Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Jim Gutowski

As an educator, Jim Gutowski wears several hats. For the past fourteen years he has been teaching social studies at Gilmour Academy, a K-12 college prep school in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He has recently taken on administrative duties there as Director of Academic Services with responsibility for scheduling, registration and grades. In addition, Jim is on the adjunct faculty at Cleveland State University where he teaches a graduate course entitled Social Issues in Education.

Jim's Perspective

I have been a member of Tapped In for several years now and I am still discovering new ways for my membership to enrich my professional life. I first learned the value of TI by participating in the monthly sessions for social studies teachers. I'm a big believer in using primary sources in my classroom and loved the sessions led by archivists from the Library of Congress who would introduce us to their new offerings such as the Westinghouse films, Civil War music and presidential campaign cartoons. If you've ever tried to search through the vast resources of the LC online, you can appreciate being informed about such specific resources.

Having an online K-12 classroom has been handy for me as well. As anyone who teaches Advanced Placement United States History will tell you, the first week of May can be a time of high anxiety for your students as they prepare for their Friday morning test. TI provides a safe and secure online environment where your students can access various resources that the teacher makes available. During that first week of May I've found it helpful to maintain virtual office hours in the evenings where I run TI in the background while I work on my computer. If a student needs a quick consult, they can log into TI, come to my office and use the chat function to ask me a question. Offering that kind of availability is a small investment of my time but pays big dividends in helping my students feel supported in their final preparations for the test.

Tapped In has also been very beneficial in my work at Cleveland State University. The class that I teach is a general requirement for several graduate education programs. As a result, my classroom is populated by students with a very broad range of specializations from administration to special education to educational technology. While many of my students teach in the troubled urban areas, others are from elite suburban districts that appear regularly in lists ranking the best schools in the nation. With its ease of use and wide variety of offerings, TI has something of value for every student in my class. To begin, TI is simpler to use than most online class management programs so students with limited technology or ability can use it more easily. I use my TI classroom to post class documents (syllabus, assignments, etc.), useful links and to send out general email announcements to the class. I also require my students to participate in one TI session online during the semester (leading the horse to water and hoping that they will drink). Before doing that, however, I begin each semester with a tour of TI hosted by BJB and/or Jeff C. They both do a great job of welcoming my students and helping them to see the possibilities of TI. With various financial challenges reducing funding available for professional development, I want my students to see TI as a way of easily enriching their work in the classroom.

Socratic discussion is also an important part of my CSU class and TI plays an important role here as well. I will occasionally get several verbal personalities in my classroom who dominate the conversation. When this happens I can move our discussions online using the chat feature in our TI classroom. Having to take time to write out their input allows my more reflective students to participate in the conversation more easily. The easy accessibility and chat feature can also come in handy during the winter months. Living on the north coast, it is not uncommon for classes to be cancelled due to winter storms. With TI, my students and I can meet online in the comfort and safety of home during our regularly scheduled class time. Some of my students might consider this to be a mixed blessing, but I certainly appreciate it!

Finally, I consider TI a practical gift that I can give to my students at Cleveland State. While an important component of teacher education, the benefits of policy studies are not as immediately apparent to students who prefer the immediate applicability of classroom management, pedagogical technique, etc. I like to include Tapped In as part of my curriculum because it is something that most teachers can immediately take from my class and make it useful in their own work.

I know that I have only scratched the surface of what Tapped In can offer, but it has enriched my own work at many levels and I know that it can benefit anyone who works in a classroom today.