Dan: Hi, everyone, this is tech in EdTech, brought to you by Magic EdTech, where we discuss technology that powers education, and improves learning for all. Welcome to today's episode: Using Technology to Improve Equity and Access. I'm your host, Dan Gizzi, vice president of sales for global accounts. And our guest today is Emily Bergland, Director of accessibility from McGraw Hill. Hi, Emily. Welcome.
Emily: Hi, Dan. Good to be here.
Dan: Thanks for joining us today. So, really just want to take a few minutes just to you know, see how you're doing and understand how you've been over the last year.
Emily: Yeah, so how have I been over the last year? I would say some of it has been pretty standard in that I do work remotely already out of Minnesota. I no longer have been travelling to our offices, like in Boston, New York, Seattle, but we'll start doing that again soon. And otherwise COVID. I have a couple sons, one in third grade, one in seventh grade. And so I had the battles that most parents have in moving over to online learning. So that was a challenge. And for all, I'd say, pretty healthy except for the bouts with COVID. So, my husband got COVID. I got COVID. My mother did, my brother-in-law, my sister and I would say COVID knocked me down for about three weeks. I'm still, I would call myself a little bit of a long holler. It could be worse. But I'm hoping that my breath comes back soon. I seem to have developed asthma, but that's okay.
Dan: Oh, we're obviously glad you're with us and can join us today and hope to over the long haul will come to an end soon.
Emily: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: So would love to just understand a little bit about your background, how you ended up in EdTech, some of your professional career maybe before that, and just understand a little bit of you know, where you are today and what you do in EdTech.
Emily: Yeah, great. So, I studied statistics in grad school, and I ended up going to Utah Valley University. It's an Oron, Utah. And I was full-time faculty in developmental math and fantastic job like I loved teaching, one might say math to math phobes. But during that time, I worked a lot with publishing companies. And because I was head of some of the textbook adoptions. So, let's say Pearson, you've got Cengage, McGraw Hill, and the personalities, the people I met, I wanted to know more about them. And they convinced me, you should go into publishing. So, I came over to McGraw Hill and I went to higher ed math stats, and I was in the editorial side. So, I worked on textbooks and the ancillary content. So at that point, digital was sort of, on the side, the online homework. On the side, the focus was the worksheets, right? The content of the textbooks, the print process. And from there, then I became director of digital content, so an increased emphasis on the digital product. So, I drove the development of our online math content, called Connect Math, did that for a couple years. And then over about 2012, I became a product owner, I switched over to our digital platform group. So, that moved from higher ed editorial over to the digital platform group focusing on our tools, and our platforms, agile product development. And in 2016, I was assigned to be the product owner, responsible for making our higher ed platform and assessment product, making them compliant. And I had no idea what I was doing. Wow, accessibility, what do I do? But I sat down, I sat down at a desk with Jaws, the screen reader Jaws, and I started writing keys. And it was fascinating. Like I started from there so 2016 and since then I've attended conferences, anything I can find online, constantly learning seeking out new, new materials, and it's been fantastic. I moved to full-time accessibility at McGraw Hill 2019. And now I'm the director, leading products and platforms across the digital platform group but serving higher ed, and K 12.
Dan: Such a great journey, I always love hearing how people start off in one world and then end up someplace, they probably never thought they would be across that journey. So, it's amazing to hear it, what are the things that you're doing. And, you know, McGraw Hill obviously, is having that transition to digital, that it's taken over the last several years, I'm sure it keeps you incredibly busy with everything that you're doing. And that aspect of it, I'd love to just hear you expand a little bit around the accessibility, you know, specifically areas that area what you're doing. That's one of the biggest areas, I would say, as the world had a transition in the last 15-16 months to digital that always had traditionally been an afterthought. It always seemed particularly from the digital products, as they were developed, and was thrust into the forefront of everybody's minds, even with students that may not necessarily be considered someone that would necessarily need those types of activities and services. You know, maybe you can expand a little bit on that for me.
