Interview with Brandi Beals of Bryan University
Brandi Beals is the Healthcare Education Manager at Bryan University, helping students to discover their full potential. She has been instrumental in implementing creative virtual learning at Bryan University and collaborating with Yellowdig in these efforts.
On her experiences with Yellowdig:
[We] use Yellowdig quite a bit in every course. And we use it as a discussion and a community board. There’s one board for every single course that we teach in the Bachelor’s program, as well as other programs that we have here at Bryan University. We use it for students to build a community within that course, use it as a tool for them to communicate with one another about topics in that class and topics in health care regarding their program as a whole.
On engagement trends during the semester:
Typically, in the very first course that they take, they [get] their initial board. Students are intimidated by it because they don’t know what to do-- because [the courses] move in a social-media platform, they sometimes get lost and confused with where their pins or comments [are located]. At the beginning of each course, it’s sometimes a little overwhelming for students but we work with them to push that it’s kind of like social-media in the sense that [content] gets streamed for them, and as they comment, [posts] get moved to the top. [We teach them] to not be intimidated by it but to look at it as a community social-media style platform.
On memorable discussions and conversations:
Because we use Yellowdig as our only classroom discussion board, it is where they have their discussion questions (what we call Sparks to spark conversations between classmates, as well as between the instructor and classmates).
One of the first courses revolves around mindset and academic grit and perseverance and really learning how to be a student all over again. There was one student in particular who pinned about that, he called it “Be You at BU”, so he was expressing how he can be himself at Bryan University through Yellowdig and build his community-- and make the community what he wants it to be, while still allowing other students to make it what they want it to be.
And so that was an important game changer for us at Bryan [University], as far as how we use it. Students come into the board when other students are in the middle of that same exact class. And students leave that board, but still come in and talk to students that are currently in that class, even though they are no longer there. They will find articles or trends or situations in the healthcare industry and they enjoy sharing it and having that discussion. It builds learning.
On trends with the students:
It’s really promoted communication in general. One of the things we have found is that students who are most intimidated by it or overwhelmed by the platform are actually the students who will engage in it the most. So it’s kind of an odd trend to see, but exciting to know that we can get those introverts out and talking and they are comfortable because they are looking at it like it’s Facebook. They’re pinning what’s interesting to them but still relates to the topic, and then they can connect with friends and classmates that they didn’t expect to connect with, because our students are across the country. It’s built a lot of interesting relationships and brought those introverts out. And the people that are intimidated by it, it’s made them go outside their comfort zone to advance their learning abilities.
You mentioned that students would come back to the boards after taking those classes. Would they become leaders in the board or more of a support system for current students?
As of right now, they are taking on that support role. So if they see a pin that’s interesting, they will comment on it. We haven’t seen a whole lot of students coming back and pinning new things to a class they are no longer in. However, I post right when there’s a transition that’s going to happen, when students are going to be leaving a class and going onto their next set of courses and new students are coming in. I post: It’s that time again, time to make a transition. What tips or tricks do you have for students who are going to be coming into the board to prevent or reduce that anxiety? How can you help students prepare? It provides instructor-led mentorship as to what students need to do to be successful in the course.
There were some diversions, but still relevant in the sense that they were motivating. If a student was struggling and didn’t have the motivation or they were confused or they didn’t know what to do or where to go or they just needed that support-- then that would be the branch they would take, where they would post a motivational video. One topic that we give students every single week in their discussions is “Confused or Confident?”. So students can post if they are confused about something.
We really leave it open to them to discuss things that they think is important, based on their textbooks or their assignments. And the only time it went off on a tangent is when somebody needed motivation and they would post something saying that they were confused, struggling, they didn’t want to do it anymore or just needed that generalized motivational support.
And did that put them on the radar to get on track?
The students are really quick to rally around each other, which is really the intent from my perspective for Yellowdig, to build that community. So that when somebody does need help then other students are right there to provide that support.
On memorable moments:
The students who use it the most are some of the top performers. And some students are intimidated still to make their pins, but when they actually start making their pins-- that’s what is most memorable to me, because you know that they’ve finally gotten out of that comfort zone.
All of our most profound learning is done through trial and error. When you’re comfortable you’re in the same place over and over and you can’t increase your abilities. For me, it’s most memorable when you see those students that struggle because they aren’t comfortable making pins. They only comment, and then all of a sudden you see them pin things-- that’s really exciting to me.
On being okay to fail:
Failure is scary and actually the very first course that we teach, we teach them about that. We teach them that it’s okay to fail as long as you continue to try. So the first course, “Student Success and Technology”, they are learning about the technologies that we have available at Bryan University and how to be a successful student. We have a whole course that talks about that mindset, that grit, creating successful habits and overcoming obstacles.
Would an orientation through Yellowdig before courses begin help?
I think a simulation or lab environment would be excellent. We are actually in the process of developing a “Week 0”. It’s a course that [the students] would automatically be enrolled in that’s just a blank course shell for them to learn how the classroom is set up and how Yellowdig is set up. Using Yellowdig within that class is kind of a “tell us about you” and “get to know your community”, and all of the students across campus. We also promote that growth mindset.
More on week 0:
The way we are setting it up is for students to share who they are, so “Be You at BU” or how are you going to be who you are at Bryan University. The student success coaches are in there and providing some motivation for them-- encouragement and to let the students kind of run with it, that ability to have the freedom in their discussions so that it’s not so rigid.
The plan is that we will actually have the student success coaches, who help them get started at Bryan University once they finish with the admissions phase, take control of the course. We are also working on getting student ambassadors and identifying who some of our top students are in Yellowdig. The student ambassadors will also be in there, driving conversation-- because students are often more comfortable with a peer more than an advisor.