CTI Podcast - Episode 39: SUU's New Learner


Matt Mckenzie: Welcome back to another episode of the Center for Teaching Innovation podcast. In this episode, we're delving into who is the new online learner at SUU as online education shifts and grows at SUU so does the demographic of our learner. To help us explore this topic, we're going to talk to Lynn Kvamme, who is the director for Enrollment Management for the graduate and online Studies Group. We're also going to talk to Amy DiBrienza, who's the Assistant Director of Adult studies in Workforce Education. And we're also going to talk to Steven Meredith, who's the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management in the graduate and online studies group. Join us as we explore who is the new SUU learner. Alright, thank you guys for stopping by today to talk about the new learner SUU and and I attended your presentation at the May Learning and Development event that we sold here on campus and I was really intrigued by the numbers and ideas of how to approach I know that's something that CTI has been talking with faculty about. In fact, I share national data when I teach the online teaching foundations course you know, who is the online learner and who is the learner that we're, we're working with now? Real quick would you guys like to kind of recap some of the basic information about who the new learner is here at SUU.

You imagine he should start?

Steve Meredith: Well, okay. Have you start well, in, in my particular world, so. So man, I should preface this I guess by saying that, that I'm speaking on behalf of linen. I will be speaking on behalf of the graduate and online office here. At SUU. And so any remarks that I make would be primarily about our students, and not about the typical face to face incoming freshmen. In our world, the students tend to be older, they tend to fit in a number of vectors into that catch all phrase that we call non traditional students. They're they're very often married and or married and divorced. They very often have families, have children. They, they are very often either at the beginning of or mid in their career. And they'll tend to have other issues related to just their lives that makes it difficult to impossible to get to Cedar City. They can't uproot themselves to get here. They can't take themselves out of their, their network of professional networks, their personal networks. And so, for those students, online learning is not just the best option in many ways, it's the only option unless you want to include YouTube tutorials and that kind of thing. But but to receive credit, online learning is kind of the way that they have to make their way through the world and most of the students that we see also have a fair amount of credit. And so we focus on we do have some brand new incoming students, but very often, those are primarily the graduate level. And, and the undergraduate students that we have typically are the transfer type students. They've already been elsewhere. They come to us through our Speedway program or they come to us through our one of our other undergraduate online programs and and and we have to help them with prior learning assessment. We have to help them with what their transcript says and make it so that that we can find the quickest path for them to finish their their undergraduate degree. So, so the learners that we see are non traditional in almost every sense, and and and in a lot of ways, I think this has been a struggle for the the typical traditional state universities. It these are not the 18 to 24 year olds that we typically have built our entire systems around. And so everything from their expectation to customer service and the front end of their experience, to the way that their courses are delivered to them. You know, they expect that they expect every course to be open from the very beginning of the first class every module to be available to them, they're not interested in waiting around to you know, to have a teacher open something later on. I know I'm preaching to the choir here. This is you and I've had this discussion a number of occasions, and I've said too much but anyway in in our world. These are the students they are completely different and and not completely different as as based on their course of study their particular area of study. They are different because of the modality and the expectation that they have.

Matt Mckenzie: Yeah, and I can relate to the you can't uproot you can't. I'm currently working on my doctorate through ASU, Arizona State and go so I can't just, I know. Forks up right. I can't just pick my family up and go down to Tempe and start taking classes. And so the online modality is allowing me to further my education, further my skills without having to be there and I think about what online can do for SUU and how many more students can get a quality SUU education through online. 

Lynn Kvamme: Well, it's if you want to look at it nationally. There are upwards around 39 million Americans with some credential and no degree. So we're not even a year furthering your education. But there's a whole pocket of adult learners who haven't received their bachelor's degree. And if you want to talk about Utah alone, there's somewhere around 385,000 Utahns that have some credential and no degree so there's a there's a lot to go around and a lot for SUU to focus on.

Matt Mckenzie: Yeah, and that's another great point is this is not just about furthering yourself, but it is about completing what you started. Whether you know, no matter what that reason was that you had to leave had to step out so to speak, from your original program. This gives you an opportunity to come back to SUU and complete that program.

Aimee DiBrienza: I would also interject. Aimee here, with community and workforce development. The demographics of the students that the Workforce Development office serves are often pretty similar to the demographics that the graduate and online programs serves. Sometimes their goals are a little bit different, right? Graduate and online are now serving a demographic of people who do want to complete a degree. Regardless of how far they were through it, or whether they stopped out in that process or how long they've been at it or most of the learners that come to Community and Workforce development come because either like Lynn was saying they have some credit but no degree and they've pivoted because they realized maybe the degree they were working toward no longer serves them. It's not going to take them where they wanted it to go. So they're no longer interested in getting that degree. Maybe they want to move into something else. An industry change lane change. And a lot of times they come to us because they're actually not interested in completing a degree for a number of reasons. Some of them don't feel that it's valuable in the particular industry where they're working and they're happy in that industry. Some of them are seeing industry certification as a more powerful tool for the particular path that they're on. Right. So these are learners who are looking for a certificate or you know, some digital badging, or they're looking to take a test which in an industry carries a little bit more clout than maybe even a bachelor's degree. Although more than half of the students that come to Community and Workforce Development are candidates for a bachelor's degree. And of course, we would like to pull them in and serve as an on ramp into the rest of the educational opportunities that SUU has to offer. Some of them are down for that and some of them say no thank you

