Building Agents of Social Change


Kate E. O'Hara, Ph.D.


The Departments of Teaching, Learning, and Culture

and Secondary Education

in the School of Education

Academic Research

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1. Building Awareness with Avatars: Exploring Social Issues Virtually

Grant funded, collaborative research project: NYIT Department of School Counseling & NYIT Department of Communication Arts.

Developed and piloted project that engaged K-12 students in virtual role play, worked with in-service teachers to problem solve with their students around social issues.

Does the use of avatars in educational settings have the potential to improve student attitudes, awareness, knowledge, and skills about social issues?

And, if so, in light of critical pedagogy, does this new awareness enable students to make connections between knowledge, power, and constructive agency?

Does avatar technology increase student engagement and aid in literacy development?

Data Collection and Analysis: Building Awareness with Avatars

Technology as a tool for differentiation, critical thinking, literacy development and meeting ELA Common Core Learning Standards

Project Based Learning in conflict with the constraints of the “instructional” day:

2. Navigating a Literacy Rich World

Grant funded project

Can the use of Netbooks, online resources and Web 2.0 tools effectively immerse English language learners (ELL) in literacy development outside of the traditional school day?

What types of professional development can best enhance the work of ELL teachers?

Data Collection and Analysis: Navigating a Literacy Rich World

Broadening the term of traditional literacy (NCTE and IRA Standards for the ELA)

Teacher Professional Development: mentoring, collaboration, online communities

Presentation: Navigating a Literacy Rich World

Emerging Learning Design Conference

Montclair State University

Theme: Learning as Disruption

Navigating a Literacy Rich World: Untethering English Language Learners From the Classroom

3. Flipping the Failure: Using Web 2.0 Tools and a Virtual Classroom to Support Academic Achievement

Freirean framework

The participating NYC school is classified as a Title I school, receiving federal funding because of its high percentage of students from low-income families.

Students who are unsuccessful in mainstream high school due to low academic performance, lack of attendance, or discipline problems.

Work with English Language Arts teacher(s), creating a virtual classroom that will support traditional instruction outside the scheduled school day.

A blended class, with virtual space and face to face direct instruction: opportunities to access and submit work online, students work at own pace, receive individualized feedback from both peers and their teacher.

Students will be provided with a Chromebook which is a personal computer designed to be used while connected to the Internet via WiFi or 3G access.

  • Teacher education
  • English education
  • "Academic Achievement" = Test Scores = Stucture of the School Day
  • Teacher evaluation / "effective" teaching
  • Instructional technology



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Teacher Evaluation: The Charge and the Challenges

(under contract)

Publication date: January 2014

Teachers report that in classroom practice, implementation of existing evaluation systems creates a "dumbing down" of the curriculum, shifting the focus on “teaching to the test” and teaching only the subjects of standardized exams. As a result of these practices, K-12 students can lose instructional time as well as the essential development of social and emotional skills.

In addition, the “importance of developing high-quality evaluators and the challenges they will face must not be underestimated” (Papay, 2012, p. 135). Just as teachers need a strong support structure to be successful, effective evaluators must be trained and supported as well. At present, it is arguable that evaluation systems currently in place should not only assess teacher effectiveness but also support teacher professional development.

Our Secretary of Education states we must strive for an evaluation system that is “fair, honest, and realistic.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2012, “Change is Hard”).

But how is this going to be achieved?

The work of classroom teachers is work that is often misunderstood, and demonized (the ills of public education fall on the back of "ineffective" teachers). There is a great need to "talk back" to a national rhetoric, which has tenets of neoliberalism, is value laden (good/bad teachers), and equates teaching with student achievement. This is an absurd correlation for those in the K-12 classroom, whose challenges touch on social, cultural and political implications. Challenges are even more daunting for urban teachers.

Book chapters will "talk back" to this climate of accountability, written within frameworks that may include social and critical theory as well as oppression theory.


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Urban Teachers and Technology: Critical Reflections in the Age of Accountability

(under contract)

In J.A. Gorlewski & B. Porfilio (eds.], Effective or Wise? Teaching and Assessing Professional Dispositions in Education.

This auto-ethnographic study examines the use and non-use of technology by urban teachers.

In an education age of accountability, teachers are evaluated under new standard-based or value-added systems to determine their professional “effectiveness.” And, at the current time, the use of technology for teaching and learning is an expectation in both the national teacher evaluation system as well as in the national standards for students.

