How Professor Jonathan Reams Transformed His University Course Into an Action-Based Journey

Posted on
January 12, 2021
by
Billy Mike
from myQuest

About Jonathan Reams

Jonathan Reams is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pedagogy and Adult Learning at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Jonathan practices the cultivation of leadership through awareness-based consulting, coaching and action research on leadership development program design and delivery in a variety of settings. He also serves as Editor-in Chief of Integral Review, and is a co-founder of the Center for Transformative Leadership and of the European Center for Leadership Practice. He brings awareness-based leadership development practices to his work, focusing on how the inner workings of human nature can develop leadership capacities for today’s complex challenges.


The Challenges

Before using myQuest in his coaching course at NTNU, Jonathan was using the university supplied academic learning platform Blackboard. He made use of it for two main purposes - to try and get more student discussion going, and to get students better prepared for class. He did this by adding assignments for students to complete - for example, reading the required literature before class and commenting on it, or posting to a discussion forum. The main idea of the coaching course was to combine theory and practice. Students have to apply the theoretical material, by going out and coaching a student leader. They also have to videotape their coaching and then bring an edited segment and show it to a group of peers and a teacher to get feedback and generate discussion. As well, the students had to create their own business entity to market their coaching services.

The main challenge that Jonathan encountered using Blackboard was getting students to really engage the curriculum at a more detailed level. The typical problem was that they are assigned two-three chapters at a time and have to read them and make comments. Students would often choose a broad, generalized theme to comment on or ask a question about, making it difficult to ensure they anchored and captured the key points along the way. The many small details in the text were important for building their skills in practice, but there was no way of tracking and knowing if they actually covered each of these points adequately. 


The Solution

The action learning in the course wasn’t just to practice with each other to learn, but to enable them to do the real thing with real, external clients. These clients create an added challenge for the students in that they do not come with the same backgrounds, knowledge, skills or self-awareness that the students could count on when practicing with each other. This was why learning many more of the key details of the text and building the set of micro-skills was so important.

So what Jonathan decided to do was to take the book around coaching which he normally taught as regular lectures in class, and convert it into a Quest on the myQuest system. He told students he would no longer lecture on the book at all in class, so they needed to go into myQuest to learn about coaching theory to prepare for coaching their clients. 

Jonathan built more than 30 Missions, based on the virtuous cycle of learning theory he uses. He found that the myQuest platform structure and the action learning theory behind it is well suited to implement these learning cycles. These Missions focused on microlearning small parts of the coaching text, focused on one key idea, with a 2-5 minute video contextualizing the text in relation to the course, followed by some reflective prompts for the students to answer as a way of taking notes. On every Level he included another topic from the book, either a chapter or set of chapters, and divided those into micro-Missions. 

The immediate feedback he received orally from students during the semester was that this format is very helpful for them. At the end of the semester, he asked students to describe their experience with learning in myQuest:

“The combination of reading specific parts from the curriculum and watching a short introduction video, gave me a good idea on how and what to answer for the reflection questions and also helped me connect it with my own experiences on the given topics. … It was fun and motivating to try out something new.” 
“What I liked the most about myQuest was that we had to write down our own reflections. When we make our thoughts explicit and concrete, it is easier to see clearly, as well as about what we have learned.”

Very early in the process, Jonathan was able to see that students were using the Quest to learn in a manner that went beyond what was possible to elicit from using BlackBoard. He saw, for instance, that the Journal function, which tracks the learners’ progress and answers, collected hundreds of notes and journal entries. Students liked that in myQuest their answers to the detailed reflective questions were automatically collected for them and that they could also come back and review them.


With myQuest, Jonathan noticed a better uptake of the curriculum material. Making the theoretical material into micro-lessons that were more granular meant that students no longer had to sit for hours to read large chunks of text, then struggle to make a few useful connections. They could now easily take in these micro-lessons through myQuest, on their way to school or any other time that worked for them. As well, being able to focus on one key learning point at a time made it much easier for them to absorb and connect relevant material to their own experience. 

As for Jonathan, he could finally make sure students are paying attention to the key sections and points and that their knowledge is much more robust compared to the knowledge gained by reading and trying to remember a few key points. myQuest helped Jonathan to not only increase knowledge retention, but also deliver learning in a deeper way. The type of learning Jonathan delivers is not just information transfer - it’s about making connections and neuro-links to existing knowledge and experiences. What he tried to do in his short videos for each Mission in the Quest was to contextualize and build intermediate links and bridges to the learning goals from the specific Missions. 

In addition, the engagement on myQuest was very high. Most of the students went through all of the Levels, and the completion rate was very good. Students were using the journaling and the community functions to share knowledge and information. When meeting students in class after they had taken the Quest, Jonathan could see from the way they talked that they were feeling more competent and capable of doing certain things. One student wrote: “It gave me a kind of "mastery feeling," to see that I was actually learning more than I thought.

Jonathan believes that they have built more robust knowledge and achieved more resources to deal with real-life situations. 

The final piece of data related to this approach came from reviewing the take home essay exam tasks students submitted. What Jonathan noticed was that many students were able to present richer descriptions of the coaching theory in their exams essays than he had noticed in prior years. As well, many of their reflections (part of the exam task was to link theory with their practical experience of coaching) in the discussion section were more specific, detailed and directly relevant to their learning. Overall, the effect of using myQuest was seen as creating an improved performance by the students. 


Summary

The thing that has been most helpful for Jonathan when delivering learning through myQuest is the structure of the platform and the design of the interface. According to the learning model Jonathan uses, the virtuous cycle of learning, students set a goal, get a bit of information, apply it, then reflect on it, and the cycle begins again. His desire was to find a way to embed this in some kind of learning experience platform. The design of myQuest, where content is broken into Levels and Missions, was a perfect fit for his model and needs.

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