The Brighter Side of Education: Research, Innovation & Resources

Why Distance Education Needs Digital Communities with Visionary Katy Kappler

September 07, 2023 Dr. Lisa R. Hassler Season 1 Episode 24
Why Distance Education Needs Digital Communities with Visionary Katy Kappler
The Brighter Side of Education: Research, Innovation & Resources
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The Brighter Side of Education: Research, Innovation & Resources
Why Distance Education Needs Digital Communities with Visionary Katy Kappler
Sep 07, 2023 Season 1 Episode 24
Dr. Lisa R. Hassler

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode, I focus on digital communities with Katy Kappler. Why do we need them and how can it increase student completion rates in distance education?

The potential of technology in education is so great that there is a steady increase in the number of online courses available in higher education every year. Distance education is an effective tool with the capability to enhance learning experiences with the added benefit of flexibility. 

However, completion rates for online courses are surprisingly low. 40-80% of online learners just give up. How could such an effective education model fail to go the distance to completion and why do college students drop them? Data suggests that motivation, technical issues, and lack of support are the three major reasons.

Dr. Hughes M. Brown, et al., identified these concerns in his 2015 study with first semester college students taking distance learning classes. His recommendation was that more needs to be done by institutions to change the "lone wolf" preconception and avoid the "goulash approach" to supporting distance learners. He went on to state that lives of distance learners are not black and white, but rather "complex shades of grey and this needs to be taken in to account when designing appropriate learning experiences and supports to ensure student success."

Katy offers insights into how digital communities can be used to create student-centered environments, improve student outcomes, and increase a sense of belonging for online students. She was named one of 144 women CEOs and founders of Leading Global EdTech Startups in March. Katy is the CEO and Co-founder of InScribe, an innovative digital community platform, slated to be one of the world's most promising ed tech startups. To learn more, go to www.inscribeapp.com.

The call to action is that distance education is not a "lone wolf" experience. Digital communities create a greater sense of belonging and improve student success. Use them if you have them, get them if you don't. It may be the differ

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To help this podcast reach others, rate and review on Apple Podcasts! Go to Library, choose The Brighter Side of Education, and scroll down to Reviews. It's just that easy. Thank you!

Want to share a story? Email me at lisa@drlisarhassler.com.
Visit my website for resources: http://www.drlisarhassler.com

The music in this podcast was written and performed by Brandon Picciolini of the Lonesome Family Band. Visit and follow him on Instagram.

My publications:
America's Embarrassing Reading Crisis: What we learned from COVID, A guide to help educational leaders, teachers, and parents change the game, is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible, and iTunes.
My Weekly Writing Journal: 15 Weeks of Writing for Primary Grades on Amazon.
World of Words: A Middle School Writing Notebook Using the Writing Process on Amazon....

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode, I focus on digital communities with Katy Kappler. Why do we need them and how can it increase student completion rates in distance education?

The potential of technology in education is so great that there is a steady increase in the number of online courses available in higher education every year. Distance education is an effective tool with the capability to enhance learning experiences with the added benefit of flexibility. 

However, completion rates for online courses are surprisingly low. 40-80% of online learners just give up. How could such an effective education model fail to go the distance to completion and why do college students drop them? Data suggests that motivation, technical issues, and lack of support are the three major reasons.

Dr. Hughes M. Brown, et al., identified these concerns in his 2015 study with first semester college students taking distance learning classes. His recommendation was that more needs to be done by institutions to change the "lone wolf" preconception and avoid the "goulash approach" to supporting distance learners. He went on to state that lives of distance learners are not black and white, but rather "complex shades of grey and this needs to be taken in to account when designing appropriate learning experiences and supports to ensure student success."

Katy offers insights into how digital communities can be used to create student-centered environments, improve student outcomes, and increase a sense of belonging for online students. She was named one of 144 women CEOs and founders of Leading Global EdTech Startups in March. Katy is the CEO and Co-founder of InScribe, an innovative digital community platform, slated to be one of the world's most promising ed tech startups. To learn more, go to www.inscribeapp.com.

The call to action is that distance education is not a "lone wolf" experience. Digital communities create a greater sense of belonging and improve student success. Use them if you have them, get them if you don't. It may be the differ

Support the Show.

Please subscribe and share this podcast with a friend to spread the good!
If you find value to this podcast, consider becoming a supporter with a $3 subscription. Click on the link to join: https://www.buzzsprout.com/2048018/support

To help this podcast reach others, rate and review on Apple Podcasts! Go to Library, choose The Brighter Side of Education, and scroll down to Reviews. It's just that easy. Thank you!

