8. Maximizing Engagement With Remote Gen Z Learners

November 12, 2020 Amy Baron Season 1 Episode 8
8. Maximizing Engagement With Remote Gen Z Learners
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8. Maximizing Engagement With Remote Gen Z Learners
Nov 12, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Amy Baron

GUESTS: KELVIN BENTLEY, LEARNING STRATEGIST AND NIKKI NAVTA, ENTREPRENEUR. Between social media and gaming, Gen Z learners are always one click away from distraction. In an era of remote learning, how can educators and ed tech product developers engage this generation of students? Join Amy as she talks with ed tech entrepreneur Nikki Navta and learning strategist Dr. Kelvin Bentley about the pedagogical trends and technologies that focus on maximizing engagement. 

Show Notes Transcript

GUESTS: KELVIN BENTLEY, LEARNING STRATEGIST AND NIKKI NAVTA, ENTREPRENEUR. Between social media and gaming, Gen Z learners are always one click away from distraction. In an era of remote learning, how can educators and ed tech product developers engage this generation of students? Join Amy as she talks with ed tech entrepreneur Nikki Navta and learning strategist Dr. Kelvin Bentley about the pedagogical trends and technologies that focus on maximizing engagement. 

Amy Baron  0:02  

Hi, everybody. We are here today with Nikki Navta and Dr. Kelvin Bentley. Nikki is an education technology entrepreneur who is currently with cognitive toybox, which is a game based assessment application for early childhood education. In 2018, Nikki sold her nine year old startup Zhu Lama to Carnegie learning, after bringing computer science education to thousands of teenagers through video game design. Welcome, Nikki.


Nikki Navta  0:40  

Thank you, Amy. I'm really glad to be here.


Amy Baron  0:43  

It's great to have you.


Amy Baron  0:46  

Great, and Dr. Kelvin Bentley is the Vice President of learning strategy for six red marbles, a digital learning content provider for K 12, higher ed and the workplace. Calvin has been in the field of online education for almost two decades in a variety of roles as a faculty member, administrator and consultant. He's written articles on digital learning for publications, such as EDUCAUSE review, and inside higher education. And he's been the recipient of multiple Honors and awards, including blackboards 2017, catalyst award for inclusive education. Welcome kept Kelvin.


Kelvin Bentley  1:27  

Oh, thank you, Amy. It's great to be here with both you and Nikki.


Amy Baron  1:31  

Great. Well, I'm very happy to have you both. I'm actually really excited about today's conversation, because I think we have two thought leaders here who have really been involved in so many different aspects of our topic. And I think they bring very different experiences to discuss. So I'm really excited about our conversation today. So we're going to be talking about engagement. And most of us know, Gen Z learners, or maybe we are Gen Z learners ourselves, although I doubt any of that category of people is listening to this podcast, but you never know. And we know that there are certain challenges with engaging these learners. So I thought maybe we could start our conversation just talking about some of the challenges that educators today are facing in engaging Gen Z learners. So do you want to take that first, Nicky?


Nikki Navta  2:34  

Sure. I mean, right now with cognitive toybox, I'm directly working with really young kids. So my current focus is not really there anymore. But when I was working with do llama, it really was that age group. And we, our philosophy was to embrace it. You know, we knew that kids were really interested in video games. And by helping them learn through video game projects, we were really trying to combine and show them that they could learn by doing the things that they love.


Amy Baron  3:08  

Yeah. And you mentioned video games, I think, you know, one of the to state, the elephant in the room, one of the challenges of engaging today's young learners is we're competing with video games, right? Like, they have that incredible compelling video game sitting right there. And we're asking them, no, don't do that. Do this online, you know, educational application, and it's just not quite doing it. Right.


Nikki Navta  3:39  

Absolutely. Plus, I think what we see with that age group is, especially with expertise out there on the internet, now more than ever, in terms of you know, you can google anything you want, you can watch a YouTube video to learn how to do so many different things. I think that that generation is actually quite fortunate in their access to information. But you know, us as educators, we really need to help them understand that, first of all, they need to source that information. They need to be careful where they're getting that from, and make sure it's from a trusted source. And then second of all, that does put pressure on us as educators to not just tell students how to do things that they can find from trustworthy sites, but give it context and give it life and make it meaningful for them. I think that's really where our challenge lies right now in educating the food in this this generation.


Amy Baron  4:37  

Absolutely. I mean, relevance is huge. And Kelvin, you're you're primarily dealing, I think, with older students, you know, more of the higher ed population. Speak to us about some of the challenges there with engagement.


