At the helm of innovative projects for more than 20 years, technology has been the propellant behind Dr. Davis’ career trajectory from the beginning. After earning her master’s degree in mathematics, she began teaching at Jones Intermediate School in rural Texas. “I got to the classroom and had to wipe dust off the math books sitting on the shelf,” she says. “There were little to no technology resources.”
Dr. Davis was proactive and secured a few computers, helped the campus become an Apple school and sought out partners such as Texas A&M University in the early 90s. “We were able to engage in a couple of partnership programs that literally changed everything at that middle school campus,” she says. “Once we started being successful, we quickly realized we needed ongoing professional development and a strong technology leadership team, which I led, and then all sorts of things began falling into place.”
Promoted to technology coordinator, Dr. Davis was ignited by the difference technology was making in the education of students in the district. By the end of the year, her students were videoconferencing state legislators about the work being done in their district. Department of Education leaders started paying attention to the technology model Dr. Davis developed, and she began presenting at conferences in Washington, D.C.
That path ultimately led to Dr. Davis being hired as the director of education and later as a professor in the College of Education at Texas A&M University. She also served as co-chair of the Educational Technology Advisory Committee at the Texas Education Agency in Austin. Her zeal for integrating technology into education also led her to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), where she was elected to the board of directors from 2004-2010, served as president from 2007-2009, and supported signature initiatives such as updating ISTE national educational technology standards and raising national awareness around issues of digital equity.
More recently, Dr. Davis helped secure a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support Texas A&M’s Knowledge for Algebra Teaching for Equity (KATE) project, for which she is a co-principal investigator. The KATE program ensures novice pre-service teachers have an opportunity to practice their raw skills before entering the field. For example, they use an innovative 3-D virtual classroom for practice teaching. Dr. Davis is the director and co-founder of Glasscock Island, a virtual learning center developed in Second Life in 2008 that serves as an ideal home for the KATE virtual classroom and learning spaces designed by her and her colleagues. The Second Life architecture was fashioned into a virtual classroom where students create instructor avatars and teach mathematics to middle school student avatars. Dr. Davis developed the virtual classroom to provide features that allow pre-service teachers to practice teaching lessons and hone classroom instructional strategies when confronted with mathematics misconceptions. There are tools such as media screens that display content from interactive pen tablets, and various voice, gesture and formative assessment menu options that support authentic engagement within the virtual classroom.
Dr. Davis says, “As with simulations used in medicine and flight school, this gives pre-service teachers the chance to practice teaching. And because it’s recorded, they can reflect on and critique their own teaching. It won’t replace going out to school districts and having field experiences in actual classrooms, but after collecting voluminous amounts of data and conducting research for five years, what we’re seeing is our pre-service teachers are being prepared in very meaningful ways.”
Integrated throughout the program is Dr. Davis’ passion — ensuring children from less affluent backgrounds have equitable access to technologies and learning experiences. “Particularly with subjects across STEM, we’re losing a lot of our diverse learners,” she says. “Girls in middle school are less interested in those areas, and some of our students of color and English-language learners are not penetrating those fields as much either. At the foundation of our work with KATE is providing these experiences and making ‘teaching for equity’ part of the model — so when teachers design math lessons, they really attend to those critical cultural and equity pieces.”
Davis points out that in the 90s, a lot of time was spent on getting Internet access and putting tools into teacher’s hands, however, today she sees a shift toward examining the impact of these resources. She asks, “How and under what conditions are we using these technology tools to improve learning? What are the best practices? Our KATE project is an example of that. We’re trying to reimagine what teacher preparation can look like.”