Innovation in a Time of Change
At Walden University, we’ve spent the past 50 years helping distance learners achieve their goals. As a pioneer of distance learning in higher education, we continuously embrace new technologies, new learning options, and new ways to create social change.
But this past year, we faced an obstacle that could have affected our ability to deliver quality, innovative learning: a global pandemic. Throughout 2020, COVID-19 challenged us in ways both big and small, but it also gave us the opportunity to reexamine—and enhance—the tools we offer our students to help them succeed.
“At Walden, our charge is to ensure we stay on the forefront of technology,” says Steven Tom, Walden’s senior vice president of student experience and chief transformation officer. “We work hard to give our students tools that produce the very best learning outcomes while allowing them to have flexibility and achieve success.”
While Tom and his team are always working to help meet the needs of students through technology, 2020 underlined the importance of harnessing the power of educational innovation. Below, explore some of the standout tools Tom and his team created to meet the evolving needs of Walden students.
Charlotte and Doctoral Navigator
Prior to the start of the pandemic, Walden introduced Charlotte, a 24/7 virtual support assistant that answers student questions and helps fulfill common requests such as ordering unofficial transcripts or checking financial aid status. Tom says 15,000 students are using Charlotte each term.
Walden has also expanded the availability of Doctoral Navigator, an online dashboard designed to support doctoral students as they move through the dissertation process. Doctoral Navigator features a virtual task checklist and links to relevant resources to help students every step of the way during their doctoral journey.
“Charlotte and the Doctoral Navigator were both created to serve our busy working professional students on their terms and to help them get the information they need at the right time,” Tom says.
Walden’s Essential Resources
When pandemic lockdowns began in March, Tom and his team rallied to brainstorm ways to best support student success. “We aimed to drive and transform the Walden virtual experience to resonate with and best serve our students while complementing what they were already doing in their studies,” he says.
Enter Walden’s Essential Resources, a virtual community hub that shares the best of Walden’s expertise in teaching and learning to help community members tackle their professional and personal challenges. The site offers dozens of webinars, articles, and short courses led or created by Walden faculty and alumni on a wide variety of topics, including self-care, finances, and parent/family support, as well as professional guidance and resources curated specifically for educators and healthcare workers.
“A lot of our students are on the front lines of the pandemic—they are nurses, social workers, researchers, educators,” Tom explains. “We wanted to share some of Walden’s best resources that will support them in supporting their communities and loved ones in this time of need.”
A student-to-student resource-sharing vehicle, Walden Answers facilitates the exchange of vital information among peers. The portal is moderated by Walden staff to ensure the information shared is appropriate and accurate.
“We are excited to have this environment where students can not only answer each other’s questions, but also crowdsource that knowledge across the university,” Tom says.
With the help of more than 100 Master of Social Work students in fall 2020, Walden successfully launched the pilot version of Study Buddy, a time management app that allows students to develop consistent study habits. Students can use Study Buddy to set weekly goals based on how long and how often they want to study, and hit celebratory milestones as they meet or exceed their goals. Tom says he and his team aim to make Study Buddy available to the entire Walden community soon.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated the stress felt by our students to fit their education in,” he says. “We want students to have this tool to help them plan their time, track against their goals, and … self-motivate to reach their goals.”
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