Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Elizabeth Riddle

Elizabeth Riddle is an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) at Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, Va. and a doctoral candidate in Instructional Technology at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Elizabeth's Perspective

I am an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) at Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. I started teaching in Alexandria eight years ago. Before becoming an ITRT, I was a fourth and fifth grade multiage teacher and a computer lab teacher. I am also a doctoral candidate at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I am finishing up my dissertation, "Voluntary Participation and Online Learning: A research study investigating why K-12 teachers participate in informal online learning and how it influences their professional development". I hope to defend it this spring. I am also the managing editor for the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE).

I was introduced TAPPED IN in the fall of 1999 by my professor, Dr. Chris Dede, at George Mason University. My classmates and I compared experiences in TAPPED IN to other online environments. Since I am interested in how educators use technology for their own learning, I immediately became enthralled with TAPPED IN. In the spring of 2000, over a three-week period, I spent time in formal and informal meetings, as well as time creating my own presence in TAPPED IN. Like moving to a new city or job, I had to orient myself with my surroundings before I felt comfortable interacting with others and creating my own space. According to collected feedback from new users in TAPPED IN, this process is typical. "The ways that many new users describe their confusions and frustrations are very similar to those expressed by people thrust into a new physical environment with people, tools, protocols, and social norms that are unfamiliar to them" (Schlager,M., Fusco, J.& Schank, P., 1998).

Three events marked increasing comfort in the community: participating in discussions, creating my own space, and identifying my presence visually. Participation occurred after I had spent time exploring the community. I needed to familiarize myself with my surroundings without the pressure of communicating with someone else. After I virtually oriented myself in the community, I began to participate.

After attending a discussion in someone's distinctively designed office, I was inspired to create my own unique space in TAPPED IN. I searched many floors before choosing a vacant office on the south wing of the 20th floor. My office, furnished with a comfortable sofa, pot of coffee and a desk cluttered with papers and my iBook, has become my initial destination upon entering TAPPED IN. I could enter TAPPED IN relatively unnoticed by the HelpDesk. I no longer required as much assistance as I originally did.

Finally, identifying my presence visually removed the anonymity that I originally enjoyed. Throughout several sessions I noticed that some participants posted icons of their pictures, some posted icons of graphics, and others, like myself, had no icon above their names. After a particularly inspiring discussion with the leader of the Secondary Science Discussion group, who had his picture posted, I immediately began to look for an appropriately sized picture of myself. I really appreciated being able to visualize whom I was talking to. Therefore, I was motivated to provide a visual for others. Each of these steps was important for me as I indoctrinated myself into the community.

Now, three years later, I have just finished conducting my dissertation research in my TAPPED IN office. As a researcher, I found TAPPED IN to be convenient, useful, and supportive. Using a virtual environment allowed me to ignore geographical boundaries in my participant selection. Furthermore, participants did not have to download software or use a particular type of computer since TAPPED IN is web-based and platform independent. The recorders in TAPPED IN automatically emailed me the interview transcripts. With the help of BJB, I created additional recorders in order to sooth fears of transcripts mysteriously disappearing into cyberspace. TAPPED IN's helpdesk provided continuous technical support. They also took an interest in facilitating the success of interviews by assisting participants upon logging in and notifying me when they arrived or visited ahead of time. Only one of my research participants had previous experience in TAPPED IN. However, everyone successfully logged on, participated fully and expressed interest in returning to TAPPED IN.

This recent experience in TAPPED IN was nothing short of fabulous. Not only do I have high hopes for the completion of my dissertation, I am thrilled I could introduce some incredible educators to the TAPPED IN community.