Mission Accomplished: St. Leo’s New Ecosystem Transforms Learning
Published by: WCET | 2/23/2017
You’ve heard of course management tools, you’ve heard of ePortfolios… but you’ve never heard of this!
This week we welcome Dr. Jeff Borden, the Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Leo University, to discuss the implementation of a new and exciting learning ecosystem. That’s right, an entire system with one goal: an infrastructure to transform learning for students. Read on to learn about the Lion SHARE system and the implementation strategies involved. We’re thrilled to learn about this platform as the journey continues!
Do you remember when then-President George W. Bush stood on that aircraft carrier with the banner strung behind him stating, “Mission Accomplished?”
While the banner was created by the crew of the ship which was returning from deployment, the world saw it as our leader stating that we had beaten terrorism. The speech (and pictures) became quite controversial with many asking if any kind of proclamation of that magnitude was appropriate, etc.
Today, I make just as controversial a statement. On January 9, 2017, Saint Leo University transformed learning.
I know that you know just how controversial this is. After all, people have been ringing the bell of disruption and transformation for decades. MOOCs will change everything, adaptive platforms will finally fix education, connectivism is the answer, etc. Heck, I remember being in high school when “Base 8” was unleashed on my younger sister. It was going to “fix” our country’s problem with math. Sigh.
But more than the obvious generic cynicism, I know this statement to be specifically controversial. I know this because on multiple occasions I or one of my staff have explained what we built to others and they have actually (although politely) called us liars. Their experience is usually cognizant of how detrimental politics is to education (despite its ubiquity), so people simply do not believe we could do in under 18 months what we in fact did. So what did we do?
Simply – we built an infrastructure that will transform learning for students, at scale. Lions SHARE is the infrastructure for a new paradigm regarding learning which includes a social, course, ePortfolio, synchronous, and productivity toolset. It supports best practices in andragogy, ed tech, neuroscience, assessment, and curriculum management. We’ve built a multi-tool system acting as one which white-labels every tool so that users will not need to know brands and can call our support team to get help with the entire system from a single communication point.
We’ve built a learning ecosystem.
Yep, that message is packed with buzz words and fortified with ambiguity! So let me deconstruct it just a bit.
Our learning ecosystem – a word I use intentionally because of the notion of interdependence between parts – is now whole. While we still have a few integrations left to do, students will see ONE system vs. the five user-facing and nine back-end commercial tools in play. Faculty will see a system that introduces legitimate artificial intelligence (AI) to help create better learning experiences and drive efficiencies. Saint Leo as an organization now has an infrastructure that allows any learning variable to be contrasted, compared, or correlated to any other learning variable throughout the entire system.
But, to those who are still coming back to the idea of, “too good to be true,” let me see if I can quell what I assume are natural arguments.
It’s easier to inoculate against a bad practice when you know it’s coming. In my time, I’ve likely seen 1,000+ strategies and initiatives fall flat because of poor adoption. In some cases, the “duck-n-cover” approach that many faculty use was employed. Being intelligent people, faculty watch as the initiative-du-jour is touted term after term or year after year, only to be completely absent within 12 months, as the next “big idea” takes center stage. Likewise, is the poor assumption that faculty are somehow different from everyone else when it comes to technology adoption.
Does higher education employ luddites? Sure. Does banking, insurance, and health care? Yep. But most faculty are reasonable. In other words, if you put a solution in front of them that actually makes their lives better, easier, etc., they will adopt it. If the pain of adoption isn’t too hard and / or the solution itself doesn’t create new problems that are worse than the original, reasonable people will adopt it.
The difference between a professor and the rest of the population isn’t their aversion to risk, it’s their ability to argue against poor solutions. My college-administration father always says, “Faculty put the critic in critical thinking.” They can wield an argument like a surgeon’s scalpel, so you had better be sure a solution is actually a solution before putting in front of the professoriate.
I’m not sure if this is as true as it used to be, but there is likely some merit to this. So, taking a page from Steve Jobs (who knew the iPod wouldn’t be nearly as powerful or popular as a phone that leveraged iPod capabilities) we created Lions SHARE to be used. Yes, we will require usage for simple things like a syllabus, entering official grades, and deployment of end-of-course surveys, but it will take more than that.
One such example is our Artificial Intelligence strategy. If you give faculty and students the ability to do something they couldn’t do without your solution, reasonable people will adopt it! So, let’s take the conundrum of groups. Faculty (generally speaking) hate using groups. There are a myriad of reasons, from grading an individual for someone else’s performance to problems with group cohesion leading to hatred of groups by students, and beyond. But I think it is fair to say that groups are not used very often, nor very effectively in education.
What if we had a “smart group” builder? What if professors could say they wanted to ensure each group had a leader in it? What if they could group students by those who typically finish group work early vs. last minute so as not to frustrate students? What if they could pull indicators from other classes, social networks, personality inventories, and other tools to generate better groups from the start? Now we’re talking about a system that will do things an individual cannot. And that leads to more and more adoptions.
We do hear that a lot.
But here are a few data points. First, we brought our partners (no, not commercial providers, but PARTNERS) to campus last year.
Note that we didn’t bring account managers – instead, we brought technologists. (Sorry account managers out there. I know you have a number to hit and everything…) We locked them in a room with plenty of caffeine and sugar and made them promise to give us a single system.
And for the most part, they bought in. They agreed to help us. How? By giving up normally required tools for the greater good. Take profiles. Just about every technology system has one. But we don’t need 5 profiles for our users, we only need 1.
They agreed to SHARE a profile from one of the tools, integrating it with all of the other platforms. Same for calendar. Same with helpdesk support – call one number for all tools and get help 24 hours a day. And imagine using a social networking tool for more than just profile based connections and more than just organizational / event subscriptions, but also connecting academic conversations into an activity feed. Now we’re talking. Branding and single sign on through ADFS was also helpful, but the partnership model is what really got us there.
I know, I know – I talked a ton of about technology here when the real magic is in the people. This is why we have a full-scale rollout of training for faculty, students, and staff. We have levels of training (Essentials, Savvy, and Sage) giving specific access to tools based on the training one has achieved.
As acumen grows, so will our ties to higher order learning theory and practice.
We have completely redesigned our online courses to take advantage of both this system as well as what we know to be better practices with regard to learning. No more are we just trying to mimic bad practices from the face-to-face classroom in a digital fashion! We are leveraging the power of a digital world to craft better pedagogical / andragogical conditions, but that’s another blog.
And don’t forget the data. We’re betting on a bevy of better metrics than just grades or surveys. We will be able to show a student their growth as a learner over time, including how they learn best, and how TO learn best after they leave our school…
If I haven’t convinced you, but have piqued your interest, I encourage you to continue to follow our progress. We have given our faculty the Essentials training. But like most people use less than 25% of their smart phone’s capability, we know the effective usage of our new system will require perpetual training and strategizing. And we are committed to doing just that.
Lions SHARE will transform learning.
Good luck and good learning!
Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University