Ten years ago, Danna Livingston knew she could not be in the criminal justice field any longer.
“I was just ready to move on from where I was with the criminals and dysfunction,” Livingston said of her former job as a division parole agent for the State of Wisconsin. “I just wanted to be able to be in a little bit less stressful environment to teach the students.
“How can I put this nicely? Students read things in books, but they’re not always aware of what the actual reality is. It was refreshing to basically switch careers and just have essentially better hours and more of a positive environment.”
Livingston has been teaching criminal justice at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) ever since. However, she just finished up her Master of Science in Education in Instruction in May 2016, through a combination of on-campus and online courses from UW-Superior, where she also earned her undergraduate degree.
The MSE in Instruction, along with the MSE in Educational Administration and the MSE in Special Education, recently became fully online options at UW-Superior.
“I found it to be not only good information but almost vital information,” Livingston said of her MSE. “What I was learning was important stuff I immediately started integrating into the classroom. I would say it was very key to my job.”
Time for a Career Change
Livingston initially started college as a business major before switching over to criminal justice because she “really sucked at math.”
Her job with the State of Wisconsin called for her to do a lot of the “dirty work” police officers must face on a daily basis.
“We do our own searches,” Livingston said. “We issue our own warrants. We don’t work directly under the judge, so we kind of have a lot more power than some of the surrounding states.”
Her 13 years of experience in the field gave her the credentials to teach criminal justice, but she eventually felt like she needed to go back for her MSE in Instruction to advance her career.
“Even though I felt pretty knowledgeable and had a really good background in criminal justice, I wasn’t as strong in learning how to teach that in a classroom setting,” she said. “So, the instruction degree just gave me really good, up-to-date teaching tips and different styles of teaching because [they are] constantly changing and evolving. Not having been back to school for years, I really felt the need to keep up with the change. I think that’s something we all need to do. I think we should constantly seek more schooling, whether it’s in certificates, workshops, conferences or whatever it is. The world is constantly changing.”
Livingston also had to learn about criminal justice practices beyond Wisconsin.
“I was having to realize I can’t just teach about the state I work in,” she said. “I have to realize when I teach them the laws and everything, I have to formulate all of the states into it. I had to expand my horizons from my own personal experience.”
Online vs. On-Campus
Thanks to her experience with both online and on-campus courses, Livingston knows quite a bit about how the two methods differ.
“My research project, oddly enough, was comparing online learning to face-to-face learning because we’re starting to do a lot of online teaching at the school where I teach,” Livingston said. “I was curious to see if it’s as effective. I kind of went into it thinking it wouldn’t be quite as effective as face-to-face, but actually the statistics are out there that it isn’t any less effective. It is quite effective, every bit as effective as face-to-face and in some cases more, which was surprising.”
Because Livingston lives and works so close to UW-Superior, going to class on campus wasn’t too difficult. But she said an entirely online program would have definitely been the better way to go for her.
“Online is just handier because you can get it done at any time a day, seven days a week,” she said. “You’re not as limited to a set class time. It’s a way where you can keep up with the times and keep going forward with your education, which I firmly believe, everybody should move forward. And it’s just a reasonable way you can do it where you can better utilize your time. You can basically make the most of your learning because you’re not going to be tied down to a classroom, so you’re able to be flexible and get the tools you need to be able to go forward.”
Because Livingston was looking to enhance her teaching ability, Methods in Adaptive Instruction (SPED 758) was one of her favorite courses.
“That was one of my favorites just because the teaching styles and concepts are always changing,” Livingston said. “And keeping up with the times and technology — I really needed some good insight on that. It was really insightful for me to be able to intertwine the technology with learning the different styles of how to do this when you’re teaching.”
Livingston said earning her MSE in Instruction took her about four or five years because she was working full-time and had to take some classes on campus.
“[UW-Superior] was really good with working with me on that,” she said. “They adjusted my plan to fit with them. I ended up taking one course a semester, which really worked out.”
She chose UW-Superior because it was close and because it was the degree program that worked out best for her.
“I knew that they had a good reputation,” she said. “I did my homework. I probably could have gone with a different school, but I felt like they would be a good fit.”
Looking Forward to the Future
Now that Livingston has a master’s degree, she’s even more excited about her teaching career — and, of course, that she’s no longer out serving search warrants.
“You kind of get stagnant if you don’t keep your feet wet,” she said. “Even with technology, comparing it to when I was first in school, it’s so different. You can’t honestly do a really good job teaching if you aren’t familiar with current practices.”
Livingston did, however, have to miss her MSE in Instruction graduation ceremony because it coincided with WITC’s graduation.
“May is a busy month academically for teachers,” Livingston said. “Although I would have liked to have been able to attend the graduation at UW-S, I was just way too busy with work obligations at my own college. I was so busy working with my own students to get through their graduation process that mine was basically put on the back burner, and I was okay with that.”
Learn more about the UW-Superior online MSE Instruction program.