A. Dominguez, J. Garcia, M. Bradford, A. Gillette

DeVry University (UNITED STATES)
Global educational initiatives and polices are increasingly focused on using 21st century technologies to develop 21st century skills. As technology progresses, employers are increasingly seeking a more refined graduate that can leverage university-level technology skills into professional growth and development. While the proliferation of laptops, mobile devices, and learning technologies make some of these goals possible – and are now foundational to the educational process – questions still remain about how educators can best use these technologies to support student learning. Student-centered learning is foundational to bridging the gap between desired skills and learning outcomes. Today, educators must redefine the idea of “student-centered” learning through use of virtual platforms to allow students to develop professional and dynamic digital skills and communication modalities early in their higher education experience. This paper explores the shifting definitions of student-centered learning and argues that creating virtual communities through dynamic digital interaction in entry-level courses prepares students not only for university-level course work, but promotes the development of communication and digital competency skills that are transferable across programs of study and to the 21st century workforce.

To unpack this argument, this paper examines a course specifically designed for first semester students at DeVry University, COLL 148: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. This course is designed to introduce students to online learning platforms, university services, and career development tools. A year ago, a team of curriculum developers, college administrators, and faculty members began work to enhance the curriculum by creating meaningful opportunities to build virtual communities between the university, faculty, and students with the goals to promote student learning outcomes, create opportunities for critical communication development, and assist with the retention and success of new students. As a result, the team designed and piloted a plan to utilize technology platforms to offer collaborative “live lessons” each week of the course. These live lessons take place outside of normal class meetings, feature a core team of faculty facilitators who serve as mentors for the course, and include a collection of guest speakers from across the university’s student service departments. Through these lessons, students have sustained meaningful opportunities to communicate and collaborate with faculty, university officials, and fellow students.

To illustrate the key components of this program, this paper begins by examining the literature on collaborative learning and communication competence in higher education that informs the curriculum design. Second, this study provides developed descriptions of live lessons, course assignments based on live lessons, and learning outcomes. Third, this study considers assessment metrics for determining the success of this program through internal university architectures. Finally, this paper concludes with establishing a plan for future application across the general education curriculum. By engaging in these complex components, this paper considers the role of communication – and the development of communication skills in a technology-rich environment – as foundational to the learning process of COLL 148 and general education curriculum.