Transcript: #146 Only Connect (Online Learning)
Shira Liberty: So I’ll start over by saying there is no, several types of learning, right? It’s either you learn or you don’t learn. And learning essentially is a very, very natural process. We do it all the time. We do it as adults, as kids. This is our way to survive changes on modern life and everything.
Sophie Bailey: Hello everyone, and welcome to episode three of the Education 4.0 Series. This week’s episode of our series looks at where, when and how will learning happen when many of us spend lots of time online. How are universities and colleges adapting to our connected world?
Hattie Abretti: The more people spend time online in their social lives and their personal lives, the more they expect to be able to learn online as well.
Sophie Bailey: What models will emerge to suit new students around their learning, financial and social needs?
Seth Haberman: You know, education has gotten so expensive that anything’s that going to be able to bring the costs down and keep the quality somewhat in check, is going to roll. So it’s not something like, we can’t resist it, even the internet, because if institutions say, “No, we’re not going to do it, somebody will do it,” and kids are going to do it because instead of spending 80 thousand dollars a year, they’ll spend 20 thousand dollars a year and that’s hard to argue with, but I think we can build this in a way that it doesn’t have to take away. We can rebuild the dynamic, we just have to not fool ourselves to always think that everyone has to be working at exactly their own pace because that ruins a lot of the dynamics of learning.
Seth Haberman: There’s a famous line from the mission of the old Jewish law that says, “I’ve learned a lot from my masters, my teachers. I’ve learned more from my colleagues. And I’ve learned the most from my students.” So that bit of 1,500 year old wisdom is, I think, still true.
Sophie Bailey: How is online learning shaping the physical world and our peer to peer connections?
Shira Liberty: I don’t know how to describe it. It’s basically a [playa 00:02:38]. Anyone who went traveling in central or south America knows what it is when you say, “Come to the playa.” It’s a beautiful beach, it’s in the middle of the jungle and we have a [co-work 00:02:51] there and we have wifi and we have our teachers there, so you are in this, maybe retreat-ish kind of situation where you’re in nature, but you’re also connected very much to the local community that lives there because we work a lot with the local community inside the campus and you’re very connected to the process that you’re going through, if it’s your personal process or your online studying. Everything is nourished in this setting, in this setting of being on a beach, in the jungle, traveling through this tiny town. Yeah, it’s very nice.
Sophie Bailey: And can university and college learning be scaled in a meaningful way?
Seth Haberman: Well, I think the largest what we’ve tested in our system has probably been in the thousands but for us particularly, and I can’t speak for other technologies, but for our technology in particular, the larger the number of submissions, the more confident we are in our judgment about who’s in the same cluster or not. And, in fact, the speed gets faster, not at an absolute level but a relative level, per submission. So if we have 10,000 people or 20,000 people, that’s going to make for a better product and better outcomes than if we have 200 people.
Seth Haberman: In fact, I was talking to a professor from China, at an online school, who has millions and I started to think about the impact of that and how fantastic the learning could be because the whole range of subjects that we formerly thought might not be possible to use with the types of models that we employ, may now become possible. So there you really see that as sizes go up, there really can be some advantages.
Sophie Bailey: James Clay is Jisc’s lead for higher education teaching and learning. He’s long been involved in this world, so what did he think about some of these questions and what online learning constitutes exactly?
Sophie Bailey: So, yes, thanks very much for joining us this morning, James.
James Clay: You’re welcome.
Sophie Bailey: For our listeners, do you mind explaining a little bit about your particular role at Jisc.
James Clay: Yep, no problem at all. So I’m the head of higher education and student experience at Jisc and the support of higher education and the student experience is a key pillar of Jisc’s commission. Our members are universities as well as colleges and what we’re trying to do at Jisc is to help those institutions to use technology better in order to enhance and improve the student experience. So my role is, to be honest, I do a wide variety of stuff from implementing the higher education student experience strategy but also working with colleagues across all our different directorates to help them to understand what the needs are of higher education, but also what they can also do to improve the student experience.
James Clay: I had this conversation with somebody recently where I said, “If you take these things away, you suddenly realize how important they are to teaching and learning.” So an [example 00:06:09] is, your [inaudible 00:06:10] connectivity, which is a great phrase, or eduroam or the wifi just works, I think this is something that when your wifi doesn’t work, or you’re in a location where connectivity is poor, suddenly you realize how dependent you are on that. Students today are very dependent on accessing a huge range of resources and conversations and collaboration areas and some of these are provided by the university, the virtual learning environment, for example, but also they’ll be using their own spaces. We know, for example, that a lot of students use WhatsApp to keep in touch with each other.
Sophie Bailey: So I spoke to a professional from a university who asked the students how they wanted to communicate and they said, “We want to communicate via Snapchat messenger,” and so they were bouncing back and forth some of their questions that they were working on, and she found that the students that were perhaps otherwise a bit more isolated, so I think there was some international Chinese students, were starting to engage in different ways, so that was quite interesting, I thought.