Lynn Kvamme: And those that are down for it, sometimes getting their certificates, or a micro credential is the is a way for them to dip their toe back in the water. Imagine you're an adult learner you took a few classes when you're 18 years old, and you dropped out for whatever reason. And the thought of coming back to the university is it's intimidating. So you think to yourself home, what if I just try for this credential or try with this certificate and at SUU we try to work very closely with workforce development to identify the students who now feel empowered by getting their certificate to continue on and get their degree

Aimee DiBrienza: and there are things that our department tries to do to make that an easier transition for them. For example, we have a lot of students who maybe have not been students for a while and like Lynn was saying, maybe they don't have present confidence in themselves as learners, but we try to embed things in our courses that help them study skills, tutoring and wraparound the support services for them, to empower them to give them that sense of confidence that yes, you can do this you can learn and one of my favorite comments from a recent course Completer was and this is a this was a pathway that was just digital badging. It wasn't a you know, high level coursework, but it was that entry level coursework. Is is that she'd said, folks over 50 can learn we can upskill we can do something different and she had a full lane change at 50 into a completely different industry. And she was so excited about that she got hired in a new position because of some of the work that she had done with digital badging and credentialing in our in our department, which was really exciting to me.

Lynn Kvamme: I did the same lane change actually coming to SUU so I totally understand that.

Matt Mckenzie: And I think you bring up a great point with that. When we embed those extra resources, the tutoring resources, the extra study skills resource, how to take notes in your book, when we do that in our art courses. That doesn't just help the student who's new to college, it can help that student who is coming back because they had to step out because their grades weren't great the first time through and they didn't know what resources were available, you know, and so that's a great addition to those courses, as well. There's one aspect I want to talk about because you are right, the community and workforce development is different than the graduate and online program and how you approach things. And I know that when I've talked with Melinda, I've talked a lot about we've the one word that she always brings up is stackable, and that we're looking at how can we create stackable credentials for since Can you talk a little bit about how the community and professional development group works towards building those stackable credentials?

Aimee DiBrienza: Yeah, we have built courses, kind of two ways we, we've started with industry partners who have identified a need in the workforce and said hey, we want to give our employees or potential employees these skills. We want to create this sort of a training program. “Wouldn't it be awesome if they can also get college credit?” So that's one way that we've done it. And then another way we've done it is working with University faculty who have an idea or a course that they would like to give a broader or more diverse audience. And so we work to develop courses that they've already taught or written or that they're excited to share. And we've sort of adapted them so that they meet those workforce needs in both ways have been really great because they give university credit. continuing education credits for coursework that is completed, which can be rolled into particular degrees, some of the stackables rolled into, you know, bachelor's degrees, and some of them actually have been rolled into master's programs. With Dean's permission. And we work, we create proposals with Deans for those programs that will articulate into master degree programs and it's really empowering. You know, when when you were talking about the empowerment of a learner who maybe hasn't had current student experience where it's been a little while or maybe they weren't a student, they weren't a traditional student to to begin with, giving them something that they can say, Oh, I already have credits towards a degree. I could I could do this. It's really exciting to see them you know, become empowered over that.

Matt Mckenzie: And I'm going to do a little plug for you because this podcast episodes gonna come out before the August Learning and Development. You're actually doing a session for faculty who want to learn “How do I take my program or my course and make it part of the Career and Professional Development?” 

Aimee DiBrienza: Thank you for that shameless plug.

Matt Mckenzie: So so if you're listening to this before the August Learning and Development definitely check out that session but you can always watch the recording afterwards. It really is amazing because Lynn, you shared some information in that session that that talked about the demographic of the online learner SUU and I was really intrigued by that because as I said, I share the national data with the students I take that I teach in the online teaching foundations course. And it's very similar and I'll, we'll figure out where the differences are here saying but would you mind sharing some of the information that you have about that?

Lynn Kvamme: Oh, absolutely. Well, those of us who remember the, the sitcom Friends that's our average age here at SUU for our adult learners is his 36. So if you have Joey in your mind, when you think about that, then that's that's what that's where we're at. 65% of our students are married or in a domestic partnership. 87% are currently employed when they're going to school. And it's about a 42% male 58% female ratio there. And interestingly enough 66% are in state 27 out of state and we have 7% that are international and that is a growing group among us, which we're really excited about. Other demographics 3% are Asian, eight Hispanic, 72 Caucasian, 1%, Native American 5% are black and 8% are undisclosed.

