If this past year taught us anything, we learned that change is constant. You can’t stop change, control change, or perfectly plan for change. However, you can shape change. Our university partners’ faculty and instructional staff are on the front lines of shaping that change for learners every day. During a global pandemic, continuous civil unrest, and uncertainty, teaching professionals like Annie Grier from the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Fordham University, Edward Brennan from the University of Pennsylvania’s Coding Boot Camp, and Marian Cook from the MIT short courses in blockchain technologies and corporate innovation have dared to “love their learners under pressure” (to borrow from our Company Meeting’s theme for the past year, “Love Under Pressure”). They’re part of an amazing global instructional workforce committed to adapting and shaping learning experiences that help students transform their lives.
Earlier this week during 2U’s 2021 Company Meeting, I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel with Annie, Edward, and Marian to discuss how they bring a learning-centered approach to life in their classrooms—and how 2U, in turn, helps them feel supported, valued, and part of a larger community. As much as I was learning from them, I loved seeing them learn from each other even more. Coming from their different programs and modalities, the way they each engage with their students is different. So watching their eyes light up during moments of synergy, and sensing their curiosity to interact with even more of 2U’s global instructional community, was thrilling to me.
There’s a strong appetite for this kind of learning ecosystem in which working professionals can not only teach, but also further their development to impact their industries. My 2U colleagues and I have a vision for how to develop and expand on this ecosystem where faculty and instructional staff can engage with a network of like-minded individuals and empower themselves to become ambassadors of our mission to eliminate the back row in education. In the short term, the panel discussion I moderated was an example of that vision coming to life.
Here are some highlights that really inspired me from our discussion. I hope they inspire you, too.
This partnership with 2U is just as valuable to the teaching experience as the support I get from the university itself.— Annie Grier, adjunct professor, Fordham University
Putting learners at the center of your teaching practice is what connects you all, despite teaching across different types of educational offerings. What does a learner-centered approach mean to you, and how do you bring this to life in the classroom?
Annie Grier (AG): To me, a learner-centered approach means helping students apply what they're learning in the classroom to what they hope to eventually do out in the real world. It also means centering the classroom experience around what they need in order to be able to learn, and not so much how I as a professor think it should ideally go. Even though we work with a common core curriculum, each class and each quarter looks so different because it has to be structured around the learners who are in that space, in that particular cohort or course. So as an instructor, it’s always being adaptable, using the tools that are available to us to curate experiences for the students we have at that given time.
Marian Cook (MC): One thing we do—so that it’s all about taking what students are learning and making it real in another way—is to take the facilitator’s experience and make that real. We're passionate and knowledgeable about our subjects, so we can show how we’ve applied our knowledge to give them more practical real-world insights.
The technology becomes really important. I try to use it to relax the classroom and make it more fun.— Edward Brennan, instructor, University of Pennsylvania
Learners in 2U-powered programs are studying within a community. But that looks different for each of you, especially as we’re unlocking opportunities for student learning in the digital world. What are some unique ways you build community and connection with your students?
Edward Brennan (EB): We run office hours at the beginning and end of each class; there’s always some kind of chit-chat there. And sometimes I’ll use the Zoom poll capability to build a quick question around the topic we’re talking about. Oftentimes I connect it to a movie or TV show or holiday coming up, and the students really latch on to that and refer back to it later. So the technology becomes really important. I try to use it to relax the classroom and make it more fun.
AG: I’m part of the faculty of the university I work for, but I also feel a part of the 2U team. I spend just as much time in conversation with them. The 2U partnership is part of what makes an incredible teaching experience at Fordham exponentially better. It’s allowed me to grow not only as an instructor, but also for my overall professional and personal development as I continue to think through the concepts we engage in and talk through. This partnership with 2U is just as valuable to the teaching experience as the support I get from the university itself.
People have been isolated, shut up in their houses, and staring at those four walls. But we have the ability to turn those walls into windows, so that people can see a future beyond these tough times.— Marian Cook, Head Learning Facilitator, MIT
You’re all able to build community for learners, but 2U is your community. You’re a part of a global instructional workforce. So, how have 2U employees most effectively supported you to enhance student outcomes?
EB: I spend so much time with the lesson plans that 2U has developed for the boot camps, so I have such a deep appreciation for the effort and energy that goes into that. I’ve also been able to work with two great student success managers (SSMs), who have been a huge support to me and the classes on the whole. They’ve each stepped in to help on certain things so that I can focus on what I’m there to do, which is teach these students directly. For example, I recall very distinctly that January 6 (the date of the attack on the U.S. Capitol) was a very complicated day. I had to teach that evening. What should I say in class? kept running through my head all afternoon, and then my SSM reached out to me to see how I was doing. Then he came to the live class and talked to the students. It was such a help and relief to me and I thank him for it.
Any parting thoughts on what it means to “love under pressure” in your classroom?
MC: I think it's the transparency to recognize we’re under incredible duress from all kinds of dimensions and vectors. We want to be respectful of the students who are taking our class under these conditions—to show up for them, have a sense of humor, encourage them to be authentic, showcase and share their experiences, relate the course materials to what they’re doing in their lives, and ask them to shine. It’s our responsibility to make sure students feel included and that we have a welcoming environment for them. We try to help them see the challenges they're under right now not as threats, but as potential opportunities. People have been isolated, shut up in their houses, and staring at those four walls. But we have the ability to turn those walls into windows, so that people can see a future beyond these tough times. I personally believe, as I'm sure everyone here does, that the way to change the world at scale is education—particularly online education, and particularly 2U.
Learn more about us.
At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.