James Clay: Yeah. I mean, we often think about technology as being something, all these Snapchat and WhatsApp as all being new. The reality is, is that in the olden days, not that long ago, when I was a student, for example, we didn’t have this kind of technology, but what we did have, was we had places to go and drink coffee. I was going to say the bar but that’s probably … but there’s social areas. And I think, what you’ve just hit the nail on the head for me is, one of the real advantages of an online space is that it can be much more inclusive. These other spaces still exist. Students still go out for coffee. They still go and meet in spaces in formal learning areas, parts of the library and so on. So that kind of informal collaboration and working together and discussing what they’re doing on their courses still happens, but the online spaces that they also exist in actually allow them to do that at a time and space that’s convenient to them. It becomes more inclusive, as you say. Students, for example, whose English is not their first language, may struggle in a verbal communication, may find an online environment more welcoming.
James Clay: And for the huge number of students out there who are not the traditional 18 to 21 year olds, undergraduates, people who may have dependents, may have childcare issues, may have part-time jobs, commuting students, which is another big group of people, for them, these online environments can actually be a real bonus to their whole student experience and actually something that would never have happened 20, 30 years ago.
Sophie Bailey: So, online isn’t just about formal online learning. It’s also the informal online learning spaces and the technologies that simply make them work which are important, but what do students want from teachers and learning using digital?
James Clay: So we’ve been running something called the student experience insights survey which allows students to talk about their digital experiences but also their preferences as well, and then universities can use data from that, in order to think about how they provide digital services to students for themselves.
James Clay: So there’s 37,000 participants last year, drawn from 83 further and higher education organizations and we believe it to be the largest sample of data looking at student digital experience of its kind. But the sort of things that come out from there are actually quite interesting. So we know that 74% of higher education students rated the quality of digital teaching and learning on their course as above average. It’s either good, excellent, or the best imaginable, which means that actually, from their perspective, they see digital as being something good, something that’s helping them to learn. And we talk about quality. Of course, quality isn’t a static thing, it doesn’t stay there, we can continue to make improvements and to enhance. It’s a constantly moving feast.
James Clay: We know that students use digital. 78% of HE students use digital tools on a weekly basis to look for resources that haven’t been recommended by their lecturer, so they’re going out, they’re using search tools, they’re using discovery tools to find new resources and to share those resources.
James Clay: And we mustn’t forget the value that assistive digital technologies provide students who have particular needs, whether that’s simple things of text to speech, for example, or speech to text [inaudible 00:10:17] to text, whole range of different things, so students who have particular needs can use assistive technologies in order to enable them to not worry about it, to be honest.
Sophie Bailey: But, getting the online and offline mix right for learning is notoriously difficult. Critics point to large cohorts of already highly educated learners navigating the maze of more formal online learning resources before dropping out due to ever lower engagement levels. At the same time, the wealth of online learning opportunities is one of our great treasures. Where we started off with printing cheap, high quality literature, dictionaries and religious texts, we have carried on with vaults of tutorial videos covering everything from maths, social history and even AI.
Hattie Abretti: I think it’s obviously a massively growing area. I think the more people spend time online in their social lives and their personal lives, the more they expect to be able to learn online as well. However, for me, I don’t feel like [MOOCs 00:11:23] are the way to necessarily go. I think some people are doing some amazing things with MOOCs but I think that the really large scale self-guided learning does have impacts on motivation and does have impacts on the quality of learning sometimes. So, for me, it’s all about how we can get that same experience, or an equivalent experience that a learner would get if they were coming into a classroom and working with a group of peers and an expert tutor, through the digital technology. So it’s thinking a lot about how the tutor can facilitate learning, how we can create communities through digital technologies and things like that.
Sophie Bailey: One woman defining the opportunity of online learning is Hattie Abretti, a digital learning development manager at one of the fastest growing, further and higher education colleges in the UK. Her latest project looks at how the effective use of technology can provide a learning experience that is every bit as rich as that of campus-based learners.
Sophie Bailey: Well, this is a really interesting point because one of our earlier guests talks about communities and whether that’s on Twitter or other informal, but online, spaces of peer to peer learning and exchange, essentially. So when you talk about community, what does that mean for you and how have you come across that in your role as a digital learning development manager?
Hattie Abretti: Yeah, absolutely. So I think informal spaces are definitely one thing to be aware of and I think they can work really well for some of our adult learners. Obviously working in FE, sometimes we have younger learners as well although a lot of our current distance and digital flexible provision is aimed more at our adult learners. We do have to be aware of safeguarding concerns and things like that. If we think about maybe using more informal community groups, there are issues there with how we can moderate them and how we can make sure that any safeguarding and prevent issues are being watched there, I guess. So it can be a bit of a block from using those sort of things. So we get around that with using things such as Microsoft Teams which is a happy hybrid, I guess, in between. It has the feel of being a nice informal space and actually lets you have chat functionalities and live chats and [inaudible 00:13:46] communications as well as the more text based comms that you need to build a community online often. So that’s one way that we do it.
Hattie Abretti: I think we also try to encourage webinars and things like that. So, again, it’s getting access to the tutor and making sure that they are facilitating some of that group. I’m a big advocate of group work and collaboration online. I think one of the great things about digital technologies is that you can collaborate with someone on the other side of the world, effectively, so it’s making use of those technologies and obviously, that does still involve a member of staff facilitating and driving that often, although it depends on the level of the
obviously, I’m talking more about [RFE 00:14:32] learners. As you get perhaps more to the degree learners they can manage that a lot more themselves. But, yeah, it’s something really interesting about using technology to collaborate and that helps to build bonds and forge those relationships that actually help people to learn.