Want to share a story? Email me at lisa@drlisarhassler.com.
Visit my website for resources: http://www.drlisarhassler.com

The music in this podcast was written and performed by Brandon Picciolini of the Lonesome Family Band. Visit and follow him on Instagram.

My publications:
America's Embarrassing Reading Crisis: What we learned from COVID, A guide to help educational leaders, teachers, and parents change the game, is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible, and iTunes.
My Weekly Writing Journal: 15 Weeks of Writing for Primary Grades on Amazon.
World of Words: A Middle School Writing Notebook Using the Writing Process on Amazon....

Why Distance Education Needs Digital Communities with Visionary Katy Kappler


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Welcome to The Brighter Side of Education. I'm your host, Dr. Lisa Hassler, here to enlighten and brighten the classrooms in America through focused conversation on important topics in education. In each episode, I discuss problems we as teachers and parents are facing and what people are doing in their communities to fix it. What are the variables, and how can we duplicate it to maximize student outcomes? In this episode, I focus on digital communities. Why do we need them, and how can it increase student completion rates in distance education? The potential of technology in education is so great that there is a steady increase in the number of online courses available in higher education every year.

Distance education is an effective tool with the capability to enhance learning experiences with the added benefit of flexibility. However, completion rates for online courses are surprisingly low. 40% to 80% of online learners just give up. So how could such an effective education model fail to go the distance to completion? And why do college students drop them?

Data suggest that motivation, technical issues, and a lack of support are the three major reasons. Dr. Brown identified these concerns in his 2015 study with the first semester college students taking distance learning classes. His recommendation was that more needs to be done by institutions to change the "lone wolf" perception and avoid the "Goulash" approach to supporting distance learners.

He went on to state that lives of distance learners are not black and white, but rather complex shades of gray, and this needs to be taken into account when designing appropriate learning experiences and supports to ensure student success.

Katy Kappler is with us today to offer insights into how digital communities can be used to create student center environments, improve student outcomes, and increase a sense of belonging for online students. Katy was named one of 144 women CEOs and founders of Leading Global Ed Tech Startups in March. She is the CEO and co founder of Inscribe, an innovative digital community platform slated to be one of the world's most promising ed tech startups.

Welcome to the show, Katy.


Katy Kappler 

Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

What is your background and what led you to develop the digital community platform Inscribe?


Katy Kappler 

So a little bit about my origin story. I actually started my career with a company called Ecollege, which was one of the early learning management platforms in the market. If you've been around, that name might sound familiar, so think early or late 90s, early 2000s. But what was really unique about Ecollege is it was the first LMS to focus in the fully online space. So if you were running full online programs back then, it was likely that Ecollege was the technology that was powering that experience.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Okay?


Katy Kappler 

And that was very transformative for me. It meant not only that, I got to really experience how technology could democratize access to education for a whole population of students who otherwise would not have been able to even think about attaining a four year degree. But it also allowed me to work really closely with that set of learners, which we now term nontraditional students. And over the time that I was working there, there was so much energy going into how do we recreate the classroom for these students, how do we think about lectures and discussion and exams?

But there wasn't a lot of thought going into all the other things that make up an education experience. All the stuff that happens outside of the classroom, right? Those casual conversations, those support networks. And so when my co founders and I started inscribe, it was really with that in mind, how do we turn what is just a learning experience online into a really holistic post secondary education experience for these students?


Dr. Lisa Hassler

So how are you expanding support for nontraditional and underserved student populations?


Katy Kappler 

Yeah, so you mentioned earlier this idea that online learners are not one category of individuals. They are actually a very diverse set of learners, but they do have some things in common. They are often working while they're learning. They're parents, they have children at home. Sometimes they're the first in their family to go to school. So they are very constrained when it comes to things like time and space. And what we are really focusing on then is how do you adapt your student support and engagement strategies so that they can fit with this population of students who maybe are not available eight to five when your office is open, or who don't have the luxury of sort of reaching out when the faculty member is available.

So there's kind of four things that we think about the positive outcomes of the digital communities for these students. One is really that the flexibility and the accessibility, they're available 24/7. So if you're learning at night or on the weekend and you get stuck or you have a question, you're not alone. You don't run up against a barrier. You can go to your community. There's probably another student available who can help you out. It may be that your question has already been answered and you can find that solution. So you're not isolated in that way. That's really important for this population of students.

