how, and her background exemplifies her love for helping people. She first started teaching ESL in Czechoslovakia in 1990, back when it was still one country. She then went onto get her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. She also received a separate certificate in Language Program Administration, a mix of both business administration and teaching.

“Caring about the teachers and the students, it makes me happy.” said Datko.

In 2001, Datko won the Mary Finocchiaro Pedagogical Materials Award, which is essentially the biggest Pedagogical design award in the field, given by TESOL, the international organization of CATESOL.

“Curriculum development has always been my passion,” said Datko. I’m always trying to figure out how we can teach better.”

Datko continued to teach ten years following that, then walked away from the field to focus on a writing career and teacher training. While working as a freelance writer and teacher trainer, a mutual friend from PCC approached her with a job as a writer for the Distance Education Department. That is where she became a technical writer, starting out as a college assistant.

“[A technical writer is] somebody who writes manuals and things of that nature,” Datko said. “[Someone who] takes technical information and either writes instructions, how-to guides and that sort of thing.”

When she started as a college assistant at PCC in 2012, about a year and a half later a full-time position as a faculty instructional designer opened up.

“That’s a person who helps faculty train with technology and how to use Canvas in their classes, how to teach better using technology.” Datko said.

Up until last year, Datko was working in the Distance Education department for five years. Over the years, she’s trained at least 200 faculty members. She also won the Academic Senate President award for Distance Education in 2017.

“I think the faculty was really upset that I was transferred, I was the only person on campus helping faculty with their teaching and technology together,” Datko said. “So when I got transferred to ESL, I didn’t want to let that technology training go and wanted to make certain that I was keeping my tech skills current as well.”

When she started teaching ESL she noticed that her students, as well as herself, were all connected to their mobile devices. So she wondered why these devices could not be used better in the classroom.

“The younger students are into the phones and the older students aren’t, so each kind of compliments each other. My goal is really to try to find a way to have technology be part of the class and get people so used to it that by the end of the class it’s not a big deal.”

Datko understands that the first few weeks of every semester are difficult and are a learning curve for everyone.

“By the end even the students like me–Generation Xers–are able to navigate the tech, but not make it all about the tech but use it to help students learn and make it more fun.” she said.

Her whole idea was to create a curriculum using technology where some readings are a springboard, but she still wants students to actually go out and create content and research for themselves. She wants millennials to take advantage of the skills that they have to better equip themselves.

Datko believes that there is no reason why technology should not be used in the classroom. She believes that it disadvantages younger students by not using it and forcing them to learn the old school way.

“When I was in college I had a typewriter,” Datko said.  “So we’re using the tools that the younger students come in with. And for the older students, we’re not giving them the exposure to those tools to help them, with their career goals.”

Datko expressed that teachers should learn to teach the 21st century skills of interaction, teamwork, and how to monitor our own learning. She believes that is the exciting part about her project. Her hope is try to build all of that into learning.

“It’s not only about the technology, good teaching is good teaching, no matter what.” said Datko.

Datko believes that technology is a tool, like a pen or pencil, and she wants the faculty on campus to not be afraid to use technology.

“The word teach has T-E-A-C-H, so it has TECH in it but it’s so much bigger because we have that A,” said Datko. “Without that A, without learner autonomy and people being engaged and active, technology is just a tool.

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