HOW AN AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR BRINGS COURSES TO LIFE FOR STUDENTS
Imagine your favorite TV show or online series: You can’t wait for
the next episode. You think about it even when not watching. You just
Now imagine that series is your online course at Strayer. The world is full of great content, competing for your attention. So we thought about how to bring that element of binge-worthiness into Strayer classrooms, so you can enjoy learning and want to learn more.
Nicole Cattell, an award winning documentary director and a Guggenheim Fellow, is the head of SEI Studios. SEI Studios produces short, documentary- style films that are connected to classroom concepts— using real stories, real people and real-world situations to reimagine the online learning experience.
Nicole spoke with us about documentary filmmaking as a learning tool and the power of storytelling in education.
HOW IS SEI STUDIOS REIMAGINING ONLINE LEARNING?
NICOLE: Online learning has its own set of challenges; it requires our students to have lots of self-motivation and persistence. And as a largely online university, Strayer is constantly competing with other content platforms for student attention. We started SEI Studios with a singular mission—to move away from the traditional lecture and discussion format, and to develop an entirely new learning experience that will engage and inspire our students. We want to create the same “must watch” feeling as many Netflix shows.
HOW DO YOU CREATE THAT “MUST WATCH” FEELING?
NICOLE: We have an amazing team of filmmakers and learning designers who work together to blend stories and curriculum. The success of the Studios program comes down to storytelling—our brains are hardwired to learn through stories. It is how we, as learners, really connect with the course material. SEI Studios takes academic concepts and transforms them into real-life stories that create that connection for our students.
HOW IS A SEI STUDIOS COURSE MADE?
NICOLE: At the beginning of the development process, a learning designer outlines student outcomes—what we need our students to take away from the course—and the course curriculum. Then the designer partners with a story producer to search for the best stories to support those learning outcomes and bring the course to life. For example, in the course “CIS 105: Introduction to Information Systems,” we profiled Mannie Fresh, a DJ, producer, and rapper, who uses technology to create music and bolster his business in the music industry. The video takes the theoretical and technical concepts of information systems and brings those concepts to life, by showing how they are applied in the artistry of Mannie Fresh.
IS IT WORKING? ARE STUDIOS COURSES MORE ENGAGING?
NICOLE: Yes! Students who take Studios courses are much more likely to continue their education and to go on to the next class. I love reading the student feedback on these courses. My favorite so far is from a Sociology 100 student who told us, “I wish I could continue this class—I will apply it forever.” That response reflects of much of our student feedback.
HOW WILL STUDIOS CONTENT HELP CHANGE ONLINE EDUCATION?
NICOLE: We are using story to make learning happen not only in people’s minds—but in their hearts. Adult learners want to know that what they’re learning is relevant. And all learners—all people, I believe— want to be inspired and get our hearts involved in whatever challenges we are taking on. SEI Studios documentaries bring learning to life while hooking students’ hearts into the material. If we can get students to love their courses, and even more importantly, to love learning itself, then we’re doing our job.