The other thing that these communities do is they kind of simplify the support process. So I would say even traditional students, when they have a question, when they're trying to figure something out, they often don't know who to ask. Right? It's like, do I go to this office or that office? And so what communities can do is they consolidate all of that can consolidate all of that support under one umbrella. So it doesn't matter what your question is. You have one place that you can go and turn to and know that the right individuals are there to provide the help that you need.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Nice.


Katy Kappler 

The third thing that we really appreciate about these digital spaces is they tend to be more inclusive. Speaking up in person or in a classroom, or even in a live virtual classroom is very intimidating for some individuals. So when you create a virtual space that allows you to sort of show up as you want to show up, think about how you want to ask a question or how you want to formulate a post for a while before you post it. You really see a much broader set of individuals starting to participate in these spaces. So we really like that idea of opening up access and giving a voice to people who maybe felt like they didn't have a voice before.

So that's really all on the student side and then on the institution side, there's a lot of things and we can talk about around efficiency. But the thing that I get most excited about is that it gives institutions a window into what their students are actually thinking about, worrying about, excited about. When you allow them to have these authentic spaces, they will tell you all kinds of interesting things and the institution can then use that information to improve its processes upstream. So we hear a lot from our partners that I didn't even realize that this step of the registration process was so confusing, so we created some artifacts to help with that.

Or I didn't really know that this particular area of the class was so stressful and intimidating, so I put some scaffolding in place for that. So those are just some of the ways. But four of the areas where we really feel like these kinds of communities can have a strong impact for these students.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

So why do you think we need digital communities? And what success in student outcomes have you seen with the institutions that use them?


Katy Kappler 

Yeah, and our communities really come in many different shapes and flavors. Inscribe works across all aspects of the student journey, everywhere from admissions, to student services, to academics and learning. However, when we partner with an institution, generally there are three outcomes that they are always looking for and that we measure together. Are we actually improving student success rates? So are more students persisting and finding success in their classes? Are we improving the experience for students, how they feel about their education, how their connection to the institution? And then in doing all of that, are we actually improving also the efficiency of the institution?

So it's one thing to improve all these student outcomes, but if it costs tons more to do it, that's just not tenable, that's not a sustainable model for the institution. So we've done a lot of research with our partners around these three areas and I'll just give you a couple of examples of where we see those positive outcomes coming. One of our partners, Arizona State University, who we've been working with for a long time, very focused on building academic and learning communities for their students, and in particular in these first year courses, that can be a stumbling block for students to persist. And we are super excited.

We've been working with them, for example, in first year math classes. And what we were able to demonstrate is that by introducing this community model into their math courses, we increased the number of students that were successfully passing that class by eight and a half percent.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Wow.


Katy Kappler 

That's a huge number of students right. Who either would have had to retake that class or in many cases, that can be a dropout moment for a student when they can't get through the next area around sort of student satisfaction. Where we really focus there is around this concept of belonging. Sense of belonging, I think, is very much in the narrative right now. And people are really coming to understand how closely it is tied to not just short term measures of success, but actually long term outcomes for students even after they've graduated and moved into their career.

So we partnered in this case with Rio Salado College down in Arizona and rolled out an inscribed community across all of their student population, including they have a very significant online student population. And then did a research study in partnership with the College Innovation Network, which is a nonprofit that focuses on measures like student success and belonging. And what we were able to demonstrate is that the students who participated in the Inscribe community reported a 30% to 40% increase in their self reported measures of sense of belonging and peer connection after just four weeks.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Wow.


Katy Kappler 

Yeah. So it doesn't take a lot of time. It's a very simple solution that can have a huge impact for these individuals, again, both in that short term, but also in that long tail.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah.


Katy Kappler 

And then the last measure around efficiency. This can sometimes be a little harder to measure because not every school is tracking the number of emails they receive and so forth. But we were lucky enough to be able to do measures around this with both Western Governors University and Arizona State University.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Okay.


Katy Kappler 

Because they were tracking these numbers. And when they implemented their inscribed communities, they saw anywhere from a 25% to 80% decrease in the number of individual student email questions that they were getting. Right. And this is because we're consolidating that in a single location, so one student asks a question and it's answered. Now all the students benefit from that. And that's great for students, it's great for getting the answer more quickly. But what that really means is that faculty member or that staff member now has hours back in their week that they can spend on much more in depth interventions, higher level interventions than they would have been able to before.

So we're really excited. And those are, generally speaking, three things that we always look to achieve with the partners that we're working with.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

So when you talk about how inscribe is integrated across the different communities like the homepage. Where else would those digital communities exist and how do students find them?


