We recently sat down with Charlie Wheelan to find out how he managed to make a remarkable pivot to online instruction by using Kira Talent in an unconventional and unexpectedly delightful way.
Wheelan is a Dartmouth College alum, senior lecturer, and policy fellow at The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at the Ivy League school. The center provides an interdisciplinary perspective on policy-related topics and drives public policy research, teaching, deliberation, and informed public debate. Wheelan’s background and experience teaching across five different departments all connected to public policy made him a natural fit for the position.
When he isn’t teaching public policy and economics, he’s giving TED Talks, appearing as a guest on various podcasts, or writing columns and authoring best-selling books.
A creative way to quiz students
Kira Talent was built to help admissions teams go beyond the application by giving them a holistic view of every applicant through timed video and timed written assessments. When Wheelan discovered our software in 2016, he wondered if he could tweak it to suit his online instruction needs.
After working with our team to set up online video quizzes for his course, he quickly fell in love with the new format. Little did he know, in 2020, he'd be looking to re-introduce online assessments.
The arrival of spring and a global pandemic
“Empty out your office, do what you need to do, spring term is going online.” - Charlie Wheelan, Senior lecturer and policy fellow, Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Tuck School of Business
We connected with Wheelan over Zoom, his surroundings a perfect picture of academia, with a bookshelf squeezing its contents from end to end and the overflow that refused to fit stacked on the table in front. He was calling from his office at the nearly deserted Dartmouth College, another campus cleared out by COVID-19.
The college operates on a quarter system, with its winter term wrapping up just as the coronavirus escalated from an outbreak overseas to a global pandemic. Wheelan’s last class was on March 6th and it was right around that time he was told, "Empty out your office, do what you need to do, spring term is going online.”
He was about to begin teaching a reading-intensive education policy class that examines how to design a public system that ensures the best teachers are in the classroom teaching what students ought to be learning.
The class was designed to be discussion-oriented, which he now had two weeks to retrofit for online instruction. Wheelan knew that discussions about policy would incite thoughtful dialogue with many different perspectives so he would need a format that would be both interesting and interactive for his students in order to facilitate these conversations.
He also needed a way to quiz students at the beginning of each class. To take part in the discussion, the students need to have completed the assigned reading in advance of the class. Ordinarily, when students were still on campus, Wheelan would have used a quick 5-minute pencil and paper quiz to separate those who had done the reading from those who hadn’t.
He was left without a tool that would meet both of these needs. “My first instinct was, it can’t be done,” Wheelan told us.
Just as he was wondering how in the world he was going to make the process feel more human, he remembered how much he liked the video quizzes in 2016. He realized short, timed videos would solve both problems at once; he’d be able to ask interesting questions and to capture answers from his students that are more engaging, more spontaneous, and more human than he could ever get from a paper and pencil exercise.
"It accomplishes everything I need in terms of making sure that they do the reading. But on top of that, instead of the one-sentence answer that I can just check off, I’m eliciting from each student a much more thoughtful reaction to the questions that I’m asking,” he said.
It became very clear that this was going to be a very powerful tool to facilitate a greater personal connection between him and his students.
Connection in a time of crisis
“Everybody is craving that personal connection and online has that tendency to be so impersonal and it totally transcends that.”
Wheelan didn’t just introduce a different format for quizzes, he took this new medium to another level with whimsical anecdotes and special guests to keep his students engaged.
The opportunity to connect with students remotely has also provided Wheelan with a unique window into their lives he wouldn’t otherwise be granted.
"They’re all at home and it’s kind of sweet because they’re all in their childhood bedrooms with trophies and ribbons, or they’re in the family room and someone’s making a sandwich. You just get a sense of where they are during this strange crisis,” he said.
Some students' family members even got involved. One eager-to-participate mom completed the reading and answered quiz questions, while another curious dad wandered into the frame, casually eating a sandwich, to watch his daughter complete her assessment.
What’s next for Wheelan and his students
“It’s helped connect me to the students, it’s created a sense of fun, and it’s taken us deeper in terms of how we’ve discussed the material than traditional tools I would have used.”
No one knows when things will return to some semblance of normal, but when they do, Wheelan assures us he has no doubt he’ll be keeping Kira Talent in his online instruction tool belt.
Working in institutions that have existed for several decades, maybe even centuries, brings rich traditions, a storied history, and many tangible and intangible barriers for applicants and students.
Rather than a proactive design requirement, many post-secondary institutions are finding themselves struggling to keep up with the legal requirements and best practice guidelines of their physical and digital spaces.
Like adding on a retrofitted-entrance to the back door of a lecture hall, improving the accessibility of our digital tools is, unfortunately, often an afterthought only flagged out of necessity.