However, urban teachers face numerous challenges and obstacles that prevent them from effectively integrating technology in their practice; economic factors, lack of professional development opportunities, and test driven practices, all play a part in the use and non-use by teachers.

But, for every hindrance faced, there is an urban teacher with a positive professional attitude, determined to use technology in meaningful ways. With a belief in the positive potential of effective technology use on their students’ learning, urban teachers work tirelessly to provide students with fair and equitable opportunities.

Additionally, the chapter outlines solutions related to teacher collaboration, both school based and virtual, to overcome the obstacles faced.

  • Teacher dispositions
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Urban education
  • Instructional technology


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From Filtering to Freire: Critical Use of the Internet in Urban Classrooms


Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, Fall 2013.

Despite the lack of resources urban schools have in relation to their wealthier counterparts, it is crucial for educators to examine the effective use of existing technologies for teaching and learning, in particular the use of the Internet.

The effective use of the Internet in urban schools can be the means by which both students and teachers engage in critical thinking, critical consciousness, and a critical pedagogy (Freire, 2005)

Through a social and critical theory lens, complex issues impacting meaningful use of the Internet such as classroom practices, professional development, teacher and administrator accountability, Internet filtering, and power relations within school systems, are examined.

  • Urban education
  • Equity and access
  • Teacher education
  • Professional development
  • Critical pedagogy


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Dis/connecting? Urban Teachers Developing Professionally Online


Paper presentation for American Educational Studies Association, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2013 Annual Meeting

Drawing from experiences of K-12 urban teachers, this research aims to illuminate disparities and challenges often overlooked in discussions about technology use by teachers as well as issues of equity and access for teachers, within both professional development and teaching practices.

This research examines and challenges current data and findings related to the use of technology by teachers for professional development. Conclusions substantiated reveal the need for developing a critical consciousness (Freire, 1998) in regard to the traditional view of teacher technology use and professional development.

Grand narratives, oppressive power-laden structures and the neoliberal ideologies must be challenged through a new level of awareness. Educators have been indoctrinated to make not only their classrooms, but their professional lives, a neutral ground, void of culture, without awareness that all knowledge is political (Kincheloe, 2008);

Teachers' professional development often times amounts to receiving information from sources far removed from daily classroom instruction. But, without critical reflection of professional development practices, educators inadvertently accept and perpetuate the status quo.

However, by creating multiple dialogues and critical narratives of diverse truths, and connecting with difference (Kincheloe, 2009), the creation of modes of resistance to dominant powers can be supported. In the light of criticality, these modes of resistant can then reflect new ways of thinking and new forms of consciousness; all in the quest to alleviate inequalities of technology use by teachers for their own professional development.

  • Professional development
  • Online communities
  • Instructional technology
  • Teacher education
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Illuminating Inequities: Technology and the Common Core Standards

Paper presentation at the 6th Annual Conference on Equity and Social Justice, New Paltz, New York, March 2013

What is the impact of the inequities related to technology access by urban teachers and their students?

In an age of accountability, teachers are expected to support their students in meeting national Common Core Standards. At the current time, the use of technology for teaching and learning is an expectation in the national standards for students.

Urban teachers face numerous challenges and obstacles that prevent them from effectively integrating technology in their practice. Economic factors, equity and access to technology for educational purposes, pose challenges on a daily basis.

Additionally, solutions are proposed for overcoming the obstacles faced, and begin the dialogue toward resolutions that reflect a socially just education system.

  • Teacher evaluation
  • Common Core Standards
  • Urban education
  • Equity and access

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Technology Meets InTASC: Creating Artifact ePortfolios

O’Hara, K.E. & Tutela, J.J.

Presentation at Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment Studies Conference

New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, New Jersey,

October 2012

What should teachers know and be able to do?

Prepare Newark Public School Teachers for the re-hiring process by offering professional support including: resume writing, interview coaching, organizing professional artifacts and preparing demonstration lessons.

Teachers reviewed each of the InTASC standards and used the following guided prompts:

What evidence/artifact would you use to prove that you have mastered this standard?

Inclusive of 1) Performance 2) Essential Knowledge and 3) Critical Dispositions

  • Teachers designing and developing an ePortfolio
  • ePortfolios for student work
  • Common Core Learning Standards
  • Content mastery