Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University, in Missouri, describes some of the interesting changes it has recently made in the education it offers. Technology plays a key role.
LEE GARDNER: I'm here today with Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University, in St. Louis. Maryville has done some interesting things with the education it offers in recent years. We're here to talk about that. Welcome.
MARK LOMBARDI: Thank you, Lee.
LEE GARDNER: So, technology in the classroom is something that I think a lot of college faculty and, frankly, a lot of college leaders have a somewhat wary relationship with. But at Maryville you've embraced it, and I was curious to know why that is, and what it looks like.
MARK LOMBARDI: Well, when we were finishing our last strategic planning, entering into our next one, which was two years ago, we were identifying faculty who were doing amazing things in the classroom with technology, with iPads, with varied learning technologies and apps. And these faculty, really Pied Pipers, and doing some incredible things and getting results.
And so when we fashioned our plan, we really wanted to make the center of it student learning. And so we created and we invested in this active-learning ecosystem where we would provide a platform, an environment, an opportunity for all of our students to benefit from it. And so far it has been hugely successful.
LEE GARDNER: At the classroom level, what does that look like?
MARK LOMBARDI: Well, we about outfitted our entire student body with iPads, 2,800 deployed thus far to our traditional and certain selected graduate programs, loaded with free apps, about 80 learning apps of all different types, around different disciplines.
And then we've provided training for our faculty. We actually added two weeks to every faculty-member contract so that one week in May and August would be faculty training in the use of all this technology. And thus far 90 percent of our faculty have gone through the training and then are applying it in the classroom.
So what happens in that classroom is we've got our students and our faculty engaged in this vibrant learning process, where the students own it. They're involved, they're engaged, they actually are a part of creating that content.
So an example of that would be in a science class, for example, we would be going through a smart textbook. And the students and the faculty would be downloading and bringing video and other materials and loading that in so everyone can benefit from what the students and the faculty are bringing in and learning.
And the other part of this that's crucial is it's based on learning theory and learning diagnostics. So we have a learning diagnostics profile of every student, and we also provide that and implant that into the class for the faculty member. So the instruction on a one to one can be very personalized.
So if you're an auditory learner, you might be listening to the faculty member talk about this while I may be sitting next to you watching a video on the same topic and learning. So it really gets at the multiplicity of learning styles that exist, that we know exist, in every student and in every classroom.
LEE GARDNER: I'm curious about that aspect of the faculty and getting their buy-in with it. How did that work?
MARK LOMBARDI: Well, as I said we had these wonderful faculty who, we call them the Pied Pipers. They were really leading the way. And what we did was we put together a group of faculty and staff and we said, look, we're going in this direction. We want you to plan out the implementation of it and we want you to have that plan ready for us in about two to three months. And they did it. They came up with a fantastic plan.
And so there were a number of faculty on the fence. How is this going to work? I wouldn't call it oppositional. I would say they were being legitimately skeptical and wondering if this is going to work. And so what they did was many of those faculty kind of seeing how these Pied Pipers were doing it, viewing their classes, getting engaged.
And what they found was the student learning, the student experience, was greatly enhanced. And that brought a lot of those faculty in. So it was really an effort where peer-to-peer education, peer-to-peer communication really led to an embracing of this by a significant majority of our faculty.
LEE GARDNER: What do the financial underpinnings of this look like? And also I'm curious about if you had to make any infrastructure or facilities changes to make this work.
MARK LOMBARDI: Well, absolutely. In fact, when we began thinking about this about three years ago or about a year before the actual learning design process was put together, our CIO, who's now retired, who was fantastic, he came in and he said, look, in order to do this, we've got to have a state-of-the-art, connected campus, indoors-out wireless, wired across the board, to make the entire campus a learning community.
And so we educated the board, the board was all on board with it, loved it, believed in it totally. So we invested, over three years, four and half million, making our campus, we believe, one of the top 10 percent wired campuses in the United States for connectivity. That provided the infrastructure baseline so that all these things can happen.
So if you walk on our campus, you might see classes taking place not only within learning spaces in classrooms, but in the dining hall and in the library and outdoors and whatnot. Because the connectivity allows that class to continue and that learning to continue.
One of the things that I think's emerged out of it with that connectivity and that investment is students no longer think about learning happens between 8 o'clock and 9:50 when the class ends, that the learning is happening all over and at all times. And that empowerment of student learning, it's infectious. It really is.
LEE GARDNER: You mentioned the board. Was that an easy sell from the outset?
MARK LOMBARDI: You know what? The answer is yes. We brought in some of the research on learning theory, learning diagnostics, brain theory, the research on using technology and learning, and we showcased it for the board. We spent an entire Saturday morning actually. We brought them together to go over this.
And when they were done, they said, we're all in. We've got to do this. We're supporting it. In fact, they reorganized several of the committees, including academic affairs, around this entire initiative. So they are Pied Pipers about it. They're just huge believers.
LEE GARDNER: It's still relatively early having made this shift, but could you talk about some of the demonstrable outcomes that you've had?
MARK LOMBARDI: Sure. The first time we went out of the box with this was fall of 2015. And we did some control groups, particularly in our Intro to Biology classes and some other classes. What we began to find is everywhere we implemented this — at this time was just for first-year students, now it's campus-wide — we were seeing 12 percent to as much as 18 percent or 20 percent improved learning outcomes for students in these classes.
So as we've gone forward and assessed — and again, we're not done yet by any measure — but as we've assessed, we're seeing improved learning outcomes across —
LEE GARDNER: In terms of grades?
MARK LOMBARDI: In terms of not just grades but faculty evaluation of student ability, particularly because a lot of the personalized learning is structured around projects and creative work and group work that creates an environment where students have to create something. So we're seeing the traditional learning outcomes, those types of learning outcomes, improve.
And we're also seeing retention. We've always been strong with retention. That has improved for us, as well as enrollment. Our enrollment this past year for first-year students was a 45 percent increase over the previous year for freshmen. And in surveying incoming freshmen and parents, they identified personalized learning, the digital world initiative, and our life-coaching initiative where our learning diagnostics happen, as the key factors in why they chose to come in Maryville.
LEE GARDNER: I see. You've mentioned the life coaching before. And my understanding it's a shift away from traditional advising.
MARK LOMBARDI: It is. We have a staff right now of nine and growing life coaches, full-time staff who are trained and engaged in life coaching. They begin with students when their prospective students, like right now in the enrollment process several hundred students are being connected with life coaches as they go through the process. That's where the learning diagnostics happen.
We do four different learning diagnostic tools to help young people, help students, understand how they learn, why they learn certain ways, why they have challenges. Or in some cases why they believe they can't learn something when in point of fact they really can.
That portfolio of learning diagnostics in the life-coaching arena, that provides a tremendous foundation as they matriculate to the university. And then of course life coaches help with career planning, they help with the transition to college, they help with all the other elements of being a new student at the university.
LEE GARDNER: Thanks for coming by.
MARK LOMBARDI: Thank you. My pleasure.