Especially now, as schools are transitioning to more online recruitment and classroom learning models for the fall, previously unrealized accessibility issues are popping up.
Inclusive Media and Design (IMD) Founder and Director, Rob Harvie, knows the struggle higher education institutions face all too well.
Harvie and his team at IMD work with dozens of schools in higher education to elevate their web and video accessibility to meet best practice standards.
At Kira Talent, we’ve been fortunate to be a client of IMD as well. They helped us make critical improvements on our platform that ensure we continually offer applicants a fully-accessible experience and meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
We connected with Harvie to learn more about what recruitment and admissions teams can be doing to make their admissions process accessible for all applicants.
KT: Working with higher education institutions, what are the “most often missed” web accessibility standards you see when auditing college and university websites? And what is the impact of those oversights for applicants?
RH: Depending on how accessible-web savvy internal designers (or outsourced developers) may actually be, an institution’s online public and student-facing content may very well be laden with violations of the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – a common standard which aims to provide access for all, regardless of user condition or choice of usable interface.
A simple line of code may be keeping people who can’t use a visual display, mouse, or trackpad from entering the resource’s front door, as it were.
The potential issues are just too broad to cover here, though one basic criteria from the standard so often missed is provisioning of video captions. Video is ubiquitous to curriculum now, and not only do captions aid comprehension to those who can’t hear the content, but also for those for whom English is not their first (or second) language.
Accurate captions have been shown to boost intake and comprehension for all. Accurate captions can be leveraged in loud (e.g. on public transit) or quiet (e.g. in the library and forgot your earbuds or headphones?) environments.
Plus, everyone can benefit from glimpsing at that 16-syllable polymer chain, or the surname of a long-gone German philosopher, spelled correctly as it’s spoken.
Accuracy is to be re-emphasized. Lawsuits are being lost by academic institutions around their lack of provision of accurate captions – as opposed to the purely automated sort; and our students deserve better than “autocraptions".
KT: What improvements do applicants want most from the institutions they’re considering?
RH: For new students shopping for an institution, lack of digital inclusion on the public side – wherever they are searching online for more info – or in registering, will be indicative of intuition-wide measures.
Any lack of inclusive digital considerations in the application process (be it forms not properly “marked up” or remediated, or in any online interaction) may not only be a big turn off, but also illegal.
Can your institution afford the negative public image of being exclusionary if named in a lawsuit? (Not that we want that to be a sole motivating factor!)
Your school may be of such a privileged stature that only “the best” applicants make it through the gauntlet. Some of the greatest (and neuro-diverse) minds didn’t fit with what was or is currently considered “elite”.
Are you unintentionally discouraging diverse minds (and the bodies bearing them) from even applying?
Students (and parents) are shopping for not just name and place, but best experience.
Strongly consider how you could legitimately assure stage one clients that your school will support inclusion throughout their education, and not just walk the marketing talk.
Perhaps, worse yet, is to go along with any unspoken claim that people who are disabled just aren’t smart enough to make it into your esteemed establishment. Are you playing a part in being an attitudinal barrier to fostering growth of some great mind and hearts?
Many disabilities are invisible, and whether or not that’s a condition for interviewees, they experience a layer of stress that may border on being incapacitating.
Most of us have experienced that, when our outward appearance and behavior had not been truly representative of our true capabilities. Provide a recourse to forcing the individual to fit the system so that they can truly shine for who they are.
A pseudo-automated registration service may save you time in processing numerous applicants, but you are also filtering out those great minds and hearts if you are disallowing the opportunity to connect to a human and truly be heard.
Make this alternate pathway clearly known as an option.
KT: The admissions interview can be a major source of anxiety. Do you have any recommendations for admissions professionals who are looking to make in-person or virtual interviews more comfortable for applicants with disabilities?
RH: Familiarity with types of challenges and disabilities will help you better understand how you can facilitate communication and assessment. Note: Resources provided at the end may come in handy.
Granted you’ve not enough time in a day to get things done, but try conveying that you are not just a gear in an inflexible institution – in a way you see fit – and then literally ask, “How can I help you?”
This may help you glean their perspective and aid reaching the common goal in front of both you and the applicant in an equitable manner.
This is not so much about giving students a “special consideration” or a free pass due to hardship, but helping put the applicant on an equal footing with their peers, given their context.
Q: We know it’s so important that accessibility and inclusion work does not happen in a silo. What changes can admission teams make to ensure their institution is prepared, not just to accommodate a student’s needs, but to enable that student to thrive?