Kelvin Bentley  4:56  

Yes, I think you know, what college age students again, they is need for immediacy. You know, before, you know, in terms of contacting students, you know, we leveraged email heavily. And of course, now with younger students, you know, they don't live on email anymore. I mean, they, they, you know, they're, they're on their phones, they're leveraging so many different apps as well, like Tick Tock and, and other things like that Twitter and you know, other other types of social media. So


Kelvin Bentley  5:28  

even posay these days, right, they kind of go from one thing to another, and it's not always the same thing for a while.


Kelvin Bentley  5:36  

That's right, right. And so we're always that's a great point, we're always trying to play catch up to try to find out where, where are they living? And I think it's an opportunity, right, I mean, for us to, you know, kind of take their polls, more times than not to find out what is the best ways to get in contact with them? I think in higher ed, especially, we need to, I think, you know, because course, content, it's like its design and development is very decentralized. What ends up happening is that there's not always this groupthink around what are the best ways to engage students in terms of instructional content, faculty for lots of different reasons, because they're very busy, for example, doing research and other other scholarly activities, they will leverage, especially on the undergraduate level, they will leverage textbooks that come with ancillaries. And I would argue, you know, those insular areas are not always as engaging and students need them to be they are not always as well contextualize, as we're talking about. So it's an opportunity for faculty to figure out, you know, how can they develop more, you know, more media rich content that students will gravitate toward? And but again, that's very difficult, because, you know, you could have 100 people teaching intro to psychology, but in 100, different ways. And then that makes it difficult really define, you know, what, where's the sweet spot in terms of, you know, really engaging content?


Amy Baron  7:10  

Yeah, you bring up a couple of interesting points there. One is this notion that all students are in the same place. And if you want to, you know, get messaging across, you can just go to Snapchat, or just go to Instagram or, but no, I mean, the students of today are on so many platforms, they're very disaggregated. And I know that that's been a challenge in higher ed is just getting students aligned in the same place and getting them the messaging you you want. The other point I was hearing was this idea of rich media and this notion of, you know, not just delivering the recorded lecture, because that is just not doing it for students. And I know that's a big issue with the distance learning that's happening, the remote learning that's happening today, everywhere is that that engagement factor students are one click away from distraction at all times. And I know that that's huge. So So let's talk about what does engagement look like? I mean, what are some of the trends that we are seeing in education that really go to the issue of engagement? One thing that immediately comes to mind for me is this idea of personalized learning. And the idea that not only the content needs to be personalized, but the context, the delivery method, finding ways to engage students with content that is meaningful to them. So So why don't you give us a little insight there Kelvin on some of the some of the education trends we're seeing around engagement right now?


Kelvin Bentley  8:54  

No, sure. Well, I, you know, I think one interesting thing that's happening in higher ed, work is that competency based education, as as an option for how students receive credits, college credit is, is, is a parent, it's there. I it's, it's tough to say that it's increasing, but I think there are pockets of you know, there are examples of schools that do it really, really well, like Western Governors University, the proof is in their numbers in terms of enrollments, they, you know, have well over 100,000 students and they're and they're growing, right, so they're not even reaching a ceiling. Many adult students, for example, have the ability to again, demonstrate mastery around specific competencies, which are then you know, organized within courses. And so it kind of fits this whole idea that a student like you and I have to be in a class for 16 weeks right now the focus is you Might need eight weeks to finish a course I might need even less time because I have professional, you know, like life experience, you know, professional experience that I can bring in, that actually helps me demonstrate that I actually know how to do certain things, or I have a certain knowledge base that is that aligns with the type, of course that I'm taking. And so I think what we're going to be seeing even more is that, you know, schools are going to have to rethink this whole idea of semesters and quarters. That really, it's going to be about students kind of should demonstrating mastery, and cobbling together a portfolio for themselves, which will be courses, it'll be, you know, internships, right work products. And, and I think that will be where we're headed. I think, you know, now with, you know, we're all kind of watching politically, what's going to happen, will Biden take over the White House, and then who will be the new Department of Ed secretary, it's going to be interesting to see how, and also the higher education Reauthorization Act, if that changes, there could be some doors opening for competency based education, where schools are maybe more incentivized to do this, versus leveraging the the old school credit, hour. where, again, it's butts and seats versus, you know, allowing students to demonstrate competencies. Yeah.


Nikki Navta  11:31  

And actually, one that you were you touched on something at the beginning, when you were talking about credits and how you. High Schools, was high schools, increasingly reaching out to colleges and other kinds of higher education institutions to try to pull together establish meaningful dual credit programs. And it seemed to me that that was on a rise, that that was becoming more and more accepted, and that higher ed institutions were becoming more receptive to that as an idea. But I'd love to know, Calvin, what if you're seeing that trend as well?


