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Opening Note by Yellowdig's VP of Academic Product Engagement Brian Verdine [Learner Engagement Summit]

Brianna Bannach 0:05
Well, I'm super excited for your opening, Brian. So let's, let's get started. Thank you all for for joining today, day two of the learner engagement Summit. We're going to kick off with Brian Verdine. Yellowdig is Vice President of Academic product engagement. Thank you for joining us, Brian.

Brian Verdine 0:22
Hi, everyone. Thank you. Thanks, Gary. I wanted to quickly introduce myself. So, you know, my background was all in psychology and education, as VP of academic product Engagement here at Yellowdig. My job is really to help support instructors and students, and to also work with our product team in order to get good ideas into the product. My my backgrounds, I got my PhD from Vanderbilt and did a postdoc in the education department at the University of Delaware before I started getting into edtech. And I've been working with Yellowdig, for about four and a half years have done a lot of the research on the platform or worked with partners that were doing research on the platform. And a lot of that research has been centered around how to improve student engagement and participation in our product. So I'm going to talk about that today. And one other important thing to know about me is that I'm a big music fan. And so some of that is going to come through in this in this talk. But I do have an old jukebox than I restored. And I'm going to tell you a little bit of a story. But first, I have a confession to make. If you don't know this is Dave Grohl saying best of you. But that confession is that I didn't actually start this talk, writing this talk until yesterday morning. And so by most judgments, I kind of procrastinated on it a little bit. And I think it's important to think about, you know, why did I wait that long? Part of the reason is that I wanted to talk, I wanted this talk to be as relevant as it could be, given all of the conversations that have been happening here at this conference in the first day. Also, I'm just busy at work, right? There's a lot of things going wrong with prepping for this, etc. I have a lot of things going on at home as well, right. So I didn't have extra time to dedicate to this earlier. And I kind of know from experience, how long it's gonna take me to do a pretty decent talk. And you know that I have enough background to be able to pull them together reasonably quickly. And so a lot of the context of the situation kind of dictated back to me. And I think it's important to acknowledge also what that procrastination doesn't say about me. It doesn't mean I don't care doesn't mean I'm lazy, it doesn't mean I didn't want to do a good job on the talk, or I don't care about the topic, all of those things are not true. It just meant that the context around me sort of dictated the things that I could spend time on and how to spend time on them. And so when we talk about leading people into doing things that, you know, that they they need to learn, if we really ignore what is motivating them and what is going on around them the context that they're in, I think, you know, we often sort of come to the wrong conclusions about why people aren't engaged or why they don't seem interested. And the bottom line is, if you miss identify a problem, you're almost certainly going to fix the wrong things. And some of my stories, is going to sort of build on that idea, right. But basically, if you don't identify the right problem, you're not going to solve the right thing. And if we look at a lot of the sort of advice for how to get students to engage with one another, you know, a lot of people will will, you know, search out better discussions, and we talked about this in a business panel the other day, if you Google better discussions online, you're gonna find endless recommendations about how to write better prompts, more engaging prompts. And I think the the problem is that that solution assumes that students aren't motivated to discuss these topics, because the prompts are bad. And I don't believe that in most cases, that's true. If you if you think about what the problem really is, is mainly that sort of prompting students and then grading them is really not the best context to create a good thoughtful, life changing discussion, right. Also So if you're taking points away from students for saying something wrong, that's almost certainly not the best way to get them to talk more. And so you have this situation where the context for students is set up in such a way that you're not really driving them towards doing the thing that you hope they're going to do. And so now I'm gonna shift a little bit to telling you a story about the jukebox that I alluded to earlier, because I think that the context around trying to restore that is an interesting way to think about student engagement. So I had started a 45 collection, just from collecting music, I'd see them they were cheap, I biome when I thought they were cool. But the problem is, you can't really play him that much. You get one song at a time, and you have to flip the record, it's really annoying. So one time, I said to my parents, like, just completely joking, I need to get a jukebox. So I can play all these things. And, you know, a few months later, they showed up at my door with a jukebox that we unloaded into my garage. The problem was that jukebox didn't work, it didn't even have a power cord, they had found it an option, they got it for like less than 100 bucks. But because it didn't even have power cord, nobody had any idea how much it works. And I can tell you that it didn't, the first thing I did was replace that power cord. And when I plugged it in, sort of sparks flew out of it. So I'm in the situation of having this jukebox now sitting in my garage, taking up half my garage. And, you know, I have another confession to make, I was kind of mad at my parents for buying this thing for me without telling me because now I have to fix it, or I have to find some way to get rid of it or whatever, right. But I have this thing sitting in my garage, and I had no idea how to fix it. I'm a psychologist, I'm not an electrician, I don't didn't know how to really solder anything. At the time, I certainly didn't know how to read a diagram like this. And in order to get this thing working, I was gonna have to do all kinds of troubleshooting mining, and it was overwhelming. I found a manual for it. It has 821 pages in it. And you know, like a giant thick textbook for learning chemistry or something you dropped out in front of a student and it's just endless words that don't really mean anything to you right away unless you build up to it. So that was sort of the the problem that I ran into. And I started thinking a lot about what I needed in order to be able to solve this problem. And these are the things that I came up with, right? I needed general knowledge, how to solder how to you know what, what those different electrical symbols meant in the diagrams, right? I needed a specific knowledge about my own machine, and the specific circuits in that machine and the specific parts, I needed the motivation to try to tackle this problem, you know, and the time and energy to actually dedicate to doing it. And the reason I put this circle on the right hand side has the biggest one is because I felt like it was the one that I needed the most, I really needed some belief or confidence or faith that I could solve this giant problem, that I had no idea how to even begin to approach. And I think one of the things that I quickly realized is that as my belief or confidence in my ability to solve that problem Abdun flowed. So did my interest in gaining more knowledge. So did my motivation for trying to solve these problems. I suddenly didn't find the time or energy after work to work on it because I was stuck or because I was frustrated. Right. And, and so I think it's really important in a lot of cases that that belief or confidence or, you know, ability sort of flows across the other things and influences how much of them you have as well. And so then if I have, you know, one more confession to make, it's basically that there was one other ingredient that that I never would have been able to solve this problem without. And at the end of the day, that thing really was helpful people.