It would be a tall order to try and take on ensuring that any specific student’s needs are met outside of your department. You can’t quite drink the ocean. Start with practicing inclusion yourself and ensuring that new (or any) students are aware of any accessibility policies and services provided.
For many reasons – the hours in your own day being one – this may not be remotely enough to help propel the student’s success despite their own earnest efforts.
However, you’re not alone….
If you are invested in helping to ensure positive change in this regard, the good news is that there will already be more than just awareness in your organization. There’ll most likely be efforts by others (including champions or unsung heroes) both in the trenches, through manager level and hopefully further up the hierarchy.
Somehow, make time to reach out internally to discern who is helping to actually enable academic inclusion; not just in title, but try and find out who is actually helping with accessibility support and practices.
They’ll know the scoop. And if you come upon a more formal (and hopefully transferrable-into-action) strategy from up the ladder, then you can discuss with your own team how to better align and integrate with it.
If it’s just not there, or it’s just lip service, encourage or join a less formal network of those “do’ers” who have been attempting to support those most vulnerable of dropping out.
These “at-risk” students are often unaware of, or unable to, secure pragmatic support to learn on an equal plane with their peers. Many students with disabilities may not identify with a challenging condition or “label”, and must try to muddle through somehow… until they can’t.
And if even this sounds hard for you to take on due to an inflexible scenario, locate (even if via web search) and reach out to those at other institutions for any hard-learned lessons and success stories they are quite likely to offer you, if just asked. Academic accessibility conferences are rich in these.
KT: What are some major changes you’d like to see to make higher education more inclusive to students with disabilities?
RH: Here are three suggestions I believe individuals who are working within higher education can benefit from – and in turn, their institutions and the prospective future students they will eventually serve.
One: A comprehension that designing systems for diverse users helps make the system more flexible and humane. (Reading Todd Rose’s entertaining and inspiring The End of Average is highly recommended!)
Two: Contemplating how we will all at some point, in some way, for an indeterminate time in our lives, experience “disability.” It’s not “them,” but “us.”
And, three: Put yourself in your students’ shoes. While I can’t convince you to just become empathetic, or to water down a time-honored, rigorous system of education, try and appreciate that there’s not one optimal mode of comprehending information and gaining knowledge.
There are manifold ways of perceiving the universe in which we live and interact and innovation often occurs at the outer fringes of what’s commonly considered as acceptable. For your part – in context of the classroom, lab, or as part of the admin process – providing information in multiple formats and ways is a boost to our students’ journey of discovery, which we are here to facilitate.
To better understand disability (or, what I like to refer to our varying abilities) and assistive technologies, perusing these links.
Many are adapted from those recommended by the International Association of Accessibility Practitioners:
University of Illinois Library: Anxiety Disorders: Common Assistive Technologies
Demographics and Statistics
- Cornell University: Disability Statistics
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Disability Impacts All of Us
- Statistics Canada: Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics, Institute on Disability / UCED: University of New Hampshire: 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report
- UC Berkeley School of Public Heath: Disability Etiquette Handbook
- University of Cambridge: Etiquette
- Independence Australia: A-Z of Disability Etiquette
- United Cerebral Palsy: Disability Etiquette
- World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative
WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind at Utah State University)
- The User’s Perspective, especially Disability Types
- Document and Media Accessibility
- Standards and Laws
- Policy, Coordination, and Training
About Rob Harvie
Rob Harvie is the Director and Founder of Inclusive Media and Design.
He is an expert on Digital Accessibility committed to the effective understanding, harnessing, and integration of technology – balanced with a strong commitment to the people that use it.
With a background in cognitive science and interface design, Harvie has focused on the impact of emerging technologies. He has consulted in new media program development for educational institutions, data visualization for the financial and intelligence sectors, and virtual reality across the board. His research, instruction, and consultation at the University of Toronto and other universities and colleges has been focused on new ways to shape and experience information, and studying the dynamics of electronic communities for collaboration, communication, and andragogy.
At the University of Connecticut’s School of Business, building a dynamic MBA cohort means no student is just a number.
As one of the smallest top 100 ranked MBA programs, the program’s intimate 45-50 person class size is one of its biggest differentiators. By offering real-world, project-based learning opportunities for students, the MBA program’s ability to foster meaningful connections between tomorrow’s leaders is paramount.
Moira Rosek had worked in the School of Business for a few years when she took over as Director of Admissions for the full-time MBA. With a new role comes new responsibilities, and Rosek found herself constantly in between video interviews with students from across the globe.
“Quickly, I realized this was not an efficient use of our team. It was taking away from the bigger picture, strategic work we needed to be doing,” she said.
Seeking a better way to build an MBA cohort
In 2019, the school adopted Kira Talent.
