Seth Fewell teaching a class dressed as a pirate.

Office Insider Spotlight: Seth Fewell

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Like a lot of people, Seth Fewell’s career path was influenced by the jobs his parents held. In Seth’s case, those roles were teacher (his mother) and aerospace engineer (his father).

In fact, some of his earliest memories involve learning about technology alongside his dad, who worked as a Senior Systems Engineer on different aspects of the NASA space program.

“The first memories I have of technology are of my dad teaching me DOS,” he recalled. “I was always tinkering and fixing things; I guess that’s my father’s engineering blood as well. I built my first computer when I was in high school. Oh, and because of my dad’s job, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up, of course!”

Seth Fewell as a baby sits next to his dad, who is working on an early computer.

Instead of going into space, Seth managed to neatly combine his parents’ careers. After starting out as a music teacher, he leveraged his love of technology to land his current role as an Education Technology Specialist at a Houston-area school district. He’s also currently working on his doctorate in curriculum instruction, with a focus on education technology, at Texas A&M University.

Seth’s graduate research and his job are both centered on helping teachers prepare young minds for the technology-driven world they’ll work in as adults. It’s a challenge that is made easier by his early access to the latest software tools through the Office Insider program.

“In education, we always say, ‘You never really know something until you teach it to someone else.’ So, how are we supposed to reach all of these young minds?” he asked. “We have to know what we’re teaching—the product or content—really well before we can turn around and teach it to anybody. That’s one of the reasons I love the Office Insider program: because I get to learn about the latest innovations before I get to teach them to everybody else.”

In a recent interview, Seth talked to us about his career path, the types of technology challenges educators face today, his favorite Office features and tools, and what superhero character he most relates to.

How did you end up working in education?

Seth: When I was younger, I started singing, getting into choirs, and things like that. I just fell in love with music. In college, I graduated with a degree in sacred music, with a double major focusing on vocal performance and choral conducting. I went on to study at a seminary in Boston, though I chose not to finish that degree or pursue that career path further.

I returned home to Texas, got married, and started waiting tables while trying to figure out my next move. My wife suggested that I apply for an alternative teaching certification program. I was less than enthusiastic; since my mom was a teacher, I knew how difficult the profession was and I never had any real interest in following in her footsteps.

Waiting tables was not very fulfilling, though, so I decided to go ahead and apply. I was accepted into the program, and a few months later I had my own classroom as a music teacher. They say your first year in teaching is about surviving, and that was absolutely how my first year of teaching went. I had to learn how to survive in a classroom with 30-something kindergarteners running around, and I’m the teacher—and months before, I was waiting tables. It was nuts, but a lot of fun.

How did you become involved in the technology side of education?

During my second year of teaching, we started learning about the tools that we were going to use the following year when we moved into a new building. My principal was very forward-thinking, and she said, “When we move buildings, we are not taking any of this old stuff. We are going fully in on technology—we’re going to have smart projectors and smartboards, etc.” So, we were going from overhead projectors and giant tube TVs strapped down to a rolling cart in a 1950s school building to a brand-new building with fully digital technology, or as digital as was possible in 2006.

Seth Fewell holding a "First Day of School" sign.

The technology person at the time stated that she was not interested in learning the new tools. So I raised my hand and I was like, “Pick me, please pick me!” I sat down with my principal, and she said, “I’m kind of nervous; this is only your second year of teaching. Are you sure you want to take on this responsibility?” And I certainly did!

It was called the Technology Liaison position, and it only paid a small stipend, but that didn’t matter to me. I got to learn all of the new tools before anybody else. And then, once we moved into the new building, it was my job to not only learn about the new tools but to support them, fix any issues that arose, and train the faculty on how best to teach with them.

And when did you move from a teaching role to a fully technology-focused role?

Well, I’ve never quit teaching, I just don’t have a classroom of my own anymore. I both taught and held the technology role for about seven years, before focusing on the technology aspect of my job.

When I decided that I wanted to concentrate on the technology aspect full time, I got my master’s degree in learning design and technology from Purdue University. Then, I was hired as an Educational Technology Specialist in the Pearland Independent School District, focusing primarily on the elementary grades. This is my eighth year in this role, making 17 total years working in education.

What is one Office feature that made a big difference for you when it came out?

The most exciting one for me was Immersive Reader. When that feature came out, my mind was blown. I’ve been in education for a long time—when that feature came out, I’m sure I was at least in my mid-30s—and because of Immersive Reader, I started learning things about myself. I learned that with the high-contrast background—the black background with the white text—I read so much faster and remembered so much more. And it was like, “Whoa, how am I just now learning this about myself?”

What are some of the challenges you face as a technology person in the education field?

In education, I think the biggest challenge is just keeping up with all of the changes that are going on in the world. It’s incredibly difficult. We have this smart technology, and better, faster ways of doing things, and teachers try to keep up, but it’s not easy. We have to adapt and change our methods and our approach to teaching, so that we can reach our students wherever they are in this constantly changing digital environment. That’s why there are people like me in education, to support and encourage teachers and administrators to keep up with technology, to push the envelope, and to empower our learners to achieve more.

Seth Fewell on the Microsoft campus.

With technology and the Office Insider program specifically, I get a glimpse of the future before it comes. I get to prepare myself so that I can share the knowledge I’ve acquired about these awesome tools. So just being ahead of the curve, with things like the Office Insider program, is incredible. It’s a lifesaver, it really is.

How do you feel the pandemic has changed the world of education?

I honestly see online education expanding; it is not going to go away. It doesn’t have to be “pandemic education”—that was crisis education. Typically, it was neither a well-designed nor well-implemented program; it was a reaction. There’s nothing that we can do about that, except prepare better for it in the future.

I feel like we’re going to get there and be able to deliver wonderfully polished education programs online. For example, I love Teams and everything it can do. The assignment functionality it has is fantastic. And the new reading progress feature is awesome. I’ve been a Beta tester for that feature for the past year and a half or so, and it’s incredible.

Personally, I love the commitment that Microsoft has shown to education. The more effort that companies like Microsoft put into education, the better off everyone is going to be in the future. Our kids are quite literally the future.

It’s a little bit cheesy to say, but teaching reaches every other profession. We’re teaching our kids now, and they’re going to be the people reimagining and reinventing the future of technology, education, and entertainment in 20 years. The mindset that we instill in them, the work ethic that we help them develop, is literally going to shape and change the world.

What’s one superhero that you connect with in real life?

I have two. A superhero that I connect with would probably be Hawkeye, because he’s a regular guy who got really good at what he does. But, if I could be a superhero or have a superhero’s powers, I would choose Professor X because of his mind-reading abilities. That would be so handy.

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