By Nicole Frank –
Jamie Schwandt is no stranger to the University community. He earned his BS and MS degrees (both in health and human performance) at FHSU, has returned to campus to deliver an in-class presentation and discussion on his 2013 book, Succeeding as a Foster Child: A Roadmap to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving with Success, returned again in August 2018 to deliver a presentation at Fall Professional Development Day, and has- together with his wife, Tomi- been featured in an Alumni Spotlight article.
In fact, it was during return to the FHSU campus -when he was selected as a recipient for the 2016 Young Alumni Award- that a casual conversation with Dr. Greg Kandt at the Memorial Union’s Starbucks turned to talk of HHP’s Tests and Measurements course, and Schwandt’s statistics and Lean Six Sigma background. In January of 2017, Schwandt was tapped to teach a section of the course, and later, to teach the graduate Healthcare and Administration course (also for HHP), and a section of Total Quality Management (for the department of management).
Although he has been teaching for FHSU for two years now, it would be wildly inaccurate to assume that anything Jamie Schwandt does in the classroom is routine or a simple repeat of a previous semester.
Schwandt explains that he prefers “constantly being in beta mode,” a fitting description of his teaching approach. He is known for seeking weekly feedback from his students, and then adjusting his courses accordingly. He says he appreciates this candid input, and students who are willing to think beyond what he has asked of them and even dismiss his directions, if they can sort out how to create something better for their projects and assignments.
It should come as no surprise that Schwandt describes his one teaching frustration as situations in which he sees the structure of education seemingly blocking innovation. His energy for new ideas and ways of doing things comes is palpable, and he says he always wants to know, “How do we get feedback to make FHSU adapt, to improve our classes? Do we ask students legitimately?”
If anything is certain, it is that Schwandt does legitimately ask his students for their thoughts, and that he refuses to take personally any negative feedback they share. Using Plectica, he leads students to create concept maps for visualization, asks them probing questions, and telling them he is an active participant in their course and plans to learn from them, just as they learn from him and each other. Schwandt says that students often have a hard time with the ambiguity of his courses at first, but then again, teaching them to be comfortable with ambiguity is one of his goals. He accepts that students will be a bit scared when they start, and he talks them through the process, holding individual conversations and encouraging them to “just get started” sharing their thoughts. His grading gets more rigorous over the course of the semester, as students get more comfortable with their interactions. Sound complicated? Check out a long-form video illustration of some of his students collaborating to create a concept map all about the Swarming the Classroom method he uses and how they feel about that method here, read Schwandt’s The Military Officer article about this method here, or his Medium article about this method here.
Schwandt also pushes students to consider publishing their papers as blog posts, and facilitates metacognitive conversations about his class and methods in a closed social media group, with some former students actively participating, simply because they want to do so. He says, “I don’t want to teach [my students] what to think; I want to teach them how to think.”
Schwandt’s students are enthusiastic when describing their experiences in his classes, and they typically respond to course evaluations at a rate of 90 percent or better. Asked about Schwandt’s teaching technique, graduate public health administration student Anni T. Satterfield explains, “Swarming the Classroom emphasizes student learning by focusing on the student’s outcome through feedback and response. Very few classes are as centered on the students. Most classes follow one path, the instructors, with no consideration to the student. Additionally, very few classes have the same amount of instructor engagement, feedback, and response. Dr. Schwandt’s method fosters interest and true learning rather than rote memorization to pass a test.”
Brian Cicio, a senior majoring in health and human performance, considers Schwandt’s methods to be “a unique way of adaptive learning, where the curriculum can be changed immediately based on student feedback” and describes the experience as “more productive and [more] enjoyable.”
Wesley Cooper, a junior majoring in health and human performance, says that Schwandt’s teaching method “has made online learning feel like a classroom environment. Most online classes involve reading, quizzes, and tests. This method allows me to feel like I’m interacting not only with the teacher, but my classmates as well.”
Monique Holmes, a graduate student majoring in public health administration, is honest about the initial challenge of learning in a new way. She says, “The learning curve was high in the beginning but there was less pressure once you got the hang of things, because you could use the platforms to break concepts down and put them back together in the way that you learn best.” She feels that the Swarming the Classroom method helps with retention, and echoes other students’ comments about the customization of the class, adding, “[it] allows the class to unfold specific to the participants.”
Asked what he would tell an instructor who is in their first semester of teaching online, Schwandt proves once again to be an advocate of the meaningfully unconventional. He says, “Don’t worry about being over-prepared; just start doing. Get something out there, and then get feedback from students and go from there. Work on the next piece. Get comfortable with the ambiguity of that, and work with it.”
Outside of teaching for FHSU, Schwandt is a major in the US Army, a writer and book author, and a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. His degrees from FHSU were followed by an Ed.D. in adult and occupational education from Kansas State University, and a faculty member from his doctoral program is even active contributor to the Facebook group he manages for his students.
Schwandt and his wife Tomi have a four year old daughter, Ella, and a three month old son, Jack. When asked what he does in his spare time, he immediately lists spending time with his family, running or working out, and reading. Schwandt’s dedication to family and self-betterment is clear, as he describes these activities conclusively, “That is my fun.”