Steve Meredith: And about two thirds to 1/3. In our office, graduate to undergraduate, so we're about two thirds graduate students and 1/3 undergraduate students, you know, the the stackable credential. It brings up just sort of the changing nature of college campuses generally we were all interested in, in in improving the diversity of the campus online learning does that in a way that that sometimes physically moving to a place, you know, creates a challenge. Our our online campus is more diverse than our face to face campus is what I'm trying to say. And and I think that's a positive debt. I know it's a net positive for the learners that are they're involved in online learning and of course, it's a net positive for the university, generally, but as we as we look at at as we look at the programs that are models for what we're talking about, I I'd like to point out one that is fresh in my mind, because Lynn and I've been talking about it today. So several years ago, probably four or five years ago, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Best Friends Animal Shelter group. And I think we're to the point now, where they're, where we grant credit for attendance at their conference. There's a slightly larger certificate. We grant an associate's degree we can grant a bachelor's degree and there's even a segment inside of our masters of Interdisciplinary Studies degree and so a person who can someone that begins working at a at a Best Friends Animal Shelter, that has almost any level of of education can level up through some thing that we have here at SUU that would be specifically tailored to their area of interest. And of course, it's not, we're not a veterinary school at all. This is about managing people and managing facilities and getting grants and, and all of the things that that come with running a not for profit, animal shelter, but but it's as I look at that particular program, I think to myself, our future probably in the graduate and online world will have far more of this kind of partnership with with private industry or or institutions where we we look at something that's a natural crossover, just as an example some we've been talking about one of one of our goals will be to to increase enrollment in our criminal justice undergraduate program by partnering with some local sheriff's departments and local highway patrol areas and and offering them some financial incentive to finish their bachelor's degrees. And and when we work with Amy and Melinda, we try to look for those kinds of of intersections, things that make sense for us to go out and find and go out and find partners. Because we're both, both of our groups are, I think, pretty effective finding individual students but finding groups of students with like interest is much easier and less expensive way to, to recruit groups. Another great example we we have a partnership in place now with a group called USA collegiate and I'll, I'll ask him to talk a little bit more about this. But essentially, community colleges in the southwest stopped playing football three or four years ago, and there was a group of people of young players who were very interested in maintaining their academic eligibility so that they could continue to the path towards playing at a division one school and, and that pathway that had always been provided through community colleges, it was no longer available. To them and so they reached out to us Lynn. talk about USA collegiate a little bit.

Lynn Kvamme: USA collegiate is a wonderful organization where they have reached out to this group of young men that want to play football, and now feel like they have no outlet and creating essentially a football league for them to play in. But they do also want these young men to be successful in life. So they've added this educational element to it. And that's where a partnership comes into play. They are required to attend college while they're playing and hold a certain GPA. And the goal is for them to come out with with a degree of the at the end of its Associates and further on to a bachelor's degree. But it's targeting a group of individuals that have been forgotten, you know, as we make changes in the university structure or whether it's you know, what's happening with the junior colleges and giving them an opportunity, and you talked Matt about, about demographics. This is one thing that our office is pretty passionate about. The… our online learner or adult learner. They come from different backgrounds and we have everything from CEOs of companies that that are self started that just want to come back and finish their degree to more vulnerable populations such as the partnership that we have with the Maloof foundation for survivors of sex, trafficking and different things like that where we have an opportunity and an online modality to offer them hope to offer them an education and to change the trajectory of their life. So it's pretty exciting stuff and we're pretty passionate about it.

Steve Meredith: I frequently say that this is the best group of people I've ever been asked to lead because they, the folks in my office, genuinely think they're saving the world every day.

I'm a grizzled old. I'm glad I'm glad this is not a video podcast. But, but, you know, you get to be where you're approaching 40 years and in higher education. And it's easy to be cynical about things and I this is this has been a great experience for me to lead a team that is excited and young and energetic to try to reach out to these populations of people that as much as we love to have them in Cedar City they just can't get here. So we want to extend the blessings of the T-Bird education to people that are in every way a T-bird but they just started in Cedar City. That's a good way to live.

Lynn Kvame: Exactly. I don't know how young I am Steve but I'm definitely enthusiastic about it.

Matt Mckenzie: I get I get the having a younger team to motivate you because I'm not the oldest in my department, but I am pretty darn close to it and having that energy can definitely be infectious and make you want to do get beyond that grizzledness get beyond being cynical of what you've you've seen over the years. 

Steve Meredith: Had a guy made an Arsenio Hall reference in one of our staff meetings recently. 

Lynn Kvame: I want to share a little story actually, because you think about online learning and online learners you feel like in some ways, there's a barrier there between, say the faculty and the student or the advisor and the student or whatever that doesn't exist when you're face to face. And absolutely, there is a barrier, but there's still such a very tender human element to the relationships that you create that I think we don't give enough credit to when we're talking about online education. I met with a woman and she was very successful in her sphere and was a CEO of a successful organization. And when I asked her about what she did, she had her professional hat on and she could tell me and all the bullet points and everything else about her organization and what their mission was and what her experience was and she sounded intimidating to be honest with you because she was very accomplished. When I asked her why she wanted to go back and get her bachelor's degree, she burst into tears and she said: “I have all of these accomplishments, but that one thing hangs over me. And when I am with my peers, and we're having conversations and they talk about their college experience or they bring up the class or professor or whatever it is I can't participate in I feel less than And so getting a degree for me, is helping me to feel that I can also participate in this way. And so it's very personal to me” She did not need a degree to be successful in her career, but she needed it to feel successful on the inside. So that's like an example of the type of demographic we're talking about is you know, as we talked about a demographic today. Who they are? They are real people with real needs and a varied array of needs that makes it both exciting and challenging at the same time.