Kelvin Bentley  12:19  

Yeah, I think that trend is very strong. And and so I'm really glad that you brought up dual enrollment, there are even states like here, I live in Texas, and you know, dual enrollment is actually baked into the law. So, you know, students as young as, as those in ninth and 10th grade can sign up for dual credit, you know, and this, this is a shift because previously, until this new law came into place a couple years ago, you had to be older, right? You had to be a junior senior. And and now there's a new currency, because there's, there's dual credit, there's, you know, the the IB, the International Baccalaureate program, there's advanced placement. And so now, if you have if you're a college note, if you're a high school student, as far as to go to college, now you're like, well, I could just do it through dual, you know, dual credit, I mean, I can because at least there, I can sign up, I'll get credit in the high school side, I'll get credit on the college side. And I'll actually get the credit, as long as I get a C or better in the class, versus having to take an extra test, let's say through advanced placement when I was in high school, that was my only option. Right, I had to take advanced placement tests, and then even back then in the in the late 80s. You know, Advanced Placement was very limited in some regards, in terms of subject area, sir. So, so yeah, dual credit is definitely going to continue to be popular.


Kelvin Bentley  13:46  

Well, I think one thing that we became aware of in terms of dual credit, the more we understood the at least the Community College landscape was that they on the surface, you would think that they would not want to grant you know, dual credit, because then they get all the credits when kids come to their institutions. But the more I spoke with educators and you know, leaders in, in those organizations, I learned that they really, they do really emphasize graduation rates and success for students, meaning they want the students that graduate to be able to get jobs and to move on to, you know, meaningful careers. And statistically, when kids come into higher ed institutions, and they have to repeat courses that they've taken in, in high school, or you know, they maybe because they haven't, you know, they're not testing high enough, you know, they actually have to take extra credits to catch up those students and up face that they are much more likely to not graduate then. So what I was finding From the people I was working with at the higher ed institutions was saying, if they, you know, they were all they were very supportive of kids getting more, you know, like a higher level of achievement in high school, because then when they did get to college, even if they had a couple credits under their belt, they still had a much higher, statistically a much higher chance of graduating and success. And that's really what what we're all about. So,


Amy Baron  15:27  

yeah, I want to just pick on one thing that you were starting to talk about a little bit, which is, you know, related to engagement and skills for the workplace. The idea of developing skills, well, through an engaging methodology is something that you're very familiar with Nicki in, in your experience with Zulama. And that's game based learning. So can you talk a little bit about how game based learning is being used nowadays? Sure. I


Nikki Navta  15:59  

mean, I think there are a couple different kinds, I know, a lot of people lump a few different things into game based learning. You know, what we did is we used creating games as a vehicle for learning things like project management, and, you know, math skills and computer science skills, and then even content area expertise. Like if you were developing a game about global warming, you know, you had to do some research and understand global warming in order to really pull together a game that made sense. So that, so that's the we thought that what we were doing it do llama was really using games as a vehicle for, you know, giving kids a meaningful project to work on. So that's one kind of game based learning. And then what we're seeing more also is these online platforms, becoming more game like themselves. And that's another kind of category of game based learning where, you know, kids are learning but they're actually playing a game, or, or at least the online experience feels more like a game because there might be a leaderboard, or there might be some social aspect to it. And that helps keep kids feeling like that's more relevant to them, what, what they're doing in their, in their leisure time. Yeah,


Amy Baron  17:17  

that motivational factor the, you know, leveling up and getting points and rewards. And that's all very much I think, on the minds of education technology developers,


Nikki Navta  17:28  

sir, sure. In fact, there are some educators I know that have, instead of using a traditional, you know, ABCD grading point system have switched to a XP type of a grading system just to turn their classrooms morph into something that feels like a video game experience for their students. And, you know, I think there's a lot of different ways teachers can be creative. But they do need to try some of these things. Because, you know, we're seeing it with these with this generation, they really are more demanding, and they're more informed consumers of their educational experience. So yeah, it's a it's a tougher landscape, to educate them.


Amy Baron  18:10  

Yeah, it's, it's interesting, you're talking about, you know, what the teachers are doing. And I think that my background has been in the education technology product development side as nazzer, you know, both of yours, I know. But I always think about what are these education products, these new education technology products doing to maximize engagement, right, and I think about the different technologies available, you've got your artificial intelligence, which allows for adaptive learning that allows you to move a student along at a pace that makes sense for them going at adapting the content according to their needs and levels. You talk about artificial, I'm sorry, virtual reality and the gaming aspect, you talk about mobile learning, and, you know, the whole idea of getting students engaged in order to develop their skills, and we talk about the 21st century skills, the four C's of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, right? What are, you know, what are some of these emerging technologies doing nowadays? To to kind of maximize that engagement?


