Kristen Betts


“You Live and You Learn (Online)” – Transcript


But we do have the ability to change the world.

In my world, I’ve never anticipated easy.

We’re also trying to change the paradigm.

We’re more than just a collection of hammers and saws.

It is such an exciting opportunity to really change brains.

We always lose touch with common things that everyone uses and where they come from.

Welcome to Drexel’s 10,000 Hours Podcast. Our goal is to mine the stories behind our region’s innovators, inventors, and thought creators. We’ll be talking to experts in subjects from fashion to neuroscience to find out where their passion for work and inspiration for ideas comes from. I’m your host, Maurice Baynard.

It is such an exciting opportunity, as we’ve said, to really change someone’s direction, to help visions come to fruition, and really to change brains.

Kristen Betts has worn a lot of hats in her 20 years in higher education. She’s currently a clinical professor in Drexel University’s EdD in Educational Leadership and Management in the School of Education. She’s worked at private, public, and for-profit institutions with titles like director of online and blended learning, chief academic officer, and senior director for e-learning. She’s been the keynote speaker at conferences around the world.

Walk us through your resume and highlight the things that you think are really significant or were really interesting, especially those ones that lead you to what you do today.

I would start by saying that everything starts with a passion. And for me, I have always loved education and teaching, and especially innovation. So when I finished my college degree and my master’s program, I moved to Spain, I lived there, came back, because I was going to be a Spanish teacher, and I wanted that full cultural immersion.

So there you are. You returned from Spain, you’re teaching Spanish, you’re really excited about it, but at some point, you decided there were other things that you were interested in and other opportunities you wanted to take. Can you talk a little bit about how you made that transition from the classroom, teaching Spanish, to where you are now?

I would say, it comes down to one conversation. And I think everybody will have these conversations at some point in their life, where I met with a faculty member. I had no intentions on changing my profession. I had no intentions on ever going back to school, and I happened to have a faculty member from George Washington University ask me what my vision was. And I told him my vision was to be a great teacher.

And he says, well, you’re already a great teacher, so what’s your vision? And I said, well, to be a really great teacher. And he said, OK. And that’s all he said. So our conversation, and I, for two days, kept thinking, wow, that’s not how I wanted to end that conversation.

So I actually called him up and said, I’d like to meet with you. I said, you asked me about my vision. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I said, was it not enough? And he said, no. He says, you’re doing wonderful things. He says, education is so broad. Have you considered looking at higher education? Have you considered looking at how you could take what you’re doing on a larger platform?

And to be honest, I said, no. How would I do? And he says, you should consider going back to school, but looking at either the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, where I went and worked for a while, or he said, you can look at where education is moving. He says, look at current and emerging areas in education.

And this was a faculty member who was involved in online learning. And what I found was there was the gap that we talked about with faculty. And because I’d love teaching, because I’d loved innovative strategies in how to engage students, that was a component that was missing in online learning.

So when I got involved is we talked about in online learning, it was very asynchronous. But as technology continued to evolve, and you could see how you could better engage your students, concurrently you’ve got research starting to emerge, in the neurocognitive and learning sciences, all these neuro myths being debunked.

We only use 10% of your brain. Well, you don’t. You’re right brain or left brain. Well, you’re not. You know, what’s your learning style? Well, we don’t teach to learning styles. So I became so excited about the advancements in technology and what we were learning about the brain.

So I’m super interested in what you were doing in grad school in this new area of online learning. What did you see as the real challenges to getting faculty to really understand how you could utilize this new technology, when probably at that time the only thing people were using the internet to do was send email and post things that people could read?

And that’s really where it was. I mean, at the time, when you talking about asynchronous, that was about asynchronous as it came. You had a website, you posted your materials, and you didn’t necessarily have that engagement. And there was really a big transition once the learning management system came on board.

Prior to that, you had single operating systems. The telephone was the really exciting technology. You could record information. You could post some information online, but it wasn’t where it is now. I think, at that time, it was as good as it could be.

And I think that’s probably why you saw more programs that were hybrid or blended, because you didn’t have that opportunity to have that real student-to-student or student-to-instructor interaction that was fostered through technology. So it’s completely changed. At the time, we did what we could.

So now, if I call you up, and I go, Dr. Betts, I want to build the gold standard in online learning, what are the elements that you tell me I absolutely have to have in my program?

