Published on 2014/06/19

Graduate School 2.0: Three Ways to Put Technology to Work for Graduate Student Success

Graduate School 2.0: Three Ways to Put Technology to Work for Graduate Student Success
Graduate education is being significantly enriched by the expansion of online learning tools, and ingenuity from faculty is taking online tools from good to great in this space.
No doubt about it; digital technology has more than proven its value as a convenient and flexible medium for delivering academic programs. Just ask the thousands of working professionals out there, successfully pursuing their graduate degrees online at some of the best universities in the country.

But aside from its transactional value, technology can also be a truly empowering tool for connecting the dots between newfound knowledge and professional practice. In fact, innovative graduate school programs — both online and on-campus — are creatively incorporating an ever-expanding array of digital devices and applications to help students master complex concepts and important skills.

While the possibilities are limited only by the imagination, here are three of my personal favorites:

1. Podcasting and Vodcasting

Although these digital techniques are becoming a popular enhancement for “flipping” classrooms and furnishing supplemental course materials, they’re also a great way to teach professional skills. For example, Karl Okomoto created LawMeets, an online moot court experience for budding transactional attorneys who, up until now, have been expected to learn the art of negotiation by reading textbooks and listening to lectures.

As a result, law students across the country can now use this unique virtual platform to practice and perfect their deal-making skills, by posting videos of themselves counseling their moot clients, which are peer-reviewed through a digital voting device. Top-rated performances are then critiqued by seasoned attorneys, who furnish a demonstration video of their own. Equally important, professors in other law schools are incorporating these online exercises into their own classroom activities, with excellent results, while Okomoto is making plans to deploy his platform for role-playing job interviews and salary negotiations.

By the same token, an inventive cardiologist and professor at the Temple University School of Medicine employed podcast technology to help students learn how to listen for heart murmurs. Appropriately called Heartsongs, this MP3 teaching tool provides audio recordings of common murmurs, complete with running commentary — and, so far, its track record is nothing short of amazing. Among the medical students and residents using it, diagnostic accuracy rates have skyrocketed to 90 percent compared to the average of 20 to 30 percent.

2. Games and Simulations

Multi-player simulations and games provide a risk-free but challenging environment for engaging graduate students in authentic problem-based activities and role-playing exercises aimed at developing the skills they need to become successful practitioners. Consequently, these high-tech experiential teaching tools offer ample opportunities to apply new knowledge and make mission-critical decisions, while considering multiple perspectives and rehearsing various responses.

For instance, thanks to the Alfred West Jr. Learning Lab at the Wharton School of Business, MBA students everywhere are mastering a variety of advanced business concepts and competencies in a wide range of areas, from strategy and game theory to finance, entrepreneurship and economics.

One of the lab’s newest creations is a web-based oil pricing simulation called OPEQ, designed to mimic the real-world tension between competition and cooperation in a closed market. By assuming the role of oil ministers, students use the economic and negotiation principles they’re learning to set production levels and track outcomes. But on top of that, they also experience first-hand how accountability, communication, trust and even duplicity influence market actions and reactions.

3. Online Discussion Forums

A staple in most online graduate programs, these forums are the virtual version of in-class discussion. While in both cases the professor throws out a thought-provoking question as a prompt for student reflection and response, online forums are significantly different from their in-class counterpart in a couple of ways. For one thing, they are self-paced rather than simultaneous, which means students have more time to actually weigh the issues and construct their ideas before responding.

For another, these digital tools rely on written, rather than oral, communication. Thus, they not only capture an enduring record of emerging thought, they also provide a unique vehicle for building good writing and virtual teamwork skills — both of which are must-haves for any aspiring professional.

That being said, graduate school professors are beginning to incorporate blogs and Facebook pages into their courses, not only to extend the in-person classroom discussion, but also to provide an additional learning assessment tool. As a result, students have what amounts to a permanent virtual meeting place for sharing new insights, exchanging relevant resources and forging lifelong professional relationships — all of which are important aspects of any good graduate degree program.

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Readers Comments

Mike H 2014/06/19 at 11:47 am

Online discussion boards may seem plain next to some of these other flashy tools Aldridge describes, but I find they are still a very useful way of creating conversation among classmates. Also, because discussion threads don’t require an immediate response, people can afford to be thoughtful in their comments.

student 2014/06/19 at 1:02 pm

Great ideas for student interaction. The issue is that these aren’t applied consistently throughout a graduate program. It’s really up to the individual professor to introduce these in their courses. Institutions should have a strategy for using experiential learning tools throughout a program so students have that benefit.

Stephen Gotti 2014/06/19 at 5:09 pm

These sound like great programs, but I wonder what students think of their use. When you look beyond the hype of these digital tools, are they meeting learning objectives or improving outcomes? It would be useful to collect quantitative and/or qualitative data of how effective they are before pursuing their application further.

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