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21 Voices Annual Report Cengage Learning




Academic year: 2017

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For Internal Educational Purposes Only

Privacy Statement

To ensure the validity of our research, we strive to ensure the privacy of our 21 Voices

participants. As such, the names and other identiiers used in this report are not those of the real participants. All other information about the individual voices is true, including direct quotes. If, as a Cengage employee, you have questions about a speciic participant, or would like to learn more, please contact us at 21voices@cengage.com.

Program Design and Coordination

Lauren Grace R Gonzales, 21 Voices Program Manager Raymond June, 21 Voices Research Manager



Executive Summary 5

How We Did It 7

Who and Where Are Our 21 Voices? 9

Student Proiles 11

Insights 21

Preview of his Year’s Activities 31


Executive Summary

he goal of the 21 Voices program is to empathize with today’s college students so that we can understand how

Cengage’s products can better support them.

How do we strive to achieve this functional empathy? By putting aside our preconceived notions and taking students on their own terms. hat is, we put their study behavior, everyday lives, and personal viewpoints front and center in our research. We go beyond demographic and market data to dig deeper into the meanings behind their day-to-day practices, both inside and outside the classroom, from a longitudinal perspective.

he 21 Voices Discovery Team devoted the program’s irst two years to

conducting exploratory, open-ended research. Since this approach entailed interacting with our students via a relatively loose structure to allow themes to emerge from the ground up, it has allowed these insights to have a longer-term impact on how Cengage thinks about students and accordingly designs products for them.

Beginning this year—the program’s third—the research has evolved, such that there is a tighter integration of ongoing exploratory activities with more tactical inquiries that inform

current and future products more immediately. In this transitional third year, the Discovery Team is alternating between two main approaches:

1 Pursuing exploratory research focused on speciic themes (such as the role of social media in learn-ing).

2 Tactical research conducted in col-laboration with strategic product groups within Cengage.

his report primarily covers our activities during the second program year and concludes with a brief


How We Did It


he Cengage UX Research Team launched the 21 Voices program in September 2014. We conceived this program as a longitudinal and ethnographic research project that would enable us to understand the needs of our students on a very deep level. his continued to be our focus in the program’s second calendar year.

From the beginning, we decided to utilize an iterative research process, wherein we could take input gathered in the ield and fold it back into the very project design itself. Such an approach has allowed us to avoid making restrictive assumptions that could limit the ability of some students to participate fully. Instead, the

iterative research process enables us to continually identify and capitalize on the best methodologies to it the diverse set of students in the program. hus, our program:

• Allows students to take diferent approaches to participating in the program in ways that are best suited to them. For example, stu-dents are required to submit week-ly reports but are free to choose the format they prefer, such as diaries, pictures, or video iles.

• Enables Cengage to continuously adapt and improve the program. As we shifted our focus in our second year to gathering speciic kinds of data, for example, we add-ed monthly themes and bi-weekly surveys around those themes to better capture key inputs from all the students.

• Reinforces our commitment to producing and utilizing practical and lexible educational tools and methodologies. his entire study is an example of this commitment, as we ourselves have worked such principles into the very fabric of the program.



Our team of researchers focused on a speciic theme each month to explore with our students. he themes included:

• January 2016:


• February 2016:

Making the Most of Time

• March 2016:

Peer Connection

• April 2016:

Building Skills and Networks

• May 2016:

Life After Graduation


he Discovery Team utilized a wide range of tools to gain access to students’ beliefs and daily practices. hese included monthly diary studies, interviews, focus groups, and ield visits. We provide more in-depth discussion about the methods we used later in the report, where we also provide a preview of some of our activities and insights in the 3rd program year (See Insights, page 21).



Seattle Central College Seattle WA

Oklahoma State University Stillwater OK

University of Texas, Austin Austin TX

St. Mary’s University San Antonio TX

University of Central Oklahoma Edmond OK

Arizona State University (Online) Las Vegas NV

University of Saint Thomas Houston TX

Continuing 21V Students New Additions

Guilford College Greensboro NC University of Kentucky Lexington KY

Temple University Philadelphia PA

University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh PA

Ohio State University Columbus OH

Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights KY

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts North Adams MA

Rhode Island School of Design Providence RI

Washtenaw Community College Ann Arbor MI

Utica College Utica NY

Michigan State University East Lansing MI

University of Nebraska Lincoln NE Univeristy of Montana

Missoula MT

Columbia College Chicago Chicago IL

Beloit College Beloit WI

Utah State University Logan UT





A freshman this year at the University of Montana, Missoula, Amber sought advice about her career path from her mother, professional Nurse

Practitioners, and even student peers at a TED Talk. When she learned that as a pre-med student she would basically have no life except school for many years to come, she let go of her dream of becoming an OB-GYN and chose instead to pursue Biology and a path toward becoming a Physician’s Assistant. Amber is very clear that college, for her, is about much more than courses and a degree. “his is where you make friends for life,” she says.

