In the College of Education and Human Development, it's reading, writing and ... digital learning

Mark Ginsberg, dean of Mason's College of Education and Human Development, says Amazon's entry into Northern Virginia "challenges us to be the very best we can be."

Ginsberg said the college is developing a university curriculum that will be part of a new teacher licensure program in computer science. Photo provided.

Before Amazon decided to put a headquarters in Northern Virginia, George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development was researching ways for Virginia’s public-school instructors to better teach computer science and coding.

The college is also developing a university curriculum that will be part of a new teaching licensure program in computer science.

“Amazon’s decision is a catalyst,” Dean Mark Ginsberg said. “It not only will help move our college forward, it will provide the energy and momentum for us to continue developing innovative programs that will affect our community, as well as those [individuals] joining us through Amazon. It is a reminder for us of what we do and how we do it.”

The quality of Virginia’s educational and university systems was integral in Amazon’s decision, and Mason has taken a leadership role, with plans for a large-scale expansion of its Arlington Campus that will include a new multidisciplinary School of Computing and the establishment of a multidisciplinary Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA).

Ginsberg spoke from his office on the Fairfax Campus about Amazon’s move and how Mason and the College of Education and Human Development are key components in ensuring Mason students are ready to take advantage of the opportunities Amazon presents for career-ready graduates.

Does Amazon’s decision affect the priorities for the College of Education and Human Development?

Amazon is a great development for Northern Virginia, but it’s not the reason we do things. It does reinforce that the things we do are of value to the entire population, as we partner with other people on campus—in engineering, in computer science—to develop innovative new programs to bring into the public schools. It also challenges us to embed in those programs practices and methods, together with experiences, so teacher candidates—those studying education at Mason—are career ready from day one to make a difference in the lives of students. That’s our goal. That’s our anticipation.

What differentiates Mason from other universities?

We’re a Carnegie Research 1 institution committed to research and scholarship. In my view, with many of the Carnegie institutions, the research and scholarship almost stop at the laboratory door. What we do at Mason, probably as well as anyone in the country, is to develop best practices and make sure best practices become common best practices.

Give me an example.

Think about Associate Professor Amy Hutchison developing a digital literacy program for Virginia’s teachers [through a $1 million National Science Foundation grant]. Think about all the work we do in special education to learn about exceptionality and how we tailor and personalize learning to meet the unique needs and skills of individual students. Those are all things that differentiate us. We’re not just developing best practices; we’re ensuring that they are well implemented and making a difference.

Can you talk about the new curriculum for the teaching licensure program in computer science?

This is an area of great interest for Virginia’s public schools and of great interest to us. Teachers who teach computer science need both highly honed and well-developed skills in the computer science field, but also in pedagogy and teaching. So, what we envision is a partnership, an alliance between the College of Education and Human Development and others on campus who work in the computer science field. It’s in development, and we envision being one of the first universities in the commonwealth to offer such programs.

That seems to dovetail nicely with Hutchison’s work developing best practices for Virginia’s public-school teachers to teach computer science and coding.

It fits right in by not only creating a group of teachers who can teach computer science, but by embedding it within the PK-12 [prekindergarten through 12th grade] curriculum as we think about literacy issues—not just reading and writing in traditional ways, but understanding the digital environment.

Which brings us back to how Amazon’s decision affects not only the college but Mason as well.

It challenges us to be the very best we can be, and it tells us that the relationships we have between the university and the schools in the community are really primary. To bring 25,000 skilled workers to a community just elevates the expectations for our schools. It further reinforces that colleges like ours and the role they play in the life of the community are very significant.