Aimee DiBrienza: I would love to add to what you're saying because I have similar experiences with the students. For community and workforce development. We are finding more and more that that human element is the key magical factor on whether they're going to be successful or not. And it's interesting, you might think that people who sign up for an online self pacing course are just not interested in human interaction. And they think that there were several people on our team who when we embarked on this journey really kind of felt like, oh, we'll design it so that it's, it's all encompassing and they don't need another human being unless they really want one. But what we found was: A) they really do need it and B) they also want it, right?. That human element is so critical to what we do and I think that as we're trying to reach this really broad variety of of different types of students, that human element, that connection and the building of relationships is the foundation upon which everything else turns you know, we have heard nationally that there are something like 3 million fewer students attending college over just the last decade. And you know, we don't have a growing population of 18 to 22 year olds, first of all, and second of all, many of them are making different choices than maybe the generation before did so we're looking at the possibility the potentiality of having fewer traditional students and when we even look at SUU demographics of students there are so many more students in what we would consider our traditional student population that have one or more sometimes many of the components of being a non traditional student. We have to stop thinking in terms of you know, the majority of our students are traditional and we have this small minority of non traditional students because there are so many students here at our university right now who fit into a broad array of categories that are, that are have been non traditional for a really long time. I think the term non traditional even is going to go away. 

Lynn Kvamme: It’s difficult to know what to call them now. Right non traditional adult learners, some of them even, you know, don't even qualify legally. And I think in some, in some instances, so it's

Matt Mckenzie: In all fairness though, if you ask my wife, I'm not I don't act like an adult, I act like a child

Lynn Kvamme: Well and just to go on top of what you're saying, Amy, it's an interesting statistic, and these are older numbers, but if I go back to the last recorded most relevant numbers 24% of our SUU students are in an online campus. But if we look at how many students are taking 100% online courses, that number increases to 35%. So it's not an insignificant number that we have here.

Matt Mckenzie: And I want to touch on something you brought up the human contact aspect of online learning. And it's not only that they crave it, it's not only that they want it, but it is very much regular. It's now a regulation online for it to be considered online regulation. And I know faculty that have worked with me have heard me harp on this, but regular and substantive interactions are critical to success of an online program or an online course. In the courses I take, if I don't get feedback from my professor on you did this well and you need to work on this. I'm not going to grow and it's going to be that stereotypical plug in grade approach. And I've said this for years plug in grade online education is dead. You're still doing it. You're beating the dead horse, you're, you're falling behind. And you have to have that faculty engagement with the learners. 

Steve Meredith: I have a strong opinion that I share about that. That doesn't make me popular with my faculty colleagues. I've been a faculty member for over 30 years. And when I came here to start the music technology master's degree our our then president Scott Wyatt said you think you can do it and because whenever Scott asked me anything I always said sure, and then figured it out later. I had no idea if we could do that. And I'm a conservatory trained classical musician of the very oldest of the old schools. But we figured out how to how to deliver this particular element of music in an online format. And not only do it but do it exceptionally well and successfully. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that we had faculty who are adjuncts and who are really interested in in talking about the thing they love to do. They don't want to go to faculty meetings, they don't want to do all the other stuff. They just want to teach their class and they love it and they're regularly in contact with students and every interaction they make a video to talk to them about what it is they have. You know, we we as you pointed out, it's now requirement, but we we had so many weekly online zoom calls and you know, Hey, join us, here's my online office hour, that by the end of my time being the program director of that in 2018 or 19. It was in every way, a better, more engaged academic exercise than what a student would get for me if I were teaching that face to face in class, because I would just have a daily office hour and they might come by and you know, if you are really if you make the face to face part of online learning an imperative, it becomes all of the best of both worlds. It's it's all of the convenience of asynchronous education delivery, but, but it has that human element in it, particularly if you're asking people to do creative work. They have to have that feedback and it has to be consistent and it has to be fairly quick and so that's way different than delivering a lecture to 30 people and then handing the paper back. It's a more engaged so I I get tired of people saying to me that this is somehow that that the modality of online learning is somehow a less than in many ways it's a better than and, and it's not you know, I'm I'm the old choir director, I couldn't possibly have a choir and have it be effective online. There are some things that will always be better face to face, and may not even be possible in any other fashion. But for many of the things that we do now, and for the way that we live life now, online, asynchronous delivery, with a face on the other end of it is the best possible solution. It's the most financially and fiscally responsible solution for both students and the institution. And and for those that don't need the dance that don't need the football game, they don't need to sit there “I need to have a roommate”. They've done all that before. It's the best way to do it. 

Matt Mckenzie: And I think I think one thing you hit on right there is is really key. It has to be the right student modality, but I would also argue it has to be the right faculty member and because, you know, there's nothing wrong with saying “This isn't my modality. I This is just not how I can teach”. There's nothing wrong with that. But the other side of that, Steve, is you were talking about that. When you built the MNMT(?) program. It wasn't something that you guys figured out overnight. It took time it took let me let me try this. It didn't work. Let me try this. Oh, this worked a little better. How can I make it even better now? And I think that's sometimes the frustration with faculty teaching is that they they feel like they need to be right the first time. And and when you're switching that mode and I've had multiple faculty members share with me that “Man, online teaching is so much more work than my face to face. Because we're not trained in that”, you know. When you think about what they've gone through in their doctoral program or master's program, if they did it face to face. They weren't ever really taught to teach online. And that that makes a big difference.

