20 Years & 1,000+ Alumni

November 15, 2022

Online MAED program celebrates major milestone

By Jane Deacon

How much did a laptop weigh in 2001? About 10 pounds, as Professor Emeritus Steve Weiland remembers it. 

At the time, the College of Education was preparing to launch the university’s first fully online master’s program: the Master of Arts in Education (MAED). Twenty years and more than 1,000 graduates later, it is easy to forget that 2001 was a time when very few faculty members had experience with online teaching and access to educational technology was limited.  

Fall at MSU; trees are changing colors and students walk on the sidewalks

But the MAED was ahead of the curve. Following its success, the college is now home to eight fully online master’s programs, along with multiple hybrid learning models. 

When the college began to explore the possibility of developing online programs, former Dean Carole Ames recognized the potential of online education and—in partnership with Associate Professor Susan Melnick—ultimately got the MAED off the ground. Through special training opportunities, financial incentives and provision of technology, their work fostered the development of online instruction at the college. Melnick launched the MAED’s first online courses in fall 2001 as the program’s director. 

The question of how to prepare faculty to transition face-to-face courses to an online model presented a unique challenge at the time. One foundational course—developed by Professors Matt Koehler and Punya Mishra—paired tenured faculty members and graduate students, challenging them to collaboratively design an online course to be taught the following year. 

“What you committed to doing was taking a face-to-face class that you had and converting it to an online class,” said Weiland, MAED instructor and one of the program’s founding faculty members. “[Faculty] would learn how to do that by being a student in this class.” 

The online MAED opened doors to students from across the U.S. and around the world, who access the program from home in a format that can be balanced with full-time professional obligations. The program is designed to meet the needs of all educators looking to take the next step in their careers, including teachers, administrators, coaches, adult educators and community leaders.

In celebration of the program’s 20-year milestone, we are sharing the stories of some of its graduates.

Vic Radcliff

Head Varsity Baseball Coach & Travel Baseball Organization Owner
Atlanta, GA
MAED Graduate: 2011
Primary Concentration Area: P-12 School and Postsecondary Leadership

Ask Vic Radcliff about education and it won’t take long for the conversation to turn to sports.

For every major milestone in his 15-year career as an educator, you’ll discover a connection to his work as an athlete and coach.

Radcliff comes by the sport of baseball honestly. His father was a college athlete and coach, and Radcliff remembers growing up around the dugout, learning from older players.

“Learning baseball is like learning a language,” Radcliff explained. “So the more you speak it, the more you’ve been around it, the more fluent you are in that language. From my early years, my dad taught me the skill of baseball. Not just baseball, but the skill of baseball.”

Since then, baseball has helped define Radcliff’s professional trajectory.

His career in baseball began out of high school, when he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Radcliff spent seven years playing professionally with hopes of reaching the major leagues. But by 22, he was wrestling with injuries and decided it was time to pursue a different path.

Radcliff’s experiences as a professional athlete—which included the opportunity to coach at youth baseball camps—led him to a new career. Discovering the parallels that exist between coaching and teaching sparked his interest in education.

He began to pursue a degree in education in Ohio, where he and his family lived at the time, but it didn’t take long for baseball to re-enter the picture. An opportunity to help coach his college’s baseball team while he studied arose, and Radcliff added the possibility of one day becoming a head coach to his list of aspirations.

As he started his degree in education, Radcliff remembered a seventh-grade teacher—the only Black male teacher he had as a student—who had made an impact on him. Radcliff initially set his sights on becoming a social studies teacher. But a classroom placement working with students with behavioral challenges changed that course.

“There were probably two male students that I knew were gang-affiliated,” Radcliff explained. “And they didn’t come to school regularly. But I noticed that over time when they started trusting that I was going to be there every day, they started coming every day.

“Being a competitor and going into that environment and having to really bring my skills, that’s the kind of challenge that I enjoyed on a daily basis.”

That experience led Radcliff to focus on special education and an opportunity to work at a school in his hometown in South Carolina. Radcliff and his family relocated.

Early in his career as an educator, Radcliff began considering a future in administration and the possibility of a master’s degree. Radcliff’s wife, Nikki–who grew up in Lansing and has many family connections to Michigan State University–pointed him in the direction of the Master of Arts in Education at MSU.

Radcliff credits his master’s with giving him a unique professional distinction in the worlds of both coaching and education.

“Nothing is greater than when I sign an email and I put M.Ed. at the end, especially in my line of work,” Radcliff explained.

