CCSU Instructor Interview Series: Dylan Bernard

Dylan Bernard is an instructor with the CCSU Office of Continuing Education’s “Tech It Out” summer program.  Since June 2016, Mr. Bernard has helped with various “Tech It Out” classes, including 3-D Modeling, Power to Move, and the recent Sea-Perch course. His students have learned about biomedical engineering, how to make toys more accessible for children with disabilities, and how to create an underwater ROV.

Mr. Bernard graduated from CCSU in May 2017 with a degree in K-12 Technology and Engineering Education. He became involved with the “Tech It Out” program as a student and plans to continue teaching communications technology classes at the Portland School District this fall. He feels that CCSU prepared him very well for his teaching career.

“Working with the professors in the education department has been extremely beneficial because not only did they teach us about the technology and equipment, but they also taught us how to teach those tools, software, and equipment. I was able to take and incorporate a lot of what we did in class into my future classes.” He continues on to say that, “working with Continuing Ed has helped to build off what I’ve already done at CCSU, and with my cooperating teachers at my student teaching placements in Plainville.”

When asked to sum up how he felt about his time as a CCSU student and “Tech It Out” instructor, Mr. Bernard, a self-proclaimed “major Star Trek fan,” borrowed a quote from Jean-Luc Picard:

“Seize the time. Live now. Make now always the most precious time.  Now will never come again.”

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Expert Interview Series: Sotiris Makrygiannis of Eliademy About Simplicity in Virtual Education

Sotiris Makrygiannis, the founder of Eliademy, is an international expert on mobility and educational technology. We recently spoke with Sotiris to learn more about how virtual education is evolving and improving.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to create Eliademy?

The story of Eliademy is filled with passion and determination for a better world. Our history is documented in multiple public articles, but today I would like to tell something that we never said before. Eliademy was created in a dark kitchen room 50km away from the arctic circle in a town called Kuusamo, Finland. Two friends came together and brainstormed about how to change education, and we agreed on one word: simplicity. We wrote down our predictions about what was going to happen in the next 10 years and set a course to become a “catalyst” for the transformation of education.

I’m happy to report that we predicted that we would become a top brand in five years, and we have done that in four. Our goal is to make education more accessible and affordable for all – not by ourselves, but by forcing all the market players to move toward that direction.

What do you think are some of the most important technological advances in the last ten years that have impacted the ability to create and offer online courses?

None.

What we are experiencing is a change in demographics. Teachers are more familiar with content creation tools and feel more comfortable with being online. The change is not in the technology; HTML has been there all the time. The simplicity of interfaces, however, has played a huge role.

We had video recording before, but today many shy people are now willing to record their teachings and post them online. We had live conferencing before, and today people are using more of these tools on daily basis. We had online services before, but they were over-complicated and offered way too many options and buttons. The concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is not new; Feynman Lectures on Physics from the 1960s is an example of course that you could find on tapes that were available to anyone. So even MOOC is not “new,” but rather a clever marketing way of rebranding something that was there for decades.

Complete this sentence: “The most unusual or innovative online e-learning course that I have ever seen offered or created is…”

By Facebook and Google search and ADs algorithms. The sad part is that is promoting consumerism right now; otherwise, typing a question into Google’s search engine will eventually lead you to learn something new every day if you consciously pay attention and skip all the ads. It’s a shame that this is happening with a motive to sell you something. But if we will keep talking about it, those great developers at Google and Facebook will get the point of what it means “not being evil.” (At least I hope so, for the sake of our kids’ minds.)

What are some of the elements of online courses that help keep the attention of students?

Students will spend 11 minutes in a learning platform on average and across the many platforms that I have studied. Typically, six minutes of those will be watching a video, one minute will be spent on navigation, and the rest is allocated for answering quizzes or reading a text. Every minute taken away from social media is a good minute, so we included live web conferencing in our platform so teachers can also see and discuss course material in real time with their students.

These days, how do traditional brick-and-mortar universities view online courses? 

I think there is a bit of denial here that this transformation will not touch them nor change them. I think is wrong to resist and deny – or even worse, take actions just to claim that you are doing something in that area. Look at television broadcasters. They are failing rapidly. Who is on the rise? The new star armed with a single camera who can create entertaining videos and spread them via YouTube.

I believe in the power of an individual, and if universities don’t find those individuals and empower them, these institutions will eventually transform into something else. It could be that they become incubation centers for entrepreneurs or just centers for certification and testing – but definitely not as content distributors like they are today.

What do you think the “next frontier” is in the evolution of online courses and e-learning in general?

The human interaction between a mouse and a monitor is limited to a certain bandwidth. We have the technology to send photons charged with information directly to our eyes and also do direct connections to our brains. Those are technologies developed years ago for military helmets of aircraft personnel, where you need the highest level of efficiency between a machine and a human. Once we are convinced that this approach is safe (hopefully after a good amount of testing), then I believe the direct input of information into the brain is the next frontier.

