My Experience with SWARM Learning. Another education gimmick, or the future of learning?
Hello everyone, I’m Derek McHugh, currently in my sophomore year at Fort Hays University in Hays, Kansas. My major is in Human Health and Performance with minors in Nutrition and Sports Psychology. I was inspired to write this blog by two of my favorite instructors thus far Dr. Jamie Schwandt and his wonderful wife Tomi Schwandt. I have learned more from these two professors than I have with countless other professors combined. I had Tomi Schwandt for a political science class that I absolutely loved! I loved it because Tomi was one of the first professors in a long time that made the majority of her course work applicable to the real world. Everything I learned in her class stuck like glue and I still use the concepts she taught almost daily in some shape or form.
Fast forward a couple of semesters and I needed to take a class called HHP 340 (Tests and Measurements in Human Health and Performance). I was thrilled when I looked at my class roster to find a familiar last name “Schwandt” Dr. Jamie Schwandt. At this time I had no idea the two were related. I did what most students do and checked his reviews and they were solid, plus hey the last Schwandt was awesome so let's give it a shot. Lord have mercy was I in for some shell shock! The day my books for the course arrived I started reading ahead about this new teaching concept called SWARM Learning that teaches students “How To Think Not What To Think”. The Textbook was written by Dr. Schwandt himself. My first thought was sweet, I get to learn from the man that wrote the book, that's a one-off experience in itself.
As I began my reading I must admit there was a wave of excitement and sheer terror that came over me, as it quickly became clear that this was no ordinary 2 credit hour college course. This was something entirely different. This was a whole new concept for students to learn, teachers to teach, and most importantly a whole new approach to education! Swarm Learning (SL) is different from regular classes because it operates on continuous feedback from the students to the instructor via surveys that are mandatory with every assignment. The theory behind the continuous feedback is it forces the class to constantly Change, Adapt, and Evolve (CAE) so that the students are getting what they really want out of the course. This is further executed through Decentralization (no one leader), Emergence behavior, and Self-organization allowing a class to operate and change on its own (Dr. Schwandant, 2020). I couldn't help but think, “wow this is insane compared to other classes but if it works, this is a much-needed epic change to education.”
I must admit I was very skeptical starting this journey, I've seen way too many gimmicks in education throughout my collegiate career that makes you feel like you stuck in an infomercial for Oxy Clean. Although Dr. Schwandant is an active Major in the U.S. Army at the time I’m writing this, he has plenty of testimonials from previous students, something just made me feel like if there was one guy I should give a chance it’s him.
Day one of class: I am a virtual student so FHSU operates their online classes off of a program called Blackboard as do many other universities around the globe. I click into the class only to realize we are not using Blackboard at all for this course??? Next, I found myself wrapping my mind around the new software that he operates his classes out of such as WordPress, Plectica, Mini-tab, and more. The syllabus was different than anything I have ever seen, something called a Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS) that allows the class assignments to change and adapt based on the feedback from students. Best of all there were no formal tests! That's great news for me because one, I'm not the best test taker, two, I despise the archaic education of trying to cram and memorize as much as possible to pass a test, but very little of it truly sticks to long term memory or is applicable to the real world.
I must admit the first two or three weeks of the class made my brain hurt. There was so much ambiguity in the assignments, I found it very hard to break away from my traditional roots in academia and Institutionalization where you are told what to do how to do it and it better be perfect. On top of that, there was a learning curve trying to figure out how to use platforms such as Plectica, WordPress, and Mini tab. After getting frustrated, honestly wanting to quit or drop the class something dawned on me all this ambiguity is the point of the class, “How To Think, Not What To Think!” In essence, Dr. Schwandt lays the foundation for what's possible in any given assignment but it's your job to own it and make it into what you're wanting to get out of the class. Many of my classmates and I all felt the first few weeks turned into an insane workload so we gave honest feedback on the surveys and amazingly to me, Dr. Schwandnt listened! It’s kind of a foreign concept for a professor to listen to students these days, most of my professors would have just pushed back that their curriculum is perfect and you as a student are the problem. But over the next few assignments, we all saw a dramatic shift in our course work. He did a fantastic job of cutting out the busy work and getting straight to what we need to know for our Human Health and Performance Tests and Measurements course. I can’t speak for other students but this truly made me feel at ease with the course work and made it so that I could relax a little and just enjoy the process of learning again. Not only did I enjoy it, went to bed thinking about it and woke up eager to learn more! I can’t say this for very many other classes I've taken. In short, it just made me excited about school and the opportunity to learn again.