“In my research, the trend I was seeing is that the future of admissions was online interviews. And to be perfectly honest, I wanted to get ahead of the trend.”
Not only would the adoption of an online admissions assessment help UConn’s team use their time more strategically, but it would also be aligned with the school’s mission to ensure real-world experiences for students.
“As I was chatting with students and they were graduating and getting their first jobs, their first round of interviews with companies were being delivered in a similar format,” said Rosek.
“If we’re telling people we’re giving them real-world experience, offering a similar online interview format matched up with what they’d be facing,” she said.
Rosek had some initial concerns about whether or not applicants would be fearful of the experience, causing them not to complete the interview and rendering them inadmissible. It turned out that it couldn’t be further from the truth. “People are more comfortable in this environment than ever in history,” she told us.
Spring 2020: A pandemic strikes
Despite every school’s best efforts to keep on top of contingency and disaster planning, no one anticipated the impact of COVID-19. The Spring of 2020 rolled in and disrupted every routine.
Fortunately for UConn, their online assessment through Kira Talent kept processes moving forward.
“It happened really fast. Between March first and March fifteenth, our world just dropped out. Applications dried up. But the one thing that remained really consistent was Kira,” said Rosek.
“That was the one thing that felt like business as usual. It felt like something we could rely on.”
In light of COVID-19, UConn’s MBA team pivoted to make submitting GRE or GMAT scores optional, they accepted new and alternative language assessments, and they offered deposit refunds for admitted students. With shifting requirements, the Kira assessment was one of the only aspects of building an MBA cohort they didn’t have to change.
As many prospective students were pausing to reconsider pursuing graduate education, UConn’s Full-Time MBA saw a jump in interest.
“We were seeing quadruple what we’d normally have at online events from students all over the world. So, we started really verbalizing how well we were equipped to carry students through the process,” said Rosek.
“If I could shout it from the rooftops, I would. Kira Talent has been an absolute gift and the people I have worked with have been top-quality. Every experience has been easy and enjoyable, it checks all my boxes.”
Empathy and human connection become an even more critical factor in building an MBA cohort
Creating personalized, human connections has always been a best practice, but as of late, it’s been a competitive edge for programs that do it well.
With COVID-19, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are at an all-time high among applicants. This new time brought dozens of new questions and new application challenges for UConn.
“So many students are unsure about their future. A lot of what I’m doing is responding to people’s fear and concerns, and putting them at ease,” said Rosek. “It’s just a total state of feeling unsure.”
Being there to listen and provide information can make all the difference to an applicant on the fence about the timing of their MBA degree. It isn’t an easy time.
As with nearly every aspect of this virus, there is still too much unknown.
“We’re trying to think about what this means socially, educationally, what it means from a space and safety standpoint, certainly financially,” said Rosek.
Looking ahead to the fall
There are still too many unknowns to predict what the fall will look like for business schools or for higher education as a whole.
As colleges and universities spend the summer focusing to ensure they can deliver student safety and quality education, UConn’s admissions team can take solace in knowing they’ve done their due diligence.
“Our applications have been through the roof for our full-time MBA," shared Rosek.
"We’ve never needed Kira more and it has been here when we’ve really needed that extra help.”
“The gift of Kira, this time around, has been efficiency and normality. It allows everything to flow the way it should.”
Typically at this time of year, we’re getting ready for graduation ceremonies and preparing for next fall’s incoming class and looking forward to a week or two of well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Unfortunately for all of us – there is nothing typical about the spring of 2020.
In the thick of both a global pandemic and an economic downturn not seen since The Great Depression, we are grappling to bring back some sense of normalcy in our lives.
To find it, many of us are turning to colleagues and peers at other schools for ideas, tips, tools, and innovative approaches to tackle the challenges of the most unpredictable academic year of our careers.
To shed some light on the current situation, we reached out to Graham Richmond, a 25-year business school admissions veteran and Co-Founder of Clear Admit.
As an experienced enrollment advisor, Richmond weighed in on what’s happening across the graduate landscape and offered invaluable insights, predictions, and advice for overcoming admissions challenges ahead.
5 Questions with Graham Richmond
Kira Talent: Being at Clear Admit, what are the top concerns you’re hearing from students right now?
Graham Richmond: Based on the recent survey work we’ve conducted with our community of MBA applicants, the biggest concerns are centered on three areas: 1) student experience, 2) recruiting opportunities, and 3) logistics.
Regarding student experience, applicants are worried that key elements of the MBA program like networking, friendships, clubs, travels, and the presence of international students will be disrupted by COVID-19.
In terms of recruiting opportunities, they worry about the prospect of internships and jobs in both the short and long term.