Amber lives in a dorm where all the students on her loor pursue similar ields. Furthermore, they go to the same classes and study together, and some also play on the same basketball team. Given her gregarious nature and initiative, it’s hardly surprising that her dorm life is a source of close and supportive friendships where she tutors and is tutored by her peers. For Amber, her social networks/friendships are integral to enhancing her learning experience.


Computer Engineering

Kris isn’t having any trouble with the content in his college classes—in fact, he thinks the content is easier than his high school classes. He does, however, ind it diicult to learn and get used to new study habits. He’s also still getting used to his college town, which he thinks is a pretty drastic change from his hometown that was on the rise to becoming very trendy. here isn’t much to do around his campus, he says, but he’s met a couple of local students who are generous enough to show him around.

To gain work experience related to his major, he currently works part-time in an IT/tech support position as a part of work-study. He ills downtime there by socializing with his co-workers (who are upperclassmen and give him advice and tips) and doing homework.




After attending a public high school and then transferring to a small boarding school in the Paciic Northwest, Gabe decided to attend a small liberal arts college in the Midwest for its breadth of classes and stress on critical thinking.

He has taken advantage of his school’s summer research and internship

program to live in Germany for several weeks, and hopes to eventually earn a PhD in a STEM ield. But while

focused on academics in college, he has expressed a strong awareness of social justice issues and tries to participate in socially aware campus activities when he can.



Real Estate Development

Adrian inds college interesting and believes it is preparing him well for his chosen ield. As one who makes plenty of time for study and sleep, he is slightly amused and per plexed at the all-nighters his friends pull. He’s hardly anti-social, though —Adrian belongs to several on-campus clubs and organizations, and actually sees clubs as a way to develop diverse, lifelong friendships. Indeed, he believes that one of the purposes of college is to develop such ties with students from around the world. Not surprisingly, then, he is glad that he chose a school that features a unique mentor and networking program designed to

support students in successfully transitioning from college to career.


Interior Design

Most of Ava’s peers are younger than she is, but she feels like there’s good chemistry with her classmates—she its in with quite well. She’s certainly one of the more talented members of the class and is gaining a lot of

conidence. Ava generally respects their opinions and enjoys working alongside them.

Ava just bought a MacBook Pro this summer and had to learn the OS, which was challenging. “I wanted a Mac for years, and now that I’m a designer I really needed one… I’m learning quickly.” She’s taking three classes this semester, including computer graphics, typography, and history of design—with one of her classes being online. “I love that History of Design is online… I appreciate being able to work at my own pace…. but I also enjoy the on-campus part of my other classes, especially the in-class critique sessions.”



Sports Management

One who knows what she loves to do and pursues her passions at every turn, Claire is particularly enjoying her Photography class this semester. Her career aspirations have changed course this year, due in part to all of the positive opportunities she had to participate in campus life during her freshman year. Claire is still majoring in Sports Management and is already thinking about graduate school. She is also looking into Student Afairs and is accordingly involved with numerous organizations on campus as a leader and peer mentor. On top of all of this, Claire has decided to minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, a

natural choice for someone as socially conscious as she is. Finally, networking is pretty much second nature for Claire, allowing her to get the most out of campus resources, whether through students, professors, or staf.


Computer Science, Business Entrepreneurship

Eli remains focused on doing just enough to keep his scholarships and honors dorm placement. He knows that he’ll have to buckle down and study harder in the coming semesters, but he seems much more focused on enjoying campus social life (especially late-late-night gaming with his dorm mates). “Pretty much all of my friends are ‘school friends’ - we rarely talk about

school… unless we’re cramming for exams together.”

Boredom is Eli’s biggest complaint with school, particularly lectures. “Lecture classes are always going to be tedious. It needs to be done, but it’s not enjoyable.” When it comes to group activities, Eli says he almost always steps in and takes on the bulk of the workload - because he doesn’t trust his classmates to deliver quality work. “I’d rather shoulder a little extra work to make sure we get the A,” he says.

