The Dawn of a New Age – Digital Engagement & Reverse Mentoring

As Year 4 Scholars present a thank you to Dan Gerlach, President of the Golden LEAF Foundation, we see the Digital Visual Explorer mosaic in the background.

“The teacher and the student create the learning” is a statement I heard years ago and has always resonated with me. When I first heard the statement, it spoke truth to me about the interdependence of learning—a mutual process dependent on the learned and learner to exchange information in a dance for the benefit of increased exploration.

In this era of technology, students regularly devour the latest digital invention and educators increasingly question how to best use technology to engage them. With the intent of continuing to meet this generation “where they are”, while also honoring the wisdom of the ages about the value of slowing down, reflecting and being face-to-face, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) built a new digital experience for this year’s Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program, piloting a new digital tool, twice.

This progressive web app,, turned a tried and true CCL physical tool into a digital tool. Instead of having participants experience Visual Explorer in the traditional way, where a card is selected to help participants express what effective leadership means to them, students and coaches used the new app instead. Once a digital photo was selected, participants typed thoughts about what they saw in their picture and how their image spoke to them about effective leadership.

It was fascinating to watch the process unfold. This younger college audience loved pulling out their devices and were quite agile at navigating the app through login and beyond. The coaches, however needed a bit more support, which is when the magic started to unfold. Students began leaning over to their coach, pointing or tapping to assist the very person who was assigned to coach them. It was an immediate example of reverse mentoring, how both the teacher and the student create the learning. While it’s impossible to subscribe any one single event to the cause and effect it has on a learning community, I can’t help but hope and wonder if what I witnessed was how those early moments helped our little community overcome insecurity, vulnerability and perhaps much more. I want to believe that this early exchange contributed to the rich leadership learning community I would enjoy the next few days.    

The final enhancement to the digital visual explorer experience came in the form of an immediate artifact. Given the digital medium and ability to capture and manipulate data, the app is able to produce a mosaic of all the images the group selects. It was fun to see all the images together! Of course more feedback and insight will come but it was gratifying to instead of pushing technology aside, witness the power of integration. I even polled the eight coaches in my class and all of them gave it a hearty thumbs up, a value add to the experience.

Clearly there are trade offs when integrating technology into a learning experience—some could be anticipated, but it is often the accidental surprises that often inspire and propel us to engage and extend the learning. It’s in this space we discover new “magical” moments that can transport us beyond role, control and more. It continues to be an honor supporting and learning from our scholars, coaches and the needs and opportunities in rural NC…together we can do more, our learning journey continues.

-Joel Wright, Director of Learning & Innovative Solutions, Societal Advancement

Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program
Center for Creative Leadership
One Leadership Pl.
Greensboro, NC 27410

Julie Griffin | Senior Director
(336) 286-4412 | Fax: (336) 286- 4434

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