His career eventually led Radcliff and his family to Georgia, where he worked as a special education teacher and recently became the head varsity baseball coach for Decatur High School.

Outside of his career in education, Radcliff has provided individual baseball training to young athletes hoping to play professionally, and coached various sports at the schools where he has worked and at the recreational level in support of his children. His son, Baron, has continued the family tradition in baseball, attending and playing baseball for Georgia Tech and was drafted in 2020 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth round.

The transition to asynchronous instruction during the early days of the pandemic offered Radcliff some unexpected additional time to reconsider his coaching work and he recognized an opportunity to start his own business.

Together with his wife–who has her own impressive career in athletics–Radcliff launched Radcliff Sports Training and Outlaws Travel Baseball. The response was overwhelming. Within their business’s first two years, they have grown to include five travel baseball teams, a squad of assistant coaches and over 100 families involved in their programs.

“We started off with three teams. Before the end of that season, we grew to four teams,” he said. “Now this year, we added a fifth team and the wheels are just slowly turning, progressing the way that they should.”

Tara Hardy

Director of Education Engagement, Detroit Public Television
Detroit, MI
MAED Graduate: 2006
Primary Concentration Area: Literacy Education

Try to spot Tara Hardy at a community event and you might need to take a second look.

“If I get to go into the community and I’m at a place where kids are, it will always take you a minute to find me because I will always be on the floor,” she explained. “I will always be interacting with kids because that is exactly what led me to this [career].”

Hardy is inspired by building relationships—be it with teachers, families or students—but she’s in the unique position of building those relationships through media as the director of education engagement at Detroit Public Television (DPTV).

As Hardy describes it, her career in education has always involved some kind of “twist,” including roles in early childhood education, elementary school teaching and instruction at the community-college level.

In 2014, she found her niche with a position at DPTV. Her work initially centered on community outreach, connecting teachers, families and community organizations with free educational resources available through Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

The position was funded through a U.S. Department of Education grant designed to connect preschool and elementary school children lacking basic early learning skills with educational media and technology resources. For Hardy, a simple suggestion for families would be a game children could play at home to help practice reading skills or a Daniel Tiger episode that walks children through a breathing exercise when emotions run high.

“My eyes were just opened up to this new world of all these really good resources that were all free that teachers didn’t know about,” Hardy explains. “So then I started tapping into what public media was and really thought, there’s more here.”

Hardy’s work is still centered on building community connections with educators and families. Her position has grown to include the development of educational programming, community events and workshops for families, and the expansion of learning resources available through PBS Kids for both children and their families.

Like almost everyone, Hardy’s work has changed dramatically during the pandemic, and she and her colleagues pivoted quickly to respond to the needs of families unexpectedly thrust into the world of remote learning.

It began with a series of videos for caregivers that would appear before and after traditional children’s programming, covering topics like how to talk to kids about the coronavirus or how to check in with children who may be struggling with change.

As the reality of long-term remote learning became apparent in 2020, their work evolved into the development of the Michigan Learning Channel, a statewide channel that aligns with Michigan’s educational standards and follows the sequence of skills taught throughout the school year.

Designed to enrich school learning, the channel provides educational content 24 hours a day, giving students access to a classroom when in-person learning may not be possible. An average of 500,000 viewers from across Michigan tune into the channel each month.

“All of my career, I’ve really been drawn to focusing [on] kids that are unreachable,” Hardy explains. “Through my relationship with public media, I’ve been able to do that. We found that PBS Kids is in every child’s living room … So how do you get to those folks that are unreachable to schools? It’s to go into their living room and you talk to them through the TV. That’s kind of how it all morphed into a career for me.”

Jessica Knott

UX Research & Design Operations Manager, Gravity Works Design & Development
Lansing, MI
MAED Graduate: 2008
Concentration Areas: Technology & Learning

Jess Knott has a unique and diverse professional portfolio, but from the beginning there’s been a common theme: How does it work?

Knott is an instructional designer by trade, with more than a decade of experience helping educators develop strategies and tools to enhance their teaching. She charted her own course in the field by continually returning to that deceptively simple question.

With a long-time interest in technology, Knott worked as a programmer analyst at MSU’s information technology (IT) help desk while pursuing her undergraduate degree in journalism. What may have started with, “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” evolved into a career path that allowed Knott to explore the intersections between education and technology in academia.

Database administration, writing technical support documentation and helping to keep the university’s servers running gave Knott a look into how faculty and students were learning about technology and applying it to their work. She was particularly fascinated by how humans interact with technology and its role in instruction.

