Beagle Learning: Building a World of Critical Thinkers and Problem-Solvers

Turner Bohlen, Co-founder and CEO and Carolyn Bickers, Co-founder and COO, Beagle Learning Turner Bohlen, Co-founder and CEO and Carolyn Bickers, Co-founder and COO
COVID-19 is accelerating changes in education. As a result of the rapid shift to online learning, 70 percent of higher education instructors report that engaging students is now a top concern (see Inside Higher Education). For 80 percent of higher education leaders, student retention is the number one priority in the 2020-2021 academic year (see Inside Track).

Many students can no longer access the support systems that helped to bolster their academic success before the pandemic, whether ad hoc conversations with peers and faculty, on-campus events or in-person office hours. In the absence of these lifelines, students are struggling more and more to succeed in lecture-style classes. In her article on student engagement during COVID-19, higher education consultant Alice Anne Bailey highlighted that 79 percent of students struggled to stay motivated in the online classes they thought were “most important to their future goals.” And 65 percent of those students identified limited interaction with fellow students and/or the instructor as the cause. The pandemic wasn’t the start of these challenges, but it has exacerbated them.

While teaching at MIT, and later as the Managing Director of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton became intrigued by collaborative, real-world-relevant learning, “As soon as the students understand that they are being asked to follow their greatest curiosity, and solve problems that they themselves have selected, their engagement really soars.” Similarly, a survey of over 55 national colleges and universities by Civitas found that the biggest boost to student persistence to graduation comes from academic support, a sense of belonging, and real-world relevance of learning: these surpassing even financial support as a contributing factor to student success.

This realization inspired Dr. Elkins-Tanton, Dr. James Tanton, founder of the Global Math Project, and Turner Bohlen, an MIT graduate and serial education entrepreneur, to begin working on a way to scale collaborative, real-world-relevant learning. The three were later joined by Carolyn Bickers and founded Beagle Learning. Beagle Learning’s web app and array of learning programs help institutions increase student engagement and retention through real-world-relevant learning.

Beagle’s teaching method launches students into problem-solving with a question and guides them in finding answers through research. For example, in Elkins-Tanton’s course, students collaborate on teams to answer questions like, “What will the Moon look like after humans have settled on it?”

There are five phases of Beagle’s method: Goal Selection, Research, Planning, Action, and Lessons Learned. Across each phase, students practice individual research, collaborative group work and synthesize information down to concrete conclusions and next steps toward a goal. The program comes with a set of assessments that help students improve specific transferable skills, like question-asking, as they progress through each phase.

In tests with over 3,500 students, Beagle programs have demonstrated 40 percent improvement in transferable skill assessments, as well as an 18 percent improvement in freshmen pass rates, and 50 percent higher engagement.

hese results inspired Elkins-Tanton to expand the real-world-relevant learning model. At ASU, she established the technological leadership degree that draws on Beagle’s method to prepare students with the skills they need for the workforce of tomorrow.

James Tanton, founder of the Global Math Project and Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Managing Director of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University

When developing the program, Elkins-Tanton needed to determine:

How does grading work at scale? Grading is often difficult and time-consuming for instructors with large classes. That’s why Beagle designed its app to integrate into the Learning Management System (e.g., Canvas), automatically sync with the gradebook, and streamline grading. Instructors can choose to set completion grades for each Beagle assignment or rate the quality of student work on a set of custom rubric items in a SpeedGrader-like screen.


Beagle Learning’s web app and array of learning programs help institutions increase student engagement and retention through real-world-relevant learning


How does this fit with required content? Most classes in higher education and K-12 have required content that has to be reviewed by the students. Beagle’s web app provides instructors with a menu of pre-built learning programs to enhance any classroom experience, including lectures, case studies, research projects, or capstones. Instructors can choose from a library of content or use their existing textbooks.

How do we make this exciting and easy for any instructor to adopt? It’s important for instructors to feel confident in what students are doing in their class. That’s why every learning program includes a user-friendly instructor guide and a folder of resources to help get students going in minutes.

Dr. Koch, an economics professor at Olivet Nazarene University, was concerned that if he continued using a lecture-based approach, students would not feel as connected or engaged in the new, hybrid environment. He decided to partner with Beagle to build engaging class experiences in this new chapter in his over thirty-year teaching career.

Dr. Koch chose a pre-built Beagle learning program that he paired with existing course content. Each week, students were given a question to research and debate, such as: “Is macroeconomics still relevant during the current pandemic?” In class, Dr. Koch would provide a 15-minute mini lecture on the topic for that week, and students would work in teams to research and then present their findings. As a group, they would then vote on what side of the argument they felt most strongly about and whether they wanted to continue research on that topic.

“This semester would have been impossible without Beagle Learning,” said Dr. Koch. “We’re not just going through the motions to get a grade or to earn credit. What we’re discussing and focusing on really matters.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced an existential threat to many educational institutions. Retention and engagement challenges have become more urgent. Beagle provided the structure that Dr. Koch needed to move from a lecture-based model to a modern, student-led learning environment. That shift gave his students new, exciting reasons to engage in class and persist in school, as well as the opportunity to develop the skills needed for lifelong success.

The pandemic has threatened teaching practices that have long been proven to be ineffective.

“The pandemic shouldn’t be seen only as a threat, it is also an opportunity for institutions to build their position as leaders in their communities and hubs of 21st-century learning,” says Beagle CEO Bohlen, “All that’s needed are the right supports in making the transition.”

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Top 10 Student Engagement Solution Companies - 2020
Beagle Learning

Company
Beagle Learning

Headquarters
Boston, MA

Management
Turner Bohlen, Co-founder and CEO and Carolyn Bickers, Co-founder and COO and James Tanton, founder of the Global Math Project and Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Managing Director of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University

Description
Beagle Learning helps teams learn faster while doing their best work by providing a simple, systematized process to gather input from the team and select the most important questions to focus on. Beagle Learning is on a mission to nurture critical thinkers and collaborative problem-solvers of tomorrow with its web application that integrates with the majority of learning management systems (LMS) and institutions curriculum. This online platform guides students in deciding the questions they are inclined toward and care about, research, practice analyzing information, and learning both independently and in groups, creating a sense of community and personal belonging