In 2005, the University of Montana Western was in a transition period. For several years, the university had been threatened with closure as a tax-saving measure by the state. Lacking the high-tech labs and lavish facilities of other institutions, Experience One was created as a way to make use of Montana Western’s resources and to increase attendance.
The new block schedule where students take one class at a time allows professors to take their pupils out into the field, utilizing the university’s unique location. The longer class times and more focused approach to education are also ideal for the small class sizes at Montana Western.
Kent Ord was brought on as the new Marketing Director in Sept., 2005. His mission was to develop a creative strategy for branding and advertising Experience One.
“One of the reasons I took the job here is there was really a differentiating factor with Experience One that was meaningful. There are a lot of universities that will say things like ‘we care,’ ‘start your future,’ ‘build your future,’ those kinds of things, but every university says that,” Ord said.
To this day Experience One continues to offer a truly unique opportunity to students. The University of Montana Western remains the only public four-year institution in the country offering block scheduling.
“As time went on, we began to see students being more successful in a number of different ways. As far as completing graduation is concerned, as far as retention and all those sorts of factors,” Ord said.
He continued, “Opinion leaders like our legislature and our governor began to take notice. Brian Schweitzer’s son came to Montana Western and graduated. People started to think of Montana Western in very different terms. Over the years there had been threats of closure, and now nobody talks about that anymore. We’ve kind of become a beacon of innovation.”
Ord was a big factor in helping the university increase attendance by over 100 percent in the ensuing years.
Although he studied journalism at Northern Arizona University, Ord landed his first job at Evans Group which was the largest advertising agency in Seattle at the time.
Before long, he became the creative director there, working with a team of over a hundred people, developing marketing campaigns for companies like Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard.
His next job was at the first technology advertising agency in Seattle. Ord recalls his time there fondly. He feels fortunate to have always somehow ended up working on the bleeding edge of innovation.
“In my career, I’ve been so lucky to be there as things have been emerging and developing. That was at a time when it was incredibly exciting. Computers were just getting on the scene and people were just starting to figure out how to use them.”
Ord parlayed his experiences in tech advertising into a job creating educational CD-ROMs. He created discs on the Vietnam War, the JFK Assassination, and Martin Luther King Jr.. The popularity of this medium was short-lived, but it gave Ord an insight into the benefits of experiential learning.
“There was a lot of research being done on interactivity. On retention for instance, when you read a book, you retain a certain percentage. If you see a video, you retain a certain percentage, but if you interact with it, what we found is that made you process the information, so you’re retention of it is so much greater.”
He saw further benefits in interactive education when he collaborated with Nickelodeon on a project to engage children in volunteer work. Together, they created an interactive experience for students using videos which inspired Ord:
“It allows people to immerse themselves in the subject matter. It was primitive in those days. Our job was to create an interface that people would understand and be able to use. What fascinates me about interaction is developing user experiences people can quickly understand and navigate.”
Ord still sees interactive video as a medium with a lot of potential. We also talked about virtual reality, and the possibilities it holds for experiential learning.
“VR has been around for a little while, but it’s like everything else. There’s a learning curve for us (creators), and it takes us quite a bit of time to figure out how things can be used. That’s always the case. When the first spreadsheet came out, people thought, ‘what in the world would I need that for?’ Now it’s universal.”
Talking about interaction and the benefits it provides for students made Ord think back on his own education.
“People learn so much more through interaction which is critical to what we do here. It’s all about being able to interact. I went to Northern Arizona University. Back in those days, I went to lecture labs that were 350 people. My humanities class was huge, but here it’s the individualized attention.”
“It was tough not being able to interact with anyone. We would just sit and listen, take notes, and regurgitate that information back on the test. I also had 4-5 classes a week, so it was always trying to shift gears. I think concentrated learning is much more effective,” Ord said.
Ord’s arrival at the University of Montana Western was an incredible moment of serendipity. His background in interactive education and marketing made him highly qualified and uniquely motivated to spread the word on Experience One. When Ord leaves the university, it will be in a much better place than when he arrived. Ord has always worked on the cutting edge with technology; perhaps someday Montana Western will be considered ground zero for a revolution in higher education.