Eli has a very pragmatic take on

academic success. “I talk to my English professor a lot,” he says. “If you

take their advice during oice hours and follow it, you’re pretty much

guaranteed an A.” He prefers to “cram” for most assignments and tests, and so he’s structured his schedule this semester to better accommodate that lifestyle - no classes on Tuesday or hursday, and his earliest class begins at 1:00 on MWF.


Computational Mathematics

Jen is pursuing an Associate’s degree in Computational Mathematics, choosing not to take on the full 4-course semester workload so that she has time to write up her transfer application this semester and to work. (She works as a barista at a local


and hardworking student, looking to transfer to Caltech or one of the research universities to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Computational Mathematics. Citing the Allen Institute (the leading Brain Research institute in the Seattle area) as one of her dream location to work at, her goal in life is to become a mathematician who uses computational methods to better understand neurosystems and cure neurological diseases.

Self-identiied as a Chicana, Jen is very involved in the local community in bringing more indigenous students into the STEM ields and hosting discussions in the community about related histories and issues. She has done outreach programs through local K-12 schools and libraries where the organization would put on science fairs and educate students from indigenous groups about diferent ways to become involved in math and sciences.



Raquel, a second-year participant in the 21 Voices program, is a Chemistry major with plans to pursue a career in pharmacy work. In addition to individual study time, she regularly participates in group study sessions at the library, where she and her peers will collaborate on assignments to take advantage of their individual strengths. She prides herself at being particularly math savvy, and often assists others with equations and calculations.

Raquel is quite comfortable with digital learning solutions and uses them with what might be called “mixed results” (she cites technical limitations that prevent her from rendering anatomical models with the desired accuracy).




Political Science

Casimir has been pursuing the requirements for a political science degree at a few diferent universities, although he plans to join the Marines in winter 2017 as a way to explore his career options. Casimir is all about relationships. Although he has lived in Southeast Michigan since he was a teenager, he is still in constant contact with his extended family back home in Colombia via WhatsApp group chats. He also relies on his strong friendships and family connections here in the U.S. and has a rich network of mentors that lend him guidance. He loves to post on social media, but his relationships here in the States are mostly in-person.

Casimir makes ends meet as a youth tennis instructor and a coordinator at a non-proit. He also volunteers as a tutor and mentor for local Latino high school students. In his free time, when he’s not playing soccer with friends, he’s watching it on TV, especially when Colombia plays.



David feels that his background in science and appreciation for the outdoors will inluence his career. He would like to work for the National Park Service and is considering adding Law Enforcement Certiication to his

credentials to help him get a job in a National Park. He works in a science lab for credit and also participates in the Review Board for the school, where the students handle such issues as Code of Conduct violations. Being a part of the Review Board, while not taking more than 3 hours a week, has helped him to learn that he likes being in a position of authority.


International Business and Finance

Esme, who is very interested in working for one of the Big Four auditors, took advantage of her desire to study abroad last year by taking business classes in Japan. A focused and diligent student, she has been studying Chinese as well.

Her schedule, going to class full-time and holding three jobs, keeps her very busy. As one of the jobs (at a market research irm) is of-campus and




Giving a voice to the underserved in society is a mission that Hazel has taken on with a vengeance. She grew up in Harlem and says she is “very aware of social issues.” She holds a job on campus at the Women’s Resource Center, where she organizes and publicizes events for the center, and she’s also on the board of the black student union. However, Hazel expresses some disappointment with college life. She had come with high hopes that her lecture courses would involve spirited group discussions and be forums for intelligent discourse, but she inds that her peers aren’t very vocal in class and the instructors do not really encourage it.


Biomechanical Engineering

Justin, who plans on attending a

prestigious graduate school like MIT in order to work under speciic industry-leading researchers, wants to help make smarter medical devices to greatly improve the lives of patients with disabilities. He generally can generally be found in one of three places: the library, a classroom or his apartment. Degrees in the advanced sciences tend to be grueling and isolating, and Justin’s day is almost entirely consumed by schoolwork and classes. Nevertheless, focus and dedication have allowed him to push through and continue to excel.

Justin moved here from China in 2009 at age 23 to work for a family member. His experience as both a slightly older student and a recent immigrant is certainly a signiicant component of his college student experience in the US.


Communications and French

Leah works hard, socializes, and receives no inancial help from her parents. She is a self-motivated person whose life is very much her own.

here’s a stereotype that everyone goes to college primarily for fun—but she takes it seriously. She initially had a hard time plugging into the social side of school, as she didn’t like dorm life or get along with peers her own age. However, she has found a way to overcome this struggle, by choosing to live of campus with her own room, and has since truly thrived.