Sophie Bailey: And that’s really interesting. So what’s been your experience of, both from the learner perspective and the person that might be driving that as a lecturer, of taking on that group work? Have they just embraced it and run with it or are they maybe a little bit more hesitant in the beginning and just, yeah, people listening in may be interested to know, oh, how can I do that if I’m not doing it already.
Hattie Abretti: Absolutely. I think hesitant is a good word actually. Often tutors can be a little bit anxious sometimes, especially if they’re new to delivering online. There is a certain amount of anxiety as to how will I manage this, how will this work, although actually, generally, once our tutors have taught a course or taught a project through digital technology, then they start to feel more confident and they realize that it’s not as scary as it may seem.
Hattie Abretti: But from a learner point of view, I think the biggest issue is often time and flexibility, particularly with adult learners, if they have other family or job commitments, they might be in a group with people that are in different timezones, although not so much for us here, but they could be in a group with people who works night shifts, or whose availability to actually study and their study time is a completely different shift pattern, if you like, which can cause issues sometimes, for group work, particularly if they’ve quite tight deadlines. I guess the key thing is actually learning how to work around that which is quite a good problem solving exercise in itself and represents real life much more. I mean, more and more jobs now involve having to work with people across the world. Again, the joy of technology has connected us globally much more so it is much more representative and authentic an experience, I guess, in learning how to negotiate that experience.
Sophie Bailey: So that’s very interesting. So when you think about online, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t just sitting and working through a curriculum necessarily, in a linear fashion that happens to be hosted online, it’s more about collaborating with your peers and then also making the most of some of those other ways of engaging with the content, so whether it’s webinars or video or so on, but it’s not the idea of just clicking through a program of learning.
Hattie Abretti: No, absolutely. I think there’s always elements of that, I guess, to some extent, because a lot of digital content, obviously we do put in videos and resources and some interactive content, but it’s knowing how that is going to enhance the learning and not just making that for the sake of it. I mean, yeah, it’s great if you can make a really snazzy interactive activity but that’s not necessarily going to be the greatest learning experience so for us, and for me in particular, it’s much more about trying to get those communities and that engagement with peers and start getting learners ready for life after their learning and thinking about how they can, are developing skills that are lifelong skills, lifelong digital skills which I know is a big issue, I guess, at the moment, and quite high profile in the media, but I think it is something that’s really important. And with all the automation that’s happening, there’s going to be such a shift in job roles and a lot of people will have second careers and will need to up-skill digitally. So I think actually learning online helps with developing those skills as well and puts learners in a much better place to be able to connect and communicate via these technologies.
Sophie Bailey: And I saw in some notes prior to our call that you use video in some of your delivery of learning. We may have touched upon that with webinars but I wondered if you could expand a little bit on how you go about using video.
Hattie Abretti: Yeah, sure. I mean, there’s a lot of different approaches to videos online and online lecture videos in particular. The feedback generally from learners I’ve found is that if we use software where it’s actually capturing a lecture live, the quality’s often not that great and there’s lots of [often 00:18:44] distractions, learners are in the room talking and perhaps the audio’s not the best quality, et cetera, et cetera. They can find it quite difficult to follow so we try and create the [inaudible 00:18:56] videos for learning. So if we are adding in video content, we create them for the learning rather than filming the lectures and we tend to have a tutor or a subject specialist in whatever area it’s about addressing the camera directly, and there’s a few reasons for that.
Hattie Abretti: One, we like that the learners can see the person that is on the other end of the computer, that they’re talking to, or they have that opportunity in webinars as well. We like that to be consistent and them to meet some of the tutors around the college, virtually.
Hattie Abretti: The other is, there’s a lot of research about the power of social interactions and how … I guess it’s the same as how we feel when we’re watching a film or a TV series, perhaps, and you learn, you get to know the people that are in the television screen, you think you know them. It’s that thing like if you’re walking down the street and you see a celebrity and you go up to say hello because you’ve watched them on Eastenders for the last however many years and you think you know them. It’s that kind of scenario, I guess, that if someone’s directly addressing you, even though it’s down a screen, and they’re using informal language and you can see all their body language and it becomes familiar, you can start to build a relationship that way as well. So we tend to try and facilitate that where possible.
Hattie Abretti: And alongside that, we do use a technology at the moment, a platform called [Art Video 00:20:17], which allows real-time discussions throughout that video as well. So if users post comments under the video, it pops up on the timeline of everyone else who’s in the cohort. So every time anyone’s watching that video they’ll see exactly where they commented and what that point is and can enable discussion around key points.
Sophie Bailey: Very, very interesting. I mean, engagement, obviously we’ve talked about MOOCs and there’s a well versed issue around engagement there, do you carry the point that there’s an issue around engagement online generally or is that too crude?