On the logistics end of things, there is a great deal of concern around student visas for international students, travel bans, and the overall difficulty with planning for a relocation during a pandemic.
KT: How do you think enrollment and admissions workflows will change in the next 6-12 months?
GR: In the very near term, the biggest challenge for admissions offices will be bringing in the Class of 2022 - juggling deferrals, student visa issues, shifting university policies on re-opening, and larger-than-usual waitlists.
Of course, while that is all taking place, there will be a very real need to plan and execute marketing and recruitment efforts to ensure a strong pipeline of applications for the Class of 2023.
That effort will look very different this year than it has in year’s past; in-person MBA fairs, corporate visits, alumni networking events – and even on-campus information sessions and tours, are all likely off the table for the foreseeable future.
In addition, the evaluative interview process is likely to remain virtual in the coming admissions season. In light of this, admissions and marketing professionals at leading business schools will need to enhance their online marketing efforts and quickly aim to assess which channels work and which do not.
The good news is that with all of the travel and in-person events on hold, there should be budget available to push the more virtual marketing efforts and outreach.
KT: In what ways do you think this situation has or will accelerate digital transformation in schools’ admissions process?
I think this situation is going to force schools to further explore the use of technology at virtually every phase of the admissions process.
GR: I think this situation is going to force schools to further explore the use of technology at virtually every phase of the admissions process.
Whether it’s online marketing to build the pipeline of quality applicants or even fully digitizing pieces of the evaluation process (like candidate interviews). I also think schools will need to look for new ways to reach applicants online – and beyond the confines of their own websites.
Keep in mind that it’s entirely possible that campus visits and in-person interviews are off the table for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
On a related note, I also think that this situation presents an opportunity for schools to have a bit of a rethink on all the travel they typically engage in, and how much of it is truly necessary – especially when you view it through an environmental impact lens.
KT: What strategies have you seen for schools to encourage enrollment (commitment) and manage deferrals?
GR: Many business schools are trying as much as possible to be flexible, but for the vast majority of programs, this means dealing with deferrals on a case-by-case basis and generally reserving them for students who cannot come to school for logistical (visa, travel) or health reasons.
Deferrals aside, schools that will be successful at bringing in their class are going to need to be transparent, provide signposts, and generally walk hand-in-hand with their admitted student community as the picture for the fall comes into focus.
One thing I’ve seen in the marketplace that struck me was Harvard Business School’s open offer of deferral to everyone in the Class of 2022. The fine print is what struck me: all deferrals must be requested between May 15th and June 1st, and the school reserves the right to defer candidates into either the Class of 2023 or the Class of 2024.
In short, HBS will get valuable information from their admitted students (and quickly!). They may also help ensure that those who choose not to defer are ‘all-in’.
KT: What are the implications of a significant deferral % of students?
GR: The issue with so many deferrals is fourfold:
- Schools will have to dig deeper into their waitlists than in a usual year
- Some schools may ultimately opt to have smaller classes
- Schools may have fewer international students
- Next season’s applicants will find fewer slots available at many select schools as the deferred candidates have already reserved them
KT: What do you think the “new normal” is going to be for business schools? How does that impact admissions?
One thing is for sure; the days of in-person only standardized testing are likely a thing of the past.
GR: I truly wish I had a crystal ball on this one. Part of me thinks that things may gradually (over the course of 18-24 months) return to the way that they were, but there is another part of me that feels as if everything will change permanently; that schools will move to deliver more hybrid (online/in-person) learning, that more and more aspects of admissions, recruiting, and experiential learning will take place online.
One thing is for sure; the days of in-person only standardized testing are likely a thing of the past. The fact that the GMAT and GRE are both now available online is a major leap forward and I don’t think that genie can go back in the bottle.
About Graham Richmond
Early in his career, Graham Richmond joined the MBA admissions team at Wharton, where he vetted thousands of applications and helped to develop groundbreaking marketing initiatives using technology.
In 2002, Richmond left Wharton to co-found Clear Admit, where he and his colleagues created a leading MBA applicant community site and news outlet serving tens of thousands of prospective candidates.
Beyond creating innovative applicant-facing tools like Clear Admit’s LiveWire, Richmond has also delivered projects on the institutional side of admissions, providing enrollment management services to business schools around the world.
Richmond holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MBA from the Wharton School and is a frequent presenter at higher education industry conferences. He also serves as a source of expertise on industry trends for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, Forbes, and The Washington Post.
Looking for more tips to help you navigate these unprecedented times? Check our recent report on how admissions teams are responding to COVID-19 or our post on the tech and tools that will help you take on admissions remotely!