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Students provide insights into overcoming challenges facing education at ShapingEDU Unconference

Unconference Student Panel with Moderator Samantha Becker

Students spoke at the “Student Panel: Decoding the Wicked Problems” session on Friday, July 23.

August 05, 2021

If you’re talking about issues in education, it’s vital for all voices to have a seat at the table. That’s exactly why Arizona State University students were invited to speak during the “Student Panel: Decoding the Wicked Problems” session on Friday, July 23, during the 2021 ShapingEDU Unconference.

From July 20–23, participants gathered at a “remote” inn to discuss and untangle complex, pressing challenges — what are referred to as "wicked problems" — in learning that were voted on by the community. The student panel shared their thoughts and opinions on critical issues, like how to better engage virtual learners and avoid burnout; diversity, equity and inclusion; and encouraging positive mental health and wellness. The panel included:

  • Lance Israel Lim, BS community health, BS health entrepreneurship and innovation, certificate in cross sector leadership.

  • John Janezic, BA in interdisciplinary studies: sustainability and applied biology, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in cross-sector leadership in 2021, master's degree in global management candidate at Thunderbird School for Global Management. 

  • Sophie Jones, BS in family and human development and current master's degree in communication candidate.

“Learner voice is paramount,” said Samantha Becker, co-founder of ShapingEDU and moderator for the panel. “Learning takes place no matter how old you are or where you are in the world. We are all lifelong learners.”

Here are some of the topics discussed and the student panels’ responses:

1. When it comes to traditional degrees versus microcredentials, how do students perceive their value?

“It’s less about whether or not the value has changed but how its perception has changed,” Janezic said. “People are still learning and engaging in the universal learner idea outside of the four-year degree. How we can use micro-credentials as a supplement, thinking about these other credentials and how they can blend together to really bring more value than just individual siloed accomplishments.”

Lim, a former nursing student, explained that the traditional degree is still important.

“The four-year degree still stands as a very valid way to verify knowledge,” Lim said. “Four-year degrees are a standard for a lot of friends, especially those in STEM and medicine. However, I do think that the advent of online courses, self-teaching has made education more accessible to all people.”

Lim went on to share some of the many benefits of micro-credentials, which includes allowing: 

  • Learners to be better advocates and bring better accessibility to the workforce.

  • People who cannot afford or don’t have the time to complete a four-year degree to gain skills.

  • More degree exploration.

2. What about the many tools that are available now online due to the pandemic?

When it comes to tools, “it’s imperative that we look at the pandemic as a point of inflection or a point to pivot,” Janezic said. He suggested that we consider how we can use technology and tools to better supplement and support student learning as a way of addressing problems in our education system.

Janezic added that while this shift in technology and online learning is important to students, it’s also critical to facility, staff and instructors.

“We are all universal learners, and we have to think about our instructors as learners ... supporting the people who are supporting the students is just as important as directly supporting the students.”

3. When it comes to voice and choice, what is important to students as a lifelong learner?

Empathy is what Jones values most. Her advice to instructors: “Understand the vast diversity of student experiences and that all those communities are equitably served. Take the time to place yourself in their shoes and empower their learning style.”

The human aspect is important to Janezic.

“We need to think about how everyone can come together and support the learning individually from each of those fears — and then hopefully that would lead to greater decision making as we progress our whole universal learning journey.”

4. How important is accessibility to students?

For Jones, who shared stories from her personal learner journey, it comes back to being empathetic of students and the concept of humanizing learning: recognizing that learners are all coming from different places and are learning in different environments.

“The best thing you can do as a professor or as a professional is just to address that feeling of indignity that might come with self-disclosure (of having a disability),” Jones said. “(It’s about) working within the parameters of what you might be capable or not capable of on a day to day basis and just approaching it with that humanity.”

“ShapingEDU always strives to include the voice of lifelong learners in our discussions; their perspectives are a critical component of our problem-solving process,” said Stephanie Pierotti, director of ShapingEDU. “I was incredibly impressed with their introspection, and their thoughtful analysis of each wicked problem we discussed.” 

Watch the entire conversation now:

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