An opportunity to work on the technical side of the university’s learning-management system led Knott into the world of instructional design. Her background looking at human-computer interactions gave Knott a unique perspective into the parallels that exist between learning design and user experience (UX).

“It’s identifying the problem to be solved,” Knott explained. “It’s identifying the outcomes. Where do we need to get this human? How do we get them there? How do we design a path that gets them to this outcome?”

With her sights set on learning design, Knott pursued the Master of Arts in Education. Degrees in instructional design were rare at the time and the MAED allowed her to tailor her study by combining courses from the P-12 School & Postsecondary Leadership and Technology & Learning concentration areas.

“I’m one of the only people I know who discovered there was a career called instructional design and thought, that sounds good. I’m going to go figure that out,” Knott explained with a laugh.

“And that’s where I started the MAED. [It] let me put together a learning path that would help me figure out all of the theoretical, building, and creative and design pieces that I needed to be a learning designer.”

Knott continued her career in instructional design at MSU, where she supported faculty in adopting new teaching strategies and technology to enhance their practice. Meanwhile, she pursued her Ph.D. in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education, also at MSU, writing her dissertation on online course design.

In addition, Knott explored instructional design outside of academia, pursuing opportunities in the tech world. She spent time applying her skills at the Michigan-based company TechSmith, which specializes in screen-capture software. There she worked on corporate learning materials and professional development, and had frequent opportunities to learn more about user experience by working alongside the UX team.

Knott returned to MSU, where she managed the university’s instructional design team for a number of years, led research projects and helped to facilitate teaching support during the pivot to remote learning in 2020, among other roles.

In 2020, she took a job with the Online Learning Consortium and led the organization’s IT, community-building and member experience efforts for a brief time before she decided to pursue a career more closely aligned with her goals: user experience design operations and research.

Her diverse portfolio of work has led her to her current position of UX research and design operations manager at Gravity Works Design and Development, a web design and development firm in Lansing, MI. Knott leads a team that focuses on user experience and content strategy, and directs web design and development decisions supported by research.

“In learning design, we sit down with faculty and ask, ‘What are the learning outcomes? What do students need to leave this course with this module knowing? And how do we prove that they know it when they come out the other side?’” Knott explained. “[In my current role,] we look at how we can assess that in web design.”

Looking to the future, Knott is considering a book about the intersections between instruction design and user experience.

Rania Hammoud

Curriculum Coordinator, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
Plymouth, MI
MAED Graduate: 2009
Primary Concentration: P-12 School and Postsecondary Leadership

There are certain educators who connect with their students and leave a lasting impression.

For Rania Hammoud, that teacher—her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Enneking—helped to define her own career as an educator and administrator.

“As I was entering the field of education, I knew my number-one priority was to build relationships with my students,” said Hammoud. “My fourth-grade teacher did such a great job putting all of us under her wing and reaching out to us, using engaging strategies.

“Having that modeled for me at a very young age gave me a really great idea of the type of teacher that I wanted to be.”

Hammoud began her career as a classroom teacher in Dearborn, MI. She quickly discovered a desire to pursue a path in administration and jumped at leadership opportunities, from helping to coordinate a student council, becoming a department chair and assisting with the school improvement plan. Hammoud relished those challenges and was later promoted to an assistant principal position within her district.

Today, Hammoud is a K-12 curriculum coordinator for Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, one of the most populous school districts in Michigan. She oversees curriculum and instruction at the district level, focusing specifically on social studies, world language and school climate.

Hammoud credits her Master of Arts in Education from MSU with helping to channel her natural affinity for school leadership into her career in administration as she developed additional skills that supported her professional goals.

“At the time, I was a classroom teacher and was hoping to pursue a leadership role,” explained Hammoud. “I knew that I wanted to continue my education by going into something where there’s administration involved, because I really loved leading the building, leading my colleagues, so that’s what led me to go into the MAED program.”

Beyond her career trajectory in administration, Hammoud has also nurtured a passion for English language instruction. Early in her career, she had the opportunity to support a population of students whose experience mirrored her own.

Hammoud’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon when she was a young child and she began kindergarten with limited English language skills. Hammoud credits the work of several supportive elementary school teachers with sparking her passion for education, as they helped her navigate the challenge of learning to speak, read and write in English.

“Having supportive teachers who helped me get through the struggles that I was experiencing was monumental, and they’re the reason why I am here today,” said Hammoud.

As for what’s ahead, Hammoud is continuing to strive towards the next opportunity, with the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. in mind.

“For me, the learning never stops,” she explained. “I’d love to continue to challenge myself.”