BGU was Zooming before Zoom was The Thing: Now is Not A Time to Rest on One’s Laurels
Many schools have been forced to use Zoom as a crisis strategy during COVID-19. BGU has been using Zoom and other video-conferencing technologies before Zoom as a central strategy for ten years. Zoom was essential to BGU’s mission to create cross-cultural learning environments before COVID. BGU students don’t just study ABOUT the world, they study WITH the world often with peers from 5 to 10 time zones in each of their classes. With 70% of BGU student living outside of North America in 65 nations, they see God’s global work not through books, but through cross-culture relationships. Zoom is how we make this happen.
For twenty years BGU has connected global students through two-week urban immersions in 50 of the largest cities in the world. The key to these immersions is that they are led by leaders who live there – sharing their stories of their city in ghettos, government halls, and CEO board rooms. Now, BGU adds intensive Zoom sessions, learning groups, and mentoring before and after these onsite urban immersions which have increased the results exponentially. People arrive already in conversation, and the urban immersion intensifies those friendships into life-long relationships that continue on Zoom, WhatsApp and joint projects long after the class ends and the students graduate.
BGU also conducts courses, certificate seminars and other events totally on Zoom and other technologies without onsite events. Students report consistently that they engage more, learn more, develop deeper relationships, and achieve personal goals more through this online process than what they have ever experienced in face-to-face classrooms prior to BGU. Why? Because the process is not about lectures and passive listening. It includes intentional ways to facilitate cross cultural, virtual, peer-learning. More importantly the Zoom events are surrounded by personal coaching, mentored meetings, small group breakout sessions, and personalized learning tracks.
So what has BGU learned about web conferencing in the last ten years? You don’t have to give up effective learning and building deep lasting relationships when you use Zoom, but you do have to intentionally do it completely different than an in-class event. BGU has been asked to train other organizations in this. A short sample of the principles we train are provided below.*
What will BGU do different after this past year of everyone using Zoom?
Graduate education in the present and future will include:
1. A continuum of learning modules (micro-masters) where a student can choose to learn specific practical skills with immediate on-the-job application and over time combine these modules into graduate degree credit.
2. Intensive on-going mentoring, coaching and life-advising to help students discover their calling and personalized development goals. Advisors who may be the perfect fit for the need will often be geographically distant. BGU will increasing rely upon graduates and partners meeting this need through relationship-prioritized technologies.
3. Customized learning tracks that may include expertise from a variety of partner schools adding up to a graduate degree from the school that guides them through the process.
As BGU’s global network has expanded so quickly with more globally-located students, graduates and partners, Zoom has not been a handicap, but a asset for this type of global mentoring and innovative, customized learning.
Do I get tired of days that have many hours of Zoom meetings? Yes, very much. Do I stay energized when these meetings involve conversations with friends on 6 continents, learning new cultural insights and seeing the amazing work of God first-hand through the eyes of front-line global leaders? Yes very much. It is simply amazing.
In ancient Greece, the champion of a race was given a laurel wreath to wear demonstrating status and honor. The phrase “Rest on Your Laurels” means to be satisfied with one’s past success and to consider further effort unnecessary. In our case, the past success has shown us how much better we need to be,and the global network that Zoom has helped BGU build has motivated us to make even a greater effort
in the future.
President, Bakke Graduate University (BGU)
* This year, BGU has been training other organizations from what we’ve learned from a decade of web conferencing. A sample of what we share includes:
1. Zoom doesn’t work well for lecture style teaching. In Zoom, the teacher is a facilitator of a learning environment, not a lecturer. No one should talk longer than 15 minutes without a directed question, exercise or transition into dialogue. People will disengage unless they feel in concrete ways that they are part of the process. When in doubt, stop talking and ask good questions.
2. The facilitator must “norm and form” the culture of the Zoom session around dialogue and group narrative where everyone has a role. This may mean directed questions or breakouts in the beginning, not midway and certainly not at the end. The culture must be intentionally formed. When this happens well, people often report that they have learned more, the meeting was more effective and efficient, and they felt included more than even most in-person meetings.
3. The goals of the session must be clear and focused. When the direction is clear the process can be flexible to include more people in key roles. The more that others own the goal and process, the more they will engage with energy.