We are excited to announce that Dr. Bekkie George has joined Saylor Academy as our new Director of Academic Affairs.
Most recently Dr. George served as Director of Online Learning for the College of Mathematics at Georgia Tech, where she also taught several courses including Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra. She is an assessment expert and received her PhD in Measurement, Quantitative Methods, & Learning Sciences from the University of Houston, where she also taught before moving to Georgia Tech.
During her time at the University of Houston, Dr. George was a popular, highly-rated professor. Her teaching prowess was recognized by winning both the University of Houston Provost Core Teaching Award and the Teaching Excellence Award. While there she taught several courses including all levels of Calculus, Probability & Statistics, Engineering Mathematics and Statistics for the Sciences. She also led two large massive open online courses (MOOCS) for Houston on the Coursera platform. Dr. George also taught high school for many years and was named Technology Teacher of the Year for the state of Texas.
We are thrilled to have someone with Dr. George’s experience and talents join our team as we work to build the future and serve more people around the world to help them learn skills today that they can use tomorrow – at zero cost.
Saylor Academy: Hello Dr. George! Tell us about yourself. What is your background?
Dr. George: My background is education! I’ve been teaching for 34 years; I taught high school for 20 years, and college for 14 years at the University of Houston, and then Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology). I have taught all levels of math and computer science in high school, and math (including statistics) and education courses in college. I have been a grader for AP Computer Science and AP Statistics, as well as a consultant on many different AP Math and Computer Science committees. When I taught high school I also coached the Academic Decathlon. What made it so fun was that it was 10 different subjects, so of course I had to teach myself before I taught my students. I really enjoyed learning about these other subjects and reading the books with the students.
SA: How did you hear about Saylor?
Dr. G: I liked working from home, and was looking for opportunities. Saylor jumped out at me as a position that I could utilize my PhD in. My PhD is in Measurement and Quantitative Methods, which is everything from test evaluations to statistical evaluations on different data, survey measures, the psychology behind learning, etc. Just teaching math, I don’t feel like I’m using much of my PhD, and this position gives me the opportunity to really branch out and do some things that I’ve been wanting to do; especially research. I’ve always loved education, and the thought of Saylor’s mission to have free education was the main reason why I applied.
SA: What has you excited about coming to Saylor Academy?
Dr. G: My first experience with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), was around 6 years ago when I put together some courses for the University of Houston on Coursera. I was really excited about these courses because they were free. One was for AP Calculus and the other was AP Statistics. I actually got permission from the College Board to put “AP” on them. If a student from high school didn’t have the AP course offered at their school, they could sign up for the AP exam and receive credit. I really loved doing this and I found that not just high schoolers signed up for the course; it was also people that wanted to go back to school and relearn this material. It was a lot of fun; we had discussion boards so I got to know some of the students from overseas. Then all of a sudden, Coursera wanted to start charging. That is when I took myself out of the picture because I just didn’t think that it should be something that people pay for. To see that you guys have this for free is just so exciting. There are so many students that need it.
SA: Tell us a bit about your PhD/assessment expertise.
Dr. G: I can run statistical models and things of that nature, but most of it is really things that you’ve already been implementing, from what I have seen, with the way that you develop the questions; like the theory behind how you make your alternate responses. Something I have used in the past is ‘Item response theory’, where you can go in and throw questions on a test that don’t count against your score. For example, when you take the SAT they always throw in one or two questions to see how students respond to them, and compare it to other questions of similar types, and see if the responses are the same. If the responses are consistent with past questions that have been proven consistent, then you can use those questions on future tests. Another thing that I do is analyze the range of scores; so if I were to look at students that took an exam for a course, I would analyze, for example, are they all missing the same type of question, or the same question, and I would do research to see where that is lacking. I did a lot of it at the University of Houston when developing the placement exams for the math test that they use.
SA: What is your philosophy on learning and/or teaching?
Dr. G: I think those go hand in hand; everyone can learn. We all have some kind of blocks against certain subjects but I think that it is really more about having confidence in yourself. Carol Dweck has a theory of growth mindset; anybody who can encapsulate this mindset where you understand that the brain is always malleable and that you can always learn… then you can always learn! Those that don’t have a growth mindset can never learn “this” and so if they can change their mindset from a feeling of “I can’t learn” to “I can”, then they’ll succeed. During my interviews I talked about the possibility of having a course on ‘Growth Mindset’ or how to get into a growth mindset as you are learning; it could be a good idea.
SA: What do you think makes for a good online, self-paced course?
Dr. G: Direction and guidance of what they should be doing. The biggest advice that I have given to students who I have taught in online courses is to keep a calendar and plan out how you should approach the course. Of course, with online classes that they can sign up and start anytime, they really should set goals on when they want to finish the course; then backtrack and set their weekly goals based on that. Goal setting is very important for online students to stay on track.
SA: What do you like to do in your free time?
Dr. G: Play with my dogs! There is a group where I live called “Shiba Inus Meetup”, so we go from dog park to dog park in my city and will pick a weekend to meet up once a month. They really act differently around their same breed, so it’s fun to get them with other Shibas.
SA: Tell us a fun or random fact about yourself that you might want to share with us!
Dr. G: I like to play poker. My friends and I have been playing online since the Pandemic hit, and we meet once a month through Zoom to play a virtual tournament. It is a fun way to let off steam. I also have 2 kids.
SA: What are your hopes for the future of the organization?
Dr. G: I hope the word gets out about Saylor, and more and more students utilize this platform. Also, that we can get more universities to partner with us and help students. Especially with remedial courses like math; I would like to see Saylor be able to come in and say “You don’t have to pay for that”, take it through us and your university will accept it. That’s a hope that I have, not just for math but for any subject where students can utilize the free courses so they do not have to pay as much when getting their degrees.
SA: Anything else you would like to share with us?
Dr. G: Just really excited to be here!