Teachers are more than just subject matter experts. They are also customer service, tech support, entertainer, mentor and cheerleader to the students.
- Dr. Caitlin Barnes, Co-Founder, Arise Education Consultants
All About Caitlin
Dr. Caitlin Barnes is a three-time graduate from Oklahoma State University (OSU) in geology (B.S.), science education (M.S.) and environmental science (Ph.D). She conducted hydrogeological research on injection disposal wells across the nation that contributed to induced seismicity. She taught intro to earth science course for three years at Northern Oklahoma College, then began teaching planetary and environmental geology at OSU.
While she was continuing her education and teaching courses, Barnes worked under grants and contracts at OSU with various positions. Many of the grants she worked under were educational outreach under the NASA Education Projects, which were fully online programs designed to educate or inspire STEM education across the nation. The combination of science and education perfectly matched her education and experience.
“The NASA Projects changed my career path entirely. When you work under a grant, you adopt a survival of the fittest mentality. Our jobs were not guaranteed. With limited time and funds, there was not a single person who simply did one job. All of us were doing multiple jobs, which could easily be several full-time positions.” Under the NASA Education Projects, Barnes challenged herself to learn as many new skills as possible, which afforded her many new opportunities.
“My boss once came in and asked me to put together a website for a conference they had just completed, which I had never done before. I taught myself html and css coding, and got to work.”
Barnes quickly became proficient at nearly all online educational strategies and learning platforms as she was surrounded and mentored by exceptional instructional designers, K-12 educators, scientists and engineers. She picked up marketing and graphic design strategies that made their online programs more popular. She became strategic in online communication techniques, was writing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum for their online programs, had trained hundreds of preservice and inservice teachers on teaching STEM disciplines, and managed grant-work from initial award to institutionalization.
“I worked for many different types of educational grants, but there was one that really opened my eyes to accessible education and that was the INSPIRE project. This project was specifically designed to reach and inspire underrepresented high school students to pursue STEM degrees. Students in small towns, just like me, now had a network of friends and educators they didn’t have locally. And every single student who was verified as low-income, received a free laptop in order to participate. Working for that project did not feel like a job. It felt bigger than that, like a calling.”
Barnes forged a connection with these students who grew up with little to no resources for college preparation and no mentor to guide them through the process. Many of these students were going to be first-generation college students.
“INSPIRE showed me the reach of online education. It showed me the ROI of getting technology in the hands of these bright students who just need a little guidance. After that, it became my mission to educate others on the power of online education.” Barnes is currently the assistant director of outreach for the College of Arts and Sciences, which is the largest division at OSU with the most general education courses.
As the only instructional designer in her unit, the stakes were high and her work would have a lasting impact on the students who came through the college. Barnes established quality standards for all online courses, a feat that had not yet been accomplished. She also created and implemented systematic professional development training for all faculty teaching online courses. The website she created as a resource for her own faculty was shared in over 80 countries, with thousands of views and downloads of student-centered resources, such as netiquette guidelines.
“Teachers are not just looking for advice or inspiration, they want tangible resources they can use on the first day of class. They are looking for strategies that outline the steps to take and not just how to self-reflect. My environmental research background taught me to treat the source of the the contamination, and not to just put temporary patches at the surface. It's similar for educators. I talk with them about the issues they see and help them discover the underlying issues with the design of the course. It's only then that we can talk about effective strategies."
Barnes's unique educational and professional backgrounds afford her a skillset unlike any other. It only takes a conversation to convince you of her authenticity, passion for education and dedication to accessible education for all students.