Meeting the Minds – Interview with Award Winning Professor, Dr. Vivekanandan “Vive” S. Kumar, Part II

Meeting the Minds – Interview with Award Winning Professor, Dr. Vivekanandan “Vive” S. Kumar, Part II


The Voice Magazine previously interviewed Dr. Kumar in April of 2014. That interview looked more at his background, while this time, Marie Well interviews him about some of this theories and accomplishments. Read the first part of this interview in the May 29th edition of The Voice Magazine

Marie: How do you aim to stimulate student motivation in online learning environments?
Dr. Kumar: I think I partially answered that. Convincing students that they are pioneers in this next generation of learning is a major stimulus for student motivation. Studying in an online university is much harder than studying in a traditional university because of the level of commitment, the need for concentration, the ability to self-regulate, and the capacity to execute initiatives expected of students. The skillsets gained by students and the confidence with which they can apply these skillsets are keys not only to the success of our students but also to AU’s reputation. We need to make students believe that they are pioneers that the rest of the world is going to follow. Students should remember that the blended and supplemental online instruction now offered at traditional universities have been adopted, nurtured, and promoted by Athabasca University decades ahead of time. We strive to be in the forefront of things when it comes to learning innovation and students should feel that they are not only part of this innovation but also drive the innovation.

There are innovative techniques that would help students showcase their successes and challenges. Suppose a student has completed one year of study at Athabasca University. The student can get a good transcript to show for that effort. How about offering students an electronic profile that is automatically generated, capturing every experience the student has had over that year? This study experience would include measurable indicators such as the ability of the student to assist peers in subject matters, the conceptual excellence of the student, the study challenges faced by the student, the tenacity of the student in facing those challenges, gaps in skills of the student, the growth of different competencies in various subject areas, and the translations of these skillsets into outcomes expected by targeted markets, where students seek jobs or business opportunities or other intellectual pursuits, all captured, categorized, and measured over the last 365 days. That would be a wonderful motivator to make AU students stand out. Imagine publishing, preferably anonymously, these kind of profiles of all our students, on a weekly or even a daily basis. That is the kind of opportunity and advancement we are looking to provide to our students, as part of the AU experience. With Analytics.

That is what is now possible with our research efforts in analytics that we are currently testing in pilot projects, hoping to bring it to reality shortly. It offers students not just a transcript, not just their grades, of course they are important, but also how exactly they achieved those grades, with study pathways and evidences of excellence backing the grades. How is that for motivation? Our students should feel the excitement with initiatives such as this one to be proud of being at Athabasca University and studying online. They certainly are the primary drivers behind such innovations.

Online learning implies access to knowledge through instructional modes that accommodate student’s pace, capacity, and aspirations. We could easily supplement online material with contemporary expert instruction and interaction. We should be able to tap into expertise and bring it to our students whenever and wherever they are available as multiple streams of instruction that students can choose from. That is the level of engagement opportunities we can offer our students, as yet another stimulus of motivation.

Our students should feel that they are creating knowledge as they study. That is the prime reason of being in a university ? knowledge creation. This is something I really, really want to push. Knowledge creation transcends the location of study. Educational institutions simply offer environments for knowledge creation. Students, instructors, and administrators, we all need to see that, as a university, our mandate is to support students and help them become an integral part of the knowledge creation process. Getting this message out is another key driver for student motivation.

Marie: What is your approach to providing feedback for students to help them with their learning objectives?
Dr. Kumar: Feedback typically is aimed at helping students to understand things. As a precursor, students should be able to approach the instructor without any hesitation. I tend to be open with students, make them feel welcome to contact me as they see fit, through any of the means available, at any time. Students should feel that this person is actually valuable to have a conversation with. It comes back to relationship establishment. By being open and by being approachable, we are building a healthy channel for our students to feel good about contacting instructors. The quality of feedback could vary from person to person, based mostly on the pedagogical philosophies of the instructor.

Personally, I tend to match the context of my feedback to the feedback expectations of students. This approach has worked well for me till now. In fact, this closely relates to one of the research questions of my doctoral dissertation.

Marie: What do you purport to be the role of technology and multimedia in online environments? How do they aid or complicate online learning?
Dr. Kumar: More important than teaching students about concepts is our ability to guide students to learn the concepts, effectively, to a deeper extent. In other words, how to teach students to enable them to study effectively themselves, and how to measure their study efforts regularly? This is what we can do in a technology-savvy multiple-media online environment.

I can always go in front of the students and give a three-hour lecture. Then, I can give them another one-hour lecture to tell them how to understand and effectively study the material covered in that 3-hour lecture. This additional instruction is typically not present in traditional instruction, and that is what we can comfortably include in an online environment with technology and media. Further, with technology and media, we can customize the regular and additional instruction to the needs of individual students.

I am not talking about babysitting or spoon-feeding our students. I am talking about scaffolding our students so that they can build themselves to exceed their own expectations and the expectations of the university. I can help my students feel like an integral component of knowledge creation, in a technology infused world, where they take ownership of the knowledge they create. Technology is now an integral part of human life. About twenty-five years ago, we were still questioning the need for technology in social life. Now that the technology is here to stay, we strive to customize technology to optimize the benefits. I think that’s what we are preparing out students for, to make sense and groom technology and media.

Media typically combines the information being conveyed and the channel that carries the information. How exactly does the intertwining of information with the channel benefit our students? Is the channel good enough for the type of information it carries? Is the information valuable enough to share across multiple channels? Is it possible to feel the emotion expressed in the channel? The possibilities are endless.

How exactly to customize the media to get a higher level of enthusiastic interaction? It is not just a technology problem. It is a human problem. We need to do more research in customizing media to get the meaning of what is being conveyed and how well it is conveyed. It is a good research challenge for us. Imagine a study session where we collect recordings of your facial expression, your body movements, your contemplation of the problem, your communication with friends and the study group, and so on. One of my research assistants is looking for ways to integrate these pieces of information to build a model of what we call a sentimental mental makeup. The mental makeup will allow us, for instance, to understand and explain the negative student experiences or positive student insights. Another research assistant is looking to accurately measure and causally associate ADHD affliction. Technology allows us to support students who need different kinds of media to learn effectively. Gioia is yet another research project that targets conversational analytics, to understand and measure the social distance between people engaged in conversations. http://LearningAnalytics.ca highlights some of our learning analytics projects.

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