Right now, I’m sitting here amazed that another semester has flown by. Despite my initial doubts about SWARM Learning, I can’t believe how much I actually learned in this two-credit-hour class! Looking back on the semester I learned how to three new software programs, Plectica, WordPress, Mini Tab, and I’m now writing my first blog here on Medium.com! I learned just about everything one could want to know about tests and measurements as a physical educator. This doesn't apply to just fitness either, we learned in-depth what it takes to design and implement tests (cognitive tests). For example, what makes a good test, what kind of questions to ask, what kind of questions are “bad questions”, how much time should be allowed, and what an optimal testing environment is. I got a crash course in statistics, data, variables, populations, samples, random samples, parameters, inferential statistics, continuous data, ungrouped data, grouped data, nominal Scale, ordinal scale, interval scale, ratio Scale, what a normal distribution is, measures of variability, quartile deviation, standard deviation, frequency distribution, I could go on for an hour on tests and measurements alone! Additionally, I had the opportunity to learn about Lean Sigma Six (LSS) black belt certification, and have the option of achieving this certification within the next two semesters! Dr. Schwandt set up zoom meetings with highly ranked business professionals that explained what it is like to work using LSS in major corporations Such as Tesla, Toyota, The United States Army, Renewal by Anderson, and 3M. The zoom meetings were awesome because we got to ask first hand what it is like to work for these companies, what to expect for the interview process, and how they use LSS to continually improve the workplace. I was able to take a course from Johns Hopkins University that got me a contact tracing certification and possibly a new job with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout this course, we had the opportunity to read a book called “What the Eyes Don’t See” by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha that details what happens to cause the Flint Michigan Water crisis also the D.C. water crisis, and how this Pediatrician was able to use some of the same testing methods we learned about in class to get solid data on the situation in Flint Michigan, and the steps she had to make to finally get the city to acknowledge the problem and actually do something about it. To cap the book off we actually got to have a zoom meeting with Dr. Mona and pick her brain a little about the book. I thought this was amazing! No other instructor has ever done anything like this for any of my other classes.
After the initial panic and worry about this class, there was nothing to worry about at all! I’m sitting here with an A for the semester and walking away with more knowledge than I ever planned on getting out of this course. To me the difference with SWARM Learning is you apply the knowledge to real-world situations, and by putting yourself in that situation and working through it the knowledge just seems to stick far better than your traditional education. It’s simply a night and day difference between the other courses I have taken this semester. As for my other classes, I could tell you what part of the book to study to pass the professor's exam, but that's about it. A year down the line, that knowledge will be long gone. In comparison what I learned from Swarm Learning is going to stick with me for life. From a Psychological perspective, traditional education is using rote memorization, which unfortunately does not stick to long-term memory, only short-term for a majority of learners. SWARM Learning, on the other hand, is an integrative approach to learning and requires you to write out ideas and processes through brain mapping in Plectica. Simply stated, this helps the information you are taking in stick to your long-term memory better, and more efficiently so that it stays with you.
So the last word on Swarm Learning, is it a waste of time, or another gimmick? Hell no! This is truly innovative and a concept that more of our education systems need to adapt to the curriculum. I truly believe this could set a new standard of learning for all ages in years to come. What Dr. Schwandt is doing is a truly monumental task of revamping the education system. Dr. Schwandt is an amazing man; we just need 100,000 more of him out there teaching like this! As the semester is winding down I find myself already annoyed at the thought of going back to memorizing pointless lines in a textbook to pass a pointless exam, writing endless APA-style papers that have nothing to do with real-life scenarios. Especially after learning everything I did on constructing and implementing testing, I truly realize how bad and arguably lazy most professors are. For the astronomical price, we pay as students for “a good education” the traditional methods have absolutely failed us. I don't know about you but I'm not interested in paying top dollar for half-ass lazy professors that are too busy with their own research projects to do their real job of teaching future generations. So, If you get the opportunity to take a course that offers the Swarm Learning methodology, DO IT! The first few weeks may be rough because you're doing and learning totally new learning concepts that are 180 degrees different than traditional education, but stick with it your going to be very happy that you did! My mission now is to introduce more instructors to this teaching methodology and hopefully get them to try it.
Thank you for reading,
Derek L. McHugh.
Dr. Schwandt, Jamie. (2020) Swarm Learning In Human Health and Performance. Kendall Hunt. ISBN: 978–1–7924–0633–1