Lynn Kvamme: I think they're forgetting what it's like to be new in the industry. because the first class they ever taught I bet they used way more time than they needed to, to create. Every time I go in and I say oh, this is a really interesting recipe, for example and the [unintelligible] to take to prepare 20 minutes oh great. I'll do it an hour later I'm still right. Because the first time you do anything, there's a learning curve. And our faculty sometimes forget to give themselves a little grace. There's a learning curve for them as well. And it might not be perfect the first time around and it might take five times as long as they're experienced in a face to face realm. But that's temporary.

Aimee DiBrienza: It isn't I think we have such great support systems here to help a teacher who hasn't taught in that modality before right. The CTI team has been absolutely phenomenal at every course that I've ever built they've been right there to support me and now I have a department and a team. They can also support new instructors coming in whether those are industry experts and professionals who've never even you know, thought about being a professor, for example, but they have this passion that Steve's talking about and that comes across in a course when you have a passion and you have true experience in what you're teaching that's going to carry across to the student. We all want to learn from the person who's the most passionate about the content, you know,

Steve Meredith: And they don't want to worry about Canvas and they don't want to worry about their shell they you know, show me the 10 important buttons that I have to click to get started and how I can provide feedback to students and they turned out to be great teachers, even though they did, you say they when they first arrived, they are nervous. It's not what they're used to instead and they they turn out to love it. And in fact, Matt, do you know? We’ve had this conversation. Some of our strongest allies now for online education were some of our harshest critics to begin with and now they just can't imagine their life without being able to work remotely or or because because it's not just asynchronous for the students. It's asynchronous for the faculty in many ways as well. And so so it's as we continue down this road. No one, me especially is advocating that will do anything different than continue to have great face to face classes filled with wonderful, talented and exceptional students that move here to Cedar City. It's an experience that if I had an 18 year old, I would recommend that they that they take. But for the 35 million or the 338,000 Utah 385,000 Utahns that for whom they've already been to that rodeo and they just want to finish up or they just want to get a master's degree or they just want one of Amy's professional development types of experiences. This is a great way to do it. And and we have groups like CTI that that take all of the guesswork out of it. You know one of my favorite old stories about American industry is I think it's Betty Crocker. So long, easy after World War Two that I had to do is just add water to cake mix and stir it up and you make it and there was quite a lot of pushback from that. Because people didn't feel like they were cooking somehow it was cheating. And so they made it so you have to break an egg. And now you're baking. The fact that you broke an egg and added water and a quarter of whatever a quarter cup of oil makes it feel like you're really participating but it wasn't necessary. And it's for us that's what this is. You guys make it so all we have to do is well nothing. Just add water if we want to but for some people they want to crack an egg and some people don't want to add little oil to it. But you've created these these wonderful templates for us and shells and and and they've made it so that that people who are not really comfortable yet teaching online can become comfortable very quickly.

Lynn Kvamme: I love that we're debunking the myth that somehow an online course is not a real class, right? Like this box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake is somehow not a real cake because they can. Another debunking point, if I can add here would be this sort of myth that goes around with with with some people who think of online education the way it was 15 years ago. And the stigma behind it and bringing that forward and just as if it's things never change, and telling students are having this idea in their own minds that somehow the workforce doesn't see the credibility of an online degree. And the truth is that 71% of employers perceive an online credential to be at least equivalent to if not better than one completed in person.

Aimee DiBrienza: I think they're looking at what's happening in a world with just realistic glasses, right? The world isn't what it used to be. It's changing perpetually. We know that specialization in our world has become the norm. I think people used to maybe have to have a broader set of skills and now we have the luxury of being able to really specialize. Now. A faculty member at SUU, for example, can be a phenomenal anthropologist or a phenomenal researcher and have extreme passion. And they don't have to necessarily have all the technical skills to put together a really excellent online course they can play to their strengths, right? And I think that if we've learned anything from the last few years, it's that we're really adaptable. We can problem solve brilliantly. I mean, if COVID taught us nothing, it was that we could have catastrophic things happen, world changing things happen, and pivot and and come up with something that's effective and wonderful. Because there there have been some really fantastic effects in online education, I think directly because of the pandemic, you know, that we can be grateful for. I mean, obviously.

Steve Meredith: Well, you'd never you'd never say there's a silver lining to the pandemic. You know, just because we nobody wishes. But we did.. Well, I don't, I don't have to start every conversation with an existential argument for online education anymore. Like I used to. I used to, I used to have to answer “Why are we even doing this?” as my first nobody asked me that question anymore.

Matt Mckenzie: But the new question now is can you hear me? Yeah. You're, you're muted. You guys bring up some good points. And Amy, you touched on it and I want to get to this but I also want to point out it's not just faculty who are thinking online education is what it was 15 years ago. The number of students I've had conversations with who are like, “Don't I get to do just do this at my own pace, however I want”. Isn't it just “Why do I have to do a discussion with other people?”What you know, so online education has changed in the last 15-20 years when it started. But students are also learners are also carrying that old concept with them as well.