Katy Kappler 

Yeah, access to these communities is critical. We sort of talk about it as community in context is this concept. But really the idea is your students should not have to go hunt down the community. It shouldn't be six clicks deep in some other system. It really needs to be right where they are. So we will integrate into any and all of the tools and technologies that students are already using at an institution. Certainly the learning management system is one of those. So we can put integration points directly in the classroom. We can put them sort of above the classroom level on the portal or the LMS homepage.

We also integrate directly with courseware from publishers. So in academic communities, if you're using something from a Wiley or a McGraw Hill, the student actually has their community embedded directly in that Courseware product. But also things like websites, emails, mobile apps. You tell us what tools are your students using, and then let's make sure they have easy access to their community directly from that space.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

So in this way, when they're accessing that community, let's say I'm in that math class, I would be able to easily find that math class online community to be able to ask relevant questions that they would actually be able to answer, instead of just like a general population. Like, I'm throwing this question out to the wind and I hope that someone picks it up, right?


Katy Kappler 

You can get really detailed about that. So anywhere from I'm in my college algebra class when I launch the community, it's my college algebra community with my students and my faculty members. But even within college algebra, if I'm working on quadratic equations today and I launch the community, the community knows that, and so it will service immediately the questions that are specific to quadratic equations, the resources that are specific to that. So we don't want you to have to go hunting for the information you need. Let's make it easy for you.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

So when you're saying that it's going to be accessible. So you are thinking about universities that are serving a population that could be global, so international, you're looking at different time zones on top of people's, different schedules that they have to be able to accommodate. So when they're asking these questions, is it a live person that's responding to them, or is it AI, or is it a combination?


Katy Kappler 

So the communities themselves are well, I'll answer it in a couple of ways. So the communities are initially designed to be asynchronous.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Okay?


Katy Kappler 

So when you ask a question, it's sort of put out to all the members of the community and allows that flexibility for people to come in and out when they want to. The primary focus of the community is the human first system. We really believe that when humans hear from and learn from other humans, that creates the greatest impact for them. However, we also know that efficiency in this process is really critical as well. So we do incorporate certain aspects of technology and AI to help with the scalability and health of the spaces. And one of the ways that we do that is if you start to ask a question and that question has already been answered, the system will recognize that and point you toward the conversation to say, hey, I think we already have a solution for you over here.

Why don't you check this out and let us know if that's going to help you? So let's limit the number of duplicates, but also let's connect you to that solution right away.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Nice.


Katy Kappler 

The other way that we really think about using AI is more on the health side of the community. So as questions are asked, we're evaluating the emotion of that conversation. And if the emotion of the post becomes very negative, like angry or frustrated or even very confused, the system will proactively identify that and alert somebody. And so the idea there is maybe you have a lot of activity going on in these spaces, but if you have a student who really is needing assistance immediately, can we help you understand who that person is? What? That conversation is so that you can prioritize a little bit better where you're spending your time, or maybe just reach out to that student live to have that conversation with them.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah, I think about know as a classroom teacher you definitely do those priorities as well. You're like, "hey, Johnny's being totally fine, he's got his hand raised." But then you've got Sally over here and she's in tears and she's going to not make it if I don't... So you just kind of go, "okay, you first." So it's kind of nice that within that system it has a way to pick up on that as well. To say this person is in higher need right now. We need to reach out to them and see if there's something more that we can do.

Is Inscribe solely in higher ed or can it be used in the K-12 sector?


Katy Kappler 

Yeah, we do have some partners in K-12, so primarily we are used in post secondary. I think a little bit of that is just our background, founders background is coming out of that space. But we do have some partners in K-12. I will say if we were measuring the success of a community based on the number of interactions and the number of participants who are joining, we have these two communities in middle school and high school with a partner of ours, GCPS, Greater Commonwealth Virtual School. And they are amazing, they are very chatty, very conversational, but also it's really cool to see because these students are all high school students and middle school students learning online.

So the social need there is very high. And they embrace their community to do things like share artwork that they created and get feedback on it. I think they started like a Dungeons and Dragons club.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Nice.