Hattie Abretti: I think perhaps there is. I think it’s something that’s starting to be improved with different
, but I think it’s perhaps a societal shift in a way, that people can consume media in such different ways than they did five, 10 years ago, that we expect everything instantly and we expect everything on demand and in bite-size chunks how and when we want it, but equally, if we want to go and binge watch a box set, we can do. And I think people are starting to have that kind of approach to their learning a little bit. So they want to it to be much more on their terms which can, I think, result in a lack of engagement perhaps.
Hattie Abretti: If learning is a bit more structured, then it’s not as flexible as perhaps we want so you go so far and then you have to wait for the rest of the cohort to catch up, to be able to move on, or it’s structured week by week so you’re always waiting for that next bit rather than being able to do as much as you want, which is where there are obviously some benefits to MOOCs and often they are free for people to work through as quickly as they want but then you are missing some of the things that can really help with engagement, like the tutor interaction and facilitation and things.
Hattie Abretti: We also come up against some challenges in FE, particularly with our adult courses, with the awarding bodies. So a lot of the evidence that’s required for meeting assessment criteria is very restricted still, so there’s a certain amount of tutor marking and feedback which is still needed to be very individualized and certain things still have to be, certain evidence assessments have to be evidenced in a certain way.
Sophie Bailey: So that’s very interesting. I’ve heard this before. So does it also relate to actually being physically in attendance in that way, so being physically present in a room, which may restrict some of the more innovative practices?
Hattie Abretti: Yeah, potentially, and definitely evidence of how many hours have been completed and things like that can have a massive impact. Sometimes we can get round it in a [inaudible 00:22:50] by doing some [inaudible 00:22:51] so doing some Skype conferences or webinars and things, to still get that physical element but, yeah, it can be restrictive and it is an issue, I guess, that I think the whole sector needs to move forward with that which I think it’s starting to, but, I think, to be more innovative, there needs to be slightly more freedom there.
Sophie Bailey: So how are digital learning managers like Hattie working with online learning providers and tech platforms? Global education intelligence house HolonIQ reports that the online program management market is expected to reach 7.7 billion US dollars by 2025. There are currently over 60 operators in this space which is a three billion US dollar market, growing at 17%. For universities and colleges, online learning providers are valuable partners, helping them to build, recruit and deliver online learning with attributed revenue and access models at a time of financial need, as well as student service expectation. Yet dropout rates and lack of engagement with online learning are well documented. How do we avoid killing off formal online learning altogether because of this engagement issue? I spoke to two different people tackling this problem.
Sophie Bailey: First up, Shira Liberty, Global Director of Education for Selina, a lifestyle, travel and hospitality platform.
Shira Liberty: One of the main things that I do know is that we link to entities of higher education. It may be proper universities or providers of online education or professional entities like digital bootcamps or whatever and we say, “Okay guys, you have this syllabus, it’s super interesting but let’s take your students on the road and they will travel south America or they will travel central America and on the way, we will take this entire syllabus and we’ll translate it to reality. We will link it to the actual things they’re seeing so it actually makes sense to learn it in Costa Rica and not in London.” So we take the actual content of what they learn and we meet it along the journey.
Shira Liberty: Just to give an example, we have a very exciting project that is coming up and the group is kind of a conglomerate. It’s an online education entity that is the biggest in Mexico and they have a variety of disciplines that they teach. So we take some of the tourism students and education students and business students on different [inaudible 00:25:36], that’s first degrees and master, and we’re hoping to have a group of 25 to 50 people, and they will travel from Panama all the way up to Mexico City, through land, traveling like backpackers, proper traveling. And then in the middle, they’re going to stop in Guatemala, in Antigua, and over there they’re going to meet with a family that has a coffee plantation. It’s not a family, it’s like a tiny village. It’s a big family. And together they’re going to design a sustainable model for them to have fair trade for their coffee but also to understand how to do them themselves and also to understand how to market it, so every single student in the conglomerate of students has a role in this.
Shira Liberty: So the education people, they’re building the programs of how to keep this going after we leave, basically, how to educate the entire people who are involved in this process, how to keep this alive. And the business people, well, that’s very straightforward. They take their knowledge and they assimilate it and they say, “Okay, we want to do a fair trade model, this is the supplier, this is our market.” So this is coming at the end of the trip and the entire syllabus is built upon tiny meet-ups that are aiming for that huge one in the end, so they actually take all their knowledge and they practice it.
Sophie Bailey: And what kind of accreditation do they get at the end? Are they working towards part of a degree, or what’s the outcome at the end [crosstalk 00:27:22]?
Shira Liberty: Yes. The accreditation, as you may know, is a very, very complicated and a lot of paperwork has to do with it so this is why we partner with partners that already have the accreditation and right now, we do it with [UTEL 00:27:40] and they already have the accreditation, they’re working towards masters degree and bachelors degree.
Sophie Bailey: Interesting. And so really the campus in that way is a transient thing, it’s being with your cohort but you could be in any different location any day of the week and then you’re based in a particular place but it’s out of your usual [inaudible 00:28:04] environment. What are main benefits, do you think, for the learners that are part of … On the one side they’re traveling, on the other hand they’re learning these new skills.
