Education faculty’s videos are a hit with students
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Brandon Juarez was in the dark, wearing a helmet at 5 a.m.
At that crazy hour, he was wishing everyone a good morning, 2021 style – on an Instagram story.
Juarez was ready to hop on his bicycle, prepping for an Ironman triathlon in November. But on this day in early September, the Grand Canyon University College of Education (COE) associate professor was just beginning to take viewers through his day in short video clips on the popular social media site.
Here he is later in the morning on campus, in front of Building 33, wearing a sharp blue sport coat.
Here he is in front of his class, long-arming his phone, selfie-video style.
“All right, everybody, this is ELM 210, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 o’clock, and these are future teachers. Check ‘em out,” Juarez said, before panning to his class of cheering students.
The new “Takeover Thursdays” on the COE Instagram feed (gcu_coe) by faculty and staff is part of an expanded social media effort to reveal a more personal side of leaders and to engage with students in a medium they use.
“One of our college goals is to help put a face to the teaching profession to help the broader community know that there are hardworking, dedicated, passionate individuals working tirelessly every day to make sure students at all levels get the support they need to succeed,” COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield said.
It’s working. Since the launch of the Instagram stories on May 27, there has been a 400% increase in engagement on the account, which also features students, alumni and faculty in spotlight posts.
Fifteen faculty and staff have posted video stories, taking viewers on a trip that involves everything from bike rides to morning swim lessons with their children.
GCU students have learned a lot about their teachers, and staff have learned a lot about each other.
“During COVID, everyone’s world got smaller. It’s a kind of peek into what everyone was doing on a daily basis,” Dr. Tracy Vasquez, Assistant Professor and COE’s Professional Growth and Development Chair, said of the summer launch that has continued strong into the fall. “The students really started to pick up on it.”
Monthly interactions in August on the site jumped nearly five-fold from June to 2,300.
Vasquez, who has helped lead the effort, said it has been good to see co-workers who are taking care of themselves with fitness and other activities but also in how they give back to the community, such as working with individuals with special needs.
It has become evident that COE faculty arise early. Dr. Lisa Bernier‘s story showed her ready to go at 5:15 a.m., telling viewers that she is in her 36th year as an educator and graduated from GCU in the 1980s.
“One thing I learned over the years as an educator, you’ve got to have life balance. So, I am here with my Bible and my journal,” she said of making entries on what she has learned from her reading.
Later in the day, she finished her story at poolside.
COE leaders tapped into the knowledge of young members of the staff, including COE executive assistant and GCU alum Lauren Balsley and student worker Emily Sharp, an elementary education major.
Sharp helps assemble the short clips for the feed and was counted on to relate what students will respond to on social media, which among the current group is dominated by Instagram.
“I have found the quality good, but they are in careers of public speaking,” she said. “They are naturals at it and are comfortable in front of the camera.”
Students are learning a lot about how the faculty members go through their day.
“Wow, this is what my professor is doing outside the office? It puts it in perspective,” Sharp said. “They have all these things going on but give back so much effort as a professor.”
Having a social media presence is essential, in whatever the medium of the moment is.
“I think the pandemic has taught educators the importance of having a digital footprint and multiple ways for students and other stakeholders to communicate with us,” Critchfield said.
Balsley has taken a lead role in increasing that presence. She sees the videos and stories as a way for students to find out what their lives might be like in the future and use methods professors are touting on their stories.
For example, Associate Professor Dr. Kimber Underdown promoted the use of Flipgrid, an app that allows teachers to facilitate video discussions.
Though the stories on Instagram only live for 24 hours on the site, student and alumni profiles are permanent.
A new idea this year is ongoing posts from GCU alumna Shay Quitno, a 2021 graduate who started a job as a teacher at Hermosa Vista Elementary School in Mesa.
View this post on Instagram
In a video post on her first day of school, she admitted a sleepless anxiety before standing in front of her initial class.
“They walked in the room and it was like a switch went off, and my instincts kicked in,” she said.
She felt relief, and the viewers felt it right along with her.
That’s the beauty of social media when used for good — it connects others to their experience, whether graduates in a new job or faculty sweating hard on a bicycle.
“It was fun to show students the human side of their professors,” Juarez said. “This adds to the rapport we want to create with students.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.