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Interview with an Innovator: Annie Schultz, Herzing University

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Interview with an Innovator: Annie Schultz, Herzing University

Annie Head Shot.jpgAnnie Schultz is Director of Instructional Support at Herzing University, where she also teaches mathematics. She first piloted Realizeit in 2016, starting with a college algebra course before Herzing expanded the implementation to other courses and other subject domains.

Realizeit is now a core enabler for Herzing’s institutional transformation initiative. In this interview, Annie explains why Realizeit appealed to her in the first place—and how Herzing is
expanding its application.

Q: Can you describe the main problem you were trying to solve by implementing Realizeit?

A: As an online instructor, I was frustrated with the lack of insight into what my students were doing.
I was really looking for a tool that would enable me to be a more informed instructor so that I could meet my students where they were.

That way, instead of reaching out and saying “Hey, I think you’re struggling,” I could instead approach them with “I see you’re struggling with this specific topic based on this information—is
there anything I can do to support you?”

Q: Why did you choose to work with Realizeit?

A: First, I was attracted to the real-time data gathering and analytics, which gave me hope that I might get the insights into student behavior and learning that I was looking for. Also, Realizeit’s content-agnostic nature appealed to my curriculum design and development side as well as my math instructor side. This meant I could control the curriculum and content choices. 

I actually had some experience with other adaptive platforms before I discovered Realizeit, but they were math-only. There are a lot of adaptive tools out there focused on math content, and although that’s primarily what I teach, I was thinking about the bigger picture, at the institutional level. One of the things I liked about Realizeit was that it wasn’t just for math; its versatility meant we could use it for humanities, for business, for nursing—for any subject.

And that matters to us for two reasons. One, having a platform that can be rolled out across
every subject means that students and faculty both have a more consistent experience across
the university. Students know what to expect in each class in terms of the format, and faculty can
all share data about student performance.

Two—and I’m speaking as a math teacher here—many students returning to school approach
mathematics with a lot of trepidation. Putting them into an unfamiliar learning environment can
amplify that and make it hard for them to do their best. So giving them one platform across the
entire program makes them that much more comfortable.

Q: What gave you the confidence to continue working with Realizeit?

A: In addition to the fact that I was getting the insight into student behaviors that I wanted, what I really came to appreciate was how we were able to make our “Realizeit” course into a “Herzing” course. We have experience with other adaptive platforms, and those are really textbook-specific: we can pick and choose which textbook sections to use in a course, but we can’t add our own material or otherwise personalize the course. It was mostly take-it-or-leave-it out of the box.
Realizeit let us build each course to be our own, to customize and change it, in a way that fits our student body and our goals. We have so much control over what we do within the Realizeit platform—and the students do, too. Additionally, because Realizeit is so versatile, we have a platform we can standardize every course against, not just math.

Q: Would you say you are more, or less, excited about using Realizeit now?

A: I have to admit that, at first, the platform seemed overwhelming. There were so many choices, so
many options. I would constantly wonder, “Am I doing this right? Did I ask the right questions?” But now that we’re past that initial pilot, I’m very comfortable with Realizeit, and I’m excited because I can see so many new possibilities.

I’m talking to my provost about new ideas on a regular basis; new ways we can implement Realizeit for things like placement testing and orienting students to online learning. There are so many ways to use this platform to make our overall student experience better.

If I were explaining this to someone new to Realizeit, I’d point out that change is scary to everybody, no matter what you’re changing. But once you start getting student and faculty feedback and see the learning analytics, like we have, you can see how to continue making improvements, especially with content.

I think it’s important to note that, here at Herzing, we are making a lot of changes all at once, and Realizeit is one part of that. There is a culture change underway. We essentially flipped our faculty’s world upside down.

Our process has been an open one. Listening is critical when making changes of this magnitude—you have to listen to student and faculty feedback for key insights if you want to succeed. Being open, listening, and willing to make changes—that’s the key. With Realizeit, what helps us is that we can make changes to each course in real time, even proactively, to incorporate feedback or address issues people are having.

Q: What has the response been from faculty?

A: Once exposed to it, most faculty love it, but there are a few who still want a textbook. That said, even for those who are a little resistant, it’s not the technology that is the issue—they like the insight into the instruction; they like the data. They’ve really embraced Realizeit from a platform perspective.

It’s the over-arching paradigm shift they’re having to adjust to that is the issue. We’ve been operating under these new conditions for three terms now. We’re coming together soon to review everything—the curriculum, the personalized learning implementation, analytics—and I know the faculty are excited.

Q: What advice would you give to others who are preparing to implement personalized and adaptive learning in a meaningful way?

A: The first step is to clarify your content strategy. If you can identify the content you’re going to use from the outset, things will proceed more smoothly.

Once you have that in place, I’d say, take some risks. You might want to make part of your course adaptive while keeping some of the writing assignments, for instance. The less you change all at once, the more accepting faculty will be.

I will say that the setup with Realizeit requires concentrated effort, because you’re designing and creating your own course – curriculum, content and assessments. It’s not an out of the box solution; you have to be willing to invest the up-front work. But it’s so worth it. I wouldn’t go back and change anything—I really feel we’re on the right track to make our programs and our students even more successful.

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