Top Gun Instructor: Engaging Students On All Learning Platforms

Blended learning has more than shown its value in higher education in recent years, but it has also proven to be challenging. While colleges and universities have made tremendous strides in the face of adversity to improve their curriculum, adapt their pedagogy, and embrace technology in an effort to address student and faculty needs, core challenges such as student engagement, accessibility, and assessment persist.

With hybrid learning here to stay, Fierce Education hosted a timely virtual event to address some of these core challenges and incite motivation and encouragement for higher education facilitators. The event, Helping Faculty Navigate Top Challenges In This New Blended Learning Environment, kicked off with a keynote speech from renowned Dr. Mike Barger, Clinical Professor of Business Administration and former Executive Director of Ross Online at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a founding member of JetBlue and former Top Gun aviator and instructor, who was interviewed by Fierce Education Head of Content Elliot Markowitz. To view the on-demand version of his presentation click here.

With more than 30 years of experience in crisis management in the academic sector, the business sector, and the military sector, Dr. Barger is ideally suited to teach, support, and inspire current and future leaders across many industries. He firmly believes in the intersection of learning and doing and, through his myriad of experiences, has observed and ruminated on the modality of education across a wide range of sectors. Ultimately, Dr. Barger affirms that the field of higher education needs to rethink how we teach and reach our students.

In his keynote presentation, Dr. Barger proposes that the industry is at a crucial turning point to leverage what we’ve learned through the pandemic to transform classroom experiences for our students. It may be easier to revert back to traditional ways of teaching, but educators now have the opportunity through these lessons, to help faculty improve how they teach and further boost student outcomes. There is a call for higher education to reimagine teaching and evolve teaching methods to not only improve effectiveness, but to match and meet student and faculty needs as they evolve. 

The concept of the flipped classroom isn’t new to the field. Cutting edge technology can help make the leap into complete immersive classroom experiences that have been years in the making, the conditions of the pandemic inciting something of a jump start. If anything, Dr. Barger asserts, the field can view the forced plunge into the flipped classroom as a silver lining. Now that we have found ways to innovate our teaching, we can implement these new methods to meet students where they need to be met, strengthening learning in the classroom and reinforcing learning outside of the classroom.

Dr. Barger poses that immersive classroom experiences:

  1. Are what students want 
  2. When done well, classes have the potential to be more interesting and engaging 
  3. Might help educators solve assessment challenges
  4. Could lead to students looking forward to class, even becoming disappointed for missing class

Dr. Barger recognizes that across the board, faculty has done great work under extraordinary circumstances. Many have found new uses for education technology and even found new ways to engage students without technology by taking classes outside, for instance. The way the field rose to the challenge of teaching amidst the pandemic proves that workable solutions exist and that creativity is key. 

More now than at any other point in history the industry has resources to create immersive experiences for our learners, going beyond passive learning. 

Educators now have the opportunity to evaluate and adjust their methodology and any technology used. Identifying and doing the work to understand the problem is essential before investing in costly education technology that could potentially make teaching more impactful. Dr. Barger urges higher education leaders to work with faculty to gain insight as to how new tools could be beneficial and to begin innovation by learning what faculty and students need alike. 

To be effective, educators need to become expert facilitators of learning from experience and facilitating reflection, thus professional development should be prioritized and collaboration and partnerships should be explored. In closing, Dr. Barger stated, “[it’s a] great time for faculty to engage their administrators and express their interest in learning more about how we can work together as a team to identify new ways of teaching.”