Dr. Bob serves as a Training Specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as an adjunct professor for the School of Business & Leadership at Regent University. Prior to coming to Regent, he served as a teacher for Virginia Beach Public Schools and was an instructional designer for mid and senior-level leadership courses for the DoD and DHS. Over the past two years, he has assisted with an international initiative driven by Edify Online to partner with MIT-World Peace University where he designed, developed, and facilitated Design Entrepreneurship and Strategic Business courses for students in Pune, India. As a service member, Dr. Habib served over 21 years in the U.S. Army, spending 10 years as an instructor and instructional designer. As a veteran, he has spent many years developing strategic partnerships with educational institutions and veteran service organizations nationwide to promote the professional, academic, and personal success of veterans and their families.
Most educators have heard the phrase “Meet your students where they are.” Even though the competencies and expectations of the latest generation of learners have shifted significantly from that of the previous generation, many (if not most) education institutions have failed to deliver – especially when it comes to measuring outcomes of content and performance mastery. As educators, some of our fundamental goals are to differentiate instruction, engage learners at every turn, and find innovative ways to measure mastery of performance, skills, and knowledge. While quizzes, tests, and papers will likely remain staples of the higher education landscape, there are some trends occurring globally that literally meet learners where they are. It’s time to break free from the legacy mindset.
Over the past three years, I have re-designed and facilitated three virtual adult learning courses to meet such a need (undergraduate and graduate levels). Documented data now provides some clarity as to how such a model of assessing mastery can be integrated into the higher education landscape – in any industry and/or discipline. Along with the integration of these relevant tools, when compared to previous versions of the same courses, our data shows a 39% increase in student engagement, a 21% increase in measurable student outcomes, and a 30% increase in student continuation (retention). All of these objective metrics point to a model that must be considered moving forward – particularly in environments where virtual-asynchronous delivery is preferred.
The first leap:
Like many other educators, I often get requests from students for deadline extensions due to self-reported illnesses, family or work emergencies, or just the occasional “I didn’t have time.” When these come up, I offer students academic alternatives to satisfy the requirement. One of those options is a video call for approximately 15 minutes to have the student talk through the assignment and the key points. There is some Q&A included as well. Even though many students jump at the chance of talking about something rather than writing about it, what they fail to realize is that it is typically more difficult to engage in meaningful conversations about a given topic when the depth of understanding is shallow. The video call allows me to gauge the student’s depth of understanding beyond simply quoting or paraphrasing others in standard APA format. This option is not only easier to assess, but it also allows both parties to connect beyond the LMS, have a conversation about a shared interest, and provide the learner with immediate and tangible feedback.
For relevance and understanding:
In many of my online courses, there are requirements for students to dialogue with one another on the LMS over the course of one or two weeks on a given prompt. This practice again requires common quotes and citations and typically provides the minimal ability to gauge the learner’s true understanding. Beyond that, this style of writing and engagement bolsters a student’s ability to communicate to an academic audience; one that is very small, minimally relevant to them, and provides little public consumption. Instead of that pathway, I have students write a popular press article on LinkedIn. This strategy allows students to use ‘their voice’ as they promote their expertise on a given topic. You’ll find that what they say in a public-facing forum is many times in stark contrast to what they write for private academic functions. We want our students to become known experts in their respective fields. This method forces students to publish early on (informal as it may be), begin to build professional networks, and respond to their classmates in a public setting. Writing relevant content to a much larger audience – they will shift how they present ideas knowing that the world is watching.
For clarity and conciseness:
Ever had to submit a presentation proposal for a major conference with 100 words or less? It’s difficult to get all of the required information in such a short number of words. Especially in the world of graduate education, getting students to improve on the clarity and conciseness is a challenge for sure, and one that the typical institution doesn’t help by requiring ‘short essays’ of 2000-3000 words. We tell students in our writing guides to get rid of the fluff and that every word matters. Start with having students take a required dialogue post of 300 words and have them answer the prompt on Instagram and/or Twitter. Set the rule that a maximum of 280 characters (not words) is the allowance. They can use hashtags, etc. for creativity and for maximum exposure. Most students jump at this chance because they feel as though it’s the easy out. They soon realize how difficult it is to unpack a topic such as:
Describe the world’s greatest economic challenge and how you would solve it.
One student’s response on Instagram:
“Greatest challenge is inequality. It undermines growth and stability. @USGovernment should invest in education, infrastructure, and safety net programs to support disadvantaged communities, and promote fair trade policies to support sustainable economic development. #changetheworld”
Is it formal? no. Is it a comprehensive strategy? no. But it’s obvious the student did some research and has a position. It will become abundantly clear which students grasp the main idea, and more so, how to quickly articulate their position.
For introverts and engagement:
Ah yes, YouTube. Every time I need to perform a DIY home repair, I go to YouTube. So, if millions of consumers are using this platform to learn how to do something, find product reviews, and engage with potentially thousands of other people, why is higher education so far behind? Create opportunities for students to engage with the world at large with the topics in your class. Once again, having to speak about a given topic or prompt is oftentimes more difficult than simply writing about it. Yes, writing requires organization of thought and research, but it also provides a sense of anonymity – one that many introverted students enjoy. Creating and publishing a short video for YouTube consumption helps students bridge the gap between the private sanctum of academia and the world around them. If that’s a bridge too far, then have them make the video private so only those with the link (you and their classmates can view it). Either way, it gets students talking about their ideas, research, and positions in a forum they are accustomed to. Don’t focus on the formality (or lack thereof) of the language but on the message itself.
The usage of Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social media platforms has increased exponentially in recent years in most facets of our communities except for higher education. The legacy mindset in education will be sustainable for only so long as our students’ expectations and competencies, technology, and learning profiles continue to change at exorbitant rates. Beyond meeting the demand of our most important resource (people), meeting our learners where they are, communicating in environments where learners are most comfortable, and integrating social media platforms in most courses saves organizational resources as well – all while embracing differentiation of instruction leading toward more equitable outcomes. There are many other outlets to consider and hundreds of ways to use those platforms to assess mastery – just get started.