Shira Liberty: I think that for these projects, which is like a traveling campus, we also have stationary campus, we can talk about that later, but for the traveling campus, I think anyone who’s traveled know this, know that when you’re traveling, your brain is awake, all of your senses are open, you’re tasting new stuff, things smell a bit differently, you’re meeting new people, you’re meeting new cultures, and you are open to new ideas. This is not a situation where you’re going to school from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM and then you’re going back to the repeat. You are living the state of mind of new information and new experiences and your actual foundations of life, they are being challenged.
Sophie Bailey: If online learning sucks when completed in isolation, will we see more online learning taking place in physical locations round the world, with laptop building digital nomads on the search for adventure or business students wanting to see their learning in action?
Sophie Bailey: That’s brilliant. So you mentioned you’ve got your traveling campus, as it were, and then you mentioned you’ve got more static, or fixed, campuses as well, but, again, I’m imagining they’re quite different to a university campus, as we know it.
Shira Liberty: Yes, I hope, I hope. Because they’re-
Sophie Bailey: So can you describe those a bit.
Shira Liberty: … they’re new and we love them. So the previous project that I described is a full-on traveling event, right? You start in Panama, you are traveling every five, every seven days, you change your location, you are going through maybe five different countries and so on. And this, the nomad campus it’s called, it’s a nomadic campus that change a location every three months. For those three months, it’s completely stationary.
Shira Liberty: And let’s say we’re launching our first one in a few months, it’s going to be in Panama, and it’s located in two tiny villages that are very close to each other. One is Pedasi and one is [Venao 00:30:27] so [inaudible 00:30:27] of a surfer town and a fisherman village and it’s a really nice location, super remote, and what we do, it’s like an open call. We say, “Okay, if you’re an online student and you are studying online right now, don’t study from your parents’ basement. If you’re renting an apartment, just sublet your apartment and come to study with us, and we guarantee you it’s going to be cheaper than renting an apartment in any big metropolis that you’re living in and we guarantee you it’s going to be a better experience for your studying than staying in your parents’ basement. Even though you are in a surfers’ town, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, you’re still going to have better [results 00:31:14].”
Shira Liberty: I’m sure you are aware of it, that online education is like, I wouldn’t say in a crisis because it is growing all the time, quite rapidly, but if you look at the actual numbers, the graduation rates are dropping all the time. When I started researching, I remember it was around 15% and I was like, oh, no, it’s 15%, that’s so low. And right now, it’s at 5%, or 4.5%, and I’m not talking about fringy programs, I’m talking MIT, Harvard [inaudible 00:31:52], they are standing on a 5% graduation rate. That’s super, super low. It means that 95% of their students dropped out somewhere along the process.
Shira Liberty: And when I was actually researching in the [Weizmann 00:32:10] Institute, we had an online program and we researched the online program and it was a very unique one where people actually meet and it’s still this blended experience and it’s been existing for maybe seven years, so it was the first of its kind in Israel, and it was a thing. And we know this, that the main issue is that these kinds of students, they don’t have a community. They don’t have a community, they don’t colleagues, they don’t know if they’re doing well, they don’t know if they’re doing poorly. And moreover, they don’t have any skills of being an independent learner, so you come on and do an online program and you’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it, I’m going to learn at my own time and it’s going to be amazing,” and then you realize you’ve never done this before and this is genuinely hard.
Shira Liberty: Sometimes I work with my students and I’m not even sure that I would make it, when I’m talking about 18 year olds and 17 year olds, and they’re working so hard and so much on their own, that 100% sure that this is not for everybody. So if you want to learn online, and you’re struggling, this is very, very natural but you don’t have any way to know that this is natural because you’re alone with your computer, so you are in this cycle of challenges and basically going through hard stuff and you don’t have any way to cope.
Shira Liberty: So what we do is that we open the doors and we say, “Guys, come here. Have a community. We’re going to support you. We’re going to support your process of becoming independent learners. We’re going to walk you through the skills of how to plan your week, how to do your studies. And on top of it, we have our own program, so if you want to become a [inaudible 00:34:04] developer, you can do it with our in-house program. If you want to become fluent in a language, we have that.” So you can either come with your own studying or you can come and learn with one of our programs, and you get everything. You get accommodation, and lots of personal growth mentoring. We do adventure therapy and art therapy and it’s very, I’m not a fan of this word, but it is a super, super holistic experience because we really see our students first as humans, and we support them that way.
Sophie Bailey: But then again, maybe you’re scared of getting sand in your MacBook Air. If sitting by the beach isn’t your cup of tea, what about using artificial intelligence to better prompt peer to peer learning, support and engagement online? Sense Education aim to do just that. Their website reads, “The future of education lies in preserving the learning dynamic of a small class while accommodating massively more students.” That will be no surprise to universities and colleges listening in who might be currently chatting to companies like AWS or Salesforce about scaling their class sizes online, but how do we get those classes to engage and, well, learn?
Seth Haberman: It’s very funny. To get to your point about personalization, I came from a world of personalization in advertising, right, that was what the company that I used to do in advertising is, and people took it too far and I think they’ve taken it too far in education. And the reason is, in advertising, we’re much more alike than we are different. In other words, we are different and we can reflect those differences but we’re more alike and even more important, audiences are not individuals, they react and they’re social animals. So if I’m promoting a movie, let’s take an example, I don’t want to just have one person think about should I go see that movie, I want him to talk to his friends because that provides a resonance in the marketplace that grows and gets stronger and reinforces people.
