From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Dr. Don Schillinger: From telecom expert to master educator

Mar 4, 2014 | Faculty Feature

don_schillingerDon Schillinger wears numerous hats in the College of Education. He is an Associate Professor of Secondary Education (Science), Director of Assessment and Accreditation (IT Supervision), and STEAM Research Coordinator for SciTEC, to name a few. His non-traditional path to becoming an educator has served as a catalyst for innovation that puts Don at the leading edge of his profession. Don was born in Washington, DC and moved to New Smyrna Beach, Florida at the age of seven where his family lived two blocks off the beach. Don said, “I loved to surf and play sports, especially golf. It was wonderful to start the day sitting on my board, on a glassy ocean surface, watching the sunrise and waiting for the first wave of the day. We would ride some waves, shower quickly, and then get on to school.” Don learned the consequences of being tardy while there, but who could blame him? Don attended the University of Florida for three years studying philosophy, but that seemed to have little meaning to him. What did have meaning to him was whatever work Don happened to be doing at the time. It seemed that no matter where he was working, work was more interesting than school. So, over the next couple years, Don started some small businesses such as a golf cart maintenance and service business. Then his dad retired from Southern Bell and wanted something to do, so he took on contract work for a new long-distance company, MCI, to install their interfaces in businesses in the Central Florida area. He asked Don to cover his installations one week, and after a two-day training session, Don started installing some small-scale switching devices. MCI liked his work and offered him a contract as an installer, and then a few months later asked Don if he would troubleshoot the state of Florida for them – basically, fixing the mistakes of other installers. Then, Don and his dad started a small communications company installing telephony systems in the Central Florida area, taking on troubleshooting and installation contracts in Washington DC, New York, and Boston. After a few years, Don’s dad retired and Don decided to do something that required less travel and more consistent hours. One side result of his ventures was that whenever Don did training for companies or for his staff, they would comment, “you know, you should think about teaching.”  Don felt his calling for teaching. At age 36, Don moved back to Daytona Beach and enrolled in the University of Central Florida and the Science Education – Chemistry Concentration program.  Four years later, he began teaching science, mostly chemistry, in Orlando. Don noted, “I was fascinated with the use of technology as a tool for teaching and learning, and integrated it into my instruction and into student assignments. At that time, the use of PowerPoint was rare in K-12 environments and the Internet was in its infancy, but my students found both tools to be fascinating and it helped with engaging them in the learning process. With my school’s permission (I was too naïve to know how progressive this was), I stopped using a textbook and had the students create the curriculum using productivity tools such as PowerPoint, interactive books, and creating their own websites.” At the time, he was unaware that this teaching/learning approach had a specific name, but looking back he sees now that he was employing project-based learning, and was able to work with teachers that were agreeable to using collaborative, theme-based instruction, something now commonly called an integrated or interdisciplinary curriculum. A few years later, a fellow high school teacher who had taken a position as a Math Education faculty member at Ole Miss asked Don if he was interested in going there to work on a graduate degree, and take part in some curriculum writing, grant writing, and helping them with their technology needs. Don jumped at the opportunity and immediately began writing an Internet-based course, titled the Internet: A Tool for Teaching and Learning. “I believe it was the first online course ever offered at Ole Miss, and it became very popular with students across the entire campus. My time at Ole miss was a wonderful experience, some of it due to the opportunity for teaching and learning, but mostly due to the opportunities to initiate and collaborate on ventures such as creating the Teach Mississippi Institute, a fully online and compressed video based alternative certification program offered statewide through multiple campuses where non-traditional students could become certified teachers. – see In addition, three of us (math, engineering, and me), formed a team that would “play in the sandbox” together to design and implement new initiatives – a true joy.” Don enjoys learning about and using new technologies, especially as they apply to learning and teaching. For instance, during the spring term he will be beta testing a student response system during his Elementary Science Methods course. The application works like many “clicker” systems, but this one is web-based and relies upon BYOD, utilizing apps available for download to IOS or DROID mobile devices. Students that do not use Smart mobile devices can use texting to provide their responses. Associated with the use of technology for teaching and learning is a new learning theory called connectivism, which Don believes could attend to the “disruption” in the learning process that is brought about by our immersion in technology. Don notes that as with most new ideas, there is considerable debate as to its merit and whether it is indeed a learning theory. “Connectivism deals with how people learn in a digital age where information is produced and processed at a much faster pace with the use of tools that are far different than those used in the past. With connectivism, competence is gained from the making of connections, recognizing patterns, and providing meaning and context to those connections. Learning becomes in a sense, a self-organizing process. This theory seems to lend itself to many of the concepts of design, pattern recognition, and STEM practices contained in the Next Generation Science Standards and to the use of applications such as LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. I am fascinated by the use of technology, especially productivity tools, as methods of organizing knowledge and increasing productivity.” Don met his wife, Ammi, while in Oxford, Mississippi attending to graduate work at Ole Miss. Both of them were divorced and had no intentions of altering that, but it seems that life had surprises in store for them. “I was single with no children, and Ammi had three daughters. We met at church, where I introduced myself by telling her that I enjoyed watching her sing in the praise choir because of the joy radiating from her face. We began seeing each other during our small group/fellowship meetings, and then we married, but only after me asking her multiple times before she said yes.” Ammi was born and raised in Natchitoches and is a physical therapist. Ammi’s girls Tara, Taylor, and Madison embraced Don from the very beginning. Tara, the oldest, is a graduate of Louisiana Tech and is married to Matthew Stone. They have a daughter, Audrey Grace, and are awaiting the birth the newest baby, Samuel Stone. Taylor, the middle child, is a soon-to-be senior at Louisiana Tech. She stays very involved with her schoolwork and works at numerous extracurricular endeavors, including being a co-director of student ministry at the Bridge Community Church and as lead recruiter on the Tech campus for Pine Cove Christian Summer Camps. Madison Grace, the baby of the family is a junior at Ruston HS where she is doing very well in her studies and swims competitively for Ruston HS and the Bulldog Aquatic Club. It does not take long to recognize the tremendous talents and energy that Don Schillinger brings to Louisiana Tech.  Most to benefit are the many students who get to learn in the innovative educational environments that Don creates for them.  We hope to be able to use Don’s talents in even greater ways in the future, in ways that keep Louisiana Tech at the forefront of teaching and learning and enable our students to have unparalleled educational experiences.