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Campus to Clouds | Interpersonal Relationships That Matter Keynote - Richard Senese [Learner Engagement Summit]

Tyler Rohrbaugh 0:05
Well, it is my distinct honor and privilege to introduce our day two keynote, Dr. Richard Senese from Capella University and Richard is the President at Capella University. His work expanded the university's flex path offerings, which provide one of the country's foremost direct assessment competency based learning formats, providing students the ability to have greater control setting their own pace. Richard has been a leader in academic innovation, including establishing Capella Fellows program that helps participants build the talent and leadership skills required to mitigate social and economic inequities in the communities it serves. And he's acted nationally in higher education leadership, Richard serves on the President's foreign board and is the treasurer of the LGBTQ presidents in higher education. And with that, Dr. Senese, I will pass it over to you. Thank you.

Richard Senese 0:59
right. Thanks, Tyler. And thanks for the invitation. And thanks for joining us for this last session. Looks like it has been an exciting conference here. We're going to have someone pull up the slide. So if you could start the slides, that would be great. Yeah. So really, what I want to focus on a little bit is interpersonal relationships, and how that intersects with all of our work. So a little bit about me real quick. Tyler told you some highlights my current situation, right? I'm president of Capella University. I'm also a licensed psychologist and taught psychology for a number of years at a variety of schools. So when I think about engagement, I think about it from a psychological kind of lens. I'm also a first generation college students. And there were many points in my college career where I almost didn't continue. But it was certain relationships that really helped me stay motivated and stay focused in order to continue on my education. So let's go the next slide. I'm gonna share a little bit about Capella University, Capella University. Back up one slide there. Thanks. So yeah, I guess there's some animation in there, maybe, huh? Let's see what happens. There you go. Well, anyway, as that pops up, I'll tell you Capella University, we are entering our 30th year, founded in 1993, we are largely focused on the non traditional aged college student what some people call the new majority. So our average age of our learners is 38 years old, mostly in graduate school, mostly completing master's programs, doctoral programs, some obviously, in bachelors programs, but about two thirds are in doctoral and master's programs. And three quarters or so are attending part time. So it really is serving working adults for seeking to advance in their career. School. The next slide, which we already got a sneak peek at Big Idea number one, big idea number one is this idea if we can engage, if learners engage, then they will learn they will continue, they will graduate and they will achieve career success. Right. Now, each of these is much more complicated than it first appears. But you know, maybe it's in my role as president, you know, we're up here at 80,000 feet where the oxygen is thin. We need these sort of more simple approaches to understand in a deeper way, what's going on? And and how to make investment decisions. What are the important things for the university to pursue invest in the types of innovations that we think will make a difference? So let's go to the next slide. As I mentioned, you know, it looks easy, but it's not. This is very difficult for a wide variety of reasons. Now, if we can ask ourselves why and just go to the next slide, I want you all to think for a minute, and you're gonna get a chance here to share some of your ideas about why. One thing that you know, as a psychologist, we often talk about what are the the sort of call the manifest so the manifest characteristics or whatever? The the one of the main reasons this is difficult if you go the next slide, is we're in a kind of a competition for discretionary time. Right? This is a big challenge, especially at a you know, in any university now, where people have lots of competing priorities