Seth Haberman: The same thing in the classroom, is the ego idea that kids only learn from the material like teachers, as opposed to what really happens is, they learn a great deal from each other. And so if everyone’s on their own pace doing something, you ruin the social aspect of people working together which is something magical that happens in classrooms. So I don’t want everyone off in their own cubbyhole doing exactly at the pace that they want. I want cohorts together. I want people to be managed together even if it means it’s slightly suboptimal, that one person goes a little bit faster than the other, because it destroys the opportunity where people can learn from each other. And that’s important for two reasons.
Seth Haberman: One is, it’s very efficient. But the second is, it’s very motivating. And over and over again, if you look at research on learning, motivation is such an important part of it, and a lot of motivation that we get is from not just our teachers but from each other, both from kids who like to teach other kids, or from kids who want to learn something because they see their friends learning and the like. And so, if we just push this pure world of adaptive learning that everyone goes at their own pace, we ignore the fact that we’re social creatures, and every time people ignore that, they make enormous mistakes.
Sophie Bailey: Seth Haberman is the CEO of Sense Education. His background is in advertising and communications. Can he make learning sticky?
Seth Haberman: What we do is, we look for common patterns and open-ended assignments, whether it’s statistics homework done in Excel spreadsheet or a computer science program or a paragraph on psychology. And we find those common patterns and if we find multiple instances of those common patterns, we’re able to make a determination that the students who have those common instances of patterns have solved the problem in the same way. And if we know that they’ve solved the problem in the same way, we can give them the same types of feedback.
Seth Haberman: Understanding whether someone got something right or wrong doesn’t tell me very much about the social dynamics of the classroom, but understanding how people solve problems, because they may, even if they solve the same way, they may still get a right answer or a wrong answer, tells me a lot more about the dynamics of how people are working together in a classroom. You may find, especially in a lot of cases, there are very different ways to solve problems and by seeing that, and I’ve seen the distribution, we can often see, and I’m not talking about plagiarism, I’m just talking about cooperation or sharing ideas, people who share ideas and get some notion of what that means, and sometimes it may mean that I should pair people together who aren’t paired together, or that I can see a dynamic, that I can’t see when I’m just looking at abstract performance online. I just see somebody got an 87, someone got a 92, but unless I have the time to review each one of those things by hand, I cannot make an assessment that, I wonder if these people, I can see, assignment to assignment, that they tend to solve problems in the same way, they’re always in the same cohort of how they solve problems and therefore, I know they work together.
Seth Haberman: One of the interesting things, we work with an instructor at Georgia Tech named David Joyner, and one of the things that he noticed in looking at the output from Sense was that students were solving problems in ways he hadn’t taught, and this happens a lot, meaning you see students solving problems and you haven’t taught the method that they’ve employed. So where did they learn it, right? Maybe they read ahead in the book or they went online or they learned it from each other or things like that. That type of information tells you a lot about your class, and that sort of information can allow you to unify, message to, create social interactions with a class even if they’re not necessarily in your physical presence.
Sophie Bailey: Absolutely. In fact, I think David Joyner may be a listener of the podcast.
Seth Haberman: [inaudible 00:40:36]
Sophie Bailey: I think we’ve had a chat before probably, yeah [inaudible 00:40:41].
Seth Haberman: He’s a great guy. Also, incredibly good looking!
Sophie Bailey: Yeah, I think he’s got quite abundant hair, if I remember correctly.
Seth Haberman: More than me probably.
Sophie Bailey: What was I going to say? Yeah, what’s the role of the, how do you work with universities and colleges, if you do? So how does that partnership work?
Seth Haberman: So we mostly work with universities and colleges and we’re still in early days, we’re an early company. But usually what we do is, there’s an exchange of data in the beginning. We either provide them with the opportunity to access our platform and let them put their data and analyze it on our platform or sometimes they give us the data, it’s all anonymized, and ask us to see what sort of common patterns and how many clusters do we see. So there’s usually that first step where either we’re training someone to use our platform or they’re giving us data and we’re seeing how well we can cluster it. And if we find meaningful results in that, meaning we can find common patterns and those common patterns lead to common clusters, then we say this is going to be a good thing for the school. It’s going to save them time, it’s going to remove the drudgery from examining homework or submissions, tests, and things like that.
Seth Haberman: It’s also going to give them a larger picture of how students are solving problems. And it’s also going to point the direction, not just to the students, but back at the teacher and the content, about what’s working and what’s not, right? If 25% of the students are making the same conceptual error, then you have to ask yourself, have I taught that concept well enough? Is there something I should tune? What can I do to make it better?
Seth Haberman: In addition, once we learn how a human instructor, TA, a professor, a teaching fellow, responds to a cluster or a pattern, then we mimic that, we learn that, and that gives us the ability to provide instant feedback to people, whether it’s in the form of
or the form of comments on a submission and a grade, and that really extends the class because it means 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a student who needs some help can upload something and get a hint or some piece of feedback where normally that sort of process can take one to two weeks in many modern classrooms, and they’re already on to the next [inaudible 00:43:04]. It also has the ability to take someone who’s stuck and get them unstuck.
