Theo West is a casual academic at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) where he tutors undergraduate management courses. One of his favorite parts of teaching is forging relationships with his students and to that end he’s begun to use Blrt in a novel way that adds value for his students.
We recently sat down with Theo over some hot cups of caffeine to get the scoop on how he’s deploying Blrt in class and beyond.
Q&A with Theo West
1. Please tell us about your work as a casual academic.
I recently completed my MBA at UTS and during those studies I was able to forge many valuable relationships with my professors (who are now my mentors and friends). I enjoy the university environment and the noble mission at the heart of what (ideally) makes a university an institution in society. It was a pretty natural transition into teaching from there as I’m now tutoring courses in business and sport management, the same concentrations that I studied throughout my own undergraduate and postgraduate coursework.
2. What do you love about it?
I relish the opportunity to be the mentor to my students that my own professors were to me. There is an ongoing dialogue back home in the USA about the insurmountable debt that many graduates (myself included) have accumulated to pay for higher education. Of course, this is a very serious issue that needs addressing but I’m disheartened when I see the loudest voices in the argument being reductive about the value of a university education.
Many are keen to equate university education with job-preparedness and while this is certainly an element of a university’s mission, the holistic goal is to develop students into responsible citizens capable of logical reasoning and critical discourse. Unemployment or underemployment among university graduates does not in itself indicate a failure of higher education. What I have is the opportunity to effect the true mission of the university on at least an interpersonal level and I take it very seriously.
3. What are the challenges?
The primary challenge is getting all of your students on the same page as that mission! The undergraduate experience in Australia is similar to attending what are called “commuter universities” in the USA – students don’t live in dorms and the campuses aren’t always integrated into the local community, thus getting students to engage with the institution is an ongoing struggle.
Americans sometimes get teased about their patriotic “school pride” (Let’s Go Mountaineers!) but at the heart of that pride is a tie to the given university that includes a common mission and shared values. Whether or not students want to literally wear their university logo on their sleeve is neither here nor there but it would be nice if more students both here and abroad committed themselves more deeply to what their chosen university is trying to offer them. From a dollars and cents perspective, it’s getting everything you’re paying for.
Communication is also a challenge, despite advances in technology. Students can now reach professors and tutors via email, social channels (Twitter is great for academics) and online learning platforms yet many students elect to pursue none of the above when they have a question. In the end they have deprived not only themselves of an opportunity to learn but also other students who might have benefited from hearing the answer to the question.
4. What problem does Blrt solve for you?
I like to maintain an “open door” policy with my students. The problem is: I don’t have a physical door to leave open! This means I try to make myself as available as possible via other channels when my students need assistance. Tutors are the first point of contact in most instances as lecturers are often fielding questions from a larger group of students and – perhaps more important in the eyes of my students – I’m the one evaluating their work!
Most often these questions will relate to their progress with a given assignment and before Blrt this meant either waiting until I next saw the student in person (could be a week – not ideal!) or sending a long, wordy email. An email has it’s benefits – it clear and easy for the student to work through point by point – but Blrt allows me to actually speak my feedback to the student. Being able to hear my non-judgmental tone makes a world of difference when dealing in constructive criticism. Text has a tendency to come off as harsh and impersonal, especially if the student doesn’t know me very well.
5. How have your students reacted to Blrt?
The reception has been positive. I walk my class through how it works so they’re not surprised when I respond to their email with a Blrt. They’re able to view my feedback on any device and manipulate the screen as they wish on mobile. Nobody gets left behind since most students have a smartphone and every student has access to any of the hundreds of computers on campus.
The most valuable relationships are established when students elect to download the app as they can then reach out to me via SMS-style text messaging within our Blrt conversation. This informal approach is ideal for many students who grew up using text messages in the way previous generations used phone calls. Anything that makes it easier and less intimidating for students to reach out is a good thing.
6. What are your plans for Blrt?
My next logical integration of Blrt is with the research that I sometimes assist faculty members with. Blrt would be an ideal way for us to communicate about the project more frequently since getting in the same room at the same time is sometimes difficult.
I would also like to see my students use Blrt with their group assignments. I certainly wish I would have had it when I was completing my own studies. The more assertive students sometimes find that getting the rest of their group on the same page is not unlike herding cats, so Blrt would be an ideal way for the dialogue to be captured in one place and in a way that makes it easy for the rest of the group to build on the latest iteration of the project. Getting a fellow student to click “Reply” and speak over components that are already loaded is a lot easier than motivating them to reply to emails in a timely manner or show up for meetings.
Pop Quiz Time
Just kidding! Had you going, didn’t we?
Theo is taking Blrt into bold new territory and we’re excited to see how he’s able to add value for his students as he continues to integrate the app into his classes. Education is a natural fit for Blrt and if Theo’s story isn’t convincing enough we think Blrt will sell itself when you take it for a spin.
We are currently offering educators and students with a .edu (.edu.au, etc.) email address six free months of Blrt Premium access. That’s a $US60 value and no credit card is required.
And then you can get started with Blrt today:
Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.
Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.
Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.
Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.