Leah is active in several extracurricular activities, including French club and a sorority. She isn’t sure what her next steps after graduation will be, and is more focused on inding a job that pays the bills. But she is considering options such as being a language teacher

abroad, an ambassador, or an employee in the corporate sector.




remaining to complete, she has been thinking of pursuing some type of research as a career. Sally likes studying online, which allows her to live near friends and family but take classes from an institution that ofers the courses of study she wants, instead of settling for the local oferings. She feels like an online approach ofers her several advantages: she can work at her own pace, it adapts to her learning style, and she doesn’t have to stop doing school work to attend class.

Sally’s primary interest outside of school is makeup and beauty products. She has found an online community where she can share that interest on Twitter and Instagram and even started a beauty inluencer blog last year. She applies the same rigor to her blogging as she does to her school work and uses the techniques she has learned in school to improve the quality of her posts.



Public Health, Women and Gender Studies

Anika receives a dependent scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska, since her mother works for the school. She plans to graduate in May. In fact, she is considering going to graduate school, but there is a possibility she could get a job working for the University of Nebraska, which would help with tuition.

Anika keeps herself busy, teaching some classes in nutrition for 4-H Clubs. She is also involved with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (Bible studies and prayer groups) and the United Council of Negro Women, where she serves as the treasurer.


Fine and Performing Arts, Arts Management

Dawn is extremely passionate about arts management and wants to bring communities together through art. She has mostly smaller classes and has forged close relationships with her instructors and fellow students. A social organizer, she’s always pushing the latest event for her dorm, church group, or other social committees through Facebook. And she enjoys being around the people she works with.

Dawn is someone who sometimes gets so excited about the work she’s doing that she overcommits herself and gets stretched too thin. Nevertheless, she almost always follows through and maintains a high GPA, though she frequently requests extensions and sometimes works up until the last minute.


Video Game Design


it’s attending classes, or doing work-study at Street-Level (a local afterschool youth program) everything he does is a train or bus ride away. In between classes, Durrell heads to a common study area to practice his drawing skills by pulling up images of anime characters on his phone and drawing them in a sketchbook for leisure. With courses in character development, 3D composition, and interactive authoring, Durrell has seen his interest in video games, animation, and manga come full circle and looks forward to eventually working at a video game company.

Meanwhile, Street-Level, a non-proit organization that empowers Chicago youth with literacy in media arts, has also made a signiicant impact in Durrell’s life. he group ofers youth the opportunity to participate in programs including stop-motion animation, audio and music production, digital photography, and more. After being involved with the organization for 7 years, most of Durrell’s mentors have attended the same school where he is studying.


Graphic Design

Most days you can ind Monica in the Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) studio space before classes start. She grew up and studied in Haiti before moving to the US during her junior year in high school. Monica explores social mores through her art, having recently completed projects that used her

artwork to explore race and language, for example.

Monica is contemplating teaching after college or working in online editorial design. She inds time to volunteer as a tutor (TOEFL) on Fridays, and during the weekend she also TA’s continuing education classes for kids and serves as a lab monitor.



Kelly, who entered college at 16 and is now a senior, wants to join the Peace Corps after inishing college. Because she changed her majors several times, she is extending her studies by an additional two semesters. he inal major she chose is Communications because she wants to gain skills that would be useful for the nonproit sector.

Since she is supporting herself through college, she constantly has to balance numerous jobs with her academic load, and inds it challenging to create a “win-win” situation. Right now, she has decided on cutting back on jobs to focus more on studies, which has made her inancial situation more challenging. Despite the time and money


Fifth Year Students


Information Science, Engineering

Aaron, originally from Ghana, has an internship at his school’s computer center, where he works on networking, hardware, software, and managing the system. He loves IT in general and has also studied architecture, having obtained a degree in it from Ghana. He lives in an apartment by himself and is about 15 minutes from campus. He says that he manages his life by keeping it simple and trying to remain positive.

His family supports his decision to move to the US, and they do not expect him to return home. Some of the

money he makes he sends home to help with medical issues with his Auntie, and he inds that burden to be heavy at times. He keeps in touch with his family by using WhatsApp. He has used a Facebook group as a collective place for other students from Africa to have a peer mentor program.