Lynn Kvamme: Oh, 100 percent there there were even some students that “Say hahaha, I'm gonna do this online because it will be easier”

Matt Mckenzie: [laughter] And they quickly find out it’s not. Especially if they don’t have time management skills. But, you know, you brought up how we have less and less students coming into higher education. And over the last month, I've had multiple conversations with people on campus, about the attack on higher education, that why do I need to go to college? Why do I need to get a credential or degree if I can get on YouTube and learn the same skills? How would you answer that?

Aimee DiBrienza: I have strong feelings about that. And I think that one of the things I mean, I participated in, I would consider my educational history is fairly traditional, right? I went to college when I was young and unfinished before I had children or was married, you know those sorts of things. There are some things that a liberal education can do that just technical training doesn't necessarily provide right. We really want to teach people how to engage in critical thinking and collaboration with other people. I think critical thinking and collaboration are something that liberal education does really really well. But I will say that when we design online courses, we are designing with those things in mind as well. Right? There has to be that it's not just technical, it's not just content. We're also trying to teach the power of thinking and reasoning and also I think a connection between the content that you learn and what you're going to do with it and how you feel about it. We really need students to start to consider, you know, how they connect with that learning, and if they can't connect with that learning, we probably haven't done the best job with our instructional design right? But we designed with those things in mind. I think, you know, when recently there was a training for faculty, I think your department put it on even there was a session that was you know, Chat GPT Friend or Foe loved the title. It was fantastic. And you see it industry is industry wide. All across academia, people are nervous that Chat GPT the advent of AI is going to make it so that students no longer have to think that is absolutely not true if you are designing for the human connection in mind, right? If you are designing to help the students take yes content knowledge, technical knowledge, but also really make it their own apply it to their own lives. That's that is something that that's really important to get and I think, I think whether you're talking about certifications microcredentials whether you're talking about an online degree program or even a traditional liberal education, where you attend class, you know, in your eightteens or early 20s. Regardless of what type of education we're talking about, we have to remember that what unites education and what where the power of education really is, is in humanizing content knowledge,

Matt Mckenzie: Well it’s also it's also the humanizing the connection. It's Peter Felton has a great book out. Relationship, Rich education. And I think you got to hearing a teaching for learning Yes. And that's the thing it is that connection that has happened,

Lynn Kvamme: And we need it more than ever, where we are in a generation where we can just look things up on YouTube and the generation today hardly even pick up the phone to talk to one another. Everything is via text or some you know, some sort of tool that way. The human connectedness becomes even more critical. In a learning atmosphere.

Aimee DiBrienza: I recently read a Jeff Colvin book called Humans are Underrated. And there's a subtitle to that, but it's the idea of in this world where technology continues to advance and continues to advance and we're using it to our advantage right now in just the way that we the way that we collaborate with our coworkers the way that we get our jobs and and certainly the way that we are delivering education to students. As technology continues to advance in that way. What will humans do? In this world of the future that we're working towards? What will we do, we will do the things that only humans can do and that humans are best at. We will do the things that we will only accept from a human being. We need their empathy, we need to feel connected, right? Those are things that we won't do with an AI no matter how great it is probably not because they couldn't be programmed to do something maybe unimaginable to us right now. But because we want to accept it from them. We need that human connection. I think that's at the heart of everything.

Matt Mckenzie: So I'm gonna I'm gonna ask the question. How do you defend? So you talked about how, you know, we need human connection more, more than ever. How do we defend and I guess the you but we because we're all in the same boat of supporting online education. How do we defend that? They get a better faced are a better connection or a better interaction in a face to face versus an online world.

Lynn Kvamme: I don't know that we need to defend it. Because the reality is that we live as much online as we do face to face. And so there's a real need to know how to be connected, even in an online world. That's why emojis exist, because if you just have plain old text, nobody understands. You know how that sentence is being said without some kind of indicator. So the importance of face to face will always be there because we're human beings and we we have families and interactions in our workplace and whatever. But how many online relationships do we have? How often in our private lives and in our work lives are we using an online platform to communicate and build relationships? Right? So just as important, more important than ever, to be able to have soft skills to be able to communicate clearly, all of these things that we take for granted in that Face to face modality, we need to also have them online. 

Aimee DiBrienza: I agree, and I also think that we are learning to be efficient with our technology, the faster we can get our learning done well, and the faster we can get our work done, the faster we can accomplish those tasks that are maybe work related, and that will continue to be a big part of the way that we live as human beings moving into this future, the more time we make relationships, right. So we're trying to train people, I think, to be efficient with the way they use their technology so that they can make room in their lives for that other side. That human element. And maybe you can't always get both of those needs met in the same moment. But we are learning how to meet our social and emotional needs and our academic and work based needs, sometimes in different rooms in different spaces in our lives.