in their life. And so we are In a competition for their engagement for their time, across a whole host of other things they could be doing. I want to just go to the next slide here, and I'd love for you to put in the chat. What are your experiences? And from what in your experience? What is drawing time and attention away from academic programs? Netflix, yeah. Family outside work social media, right, that interpersonal connection on social media, I found is certainly the tool by which a lot of that happens life, right, someone's got to do the laundry, someone has to go grocery shopping. Right? There's a whole host of life commitments that are pre existing in the lives of learners. And that have, over the course of their life, provided reinforcement, encouragement, all kinds of benefits that they've achieved, perhaps lack of interest, right? as well. But you think about family self care, their own educational history may be impacting this jobs, career elder care, especially when you know, you have more than non traditional aged folks. They're the you know, their own their own responsibilities to themselves to others to their community, maybe a faith community, maybe a nonprofit, they might be coaching, soccer, all kinds of things are competing with the educational programming. So let's go the next slide. Because, you know, again, this idea, right is engagement is the precursor to learning, continuing graduating career success. So if we go the next slide, we can pick apart engagement a little bit. What do we really mean by engagement? So, you know, psychologists, I see Dr. Wells at one of my games is on the call, and she knows that I love my models, and I love models that have three parts to them, especially. But psychologically looking at engagement, you know, time is something you can't do anything about. There's only 24 hours in a day. I'm a counseling psychologists and when I used to teach counseling psychology, I would talk with my learners about when clients present time and money problems, there's, if they don't move beyond that and look deeper into it, there's not much more that I could help with, because I can't expand the amount of time in the day, and I can't print money, that we can't help unpack what does that really mean? So that's what we're going to do today, we're gonna try to unpack this idea of just moving off of discretionary time toward engagement, and then unpacking that a little bit. And then think about what are some frameworks for examining how we operate as higher ed that we could use to improve engagement. But let's look at this idea of engagement and its kind of counterfactual of burnout. So there's this really interesting cross national study Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, to try to look at academic engagement using tools about engagement and burnout from the workplace. So part of the study was this psychometric validation thing, which probably only a few of us on the scholar interested in. The main point of the study, though, for our purposes, was it supported the idea that the same factors of engagement that drove work engagement drove academic engagement. Right, so they were vigor, dedication and absorption. So vigor, vigor is this idea that you have the energy, you have high sort of mental resilience, a willingness and ability to invest time in it. Dedication is the idea that I find what I'm doing significant that I'm dedicated to this, I'm committed to this idea. I'm proud of it I feel challenge. Absorption is kind of like that psychological concept. You may have heard of the flow. But I always have to think about how to say his name. Chuck sent me i and his book, The flow of flow about how you get absorbed in something and time seems to just kind of standstill you don't even notice that time is going by. So to the extent that an experience elicits this kind of behavioral, cognitive and emotional response, we're going to be engaged in it. To the extent that we feel exhausted, we are cynical, or we have a sense of low efficacy. In other words, we don't think we're very good at it. We're going to feel burned out by having to do that thing, whatever it is, right? It's going to be frustrating. And we're going to have all this kind of negative attribution associated with it.