Nikki Navta  19:28  

Yeah, I mean, if you I have. So with our work, we did a lot of that at do llama, but even at cognitive toybox, adaptive learning is a huge part of what we do, because what we're, we know, we work with really young kids, kindergarten and younger, in fact, and so we're really cognizant of not increasing their screen time any more than necessary. We actually, you know, we don't want kids to get so engaged with these digital devices that they're spending too much time on. It, we've developed assessment games, and we try to keep them as short as possible so that in the shortest period of time, when they kids play these games, we then learn what they know and what they don't know. And then teachers and administrators can use that to inform, you know, their instruction and their program planning. And the reason I kind of go through that is then to understand, in order to keep these games short, adaptive learning is a huge key to that, right? Because if we, if a child starts playing a game, and we see that they're not, you know, answering the questions correctly, and they're not progressing, we don't keep asking them higher level questions, because they are just going to get frustrated, you know, and disenfranchised. And so with adaptive learning, we can, you know, we in a very positive manner, okay, games over you know, and then we level that child and we move on. And, you know, I think I think we can use adaptive learning in really positive ways like that.


Amy Baron  20:59  

Yeah, yeah.


Amy Baron  21:02  

How about in terms of businesses and practical job applications Kelvin in terms of curriculum? And, you know, how are technologies being used in that regard?


Kelvin Bentley  21:18  

Well, I mean, I think in some ways with I think there's some really interesting things. I mean, within higher ed, right now, there are some, you know, there are several schools that are leveraging, you know, like VR technologies to support curriculum. Arizona State University just recently announced their partnership with a company called dreamscape immersive, where they are actually building a platform that allows them to kind of create customized VR content, some, some of the content is actually more defined, but it'll actually be a VR platform where students will learn more about biology related topics. This is a kind of a continuation, or an enhancement of work that ASU was already doing around adaptive learning, because they had partnered with an adaptive learning company called COC books, for example, to do their bio spine curriculum, which allows you to kind of earn a biology related degree through, you know, these adaptive learning modules. So it's a very interesting time. Of course, the challenge that we have in higher ed is that, you know, money is not equally distributed. And so resources are not equally distributed. So how will schools will schools actually engaged in this work to, you know, find new ways to engage and educate their students leveraging these evolving technologies that we're talking about? That's still an open question. It's also very challenging right now I'm giving COVID because resources are, are, are less apparent or less available, state legislatures, for example, are starting to cut back on things like higher education and education to make up for revenue loss because of COVID. So but it'll be interesting to see once we're kind of post pandemic, once we're in that phase, it'll be interesting to see how schools will be able to, to move forward, you know, with these newer technologies.


Amy Baron  23:35  

Yeah, yeah. There is such so much conversation nowadays about about what the pandemic has done to education on so many levels, you know, the transformation to digital learning, and


Nikki Navta  23:51  

so many so many issues. But we know think, I'm also saying that I'd love to mention is that this idea of jobs, skilling and sort of more practical approach to education, you know, I think we're seeing and an entrepreneurial, you know, kids being much more entrepreneurial, where they get what they need from this source, you know, and then then they're, and then they're just empowered to be more creative, because like, I love what Calvin said before, which is about sort of like, it's becoming more accepted to sort of cobbled together, you know, your own personalized pathway of education. And that's quite often includes, you know, starting your own business, even when you're, you know, 18 or 2020 years old, right of some kind or, you know, there are more things like that, that I think this new Gen Z's are doing that is new for the for our generations, or it's more, more accessible or it's more accepted, but at this point, so I think that's really exciting, actually. Yeah,


Amy Baron  24:57  

I totally agree. And I think this idea of student student empowerment and learner empowerment is is crucial to that engagement piece. And, I have to say, I feel like we could go on forever with this conversation because this is such an interesting topic, but I think this is a good place to stop it because we're on a positive note here. We're talking about student agency, and empowerment and entrepreneurship. And I think those are all things we'd like to see more of right. So I think this is a really good place to stop on a positive note. And I want to thank my guests, Nicky, NAFTA and Kelvin Bentley, thank you for an extremely interesting conversation.


Nikki Navta  25:50  

Thank you. Thank you. It was great to be part of this.


Amy Baron  25:53  

Maybe we can do a part two sometime.


Kelvin Bentley  25:56  

Look forward to it.


Unknown Speaker  25:59  

Great. Thank you.


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