Sophie Bailey: With this new version of online learning, who might it be for? What does a learner look like in these contexts? Will this be something for gap year students in their new guise, or for digital nomads as they take their freelance employment around the world with their families in tow? Will students choose a hybrid campus?
Shira Liberty: I think basically we targeted this as being our first project because it’s very straightforward. It’s like we opened these kind of campuses, they travel, we have the traveling model, we have the stationary model and we can collaborate with existing traditional academic universities or curating our own content, and students can come and basically everything we just said, experience a very interesting, very enriching side of learning and a way to do learning. But I think in the long-term, Selina has a much bigger role to play here and that’s with the really nomad community.
Shira Liberty: So Selina is focused on the digital nomads of the world, the ones that are traveling with their computers and working from everywhere. And this community right now is growing immensely and is, let’s say, 25 to 35 years old, and we’re really expecting this community to have a baby boom in the upcoming two to three years, to start to see nomadic families and not only nomadic professionals. And we’re thinking, okay, these [dudes 00:44:58] and the dads who are going to travel with their kids, they need solutions for education. So we’re actually outlining nomadic education systems for kids, so people who are traveling can basically go into the [inaudible 00:45:17] of Selina and know that they’re getting the accreditation that they need and they have certain standards and the school, they’re operating in the same way.
Shira Liberty: But also in the sense that, if we’re bringing all these beautiful practices, we bring them to every location that we’re at, we’re also enriching the current education system, not in a way that we’re going to say, “Hey, we’re doing the best education,” it’s just another option for the local people who live there. So it’s kind of a mix between having a solution for nomadic people and then they can travel from Panama to Mexico to Nicaragua to wherever, and know that they have a [inaudible 00:46:01] for their kids to go into and learn. And also for the local people to have an alternative solution, not a traditional public school, maybe something that is more Regio Emilia, Montessori, kind of like this, semi different education system. So that’s where we’re headed at the long-term.
Sophie Bailey: I love it, I love it. Well, no, I can totally empathize and concur with your point about digital nomads growing and families because I’ve got a couple that have just had their second child. He took paternity leave, they traveled around southeast Asia and then they lived in the south of France for a few months whilst she worked because she could do her work remotely as well. So, yeah, if you could then actually add in, okay, well let’s do a bit of learning whilst we’re out there as well. Yeah, people can up sticks more easily than they could before.
Shira Liberty: Yes, yes, definitely. This solution, I think what’s really genuinely wonderful about Selina is that it is a platform at the end of the day, and this solution, this hack to life of digital nomads, is almost independent of the Selina hospitality business. It’s just people looking at the map saying, “Okay, there’s a Selina center there, the kids have a solution. We can do whatever.” They can stay in Selina, they can not stay in Selina. They can live there for two years or they can be there for, let’s say, two months. This is a genuine solution.
Sophie Bailey: And final question then. So obviously in the higher ed sector there’s a bit of a funding crisis so either universities, say, for example, universities in the UK are trying to do more with less funding or, on the other side of things, you’ve got a massive student debt crisis where course prices are going up and people are coming out of university without necessarily the skills they need, but a massive bill at the end. So what’s the pricing structure for Selina, if people are looking at coming to a nomadic campus or taking part in some of your experiences? How does that stack up against what else is out there?
Shira Liberty: On pricing, I can give you an example that’s right now the benchmark for digital bootcamp. So if you want to become a web developer, it’s going to cost you between $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the program that you’re taking, and our programs are currently on the very, very low end of that. We’re taking $6,000 and it includes everything inside of it. It includes the accommodation, the housing, the actual [inaudible 00:49:02], the internship, everything. You come and it’s not like you pay $6,000 for a bootcamp, this is actually the budget for your life, for those three months.
Sophie Bailey: I mean, I’ve been chatting to various people for this episode. I just wondered what your thoughts were on how online learning, how that interacts with the learning in a more physical setting? So how do you see the two interacting?
Seth Haberman: Well, that’s tricky because I think there’s a lot of advantages to people seeing each other at least once or twice, in the case of classroom. And what I think will evolve, I think we’re sort of in an awkward stage between full classroom and online, is I think we’ll have these hybrid classes where you could have a very large class and there’ll be meet-ups in different cities for people who are working on taking Shakespeare with professor leads, it turns out there are 15 other people in New York City doing it and you might as well meet up with them. And so you’ll have these hybrid meet-up classrooms at a WeWork or something like that. I’ve not connection to WeWork, I just think that’s the sort of thing that you might see, so that people will physically be able to interact.
Seth Haberman: I think there’ll be much more use of video in a two-way fashion to support those types of things because I think it’s hard to be isolated. I think certainly some kids can do it, they have the discipline to just do everything on their own, but for others, having those social interactions are important.
Sophie Bailey: So students are searching for ever more learning opportunities. For universities this doesn’t have to be a negative. Perhaps even, it’s what they want for their students to be active and eager, engaged learners.