So it's really interesting in this study is they found that academic performance was positively correlated, and this is correlational, not causational, but positively correlated with engagement negatively correlated with burnout, not a big surprise. But what was interesting was that efficacy and vigor were the strongest correlate so in other words, the higher the efficacy, and the higher the vigor, the more likely that they saw academic performance. Truth was vigor, dedication, and absorption all showed very positive, showed positive correlations across these three national studies. So then our challenge knowing this right, what's our challenge? Our challenge is how do we support and reinforce vigor, dedication, and absorption, while lowering feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and strengthening self efficacy around someone's academic work, right. So the, the way we design our programs, so we we design, the learner experience all aspects of it, we need to keep this in mind, we also have to remember that this may be a new experience for our learners, right. Or it may be a repeat experience, they've been to college before. And they're going to carry that history with them. And we have to remember that all those other commitments we talked about, they have the same relationship with right three, they're engaged, there's somewhere on the continuum of engagement to burnout with all those other experiences, right? So. So that's kind of what we're challenged by, right, we have to kind of stand out a bit in order to continue to draw attention. So tipping the scales then is our ultimate goal. We want to find a way to tip the scale toward engagement on behalf of our learners. So let's go to the next slide. And look about what that means. Well, what tips that scale. So what's the antecedent the precursor to engagement, motivation. Those of you that were ever in my intro psych class, this was usually chapter four or five of the intro psych books, motivation, and emotion. And really, it's motivation that fuels that right now, clearly, learners are motivated, otherwise, they weren't to enroll, they wouldn't be in the course, they wouldn't be doing it. But how do we help or hinder them in maintaining that motivation, especially in the face of things that might be difficult, or might be challenging for them? And, you know, we all know, we've probably said it, you know, when we see when we see others who may be acting against their own best interests or self interest, somebody will invariably say, you can't help someone who doesn't want to help themselves, right? Well, that's true. I can't make anyone do anything. But I can create conditions where it's more likely than less likely, right? So my responsibilities as a higher education leader is not to make someone do something, but it's to create an experience and an ecosystem, that, that fuels their motivation that enhances it to the best of my ability. Right? And, you know, it's our job to try it's our job to rigorous rigorously apply the tools of scholarship to all of this effort. And to not necessarily we aren't going to do for others, but we're going to create conditions that foster motivation leading to engagement, leading to learning etc, etc. So let's go to the next slide. So, what we also know is that motivation is influenced through relationship. There is a host of research on this, about how motivation really enhances achievement. I mean relation relationships affect motivation, and lead to greater achievement, right. And we know that both from all the research that there is on it, and also our own lives, we all know that we have been motivated by relationship with somebody, right? In my own life, as a first generation college student, I almost dropped out in Mesabi community college, but for a couple of instructors there, I almost didn't continue my doctorate, but for a couple of people, one in my personal life, and one, the executive assistant to the department, you know, who really kind of helped me, motivate myself who provided that interpersonal relationship linkage, and motivation, you know, can be intrinsic, meaning that it comes from within us. And, or can be extrinsic, right? Now, the stronger way of motivation would be intrinsic motivation, right, it's within us. And so it's kind of self generating in its own way, self reinforcing. And extrinsic motivation is from outside, right. So if someone's going to school to get a promotion, and they're just trying to check that box and get that piece of paper, that's more extrinsic, right. And that may not be as long lasting, and we may not be able to affect that as much as we can affect intrinsic motivation. So let's go the next slide. So intrinsic motivation is known to have the stronger effect, on achievement, and on an academic engagement. And there's again, a host of research on this topic. So the more motivated, the more especially intrinsically, the more willing I am to solve for complexities in my life, that get in the way of me investing time and energy in school. Because remember, time doesn't expand, except in the Marvel comic universe. So we have to manage, we have to get more of a finite resource time, right. And more motivation, more intrinsic attractiveness of the experience will lead to them, learners, not only spending more time, but also taking time to solve for complexities, right, finding that extra child care support, finding that person to take on the soccer team, etc, that they may have to give up, right? Or they may start to resolve cognitive dissonance in favor of their academic program. Because of these things, said much more simply by our provost, and probably more profoundly, learning should be a joy, it should be a joy, if it's a joy, people will be attracted to it. So how do we do that? Let's go the next slide. So intrinsic motivation, you know, as we're seeing psychologists, like, groups of three intrinsic motivation is based on this idea of three needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. And I think it's really important to consider all three, I think we probably under consider relatedness. In general, when we're thinking about creating learning experiences, designing courses, and all of those things. You know, a lot of educational software, all these things, I think relatedness is something that we need to consider autonomy is this idea of volition that I get to make choices, I get to do things, our FlexPath program is a great example of that. Learners, basically, not exactly, basically set their own calendar for when they're going to complete assignments and that sort of thing. Competence is this idea that I feel effective and, and I'm challenged, but I'm challenged within a zone that doesn't overwhelm me, right? If you're familiar with cognitive psychology, the idea of scaffolding and the god skis theory on cognitive development comes into play here, right? Where you want to help people gain competence. Of course, competency based education, competency based curriculum is one way to approach this as well. And then relatedness feeling close connected. That there's an effective bond, there's an emotional bond and attachment with other people, right? So in environments where these are fulfilled, intrinsic motivation is fostered and supported. And positive outcomes occur from that. So let's go to the next slide. Because this one I think, is really important. And I want your comments on this. What do you think the knee needs for autonomy competence and relatedness look like across these various touch points. So universities in higher ed, have many touch points with learners, right? People from the very first moment that a learner hears about your school encounter somebody, that's a touch point. What does it feel like? Does it foster autonomy, competence and relatedness? Or does it work against one of those three.