All the information crowdsourced right now will not go to waste, but will somehow visually transformed and transferred to humans as experiences. All that artificial intelligence talk makes no sense since teachers are emotional human beings and not calculators. Thus, in order for AI to be able to teach, it needs to be emotionally stable and aware. We at Eliademy still believe in teachers and helping them acquire skills to become better educators, and all machine learning initiatives are focused on that front.

Want to stay on top of the rapid changes in online education? Join our mailing list.

Expert Interview Series: Marsha Weisleder of Langevin Learning Services Inc. About How to Effectively Train Trainers

Marsha Weisleder is a course leader for Langevin Learning Services with over 20 years of experience as a training professional who has trained thousands of clients. We recently had a chance to sit down with Marsha to hear her thoughts on best practices for trainers and coaches, the challenges they face, and the ways they help their students achieve their potential.

Why is Langevin better than other “train-the-trainer” coursework providers?

Langevin Learning Services is the world’s largest and most renowned “train-the-trainer” company in the United States, Canada, and abroad. Originating in 1984, we have trained thousands of clients from Fortune 500 companies and government agencies from over 100 countries. Our courses are skill-based, highly interactive, and relevant, and also incorporate real world scenarios. Our material is drawn from years of experience in the training industry and is based on well-documented research. Our main goal and focus are consistent: to improve performance on the job. We offer a one-year unlimited post-course follow-up service, and we always receive rave reviews from our clients.

If a trainer were to say to you, “Conducting real-world training sessions is more valuable for a trainer’s growth and development than taking additional ‘train the trainer’ courses,” how might you respond?

Yes, trainers can learn on the job. But think about having the ability to learn and apply best practices in a safe and controlled learning environment – all while getting valuable, constructive feedback from your peers and course leader. Which is better? I would choose the latter.

What are some common course design pitfalls that make training sessions less interesting? How can the trainer eliminate these from the curriculum?

Can you say, “Death by PowerPoint?”

Over the years I’ve been working with clients, I still see training materials that are basically a data dump or slide show featuring instructors standing at the front of the room reading slides to the group. Instead, let’s focus on tasks and the things people do in their jobs. Let’s present the information in an interactive way and give the participants plenty of opportunities for practice. As we say at Langevin, “Never do for the learners what they can do for themselves.” You know it’s a great course when the learners are working harder than the instructor.

Other than participants who are being forced to take a training course they don’t want to take, what are some other examples of “difficult participants,” and how should the trainer handle these individuals?

Unfortunately, it’s a long list. You’ve got the latecomer, the cell phone addict, the dominator, the know-it-all, the skeptic, and the sidebar talker, just to name a few.

Fortunately, there are simple strategies we can use to handle them. Typically, we start with subtle interventions where it’s not as obvious that we’re dealing with the issue. For example, if I have someone engaging in a sidebar conversation, I could move closer to that individual while I’m presenting, I could take a silent pause, or I could use that person’s name in a sentence. (You’d be amazed how often people react to hearing their own name, even if they’re talking.) I could even change up the table groups.

Now, if these subtle techniques didn’t work, I would then move on to a more direct approach with a private discussion. I would say the following, “I’m so glad that you’re here and I appreciate all of your insights in class. It’s just that when there are sidebar conversations, I get distracted. It would help me if we could limit them to break time. What do you think?” This type of language is respectful and nonconfrontational, and it always does the trick!

Finish this sentence: “The biggest difference between how adults learn and how children or teenagers learn is…” 

that adults bring a vast amount of experience with them. That means they want to speak, participate, and contribute to the session. Adults also want courses that focus on real-life problems rather than academic material. They don’t like their time being wasted. This means that trainers must use real world scenarios with a strong how-to focus.

What are some additional challenges that virtual trainers must face that don’t affect conventional trainers?

The biggest challenges are not being able to see the participants, managing a new learning platform, and dealing with possible technical issues. With regards to seeing our participants, we’re so used to making eye contact and interpreting body language. Luckily, we have other ways of reading our participants in the virtual classroom, such as feedback icons and comments in the chat pod. As for the new platform, it’s important to do your homework and master the virtual classroom software and tools so you can assist your learners. Finally, with technical issues we can mitigate unexpected issues by creating a troubleshooting guide. Most importantly, we should stay calm as we assess the situation.

What are some of the intangible benefits that a person might receive from completing a training workshop?

Participants walk away with renewed self-confidence that they can do their jobs better. They leave energized, refreshed, and ready to tackle challenges with a new perspective. All of this leads to higher employee engagement and morale.

Over the next decade, how much of a role will continuing education and professional development courses play in shaping future business leaders?

Continuing education will always play a vital role in shaping tomorrow’s leaders. Few of us are born to lead. So what do great leaders do differently than the rest? They continue to develop their skills so they can reach their full potential. They embrace learning so they can grow and take on new challenges.