Matt Mckenzie: But I think earlier you mentioned you know how we design the course how we think about it. And that's one of the things I love about the courses I'm taking in Arizona State right now is that they definitely implement universal design for learning into their courses because our discussions are not the make one post reply to two people all in text. We have options of how we go about it. I meet with two to three colleagues every Thursday evening. And we've spent two to three hours we only have to record for 20 hours or 20 minutes excuse me, not 20 hours. We only have to record our discussion for 20 minutes, but we've spent two to three hours just talking about the concepts and the topics. And so, I found that for me, I know taking an online course I found that human connection by opting to do an alternative type of discussion and having those conversations so that I get to actually know the people in the course and do things.

Aimee DiBrienza: I think universal design for learning really meets the needs of the adult learner. Well, if we design with that in mind, I think it's important for us also to know our, know our adult learners. You know, there's a difference between the way that you might teach to a very young child and the way that you must teach to an adult you know. 

Matt Mckenzie: We are talking pedagogy vs andragogy.

Aimee DiBrienza: And even moving into Heutagogy I think is a conversation that we'll need to have. Probably soon. You know, the idea that adults very often will drive themselves to learn things that actually maybe don't impact their career. They're just interesting, right? Why do I like to bake bread have all sorts of different varieties? I don't know. It's just interesting. Smells good. Tastes good is probably not good for my waistline but but but I think that if you keep in mind those those principles of what makes an adult learner unique in particular, right, the more choices that you embed, the more autonomy they feel they have and you know, I think that the motivation for an adult learner can't be ignored. I don't know if you've read Drive by Dan Pink, but I I love Dan Pink and he talks about mastery, autonomy and purpose being really critical to the motivation of us as a species. And I think that when we design our coursework with that in mind, how do those components of motivation play in here? So it's not just external motivators? Our learners are internally motivated also where they wouldn't come to us, right. And of course, we tried to embed external motivators, digital badging, micro credentialing certificates, even degrees, right. Those are external motivators that are recognized by the world and that and that maybe had an impact but most learners are there for an internal purpose as well. You know, when when you talked about the way that that woman felt about herself and that lack of completion, that was something that she just felt purposeful about that she just wanted to do. Adults are internally motivated, and we have to build that build with that.

Lynn Kvamme: And I can we talked about the new learner, or attending to speak about them. As being adults versus you know, your traditional 18 year old adult, if you will. But really, it will, with the online modality. That pretty much is what is defining the new learner. It isn't even really less and less about age, and more and more about just a different way of learning. That is defining the new learner, if that makes sense. We see more and more 18 year olds even just coming on board online and so our new learner is this modality and how are we as an institution going to embrace this new learner? Whatever age group they are, whatever, wherever they are in their life, wherever they are in the world. Now, how are we going to be inviting to them?

Steve Meredith: That you suggested that we should defend this. I think that's always a good question. Good way to bring out the way people feel about things. And I already mentioned to you that in around this table, I'm surely the cynic of all of us. Because you're all such bright and shining. Young people full of life and brimming with the duvet morning in your eyes. Might. What I'd like to say to that is having taught, let's just say I taught a Gen Ed class for 30 years, that's a clear statement for me. I always knew and every teacher knows that they are teaching to the first two rows. The first row is the really interested and engaged students and they are ones that show up in your in your office hour and they really want to talk to you about this. They're fired up about the subject, the second row less so the third and fourth row don't ever want you to know their name. They don't want to make any sort of a footprint. They don't want to engage in any fashion. With you or anyone around. And so what I say is the type of human infused online learning that you're talking about that we have been discussing here forces the third and fourth row people. The first and second row people are going to show up anyway, whether it's online, or it's face to face. It forces the third and fourth row people in the classroom, to engage with their fellow students and to engage with their instructor in a way that they never would in a face to face class. So I say to my colleagues, you defend that defend the fact that there's an entire group of students out of 30 Maybe half that never engaged with you over 15 weeks. And you tell me which one of those is better. I I get tired of defending this because to my way of thinking and not in every case, and not in every genre of learning. But the way that we're doing this, people have chosen this modality, who don't have to choose this modality because they may be introverts. They may be the type of person who wants to bend their academic schedule to their life schedule, for whatever reason, and and COVID gave them the sweet taste of that freedom. They could do that and they're never going back. They're never going to do 8am again, in a cold dark auditorium. They're never going to do it. And why…

Matt Mckenzie: Or in their office. When we really think about when we really think about how the world has changed. I have several colleagues who no longer come to an office at a location. They have a [unintelligible] at home, they may go in once a month or something for a meeting, but 90% of their time is spent at home remote, because the world has changed. And I think that's a key thing. You know, the world's changed education has changed in our learner has changed. 

Lynn Kvamme: And what can we do to help facilitate that change so that we're going from good to better to best. Do our professors have the tools that they need to have a good home office? To have good interaction? Is the sound good? Is that you know, whatever they need to make sure that their engagement with the student is one that is comfortable for both parties. 

Matt Mckenzie: Okay. So one last question here. Yeah, we've been talking about how the learner has changed. We've talked about how education the world has changed. Where's the next change going? In your opinion? Where do you think we're headed next then I don't mean we're is in SUU but if you were to think higher education, or learning, where do you think we're gonna be 10-15 years from now? 

Lynn Kvamme: AI!

Matt Mckenzie: Chips in our heads or something?