So whenever we're looking at choices we get to make about the design of the learner experience. We have to have this lens of how to support intrinsic motivation, how to increase autonomy, you know, like with people, faculty, enrollment, counselors, advisors, all the learner facing staff, library, etc. Autonomy could look like an ease of connecting, like, I get to choose, I can email the librarian, or I can chat with the library. And I can do it right now. Right? Competence might look like people approaching that learner with a growth mindset. Right? You know, so often, when I taught in school in colleges, students would come up to me and say, you know, I'm sorry, I just don't understand this. And I would say, well, that's why you're learning it. Like, of course, you don't you know what I mean? Like, that's the point. So this growth, but a growth mindset. And growth mindset can be used in communication, whether it's about somebody violating academic integrity policies, or somebody learning calculus, right, having approaching it from a growth, mindset, and relatedness. Now, relatedness when we're talking about people is really about core conditions of interpersonal communication and relationship. It's about empathy. You know, it's about genuineness. It's about holding positive regard for others. Communicating with a growth mindset, and, you know, is is an example of relatedness as well. And so to what extent do we do that with consistency, all the interpersonal all the people interactions that we have with our learners, curriculum materials, you know, course content, all of the all of that stuff that we spend so much time curating and giving to learners, the syllabus itself, right, what does autonomy look like there? Well, is it easy to follow and navigate? You know, sometimes the syllabi look good to us, but we're so used to doing school, that it, it, but it doesn't look good to that, you know, 39 year old who's coming back to school and who's scared to come back to school, right? Competence is the information scaffolded relatedness again, right? Even in curriculum materials, you have to understand there's a relatedness part to it, you know, is it inclusive? Is it as free as possible from unconscious bias? You know, as a gay man taking a family psychology course? Am I ever going to be exposed to same sex families? Are all the examples, you know, what, what is that going to look like and feel like for me, my goodness, see myself in it. Right? Technology. Again, this is often thought of as user experience. But autonomy is 24/7 access and runtimes of 99%. Right? Like, it's never down. A ability to have support in multiple ways chat, AI, live connection, competency, you know, meaning universal access, no matter where I am, if I'm on my Android phone, my iPad, my This are my that into there, I don't have to. And I don't have to take a course on how to take a course. Right? It should work like an Apple product. It should just work. You take it out of the box, you turn it on, and suddenly it's all there. Now, you know, way back when when I bought my first Apple, Macintosh computer, you know, there were probably five manuals of 300 pages each. It's not like that anymore. Right? And relatedness is this idea of you know, user design for learning. You know, it is engaging by its look and feel, and process and culture. Think of all the things we ask our learners and students to do right. All the processes that they're involved in, they want to change their program. They want to check on their financial aid, they want to register, they want to seek an incomplete all these things right? Again, autonomy 24/7 Self Service Live Help, how I get to choose right, the path their competency? Are they getting the right answer to the right question? You know, maybe they call and they ask a question. But because nobody said anything besides, you know, what's your ID number and name? What's your question? Here's your answer. Did the learner may have asked the wrong question because they don't know. They may not know the network of policies that they're find themselves having to navigate. Right. And then relatedness again, being welcoming and inviting, being personalized. When you sign in. Does the website does the technology know who you are? When you talk to a human? Do they know who you are? Do they have the information about your past interactions and experiences? So this these are just some ideas about how we can apply the concepts of of autonomy, competence and relatedness in designing, learning, and designing the learning ecosystem, so that we increase motivation, so that we increase engagement, learning, continuation, graduation and career success. So let's go the next slide. And this is big idea number three, right, we can improve engagement by enhancing learners sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness at every single touch point. And we should, that's why they came to us, right? They, we know this, so now we can't turn away from it. So we have a responsibility to do this. In our professional practice, of higher education, right, all of us are in that same field. And we want to practice at the highest levels of our profession. In higher education, we have to take these kinds of psychological factors and dynamics into account with all of the decisions we make. Alright, let's go to the next slide. And just leave some time for discussion and questions. And then I know there's a raffle coming up here soon, too. So I do not want to use that much too much time and not have time for the raffle. And the very comments in the chat. I haven't been paying much attention except they do see a Happy New Year shout out. So Happy New Year to you too.