Mariah is a lifelong, non-traditional learner who decided to pursue a degree despite having a full time job and children. During her irst semester of the program, she quit her job to work at St. homas University in the admissions department, which actually allowed her to pursue a degree full-time since the school ofers free tuition

to employees. She spends what little free time she has with her son and his extracurricular activities. She has coached/volunteered at Odyssey of the Mind and her son’s swim team, though she had to stop after the birth of her second child. Currently a senior, she is planning on pursuing a Master’s degree in an education-related ield after she inishes her undergraduate degree in the spring.


Women’s and Gender Studies; Science, Technology, and Public Policy

Skye left high school outside of suburban Chicago knowing what she wanted to be—an astrophysicist. However, she didn’t see herself



Before exploring the Discovery

Team’s Preliminary Insights in depth, it’s important to understand that these insights are grounded in a new paradigm of understanding the learning process that has taken shape over the past two decades: the importance of social interaction in driving engaged learning.


Traditional Approaches to Learning

For much of the 20th and into the early 21st centuries, learning in the United States has often looked like this:

In this model, students learn more or less by themselves through rote memorization and standardized testing. As a result, much of what they have learned in school

is decontextualized and largely

disconnected from their lives beyond the classroom. Too often, what

students learn in school bears little or no relationship to the knowledge and skills they actually need in the workplace.

New Approaches to Learning

More recent research, informed by social and cultural perspectives on education, suggests that the most successful learning happens when schools are able to integrate their students’ academic and non-academic/ extracurricular lives holistically.

his approach has been called social, situated, or connected learning1.

Rather than conceiving the learning process as merely the acquisition of knowledge (i.e., as purely a mental or cognitive activity), socially informed approaches recognize that engaged learning happens most often in the context of students’ interaction with others inside and outside of the “four walls” of formal educational institutions.

[Learning] really only happens

when students integrate what

they’re studying across their

courses and extracurricular

experiences. Yet, too often


institutions leave this integration

to chance… and never explicitly

ask students to consider how what

they’re learning its together and

might help them in their future



More speciically, this research addresses two central problems in the individualist and cognitive approaches to learning that still largely predominate:

1 the observation that students who acquire knowledge/skills in one context cannot in fact transfer it to another context—a problem frequently exacerbated in formal academic settings by disconnecting classroom practices from the world outside. Such a practice means that students often fail to see the rele-vance of their studies and to build the necessary skills for “real life” while in college or university.

2 the general treatment of students as passive recipients rather than active producers of knowledge through top-down instructor lectures and rote student tasks.

Instead, this research indicates that engaged learning is driven by students’ social interactions, which encourage connections between their academic and non-academic interests and experiences. It can be achieved, in part, by supporting user-driven and collaborative activities that treat students as active producers of knowledge and participants in their own

(and others’) learning. Such an approach is indeed efective, as we discovered in the research discussed in the following section.

Speciic Preliminary Insights

Our research team, after having worked with the 21 Voices students up to this point, have uncovered two particularly signiicant preliminary insights— namely, the importance of context for efective learning and the key role played by the social arrangements of learning. In this section, we will present these insights in some detail.

Context Matters

Most students typically ind academic learning to be lacking because it’s

disconnected from the broader contexts in which they forge social connections and create meaning in their lives.

Preliminary results show that some 21 Voices students are often more engaged with learning in sites outside of formal educational institution (such as gaming communities) than within them,

because the “outside” subject matter is more personally interesting or relevant to them. hese students ind that their college and university classes tend to be disconnected from the contexts in which they ind meaning, relevance, and connections (e.g., extracurricular activities, work, hobbies).


1. Durrell, a video game design major, wastes no time on his morning commute to school. Here, he video streams episodes of Anime on Crunchyroll to catch up on the latest Japanese animation series.

3. Durrell wanted to expand on his own ideas of characterization. From creating a storyline, understanding player perspective, and developing character growth, he jots down his notes.

4. Durrell’s interest in pursuing video game design was inspired through his involvement at Street-Level, a non-profit organization that empowers Chicago youth with literacy in media art. His involvement in the org spans 7 years. Currently, he is a mentor for the Anime Club.

5. Durrell merges his interest in Japanese animation and knowledge of graphic design to share with youth at Street-Level. Here, he continues to develop his creative potential.


“There has to be a way to

work real life situations in

on the computer. We had

this nursing course. We saw

a video of a patient problem.

Then you’d have questions

about what you would do in

that situation. Then you saw

the outcome.

It mirrors real-life situations.

I thought that was brilliant.

It mirrored real-life decision





“I’m a volunteer coach at the

running store, so it’s good

way to ease into [coaching]

as opposed to having no

support in the beginning.

