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Monica Thomas Billen uses Instagram to aid pre-service teacher reflection.

McKay School of Education alumna Monica T. Billen was honored with the 2016 AACTE Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Her study titled #Learningtoteach: Using Instagram to Elicit Pre-service Teacher Reflection analyzed the development of reflective practices, the reflection of pre-service students, and the influence of Instagram through the reflective process.

Photo courtesy of the AACTE

“My dissertation was the very first time that I stepped out on my own and carried out a research project that was entirely my idea,” Billen said. “Receiving the award helped me realize that my ideas can be valuable and can influence education.”

The AACTE is an organization that focuses on preparing educators to serve and teach all learners. Receiving an honor such as the Outstanding Dissertation Award brings greater attention to the winners of such awards on a national level.

“Watching Monica receive this award felt so validating,” said Rhett Billen, Monica’s husband. “It was a confirmation of my opinion of her unmatched creativity and inventiveness as well as her rigor and diligence in her approach to teacher education.”

Billen had noticed that pre-service teachers struggled with reflection—the ability to recognize and make meaning of the significance of experiences and concepts being learned. By conducting interviews with students, Billen learned that they did not like reflective assignments. She pondered possible methods that were enjoyable and could connect to their lives personally and academically.

The idea to use Instagram and photos came to Billen at 1:00 a.m. one night when she couldn’t sleep. Billen found that she could show in her qualitative study the importance of processing visual information through social network sites such as Instagram. The effects of the research showed the positive and enjoyable process of reflection through Instagram and photograph visuals, revealing a greater ability to notice surroundings for further and deeper reflection.

Billen received both her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her master’s degree in teacher education at the McKay School of Education at Brigham Young University. During that time, Billen worked closely with Tim Morrison and Brad Wilcox as a research assistant in a large research project. Morrison remembers Billen as being “detail-oriented and very meticulous fulfilling assignments given to her.” Wilcox added that “she was so good to work with and there was such camaraderie” among Billen and the other research assistants. Billen gained firsthand experience through conducting and writing research.

“I’ll never be able to thank Tim Morrison and Brad Wilcox enough,” Billen said. “Without them, I don’t know that I would have ever earned a PhD. . . . Through this project, and throughout my master’s degree, Brad and Tim taught me about collegiality, scholarship, and kindness. . . . My experience at BYU was the impetus of earning a PhD and completing this project.”

Billen hopes that her dissertation will do three things to the teacher reflection process: one, that assignments will connect to students’ real-life experiences; two, that students will be given instruction on how to reflect; and three, that reflective assignments will allow reflective exploration.

Billen received her PhD at the University of Tennessee. She currently works as an assistant professor in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at California State University, Fresno.

Writer: Megan Bahr Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562