After realizing her passion for education, Dr. Betsy Nelson traded in a career in large-scale computer build management for the classroom. She completed a second Bachelor’s degree in education and later received her Master’s degree and Doctorate of Education at the University of South Dakota. When it came time to select a dissertation topic for her doctoral research, Nelson knew subject matter passion was critical. “It had to be something that you love, of course. You wouldn’t finish it unless you had a deeply involved and invested interest in it,” Nelson said.
Teaching elementary school at the time, Nelson had first-hand exposure to classroom realities and some uncovered, intriguing elements of teaching and learning. “I became interested in figuring out how to leverage different tools, technology being one of them, to be able to help meet my students where they were,” Nelson said. This prompted her to explore how technology could help strategically instruct and better serve students with various learning needs.
Student barriers and motivators in a flexible blended learning environment
Nelson began researching various blended learning models, ultimately landing on flexible blended learning for her classroom. As the name suggests, this learning environment allowed Nelson to be flexible and provide students with what they needed to meet their individual learning plans, with options ranging from one-on-one, whole group, or small group instruction. Her research,
A Phenomenological Study of Flexible Blended Learning in a Fourth Grade Classroom, examined fourth-grade students’ perceived barriers and motivating forces in this flexible blending learning model.
Reflex brings gamification and student motivation
Gamification emerged as a prominent motivating factor for students in the flexible blended learning setting. Nelson’s research examined students’ attitudes toward digital learning tools, including
ExploreLearning Reflex, an adaptive and game-based math fact fluency platform. Nelson originally discovered Reflex through the educator grant program. After taking a trial, she began to use the fluency program daily with her students, including in the blended learning model.
Nelson concluded that students enjoyed practice and repetition with game-based delivery, particularly when memorizing facts and information. Student quotes embedded in Nelson’s dissertation bring the learners’ perspective to life, with one student noting, “My favorite game on the computer is Reflex. Reflex is the best” (Nelson, 2023, p. 75).
Listen to Dr. Nelson’s full interview about her research and the Reflex student experience.
Now an instructional coach in Douglas School District, South Dakota, Nelson supports students and teachers in grades 6-8 across all subject areas, from professional development and
lesson planning to student interventions and more.