I love this quote, “The key to success is to never stop learning. The key to failure is to think you know it all.”

Start your “never stop learning” journey today by viewing open courses.

7 Recruiting Tips to Improve Your Organization

Your company is only as strong as the team that’s operating it. Finding the right talent to staff your operation requires a strong talent management strategy. Here are some recruiting tips that will help your organization improve.

1. Cultivate a reputation as a top-notch employer.

Top talent is looking for a great place to work, so it pays off to spend some time building your company’s reputation through a recruiting website, social media presence, and employer branding best practices.

2. Recruit from within the organization.

Part of your talent management strategy can include career pathing — a planning process that can include moving current employees up into more advanced positions when they become available (and when those employees have the right skills and experience.)

3. Use referrals from employees and others in similar positions.

A robust employee referral program can yield quality talent and fill needs even before you know you have them. It is also beneficial to ask contacts in similar positions for referrals, which can yield top talent you might not find otherwise.

4. Offer competitive pay.

Top talent knows what they’re worth, so you won’t be likely to attract them if you aren’t offering competitive pay, benefits, and opportunities. If your company can’t offer higher pay to a desired candidate, offering benefits like a flexible schedule, telecommuting, or extra time off can be attractive for some candidates that value work-life balance as much as more money.

5. Don’t get too fancy.

Hiring the candidate whose qualifications and experience most closely match the job description, or the top candidate interviewed, will typically yield the best talent. It’s important not to get distracted by impressive-looking qualifications if they aren’t what is needed for the job.

6. Trust, but verify.

Check references and do background checks/research on candidates before making the final decision to hire. Not only does an occasional candidate falsify qualifications and experience, but having a criminal record or other past transgressions might pose a liability risk for your organization.

7. Recruit even when you don’t have open positions.

Building an ongoing talent pool and developing relationships with top talent before a position even exists will make your recruiting easier over time. Having a talent pool you can turn to when a position opens up will increase your chances of a speedy transition with minimal disruption to your organization.

These tips are a starting point for an effective recruiting strategy. Recruiting for your company doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, but it’s important to have a strategy and engage in best practices when seeking to fill positions. Learn more about recruiting in the upcoming “Recruitment & Staffing” course that is part of the HR Certificate Program offered by Central Connecticut State University’s Office of Continuing Education. Join our mailing list to get updates on upcoming courses being offered.

The Importance of Taking Brain Breaks

Does your brain need a break? The fast-paced modern world seems to demand that your brain constantly respond to stimuli, from working long hours to making yourself available by phone and email 24-7 and even binging Netflix in your spare time.

The average person now takes in about 174 newspapers’ worth of information every single day, about five times more information than we did just 30 years ago. Furthermore, U.S. workers on average work about eight hours more per week than British employees, and only one in four get a paid vacation in a typical year.

It’s no wonder people feel stressed and overloaded, and why your brain may not feel like it’s functioning very well sometimes. It’s important to take brain breaks, to find some downtime for your brain.

What Brain Overload Can Do

The insula is the part of your brain that regulates attention. When you continually switch your attention between different tasks, such as checking your email, making phone calls, and reading documents at work, your insula burns out, and you have trouble focusing on anything.

Furthermore, your brain doesn’t shut off during these breaks, it actually becomes more active in different ways that are important for creativity and decision-making, and that can’t happen if you don’t take breaks. When you don’t get breaks that your brain needs, your body also can’t lower its levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and high cortisol levels over time can damage the brain’s hippocampus, which controls learning and memory.

Simple Brain Breaks to Try

Even if you work long hours or have a job that requires intense focus, you can find ways to give your brain the downtime it needs. Here are some ways to get away from it all, even just for a few minutes.

Get outside. Even a few minutes outdoors can activate different regions of your brain, and sunshine also boosts serotonin and vitamin D levels. You can also look out a window if you just can’t get outside.

Exercise. Even five minutes of stretching or walking up and down the stairs between tasks at work will give your brain a chance to process what you’ve learned and get memories into long term storage.

Take a short nap. If you feel drowsy during the work day and can get a brief nap, it will reset your insula as well decrease feelings of sleepiness and put you in a better mood as well.

Meditation. Spending time each day in meditation (can include prayer) has positive effects on the brain, including reducing activity in the amygdala, or fear center of the brain, and stimulating the part of the brain associated with positive emotions.

Unplug completely. Spending a few minutes several times a day in silence without your phone or other devices nearby helps your brain continue to focus well and to recharge after being used for a long period of time.

Have novel experiences. New and different experiences get the brain working in different ways and serve as mental downtime.

Brain breaks can help improve your learning skills and your memory over time. If you are interested in learning something new, CCSU offers continuing education courses for adult learners of all ages. Join our mailing list for updates on upcoming courses.