Brianna Bannach 28:00
I'm thinking everyone might be might be typing their questions. We do have 15 more minutes in the presentation. So if you have a burning question, please be sure to type that in the chat. And to give you some time, I'll announce the raffle winner now. So congratulations to Ashley Sarsgaard, you have won a Yellowdig swag box. So thank you so much for attending. And I also want to shout out Julie Moss, she is the winner of the raffle for participating the most in the Yellowdig community. So thank you for being so active in the Yellowdig. Community. Julie. Looks like we have some questions. I'm going to turn it over to Tyler to ask the questions that are popping up in the q&a.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 28:42
Thank you, Bree. We have three questions in here. The first is from Luis. She asks, how might we successfully deal with resistance to change?

Richard Senese 28:56
I think there's there's sort of two ways to deal with that. Right. One is one I think that we over emphasize, which is talking about the great benefits of change. We have to recognize what Dr. Lauren Nordgren calls the frictions in his book, the human element. So what are the frictions? And let's honestly talk about those and what is motivating that friction, right? You know, in counseling psychology, we often will say, whatever the behavior is, whatever someone who is doing, even though it may be from the outside in causing destruction in someone's life, there's some motivation for it. Right, there's some reward happening there. So what is that? What are what are people scared of giving up? Do they need to give that up for the change to occur? So I would really recommend this book. It's called the human element by Dr. Lauren Nord Grant who He teaches at the Kellogg School at Northwestern. I think he does a really nice job of outlining it. The other one I would if you're worried about, that's more for individual change for organizational change, I will look into the adaptive leadership concepts out over the Kennedy School. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, ZZ work, some really great models there.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 30:30
Thank you so much. And Luis drills in a little further and, you know, specifically thinking about faculty resistance to higher education administrators, launching new initiatives. Do you have any thoughts there?

Richard Senese 30:46
Well, I think I, you know, I think both of these books I just recommend and models apply, one of my approaches to change is to make sure that we call all of ourselves to the same higher angels, right. To the extent that faculty are rewarded for innovation, you know, we've created a model, especially in traditional higher ed, of rewarding faculty for certain things, and not rewarding them for other things, but expecting them to do these other things. And to do them well anyway, right? Even though doing them takes their time away, because they only get 24 hours from these things that we reward them more for. So as a higher end leader, we have to be honest with ourselves about the scheme that we've set up for our faculty, right. If there is a scheme that supports innovation and rewards innovation, then then you have issues a more sort of personal consideration. But we cannot blame faculty members for focusing on doing the things we told them are higher value in the reward scheme, even though we're now asking them to do this other thing, that that's kind of not that's nonsensical. Thank you. And

Tyler Rohrbaugh 32:17
another question from Juan Carlos, how can we get 100% honest feedback from students regarding their course experience?

Richard Senese 32:28
Well, you can never know that you're getting honest feedback, right? I mean, the research on this, that I've read it, it's been a while, you know, you want to collect the feedback in a way that the learner is assured the faculty members not going to see it, right. And you want to make sure that they understand there's no connection between the feedback they provide, and the instructors evaluation of their academic performance in the course. You also want to demonstrate to learners though, that you've heard their feedback, right? I don't want Tyler's head to get too big here. But some of the feedback that we learned, so we did you know, we brought Yellowdig into Capella. And, as you might imagine, we are very data driven. And we use a lot of data analytics, and I'm a psychologist. And, you know, Yellowdig, to me is an intervention in the ecosystem. Let's use it, see what happens measure it. And as we did that, we saw success. I mean, we saw quantitatively the success. And we heard anecdotes and qualitative indications about how valuable people were finding it, both faculty and learners. By the way, our institution is largely online, though we do do some face to face educational classes with programs in counseling and those kinds of things. And I attend those. Not all of them, but some of them. Invariably, as we started rolling out yellow day, people would either thank me for yellow day, or ask when they were getting Yellowdig. Right. And so, you know, we had we had that feedback early on about Yellowdig. And we got that now the other end, and then I was able to say to learners, hey, we heard you. This is what we're now doing. And we're expanding Yellowdig so you have to have that kind of relationship with learners kind of writ large, right? Like we do learner town halls. We want to say back to learners. We heard you about this thing. This is what we're doing. So that's that's an important thing to do at whatever level you can and more local level you can do it the better right like so if it's a program, and learners didn't like the way this course risk was structured or this experience was structured. Then you modify it. And you say that back to the learners, you know, we're doing that in our BSIT program, where we are structuring the program differently based on learner feedback. And to the extent that you can do that, and be honest and truthful about all that people will, to the best of their abilities give you their honest feedback. There's a lot of research on and of course evaluations, if you're really interested in you should dig into, though, about the the way in which those are administered, and how it affects feedback.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 35:38
Appreciate your mindfulness of how big my head can get, but there's more room don't worry. Heather, Heather asks a question. And I think it's, it's it's interrelated to exactly what you covered. She She mentioned, you know, where what do you see are the biggest opportunities like Yellowdig, with regard to increasing engagement in the online setting? And you just touched on this a bit about Capella is data driven approach to understanding effectiveness? Could you maybe drill in a little further on specific outcomes that you're after? And that can be Yellowdig? Or more broadly? Anything? That could be? Yeah,

