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The Role of Research in Bringing Innovation to Education

By Sarah AlMohamad

“Once students leave university, they often find that they're ill-equipped for the workplace.”

This is an observation from Dr. Jerome L. Rekart. He believes that this disconnect is in part due to the way that universities help students gain knowledge, but not challenge them in how they should apply it. He is working to address this in his role as the Vice President of Research and Insight at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

After getting his Ph.D. in the neuroscience of learning and memory, and doing his doctoral training on how the brain responds to stimuli, Dr. Rekart realized that he wanted take research findings from the laboratory and apply them in classroom settings.

He had a unique opportunity to explore this when he became a director of research and analytics at SNHU’s College for America program, which is an industry-leading competency-based program built specifically to serve working adults, especially those in frontline roles, and their employers. Jerome was particularly interested in how learning takes place in a Competency-Based Model, as opposed to the traditional Course-Based approach. He wanted to be involved in both characterizing it as well as bringing his knowledge about human learning and memory to actually improve the program.

Since then, Dr. Rekart has been evaluating programs that utilize short forms of learning, as well as other forms of innovation, to try to help individuals advance their careers.

“Seeing an opportunity to be able to bridge that gap between the laboratory and the classroom, whether or not the classroom is online or not, is really what has kept me going and enabled me to do better and to help more individuals,” he said.

The following are examples demonstrating how his work has impacted the program and helped SNHU students:

· By identifying personality factors that are predictive of success in innovative models.

· Through original research, defining and describing a novel framework for how to best deliver online education to elementary and secondary students, which served as the basis for the SNHU M.Ed. in Online Instruction.

· In partnership with employers, showing how short-forms of learning impacted skills in the workplace.

Also, when I was researching his accomplishments, I found many noteworthy publications. One that particularly caught my attention was a book entitled “The Cognitive Classroom”. This focuses on bringing innovation to education by using classic research findings from the fields of brain science and cognitive psychology and applying them to classroom teaching to achieve “deep learning”. The book also focuses on actions that educators can take to optimize teaching in a digital world.

“Personally, I am a first generation college student,” said Dr. Rekart. “So as the first one in my family to get a college degree, I know all too well the impact that education can have on one's life, and the opportunities that it can open up.”

Advice for researchers

It is inspiring to interact with individuals who are committed to finding innovative ways, based on research, to help students better their careers. Here are some of the keys to Dr. Rekart’s success as an innovator in research education:

· “The number one factor that really determines success was and still is initiative.” Initiative is about taking ownership of one's research process and understanding where holes are in knowledge, and then taking the necessary steps to fill in the gaps.

· Science is a process and knowledge is organic and evolving. “We are always learning new things,” he said. “So what that means is just because something is accepted doesn't mean that it should not be subjected to analysis or further testing.”

· Be patient. Research takes time and if we knew the answers in advance, we wouldn't have to conduct the studies. “Research is a practice, so we're never at 100%. We never have it completely figured out. We are always learning and refining,” he added.

· “Never design a study to prove something; you're actually trying to disprove it!” In this way, you need to take all the necessary steps to ensure that you remove bias and that your study really provides the greatest opportunity for either of two hypotheses to be true (the normal or the alternative).

· Humility is required. We cannot go into any study and be sure of what exactly will happen. “We have to be humble before the phenomenon of science, behavior and human interactions, and know that we are here to test things and to add to knowledge, but that we will never have complete knowledge,” he explained.

My takeaways

This interview has provided me with amazing lessons that I will keep following to reach my dream in delivering education to all individuals whose circumstances hinder them and for whom traditional curricula pose a challenge in building their talents.

I was motivated by Dr. Rekart’s advice about my fear of making mistakes.

“Just learn more, to know more,” he said.

This point underscored that making mistakes is the easiest way to learn and benefit from my flaws.

Like Dr. Rekart, I will never stop learning. I will also take the initiative to speak up for all the unheard voices. I want to work towards changing this world for the better.

I would like to conclude this article with one of Dr. Rekart’s most motivational words for me: “So for me, it's actually quite important to be able to expand the reach of education to as many individuals as we can.”

Learn more about Dr. Jerome L. Rekart via LinkedIn.

Sarah AlMohamad is a student at Southern New Hampshire University through the Spotlight Program based in Lebanon. She is studying towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication with a concentration in Business. You can connect with her on LinkedIn. Sarah wrote this story after going through the Global Innovators Academy's Interview an Innovator experience.

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