Lynn Kvamme: I'm so excited about the potential of AI and online learning to make it even more interactive to make it more visual to make it more hands on the ability for a student to participate virtually in I don't know maybe it's dental hygiene, you know? Whatever it is, or doing something that is traditionally hands on, that they could do it in a safe learning environment, the potential for let's just say a teacher, right? And their place in their in their learning where they need to handle a difficult situation with the student, rather than on the job learning. We can have close to real life scenarios in a virtual space that that will be incredibly valuable to their real life experience. We have simulators for pilots, so they can practice maneuvers in a safe environment where we can do that with the help of AI for our students in a number of different programs and a number of different ways. The sky's the limit. And so I'm super excited about the next 10-15 years. 

Steve Meredith: I would agree that I think the virtual reality, the big knock on online learning and it's a fair knock is that it's difficult to do a lab. Right I mean, you can't you know, I mean are some of our colleagues University send out fetal pigs and frogs and stuff for their, you know, and that's got to be a tough job for the mailman delivering all the animals for Western Governors. But But, but my my point is that if, if we didn't have to send animals through the mail, but we could make it so that students who were taking biology classes were having a tactile experience, similar to similar enough to the lab experience in a face to face modality. I think that's the, the Holy Grail right now for for online learning. We know, having worked on a on a project that was about this with Microsoft, we know that that case Western Reserve medical school, took the Oculus system from Microsoft and and made it part of their first and second year experiences for their medical school students. It was driven entirely by necessity. They didn't have enough cadavers. And they that you couldn't I mean, they scheduled them 24/7 You couldn't get in there and do what you needed to do. So they got him the tactile gloves, they got him. Thank and and their first and second year, students score better now. On the standardized tests than in anatomy than they did when they do it using the traditional cadaver lab. And so we know that there are, we used to do online learning and it’s going to be that that combination of of machine learning and virtual reality that will make it so that the cost to create that kind of a thing will come down and in the same way that we, right now, require that students have a certain computer, and a certain delivery speed and so forth tp their house. It will just become common that you got a set of glasses or a suit to dress up or whatever it turns out to be. I think that will be.

Lynn Kvame: And at the very least there are millions of pigs and frogs that will be very grateful. 

Aimee DiBrienza: And I would add I think that when we're talking about this intersection of AR, VR and AI, which is that's kind of where we're, we're going where all of those things intersect. There's a human there is a human there. These are the things that don't exist yet these are already happening. And I hope that our audience knows that those things I mean, that that exists. Those are those are possibilities right now. But what I think will be required on the human side in the future is we're still living in a place where a single person can execute a course that a single person can be a teacher, I think that we're moving to a collaborative space where it will take a team to create a course it will take a team to deliver the education of the future, because I am not an AR or VR specialist but I would sure like to use that in my instructional design, right? I am not a video editor. Matt, your team does a great job helping me with those pieces, right? I use different types of software. And I tried to be competent in those software's but none of us is going to have all of the skills that it will take to use universal design for learning to execute really beautiful courses and the courses that our students are going to require. At a certain point. They are going to demand a quality and a level of education that a single person cannot provide. And we're already we're already walking down that road together. We're already in a place where I can't do everything that my courses require because I have a standard for what I want to be able to deliver to my students. It takes your team and my team and a team of faculty and industry experts, subject matter experts right to pull that off. So I think we need to keep in mind that collaboration is only going to become stronger, we're going to have to develop the ability to collaborate. We already have a lot of tools to do that. We already have a demand for it, whether we recognize it or not. But as teachers, as educators we are we're going to have to learn to collaborate and share that load in order to deliver the quality education you want. 

Steve Meredith: The Jeffrey Selingo book about Is their life after college. He talks about the story of the man that run ran recruitment for IBM for years when IBM was the biggest company in the world and they spend billions of dollars trying to find IBM people. And his definition of what IBM people was for that they were completely eye shaped. They had the narrowest deepest possible education in their one particular thing because IBM was interested in changing the world with technology. And so they they get all the doctorates from MIT and they'd get all the doctorates from all the great tech schools. And what they found was, this was a terrible way to run a railroad they, they needed T shaped people. They needed people that had a good solid center beam that still went down deep, but they had to have side arms that stretched across them allowed them to have communication skills that allowed them to be be enough people. Soft skills as we've talked about, but also allowed them to be interested enough to learn about technologies out of their area, as you just suggested you to have to do so. So you don't necessarily have to edit every video; but at some point, you're going to get better at editing videos because you work as a T shaped person with people who do that and they're going to ask you questions and you're going to look over their shoulder you're gonna become better at it. And, and I think I think the workforce reflects that already. The better T shaped students that we can turn out that I think the better off we'll be.

Matt Mckenzie: That’s why we are T-birds, right? T shaped students. All right. Aimee, Lynn. Steve, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I appreciate you everything you do for the university. And I look forward to having future conversations with you.

Thank you for joining us. for another episode of SUU center for teaching innovation podcast in the coming months. we're going to continue to explore other topics as well as get to know some of the recent award winners from the Provost Awards, including outstanding educators and those who have done scholarship and community service. Join us as we continue to explore more topics, impacting SUU.


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