I can talk to other coaches

in the running store… They

are the kind of people you

want to be around. They are

very encouraging and why

I’m motivated to study in



“As a whole, I am not

thrilled about the higher

education system. Time

was wasted. Life skills

would be more important

for me to learning in the

college environment. I can

buy books, read articles

online, and do a lot on my



“At work, I am learning new

things everyday […] On my

second job as coordinator

[...] I get to go to conferences

and training that are way

more effective than a

year-long class.”





“Love Your Selie” was an activity Dawn organized as RA in her dorm on Valentine’s Day. he idea was to get residents to interact with each other and promote afection by having them write something nice about the other residents.

Dawn integrated selies—a pervasive everyday practice among young adults – into her academic context of residential living. Rather than signalling narcissism, Dawn’s selie activities

suggested a more profound motivation: reaching out to others to forge social connections, which are so important to both establishing and sustaining friendships as well as academic success3.

his example raises at least two vital questions:

• How can institutional learning tie together social practices that stu-dents ind meaningful from their everyday life (such as selies, vid-eo-making, gaming, podcasting, etc.) with academically enriching experiences?

• How can our company meet stu-dents where they already are to help facilitate connections between their social and academic activities?

Social Arrangements of Learning

Depending on their interests and learning styles, students tend to prefer one or more of the following social arrangements in learning:

1 Peer Learning

In certain contexts peer learning

provides an enriching environment for some students to be more engaged with their academic studies.

Preliminary 21 Voices data suggest that many students feel disconnected from their peers and mentors. As a result, they frequently study on their own. his impedes many (though not all) students from achieving their full learning potential.


his insight supports secondary

research that indicates peer-supported networks are important in allowing students to share, discuss, and

provide feedback in a socially inclusive and supportive environment. In

the process, they develop skills in collaboration, self-expression, and leadership while also sharing in each other’s expertise -- all of which help students become higher academic achievers and understand better how to collaborate once they enter the workforce after college or university.

(his is related to Opportunity 4 on Building Networks and Skills from 21 Voices research published in December 2015.)

Again, the importance of peer culture

among college students should not be underestimated. It is a central locus of social interaction and identity for many youth and young adults —indeed, constituting an informal learning community—that’s too often disconnected from school:

he notion […] that peer culture is of central importance and that, for most segments of the student community, academic life is tangential to or at odds with peer culture are consistent with every major study of college life.

– Rebekah Nathan4



“A lot of the assignments

you have [in college], you’re

working by yourself. But

I was involved in other

groups, and the government

at UCLA. I loved it because

I worked with people with

similar interests, and was

able to work with people

who are passionate about

something, and have goals.

You’re part of a group/

coalition. Now [at work]

I’m not part of anything.

Now I feel disconnected

with everything. I want

to be part of something.”


[For group work]

“I would

often step up to do things

that I’m good at. Someone

else wanted to try things

that he’s not good at.”


[Researcher’s notes on Eli]

When he has extra time,

he likes to reach out to all

the students and give them

feedback when they are

in critique mood. When I

asked him why he does this

extra work, he said he felt

as if he had an obligation

and wanted to help “the


“The way I am studying,

and me being around my

future in-laws, since they

work in the medical field

every day, has helped me

tremendously. I go to class

and get the teachers’ way of

explaining things, and then

I come home and get my

in-laws’ way of explaining



“[Learning with peers]

is definitely beneficial.

You learn so much from

other people and their

experiences … They think

in a different way. You see

a group’s perspective.”


[On getting feedback from other students vs. the instructor]

“All through school your

t e a c h e r s p r o o f r e a d

whatever it is that you’re

writing so they can already

get an idea what that final

paper is gonna be like based

off their recommendations

and revising. However,

with other students, each

is gonna have their own

strengths in writing and

help you see a different

point of view when revising

to make it more unique and


2 Dynamic User-Driven Content

A few 21 Voices students found opportunities to create and circulate media/online content helpful in bolstering their participation, creativity, and engagement with academic materials. For our students this mainly involved creating videos for group projects or individual assignments.



“We chose to do a video

because we all came to the

consensus that no one likes

a presentation. Video was

easier and that went really

well… I think we all enjoyed

doing the assignment

more because it allowed

us to incorporate all of our



“Did a presentation

with a classmate where

I integrated videos and

pictures. I wish I was able

to do more of that, and

have conversation with my

friends/classmates. I think

it catered to that creative

side. You’re working with

someone with the same

work ethics. It was a good

experience – you know who

you’re working with, you’re

able to be honest, you’re

being creative. Talking out

ideas was cool.”