Katy Kappler 

Or someone will just say, like, "I'm having a bad day today." And all the students will jump in to say, "oh, don't worry about it, we're here for you. I'm so excited that we got to be friends." So it's very heartwarming to see how these students embrace the technology and use it to lift each other up and create these connections.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

That is wonderful. Now, your work in Edtech has earned you multiple CODiE awards and a place on Fast Companies list of Top Ten Most Innovative Education Companies. You have dedicated your career to developing solutions that expand access to high quality education for all students. But you also inspire and support other Edtech entrepreneurs. Can you talk about your involvement with Startup Weekends and why you think this is so important?


Katy Kappler 

Yeah, so I got to be an organizer for Startup Weekend for many, many years, and it was some of the most rewarding work that I have done in this space. They're very intense weekends. If you're not familiar, a Startup Weekend, it's basically you show up on Friday with the big group of people, all come together. Mostly they don't know each other on Friday. Anyone who wants can pitch an idea. You get 1 minute to pitch an idea. In this case, any kind of concept in education. Then we vote on the ideas and the top depending on how many people, the top 5610 ideas are selected to move ahead.

You form teams and then you spend the rest of the weekend building a business. And so on Sunday you present what's your company? How are you going to grow it to a group of judges? And then we have winners. So it's a very intense weekend filled with mentorship and education and learning. But what I love about it is, again, I feel like if we really want to dig in for innovation, especially in an area like education, it's so important that we have a wide array of voices being brought to the table. Education in particular, where your background, your goals, your experiences are so critical to having success in your learning.

We want all of those perspectives represented in the innovations that we're building. And these Startup Weekends really bring together such a diverse set of individuals. The other thing is, I think entrepreneurship is very intimidating. It can feel overwhelming and unattainable to a lot of people. And it's not that starting a company is hard, but I do think the Startup Weekend kind of demystifies that a little bit helps people understand what are the components, how would I actually get this started? And it really connects them to this whole network of mentorship that is there to support them even afterwards.

So we've had several companies come out of those weekends and go off to actually create viable businesses. So, a lot of fun, very inspirational. If you have a chance to participate in one, I highly recommend it.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

And this is just in Colorado?


Katy Kappler 

The startup weekend that we that we do is Colorado, but they're nationwide, so you can probably find one local to you as well.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

I think this is such an important opportunity to not only listen to other innovative ideas, but to help lift them into reality and then to support the people through that mentorship and network connections which we know are so valuable. So for my last question, I'd like to ask you to leave our listeners with some advice. What should they know about digital communities to improve successful completion of online classes?


Katy Kappler 

I would just say never underestimate the power of human connection to help with motivation, confidence and persistence in learners. And don't undervalue the power that your students bring to that as well. So when students are learning online and in an experience that can be quite isolating, I think sometimes institutions feel like, well, if I am going to build connection and belonging, the responsibility is on the staff, it's on the faculty. We're the ones that have to focus and generate that. But actually, when you open up the access for students to just connect with each other, that oftentimes is more transformative than anything you might try to orchestrate as an institution formally, right?

Open up those spaces for informal conversation. It was such a disservice to this set of learners that for many years we believed that online students didn't want, didn't need, didn't benefit from peer to peer engagement. And that's just not true. And in fact, I think most of our partners would tell us when they actually asked online students, what would you want to see improved in your program? Often it wasn't anything about the curriculum and the learning. It was really about, I wish I had more chance to interact with my classmates, I wish I had more opportunities to kind of connect with them and get to know them better.

So when you create these spaces, students will gravitate to them naturally. And they're not expensive, they're not difficult to implement. A very simple solution can have an outsized positive impact for your students down the road.


Dr. Lisa Hassler

Excellent advice. Thank you Katie, for your vision and dedication to developing solutions for online learners. So here's the call to action. Distance education is not a lone wolf experience. Digital communities create a greater sense of belonging and improve student success. Use them if you have them, get them if you don't. It may be the difference between completing that online course and not.

If you have a story about what's working in your schools that you'd like to share, you can email me at drlisarichardsonhassler@gmail.com or visit my website at www.drlisarhassler.com and send me a message. If you like this podcast, subscribe and tell a friend. The more people that know the bigger impact it will have. If you find value to the content in this podcast, consider becoming a supporter by clicking on the Supporter link in the Show Notes. It is the mission of this podcast to shine light on the good in education so that it spreads affecting positive change. So let's keep working together to find solutions that focus on our children's success.


Research on Distance Education Course Completion Rates
Katy Kappler Introduction and Origin Story
Support for Non-traditional and Underserved Student Populations
Why We Need Digital Communities and Measured Student Success
How to Access Inscribe's Digital Communities
Higher Ed & K-12
Start Up Weekends
Parting Advice, What you Need to Know
Call to Action

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