What’s that Smell? Student Engagement


 Ed Queen, Johns Hopkins University (Tools & Technologies Track Co-Chair) and Dr. Jeremy Kemp, Ed.D., Santa Clara University (Tools & Technologies Best-in-Track winner)

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This is the next in a series of Trends & Perspectives blog posts. The Track Chairs will reflect on each of this years’ presentation tracks, analyze and discuss some of the trends that you can expect to hear about at OLC Accelerate this year, and also get the perspectives of the Best-in-Track winners.

I was delighted to be a track co-chair for the Tools and Technologies track for OLC Accelerate 2019, especially as we approach OLC Accelerate’s 25 year anniversary celebration. Confession time: as an instructional designer at Johns Hopkins (yes, it’s Johns with an ‘s’), I was really looking forward to taking a peek at the amazing accomplishments with tools and technologies at institutions all over the world. As I reviewed proposals, I heard a very clear drumbeat that bridged many proposals, and which can be clearly seen in the word cloud that was later produced (see above): student engagement and its relationship to student learning.

We know that increased student engagement improves students’ learning experiences; however, it’s not always clear how to select and integrate the best tools and technologies to accomplish this. OLC Accelerate 2019 will be packed with sessions covering the latest tools and technologies accompanied by expert strategies for increasing student engagement and learning. Included in these sessions is Dr. Jeremy Kemp’s Best-in-Track award-winning must-attend session Design Jam for the Five Senses. In reviewing one of OLC Accelerate’s first gamified sessions, I was stunned by his description of practices and study outcomes that are unique, intriguing and even, dare I say, bizarre? This session hopes to combine the concepts of universal design for learning, design thinking and a joy for pre-school experiential exploration. Let’s take a look at what he has to say about all this.

Bizarre. Adjective. bi∙zarre | bǝ-`zär – Deviating from the customary. Conceived or done with no reference to reality or common sense. Grossly unconventional or unusual. Strange and difficult to explain…

We see and we hear online learning. Anything else is bizarre.

I want to engage the audience in an enticing new way to augment online learning. By offering this as a game, I’m hoping to make it an authentic and experiential exercise to serve a wide, diverse crowd. Can we teach and tickle learners in a visceral way from afar? The ultimate learning objective here is to mix the old ideas of universal design and mixed reality with a new development in online learning: a sensuous experience that is human-focused.

Does this sound all backwards? I don’t think so. These ideas of UDL (1998) and MR (1994) are exciting and productive, but they are not “emerging” by any definition. Designing with the five senses for online learning promises to be a wholly new realm. I hope this gamified talk helps online learning professionals brainstorm and make this useful in their own praxis.

But if participants finish my game session and have a passionate feeling that Hellen Keller and Marie Montessori would have loved this era, then I have succeeded. Can online educators serve the likes of that deaf-mute? Can we communicate the concept of water (touch) online? Can we allow for free activity within a “prepared environment” tailored to basic human characteristics? Montessori proposed instruction all the way to age 24 or her “4th plane.” What would she do in an LMS and fully online course mode?

Are we oxbowed into the hyper-narrow channel of complex visual torrents? Occular-centric materials will never be as effective as synthesthetic ones. How do you trigger a synesthetic epiphany teaching online? I watched it happen, in Zoom with graduate students. We all chuckled.

And after my session in Orlando, let’s all head down and sign up for the Void VR ride at Disney Springs. Strap on the headset and backpack computer and walk through the world of smells and touches. Fire your vibrating rifle at the Lava Fleas in a heat-blower room. Fly over a smoke-filled valley. Smell that? Grab that lever and pull it down to open the door and then stand still while the floor vibrates.

What has earning the Best-in-Track designation meant to me…?

It is an extreme sense of déjà vu. In the last decade, I threw myself 1000% into Second Life for education and presented on the topic around the world, including co-chairing the Emerging Technologies conference in San Jose. While the tool proved itself engaging to learners, that was actually a tremendously painful time for me professionally.

The early-early adopter’s inbox is often filled with bile from management. I had to change jobs, but moved from staff to faculty. That pushback from the right side of the chasm became fuel for innovation, especially when it turned into self-righteous zest as it did with me!

Obviously, that iteration of the VR hype cycle ended, but the engagement triggers were real and my papers gathered over 700 citations. I am actively searching for collaborators to trial this, present, publish, etc.

Kemp’s Design Jam is just one flavor (see what I did there?) of what’s in store for the Tools & Technologies track at OLC Accelerate. Want to know more about other sessions in the track? Be sure to check out the full program schedule, and then attend in person to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch for yourself!

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