First of all, I would say you need a really good learning management system, a system that’s going to grow with your program, because really it’s like the footprint of your campus. When you have a campus, you need to be able to grow to meet the expansion of your enrollments, something that’s going to allow you to innovatively support your students.

So I would say the LMS is going to be key, because in terms of adding in any type of applications or technology, you need to have that as well. And I would say accessibility. So that would be the framework.

The rest of it would really be building in your support services, so they’re there, because education isn’t simply about the academic experience. We need to look at the students holistically. And so when students come to campus, they need that full support of the university, and that’s what tuition is paying for. So it’s the LMS, the campus services, the support that they have.

And then, of course, you’ve got to have the quality academic programming. And so it’s looking at content that would be developed based on just the premier learning outcomes that you could develop in whatever field of study that you’re working in. What do students need to be able to readily do in terms of skills? What do they have to be able to readily transfer if they’re working in the field or they’re going to be moving into that field?

And you have to have curricula that I would say is living curricula. So you’ve got content that you’re going to design. You’re going to have a framework that guides students through the content, but it’s not simply texts. You’re going to engage them with video.

And we’re not talking long video. We’re talking bringing in content experts. Some of the materials were available online, but you can easily– for example, one of our classes– bring the author of a textbook. We had one of the authors of our textbook come in and actually do a live session.

So there’s different ways that you can really bring that curriculum to life. So I would say the footprint of the institution, the support services, that quality academic programming, and then really the technology to help really support innovative instruction, active learning, and, as I mentioned, universal design.

So I know that you’re really interested in the neurocognitive aspects of learning. Could you talk really briefly about the things, the current research that you’re really excited about, how it reflects on education and learning?

Sure. So for me, probably the most exciting thing in education, when you’re looking at the neurocognitive and learning sciences– and I wish we could integrate this into all faculty development– is understanding neuroplasticity. And this has really come out from the advancements in technology, where we are learning so much about the brain, how we learn, how the brain functions.

And so with neuroplasticity, we’re able to show that the brain is constantly changing throughout life, based on experience, based on environment. So when a student’s in your class, you truly have the opportunity to not just change someone’s perspective, but you’re actually changing the brain based on your course design, based on instruction, based on your assignments and activities, and how that student is engaged. So it is probably the most awesome role to be involved in education.

What are you directing your graduate students to be looking at now? Where is digital education going?

Well, there’s so much out there. I would say probably education, it is the most exciting time to be involved in education, K through 12 education, higher education, professional development. Technology is driving so much change, and I would say in terms of education, we need to look at how we can utilize technology, particularly if you’re looking at online and blended learning, to really provide that student experience, active learning, experiential learning, for myself, I would say looking at augmented reality, immersive virtual reality.

So when students go into a lab, sometimes what you’ll find with courses, they might be place-bound. So I go to class, even if it’s a blended class, I might go to a lab an hour and a half a week, but that’s the only practice time I have. I might work in a group. And if I’ve got three in a group, my practice time is decreased, where we’re having to work together, which is fine.

But I’m very interested in how do we create applications to replicate what we’re doing in immersive virtual reality? So you can take that lab, and it doesn’t matter where you are. You can put on your headset, and you can actually, with controls, go through and practice whatever those lab activities are. And I really believe that’s going to decrease stress, increase retrieval, increase opportunities for mastery. So when you go back into the classroom, you’re better able to optimize that lab experience. It’s better to be engaged.

Do you see a day when I put on my VR headset, and I walk through the circulatory system, and I walk through the chambers of the heart, just to understand that physiology? And if so, how far away is that? Because I might go back to school.

You know, they’re already doing really innovative things. I mean, there’s a number of groups– I know that Drexel has been working just with augmented reality, where we’re truly you have your machine, and with the controls, you’re taking the heart out, and you’re able to lift up the heart and move it around, again, through AR. And you can dissect it. You can look at the different parts of the heart.

It is such an exciting time, especially for students that may not have high spatial visualization skills. And for some of these students, when you’re looking at materials that are really 2D max, they may not fully understand and be able to grasp some of the concepts. So when we’re able to integrate augmented reality, immersive virtual reality, we are truly creating a paradigm shift for this student, and really enabling all students to see education through a new and innovative lens.

So I don’t know if those in online education even go here. Do you see a time when the online experience supplants the real world showing up at campus, and more students are online than they are actually enrolled in the brick and mortar university?