And, and the reason is because those helpful people were able to give me general knowledge or specific knowledge that I needed. When I got frustrated, the things that they would help me with would give me motivation. When I had that motivation, and when I had belief in confidence, I found more time and energy to dedicate to the problem. You know, instead of sort of having a drag myself, you know, into my garage after dinner or something, after work, I was excited to get to it, right. And so I think helpful people, ultimately, it was what makes all of these things easier you can you can grow all of these things faster. If you can get a little bit of help from people that sort of know and understand what you need. Right? You know, ultimately, what I found that was the breakthrough for me was a bunch of old people that had worked on these machines when they were younger, that started a Facebook group. And we're talking about restoring these machines. And so when I had a specific problem, I was able to find help. This ideas and compost in educational theory through the zone of proximal development and a lot of other ideas. So the concept that you can learn more with help is deeply embedded in education. And it's a huge part of what we're trying to accomplish here yesterday. And just to sort of wrap this, I think it's important to say that nobody can learn to solve the gnarliest problems, alone or without failing sometimes. And so as we get started into this next day of the conference, I really wanted to take the opportunity to thank everybody for learning along with us. It's so important that we have this conversation to try to solve these really gnarly problems around student engagement. So thanks for that. And I just want to play out hopefully, as a song for you guys that will get you juiced up a little bit for today.

Enjoy the time today. I'm just going to throw one more slide. If you have an opportunity, check out our newly revamped instructional designer certification module. I learned that yesterday. Great.

Brianna Bannach 13:01
Thank you so much, Brian. It's always fun hearing from you. Thank you all

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