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Student Spotlight: Brandon Patterson

Brandon Patterson

Brandon Patterson, M.A., Higher Education and M.S.I., Information

Before coming to U-M for his dual Master’s degrees, Brandon worked in international education at his alma mater, The University of Utah. He worked for the International Center advising students on immigration regulations. It was through building close relationships with international students that he began seeing how students connected to content– often digitally. “I saw these connections being made by students with online resources. They were connecting to higher education through technology first. I wanted to bring this thread into my work.”

He started at U-M in the Master’s in Higher Education program and worked in the Office of Global Activities at the School of Social Work. It was there that he served as a graduate assistant to a project, Resilient Traveling, which helped students with coping mechanisms via a digital platform while abroad. He says, “With this project, I was able to gain a better understanding of how a digital resource can empower students. I’ve been able to assist in several projects where using digital platforms can enhance the student experience at U-M.” The Resilient Traveling website is now used by many study abroad units on campus.

His work led him to his most recent project “Using Digital Modules to Holistically Prepare Students for Sustainable Community Engagement,” a grant-funded project through the Vice Provost of Global and Engaged Learning. “The focus of this project is to build modules for students to help them before, during and after an engagement opportunity, whether it be a co-curricular project or something self-initiated. Of all the resources on campus for students, there lacks a central ‘hub’ to help students sustain community partnerships, grow as individuals and authentically connect with the community and each other. We wanted to take students through a journey that prepares them for intentional engagement, where they can leave a legacy of assisting other students with the ability to archive helpful information, document lessons learned, and continue to grow the learning community through global and local engagement networks.”

Brandon decided to join the School of Information after completing his first year at U-M, choosing a tailored degree in ‘Learning Technology’ after seeing connections between the education and technology through his work. Brandon wants to assist in projects that enhance the learner’s potential and free up students to explore, connect and inspire. “I want to put resources into the hands of teachers, learners and community members. Resources that assist in training people to do what they do best. Enhancing these things through technology – to connect voices and provide perspective.”

As a way of practicing what he studied, Brandon took a class in School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), which partnered with the Office of Academic Innovation and Center for Research on Learning and Teaching to create a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). He explains, “This is a learner-centered MOOC. We are not relying solely on a faculty member but using students from SNRE, Education, Information, and other backgrounds to contribute ideas that resonate with students. As students, we can create something that connects well with others while fitting within the university-wide goals on sustainability. Working in multi-disciplinary environments like this helps me see ways in which technology enhances the learning instead of replacing it.”

In addition to his interests in education technology, Brandon is also interested in physical spaces that encourage collaboration and engagement. He recently worked as a program assistant for the Design Lab in the Shapiro Library to develop a collaborative co-working/maker space. “We are trying to facilitate an environment to encourage peer-to-peer learning, and building a culture of engagement in the library that has only been happening in the periphery before now.” This project epitomizes Brandon’s initial interest in the study of education: “The philosophy I’ve held throughout my higher education is that out-of-classroom experiences are as important as in-classroom experiences. They rely and build on each other. As a student, I become a sponge to what is possible – I seek experiences inside and outside of the traditional four walls of a classroom. I have learned just as much outside the classroom as I have in it, but both in tandem have allowed me to develop more fully. I hope spaces like the Design Lab can contribute to others’ development.”

As a complement to the work he’s been doing at the U-M Library, Brandon used Rackham and World Performance Studies funding to undertake research in Brazil last summer, an opportunity that gave him the chance to go to the 2016 Summer Olympics as well. He worked on a project that examined Maker Spaces, co-working facilities, hack labs and community centers in parts of Brazil and Paraguay. “It was a great experience to observe, tour and speak with local community liaisons doing this work. I got the chance to see ways in which these communities are using space in a way that brings in community-centered learning. These are places that invite people from the community to teach each other about things they are passionate about. I recognized that some of what I saw could also connect back to U-M.”

Brandon finished his two Master’s degrees in April and will begin a tenured assistant librarian position working with learning technologies at the Eccles Health Science Library at the University of Utah. “I enjoy environments that enhance engaged learning spaces and give students the opportunity to be recognized for their contributions to the campus community outside of a classroom grading system. I find ways to use that digital space as a means of enhancing that engagement experience. I see myself working at an institution of higher education, adding to the engaged learning atmosphere. Libraries have so much knowledge; I think connecting with communities through a library makes a lot of sense.”

His journey at U-M has been extremely positive. “I get a lot of support from staff members here. Often, there is a lot of focus on faculty at the institution, but I’d like to recognize all the staff that have contributed to my education – many of my greatest learning experiences have come from supervisors and mentors. Places like the U-M Library and the Office of Global Activities at the School of Social Work have provided interesting challenges and practical experiences that have been vital to my growth. Staff mentoring partnered with incredible faculty is the ultimate learning experience. With these experiences, I’m able to build models of what works with education in a way that is meaningful and impactful.”