It’s an interesting question that you ask, and it’s one that’s often posed at conferences. We will forever have bricks and mortar institutions. I mean, there will always be a home for on-campus programs. Some programs, even though they could be offered online, there are students that really want that on-campus experience.

There are certain courses, for example, we’re talking sciences, where you want to be in that laboratory. You could still practice online, possibly in IVR and do all of that. I do believe– and I wrote an article several years ago, and we’re going to come back and repeat that article and look at it 10 years later– but looking at what’s driving online and blended enrollment.

Right now, only 14% of all undergraduate students are enrolled full time and live on campus. So really, the shift has already occurred. Our traditional population is non-traditional. So we’re in this new norm. So we have to look at our programming. Is it really aligning with our students?

If we know that 62% or 63% of our students are graduating in six years, what’s happening to the other percent? You know, could it come down to programming and formatting? And so, I think you’re going to see moving forward more institutions looking at flexible type of scheduling, more so than before. I don’t think it will necessarily all move online, but I think you’ll see more of the hybrid, the blended type of programs.

So today, I gave back a quiz, and I thought I was being really progressive. It was a take-home quiz. And I wanted my students to work online. I asked them six questions, and all I wanted them to do was to go out, do kind of self-directed research, and come back with the answers.

Unfortunately, a huge number of them simply googled the content of the question, cut and pasted whatever they found online, including with its formatting, and sent it back. How could I have thought about that quiz differently and really driven by the engagement? Because I take responsibility for it. I don’t think it was their fault.

You know, it’s interesting you say that, because students will follow whatever directions they’re provided. And it doesn’t mean that the directions are wrong. It’s how they interpret them. And I’ve had students before do things similarly, where perhaps there wasn’t enough detail.

So I would say, it comes back down to the design of the assignment. So if you have a quiz, it’s being very specific and saying, you’ve got six questions. In order to answer the questions, you need to do the following. You can access one of five sources. You cannot google the responses. You cannot copy or replicate.

You could even share examples. And that’s one thing that I love. They call it mentor texts or examples of what not to do. And sometimes students are thinking, wow, I’ve got this great idea. And they look and think, wow, that is not what I want to do, because they may not know.

And I think this goes back to the comments that we had in prior discussions about neurodiversity. Students coming into your classroom, not only are they diverse in terms of their academic experience or their professional experience, but they’re also diverse in how they’re going to really read the instruction sets, and what they’ve been able to do in other courses. So they may have had faculty that didn’t look as closely as you did, where it becomes a checkpoint, and you’ve read it.

So I would say, would be the design, setting up those expectations, providing examples of what may be expected, what not to do. And then when it comes back, one other thought, discussion boards are something that always comes up. Oh, we’ve got discussion board. You know, you’re going to just read, post, and reply. I love discussion boards, because it’s perfect for this type of activity.

I love the fact that you brought up discussion boards, because anyone who’s ever engaged in online learning at any level will discuss the discussion boards. And when overhearing and eavesdropping on students, sometimes you hear them say, quite often, I’m in this course, we have to make three discussion board posts a week.

And for them, the course literally boils down to just making this post or just responding before the thread closes. What is the answer? Dr. Betts, how do we fix that?

So I’m laughing over here. I call this death by discussion board. And it’s not just a student–

That’s a good name. I’m going to get a T-shirt that says that. That’s fantastic.

It’s the instructors, as well. And it comes down to course design. I think what’s happened is when online learning started to really grow, and we didn’t have the interactive options within the learning management system, you simply had the discussion board. And that justified substantive interaction between faculty and students.

Although, it really wasn’t interaction, because if you said post by Monday at 11:59 and respond to two peers, they would post at 11:55 and quickly responded to two peers. And that is not interaction. So one, you got to be creative.

For me, I love discussion boards, because it allows me to engage the students in activities that lead up to the assignments. And it also allows me to integrate technology. So I tell faculty, don’t ever waste a discussion board. Don’t simply say, read this article, post your thoughts, reply to two peers. Really have them engaged.

I think you should teach a class on discussion boards. That’s fantastic. Dr. Kristen Betts, master teacher, online neuro-educator, and discussion board whisper. [LAUGHTER] Thank you for being on the 10,000 Hours.

The 10,000 Hours podcast is powered by Drexel University Online.