Universal Mentors Association

Thought Leader Q&A: Talking Remote Higher Education And Digital Storytelling With Panos Vlachopoulos


Exploring AI-Powered Social Network Analysis And Remote Hands-On Experience

Dr. Panos Vlachopoulos is the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Deree – The American College of Greece. As a member of the President’s cabinet, he advises on future developments in higher education globally and their impact on the university. Panos is also a Senior Academic Leader with 20 years of experience in higher education development, digital learning, and experiential learning. He has over ten years of demonstrated experience as a Senior Leader in Academia with over ten completed strategic projects in curriculum innovation, policy renewal, and university-industry partnership development. Today he shares insights about remote education challenges and team-based learning.

One of your primary leadership responsibilities is planning, implementing, and coordinating the educational programs of Deree College. Can you tell our readers a bit more about the curriculum architecture program you’re developing to align curriculum with industry?

Aligning a curriculum with industry needs is essential in preparing learners for the workforce, especially in a country like Greece, where there is a huge gap between the skills needed in the industry and the skills with which students graduate from the Greek public and private higher education institutions. Bridging the gap involves understanding the skills and core theoretical and technical knowledge required for various jobs and ensuring that the curriculum provides learners with the necessary capabilities. At Deree, the American College of Greece, we engage with industry representatives to identify the current and future needs of the job market.

Our aim is to build programs and courses that are not just “job ready” but to ensure that industry (and community) are active partners in the process of designing, delivering, assessing, and quality-assuring the curriculum. We aim to have a Capability Framework developed with some of Greece’s most influential industries and then apply this framework to every program, including our online programs, and offer an opportunity to future learners to mix and match courses, micro-courses, and continuous professional development opportunities based on the learning needs and/or their current or planned career stages. We need to think outside the box and offer future generations of learners quality, agility, and interdisciplinarity in the way they study. An example here is our recently launched Master in Learning Design and Technology, which is built with consultation by global experts in the field, including practitioners from leading learning technologies companies, and has a strong applied focus based on the type of jobs we expect to see in the market, such as learning designers and flexible learning coordinators, but also learning entrepreneurs.

In your opinion, what is an often overlooked challenge associated with remote higher education, and how can administrators and faculty leverage modern tech to devise an innovative solution?

One often overlooked challenge associated with remote higher education is the lack of social interaction and sense of community that students may experience. When students study remotely, they may feel isolated and disconnected from their peers, which can impact their motivation and engagement. One solution is to create virtual communities where students can interact with each other and with faculty members. This can be done through online discussion forums, video conferencing, and social media platforms. While it may be easy to set them up, it is very challenging to maintain such communities, which often die a good death because of the lack of engagement. They require a deliberate effort on the part of the facilitator (the teacher) to design meaningful and authentic opportunities for interactions and offer reasons for learners to return to their online community.

Learning analytics and AI can also play a significant role here. I personally use, as a researcher and as a practitioner, AI-powered social network analysis, which can help teachers and administrators understand the social dynamics of online learning communities. This can help identify influential learners, detect patterns of collaboration and interaction, and promote social learning and community building. Equally, AI-powered sentiment analysis tools can help teachers and administrators monitor learners’ engagement levels and identify potential issues. For example, sentiment analysis can analyze learners’ discussion forum posts to detect patterns of disengagement or frustration, allowing teachers to intervene and provide support.

Is there an academic research project or another initiative you’d like our readers to know about?

For more than five years now, I have been actively involved with team-based learning (TBL), and I have been experimenting with ways to make this pedagogical methodology work for fully online courses as well as for student populations that have not been exposed to such a collaborative learning model before (e.g., primary and secondary schools). TBL centers on students applying their knowledge to authentic problems and real-world challenges. Through an organized structure that encompasses both individual and group work, TBL equips students with the skills to prepare them for their future careers.

What had previously been passive lecture time is freed up for student engagement in group learning activities in the TBL model, where groups are configured, for a short-term process, a single project, or a single class. TBL adopts the flipped classroom approach, where students individually learn assigned curriculum content before class and are given the opportunity to apply this knowledge in class group activities. You can read more about our project here. We have also conducted a first evaluation of the project, which is published here.

Experiential learning is one of your areas of expertise. What is one of the most innovative ways that educators can use digital learning tools to provide hands-on experience and encourage students to put knowledge into practice? Also, are there any experiential learning trends or emerging technologies we should be on the lookout for?

I suppose the answer to this question depends on the type of experiential learning we are aiming to create the conditions for. For example, if we would like to simulate an experience for learners to get a glimpse of a future practice or to practice safely in a mock environment before they try out an experience in the real world, virtual simulations may be a very worthwhile technology to explore. For example, in healthcare education, virtual simulations can be (and have been) used to train medical students and healthcare professionals on clinical procedures and scenarios. This can include simulations of emergency situations, surgical procedures, and patient consultations. Learners can practice responding to these scenarios in a safe and controlled environment without putting real patients at risk.

One innovative way that educators can use digital learning tools to provide hands-on experience and encourage students to put knowledge into practice in, say, less vocational areas such as the humanities is through digital storytelling. Digital storytelling allows learners to use multimedia tools, such as video, audio, and images, to create and share their own stories. Again, in the near past, I was involved with setting up a partnership with Adobe to promote digital storytelling for the humanities. This can include personal narratives, historical accounts, and creative expressions of knowledge and understanding. For example, in literature courses, learners can use digital storytelling to create their own interpretations of literary works, using multimedia tools to bring the stories to life. In history courses, learners can use digital storytelling to research and present historical events and figures, using multimedia tools to create engaging and interactive presentations.

Regarding any current or emerging trends, at the core of any experiential learning opportunity lies the ability of the learner to engage with what we call “metacognition,” which refers to the process of reflecting on one’s own learning experiences and thinking about how to improve future learning. Online or digital portfolios have been in use for many years to assist learners with experiential learning and reflection, but with limited success primarily because of the lack of personalization and ability to provide adaptive feedback. I would expect that, with the rapid advancement of AI and Machine Learning nowadays, these technologies can be used to provide personalized learning experiences that adapt to learners’ needs and preferences. AI and Machine Learning can also be used to provide learners with real-time feedback and support, helping them to stay on track and achieve their learning goals.

Wrapping Up

A big thanks to Dr. Panos Vlachopoulos for taking part in our Q&A and offering his insights. You can learn more about Panos and Deree – The American College of Greece by visiting the university’s website.


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