Sophie Bailey: Students are searching for online resources outside of that that the university would provide, so on that basis, I mean, what do you see the relationship between perhaps the role of the university and online learning partners, or resources, that a student can navigate and help enhance their experience, I suppose?
James Clay: I think universities would say this is what they want their students to do because the reality is, is that university is not just about getting a degree. It is about understanding the subject, it’s about exploring the subject beyond the scope even of what’s in the modules that a student is undertaking. And we know that students who go outside the box, in other words, go outside the core resources that are on the reading list or on the module resources, often get higher class degrees as a result because they’ve got a wider expanse of understanding within that particular topic. And students have been doing this for years, to be honest. They’ve gone out and looked at things like newspapers and magazines and they’ve maybe even gone off to archives.
James Clay: What online and digital does is it allows a much wider choice of resources which comes with a huge challenge as well, is how do you judge which resources are good, which resources are bad. There’s a whole digital literacy aspect there about understanding about what resources are good or bad and we know that then working with students going out to do things like MOOCs from other universities or using resources from other places or online companies, does actually give them that breadth of discovery that they need in order to improve their outcomes and their degrees.
Sophie Bailey: And don’t forget, community is everything.
James Clay: Probably the most influential part of my career, and part of my journey, because I still see this as a journey, a learning journey about the use of ed tech, the technology doesn’t stand still. The technology we were using five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, is not the same technology now. We kind of assume, oh, we need to get this, we need to get people using technology, as though it’s a static thing. It isn’t. It’s constantly changing.
James Clay: But I think, as I was saying, one of the things that probably had the biggest impact, and probably the one that I would recommend, is communities on Twitter. We know social media can be toxic at times and, to be honest, it can be one of those things where I’ve seen some awful stuff happening and I think that’s terrible, but then again, I’ve seen awful stuff happen in lots of different places, in lots of different spaces. But, for me, the network I’ve built up on Twitter has been extremely valuable. I can throw ideas out there. I can go, “Is this just me?” And sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, you get that kind of agreement.
James Clay: There are some great, we call them tweet chats, but really they are communities. There’s the [LTA tweet 00:53:52] chat, it happens every Wednesday, where people who deliver teaching and learning in HE get together and talk about different subjects on Twitter. There’s femedtech which I think is a really interesting group who are looking about the role of women in ed tech which is something that’s really important, to understand the value that they add, and sometimes the discrimination that they often face in the workplace.
James Clay: So there’s these different types of communities. They inspire me, I work with them. It’s really great to be able to just throw ideas out there, find new stuff, find news, find links, inspiration, absolutely. And that, to me, has probably been the biggest influence, has been Twitter, more than anything else.
Shira Liberty: So currently if Selina is treated as a tiny community center where you have wellness, obviously, you have tours, you have travel, we have surfing schools all over, and also you have quite a bunch of educational and community related projects that are happening in each location. So it’s a very vague definition, I think, but this is the reality. We create and make it alive all the time.
Hattie Abretti: For me particularly, it’s much more about trying to get those communities and that engagement with peers and start getting learners ready for life after their learning and thinking about how they can, are developing skills that are lifelong.
Sophie Bailey: That’s all for this week. If you’re wondering what all this means for our mental health as learners and educators, or how we can further develop mentor relationships and learning, or how we can stop lazy narratives around tech being evil, then tune in again.
Sophie Bailey: Thanks also to everyone who has messaged in with your comments on the series so far, including Dr Sam Fecich, Assistant Professor of Education at Grove City College, who listens in from the US.
Sam Fecich: Hello, EdTech Podcast, Sophie for Edtech Podcast Team. My name’s Sam Fecich and I’m a professor at Grove City College where I teach [future 00:56:14] teachers all about educational technology, special education. Recently wrote a book called EduMagic: A Guide for Pre-Service Teachers and I would love to share a little bit about how I use technology either to help teachers, special ed teachers or about ed tech in general. We do lots of different things related to augmented reality, virtual reality, [formative 00:56:35] assessment pieces. So anything you’re interested in, I’m happy to share and I can’t wait to see how we can partner.
Sam Fecich: Have a lovely Tuesday and I look forward to chatting with you further about this opportunity.
Sophie Bailey: Hello also to Alan Bartlett, CEO of scintilla.ai.
Alan Bartlett: Hi. We’re a new ed tech company called scintilla.ai. We’ve just started a new web-based application called Spark which is a space retrieval knowledge practice app that we’re trialing across the country and it’s going really well. We’re expanding it to primaries and secondaries and we really want to be involved in the change in schools to help even out the playing field for all children. So, yeah, we’d love to speak to anybody who’s interested.
Sophie Bailey: Thanks also to my guests and you for listening.
Sophie Bailey: You can join in the conversation online at hashtag edu4_0@jisc or at PodcastEdtech on Twitter and all the other social medias. You can also leave your feedback for inclusion in the podcast next time in our 90 second voicemail at speakpipe.com/theedtechpodcast.
Sophie Bailey: And finally, if you want to listen back to each full length and unedited interview included in this episode, you can do so at patrion.com/theedtechpodcast.
Sophie Bailey: For all the show notes, it’s theedtechpodcast.com.
Sophie Bailey: That’s all from me. Have a great week. Bye, bye.