[Casimir did well in his leadership class vs. his “traditional” class because he was allowed to be creative in the former by making videos and interviewing people]:


3 Creative Collaborative Problem- Solving

Some students expressed enthusiasm for creative team problem-solving activities such as role-playing and game simulations to cultivate learning, because it was connected to an existing or latent interest. However, at least one student noted that such activities should be supported by clear objectives from the instructors/mentors—joined by other students who share similar goals—to make them meaningful.



“…we could do anything for

our French final. Our group

did a video of American Idol

in French. It was fun and

I learned more because

we were speaking a lot.”


“There was a class where we

did 3 group assignments. My

favorite [group assignment]

was we had to build a chair.

It had to be able to hold a

specific amount of weight.

We got into a group of 3

and we sketched ideas and

decided which would be

the best and then we had

to get the cardboard and

put it together. It was a fun

assignment. You feel almost

like a real designer…You had

to think outside the box.”


“I gave a presentation with

another girl in my math

class – it was on hyperbolic

geometry. One of the ways

you can model hyperbolic

geometry is with crochet.

So I crocheted a couple of

models of geometry and let

everyone interact with it.”



• Cultivate empathy for students (ongoing).

• Conduct exploratory (or “heuris-tic”) research that informs product development for the upcoming 2-5 year horizon.

• Conduct tactical product research that focuses on more immediate market questions and needs.


hroughout the year, the research team will tack back and forth between exploratory and tactical questions. hus, we will pursue more open-ended research on speciic themes like social media and learning that will ultimately have longer-term implications for how the company thinks about student learning and behavior. Meanwhile, on the tactical side, we anticipate collaborating with strategic product teams, such as MindTap mobile, to address current market dynamics.


Focus Groups

Initiate occasional focus group

conversations with students to follow up on speciic topics.

Diary Studies

Use a combination of lifestreaming5

and self-reported diary studies roughly every other month to gather ongoing data from students.


Explore issues in greater depth through monthly call-ins and interviews conducted during ield visits.


Facebook private group chat

Facilitate student engagement in a private chat conversation amongst themselves in response to bi-monthly prompt.

Field Visits

Conduct quarterly ield visits with students to observe typical day-in-the life activities.

Secondary Research

Integrate secondary research from social theories of learning and studies of social media and communication.


We provide the following items to indicate some of the salient indings that we’ll continue to explore as part of our ongoing exploratory/heuristic research.

1 For many students, social media is often used as a tool for informal learning with their peer group. However, social media plays a limited role in student-instructor interactions.

2 Students distinguish usage of social media platforms depending on the nature of their social connections. For example, a LinkedIn account is primarily used to connect with instructors and peers in leader-ship organizations to build their resume online. On the other hand, Facebook may be a more useful networking tool for school or inter-est-related events because it’s more deeply embedded in their everyday social relations.


identities—including who they are, their fears, and what they aspire to become—through these platforms. Facebook, etc. may provide a safe, creative, curated space for them to learn how to cultivate a sense of who they are during the crucial college years.


Journey Maps

Students are helping the Discovery Team co-produce “journey maps” that visualize the entire lived experience they go through while striving to

achieve a particular objective in a single day. Journey maps are particularly useful to product teams and other stakeholders in the early development phase because they help identify

students’ needs, touch points, and pain points as they go about their daily lives to meet an objective.

How We Are Doing It

Researchers and students are in the process of co-creating these maps focused on two particular objectives during a “typical day”:

• Balancing academic and non- academic (work, family,

extracurricular, social) activities and responsibilities

• Studying while “on the go”

Once all the students in the program have completed the exercise,


Once the inal journey maps are created, we hope speciic products

teams across the company can use them so that users are always in their minds throughout the decision-making and development process.

As heuristics, they can also be used in conjunction with personas to paint a broader picture of students’ experiences. Although the journey maps will not include how students interact with Cengage products, they can be used to illuminate the potential experiences of students with particular products as they go through the day.

Social Network Mapping

In addition to the ongoing work on the journey maps, our researchers collaborated with students in the beginning of the third program year to create a visual social network map of each student’s most meaningful relationships on social media and other communication platforms. he purpose of this generative research activity was to better understand the dynamics of their interactions with the people in their lives who were personally most important to them in their formal and informal learning experiences.

How We Are Doing It

In remote Skype interviews, researchers asked students to draw three concentric circles and write down the names of all the people (peers, family, instructors, mentors, coworkers, etc.) with whom

they were the most, and the least, close to emotionally. hen they asked which social media/communication tool they used to interact with those people, the general topics of conversation, and the types of activities they perform on the platform (e.g., sending links, photos, etc.).