Richard Senese 36:19
that's, yeah. So the big idea I presented at first is our logic model, right. And we have an evaluative culture that is geared against that model. So you have to have a clear and agreed upon set of dependent variables, and I'm going to sound like a psych prof, but at the end of the day, this is who you got. So you have to have these things you want to measure, and they have to be measurable in a reliable valid way. Or else. You're just expressing an opinion, and making decisions based on those opinions, which has its place, don't get me wrong. But in this situation, what are you measuring? Well, you could be measuring engagement. What How could you do that? Well, you could just count the number, the average number of times in a week, learners post something in discussion format, one versus discussion format, two, you could, you know, you use evaluation methods, and of course evaluation to look at things. You if you have the ability, you could measure time on task on the internet, or whatever, you know, how long were learners engaged with the material? Right? So there's lots of ways to do that. And I think innovation requires that because innovation is an investment. It's an investment of time and money. It's an overcoming of resistance to change. But one of the most important things that is invested when you do innovation is hope. Right? Everyone hopes this is going to work. Everyone is trying to do this thing, right. And so innovation has all this investment in it, that if if you don't have a clear sense of what outcomes you're looking for, you won't know whether you succeeded. And our work is ambiguous enough already. Right? So the more we can set up learning labs, we can set up clear control, you know, controlled circumcised kinds of experiments and measure them. And you can do a B testing. I mean, just think back to those Educational Measurement and design courses, we, you know, you had to take, right, apply that work, apply that approach the scientific method to understanding the impact of what you're doing.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 38:55
Perhaps Absolutely. And I think something I and my colleagues have definitely appreciated about Capello's approach with the Learning Lab and your approach to innovation is that you're not looking to measure things and on their ability to scale up front. You're really just looking to understand what is the impact? How can we do no harm by implementing this upfront and if it's successful, then think about scale, which I think in a majority of higher education, that's not the approach that's taken.

Richard Senese 39:29
What in one one last comment on this? In 2020, amidst everything else, we ran 21 pilots of a variety of things, right. Seven of them scaled 14 of them. We did not choose to expand, though I'm very proud of those 14 Because they were an idea. We tried it, it didn't work and everyone agreed we went to expand it. That says a lot about The organization, the team, the culture and its commitment to our mission.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 40:05
Absolutely, and seems to be an approach that a lot of other industries have taken and adopted successfully. I think a lot of folks in higher education need to start thinking this way. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we have we have two minutes left with you, Dr. Scinece. Is there anything that you want to leave our audience with before we part ways this evening?

Richard Senese 40:28
No, I would just end by thanking you. I mean, you all are committed to this, this crazy idea that higher education can and does improve people's lives and improves our community. It improves our country and improves the world. And when all of us work toward those kinds of ends, it has an incredible powerful societal benefit and ripple effect across lives that we will never know, we will never know the full impact of our work. Yet all of you are in this day in and day out. And thank you for doing that.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 41:08
And thank you for your time. And thank you so much to our audience on behalf of the whole team. I see Ray has rejoined us here. I'll pass it back to her.

Brianna Bannach 41:17
I just wanted to say thank you, Richard. This was a great way to end the summit. And thank you for those kind words at the end. They're very inspirational and words that will hopefully try to live by as as we continue our work in higher education. And thank you everyone for joining. Please continue the conversation in the Yellowdig community. We don't want want this to end today just at all get to know each other and continue talking about the very important work of engagement in higher ed. Thank you.

Richard Senese 41:46
Take care. Happy New Year everyone.

Tyler Rohrbaugh 41:48
Take care happy yellow digging

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