The Pro's Perspective: The Magic of Learning Communities

Kavitta Ghai
June 7, 2022

Welcome to the Nectir Pro's Perspective video series! In Chapter One, we chat with Mindy Colin, one of the best instructional consultants our team has ever met, to discuss her multi-year mobile learning research study across the University of California system. Mindy has dedicated over 20 years to figuring out the best ways to build the optimal learning environment for all students and teachers. Today, she sits down with us to share her findings and teach us the best ways to modernize the classroom to save time for instructors and boost topic mastery for students through authentic engagement.

Today's Overarching Topic: What can we learn from mobile learning research and why do backchannels work in the classroom?

As both an instructor and instructional designer herself, Mindy innately understands the challenges of technology implementation in higher education spaces. However, she has also seen firsthand the positive impact that mobile learning tech can have on the classroom and can back up her claims with multiple published research studies on the topic. Mindy was the first admin at UC Santa Barbara to adopt Nectir and bring it to every classroom on campus. In her words, "Nectir has been a game changer for me as an instructor and online course designer! For years I was unsatisfied with the disconnected formality of online course interactions in discussion forums and emails. I wanted more spontaneous, familiar ways for today’s online students to work together and communicate with the instructor, without having to share private contact information or leave the course website. Enter Nectir! Nectir’s ability to embed private channels directly into the course website, automatically pull students into it, and send mobile notifications makes it so easy for students to collaborate, ask quick questions, and help each other - which builds class community. In my own class, Nectir has streamlined my communication with students, helped me relate better to them, and made it easy to keep track of their group work." 

After teaching experiences in Africa and the Middle East, Mindy noticed how reliant those communities were on mobile learning tools, like WhatsApp. Since there wasn't an education-specific chat tool available to them, they found apps that worked just enough to bring them that community in the classroom that they desired. It was amazing for Mindy to see how students could build this community themselves so quickly and easily. She was able to watch the communication between students unfold in these chats and figure out what they needed help with before they even really knew. It was a constant, real-time feedback loop for Mindy as an instructor. She knew she had to bring this same incredible learning environment to UCSB when she arrived there.

Before Nectir was available, she searched for a way to replicate this "feeling of community" at UCSB. Her and her TA used Slack at the time— which partially worked, but clearly wasn't built for education. It was still better than plain old discussion forums, though. Her research indicated that modern tech worked to get students excited and engaged, but they still hadn't seen a tool like this that was actually made with the classroom in mind. So when Nectir came to her table around the same time, it just clicked—she had finally found what she was looking for. Built by students who understood the problem firsthand, Nectir took the concepts she had seen work so well in her research and made them accessible to instructors who didn't have the time to learn a whole new tool and adapt it to their needs. It was the first time that she was able to bridge the gap between tech-savvy students who wanted modern tech and busy instructors who just wanted something that blended seamlessly into their LMS.

When Nectir was presented to the campus, the common question came up from fellow admin and staff: Is implementing new learning technology worth it, even if early student/instructor adoption is slow? Mindy says YES! Those students engaging on Nectir are often not the same ones you see raising their hand in class. Providing a backchannel within the classroom allows it to become accessible to every student, regardless of their circumstances such as disabilities, a busy schedule, or language barriers. A completely new dynamic is created in the classroom when you introduce the concept of community, and this time every single person in the class is able to become an active knowledge creator rather than remain just a passive learner.

A huge thank you to Mindy for sharing her time and research with the Nectir Team. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to share her depth of edtech knowledge with you all! If you think you would be a good fit for our Back to the Future of Education series and want to share your research or anecdotal findings with us, please don't hesitate to reach out. We're always looking to amplify the voices of instructors, staff, and students who understand the power of making the classroom accessible to all.

Find Chapter 2 of this series here!

Kavitta Ghai
June 7, 2022

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