One of our key insights from this activity was the central role that


those they were close to emotionally, but also with casual acquaintances with whom they had “weak ties” (see image of social map below).

As the sociologist Mark Granovetter6

famously argued, people in the outermost circles of individuals’ relationships, from whom we feel distant, are nevertheless useful for social networking (e.g., jobs, dating, information about academic or extracurricular-related events) in

indirect ways because they help us forge

connections and share information that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to if we just limited our networks to those closest to us.

On Facebook, several students are able to keep both sets of relationships (strong and weak) in play. his is what makes Facebook a potentially powerful and accessible networking tool for students (for social, academic, and prospective career purposes)—maybe even more so than LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Instagram.






Facebook just happens naturally. If

you interact with diferent people

in classes, activities or irst meet

someone especially if you have an

activity together, your irst action

is to connect through FB. hat’s

how I probably connected with

most of the people I know on FB,

even if you knew them for like one

day [...] I have a lot of friends on FB

that aren’t necessarily very active/

close friends.

[I use Facebook for] exchanging

links, especially with [friends]

since we are in the same major [...]

I would share an article, sometimes

related to graphic design, some

information about class. We also

talk about career advice, like if

something is ofered on campus

[...] most of the events that are

happening at school are posted on

FB.” - Monica


While more research needs to be done, this insight helps us to begin to understand that students may often be learning and gaining access to information and connections as much through informal channels, such as chatting and posting on Facebook, as formal ones such as visiting on-campus career services or responding to job postings and making connections on LinkedIn. A platform like Facebook allows students the opportunity to interact with close friends, distant acquaintances, and

strangers, afording spontaneous and bottom-up interactions that blend the social, academic, and professional. (As research elsewhere has shown, people frequently blur the boundaries between these spheres in social media.7)

We are not recommending that a social media platform such as Facebook be integrated into Cengage products for students. Rather, we are suggesting a reconceptualization of how students learn and share information by stressing the importance of understanding

their social relationships irst, before considering the digital devices and online platforms they use. Additional research as well as design and development can then coalesce, for example, around digital venues that plug students into a social/ community space that enables them to connect and interact naturally with others with whom they have diferent levels of intimacy (i.e., strong and weak ties).



Works Cited

1 Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutierrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and Craig S. Watkins, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design (Irvine: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2012).

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

2 https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/21/ new-book-urges-colleges-exercise-not-so-common-sense-when-optimizing-undergraduate?utm_ term=0_1fcbc04421-4c985197a2-197630377&utm_ content=bufercd720&utm_medium=social&utm_ source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=bufer

3 For research that explores the multiple meanings of selies, see the collection of articles in: http:// nancybaym.com/IJOCSelies.htm.

On the importance of friendships to college academic success, see http://www.npr.org/ sections/ed/2016/11/02/499351266/how-college-friendships-may-afect-student-success

4 Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned By Becoming a Student (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 99.

5 http://www.slideshare.net/chris_khalil/the- new-digital-ethnographers-toolkit-capturing-a-participants-lifestream

6 Mark Granovetter, “he Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology (1973): 1360-1380.

7 Daniel Miller, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, and Xinyuan Wang, How the World Changed Social Media (London UCL Press, 2016).

We also highly recommend the following readings on social and connected approaches to learning:

Susan Blum, “I Love Learning; I Hate School”: An Anthropology of College (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

Peter Felten, John Gardner, Charles Schroeder, Leo Lambert, Betsy Barefoot, and Freeman Hrabowski, he Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most (Jossey-Bass, 2016).

Christopher Hoadley, “What is a Community of Practice and How Can We Support It?”

Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutierrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and Craig S. Watkins, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design (Irvine: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2012).

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (Penguin, 2006).


21 Voices Researchers for 2016-2017 Program Year


Boston, MA

Julie Allen Beth Barrett Whitney Beckford Sue DiManno Angie Rubino

Mason, OH

Tim Brown Debbie Piper Christian Wood

Farmington Hills, MI

Kyle Stewart

San Francisco, CA

Rob Alper Chamblis Broman Katie Chen Phillip Elliott Samantha Gomez Lauren Grace Gonzales Vish Hegde

Raymond June Yuxi Lu


For Internal Educational Purposes Only


Questions write to: 21Voices@Cengage.com

Download a copy of this report from: www.cengage.com/21Vreport2016


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