Emily: So about what I'm doing in the company? Yeah. So it is broad, right? Accessibility, you can be director of accessibility, and that's just one title that goes and touches everything. Because you've got the remediation of existing product we have so much product across and content across k 12. Across higher ed. So you've got that side, you've got the remediation, the prioritization.
Dan: When you say remediation, would you elaborate a little bit on that for our listeners that may not understand what that means?
Emily: Oh, yeah, sure. So originally, let's say a product we developed in 2016. It's not compliant. Okay. So we need to dig in and remediate that and ensure, let's say it supports a voice input, screen reader support, you've got keyboard navigation switch. So meeting, let's say colour contrast. And so looking at it in a different light, and quite often, I would say it's a transformation of the product, you start somewhere and at the beginning, we thought, is this more of a checklist? Right? That's often a thought is it a checklist? Meet this requirement, this requirement, this requirement, and then it shifted into an overhaul of the platform, starting with that user experience going into the code side, right, extensive testing, to where we are now. So having, let's say, higher ed having a compliant platform Connect. And then we also have new products. Okay, so you've got your remediation side, taking what you have making it compliant. Our goal right now will CAG 2.1 level double a compliance. But then with the development of new products, it's sort of a, it's a different skill set now. We need to make sure we have folks who have the training, how do you incorporate? Make sure you're reflecting users' needs in the design in the user's experience? And then you have how do you pull that into an agile team? How do you have your user stories, your acceptance criteria, the development that supports that user’s experience, the testing, it's really complex, it's doable. But it's complex, so many steps to get to that end.
Dan: So great to hear that, you know, I again, having a publishing background as myself, I had traditionally been on the sales side and sold the technology for many of the publishers that our audience would understood would recognise the names of, but it's always great to hear now how this has been thrust into the forefront because it wasn't always and it wasn't always thought about from that perspective, can we check a box, right? We check the box to an extent but now to hear that, as you're going through the product development lifecycle, that it's not just a box being checked is such an amazing transition for the market. Knowing that, you know, technology and education being thrust so quickly and having to adapt in the ways that our classrooms hadn't been traditionally taught and changed so rapidly that you know, McGraw Hill has been is thinking of that and including that going forward as well as is great to hear.
Emily: It's been a challenge for sure.
Dan: So where do you see you know, with that, being in mind, the direction of the tech moving? You know, now that we've come through and have some hopeful sense of normalcy in the fall where you know, children will be returning back into the classroom in, you know, in a mask optional world or mask required, depending upon on the school system, they're not going to be potentially as remote as they were in the fall, you know, what, what are some of the steps that McGraw Hill is going to continue to move forward? You know, knowing that there will be that at least initial technology in the classroom?
Emily: Yeah, so we have had, there has been an emphasis on accessibility implementation, there has been a push, we've got a plan, we're moving, we're making progress, but with the acceleration of the use of digital, and now some of that becoming a norm in the classroom, we have had to pick it up with working with customers. So making sure that it's not just enough to create a compliant product site, we need to have resources, we need resources for the teachers, we need resources for the students. So, are these videos? is it documentation? Working more with our customers, to help them navigate these waters? And we're also figuring out how we can better support our people, because this is, it's a process, it's not something that happens overnight. But we need to help our people gain the confidence to do this work, to understand accessibility, to engage our users, and to scale. So, we're really ramping up the the speed at which we're implementing accessibility so we can support all the learners.
Dan: So, you use the term in the prep notes that is called shift left. I'd love to hear a little bit about that.
Emily: Yeah, shift left, and that's a common term we’ll hear at conferences, accessibility conferences, let's say like x con CSUN. And I have in the past, and even now when I guess when I talk with folks, you'll hear about accessibilities development, development, development, I have no, no, it's not. Shift left it because it comes from the beginning of the product, the design of it. So, what do our customers need? How do we design those experiences? UX has a, just such an important role in the success of developing accessible products. And using inclusive design. So doing all of this focus on the user experience up front, it actually leads really well into the development into the testing, and to the outcome. I often find that when I'm working with the UX designers, on how to define, like, what needs to happen, and what are the behaviours, if it's hard to figure out what the behaviours should be, it probably means we need to rethink the design. So, addressing it upfront, is going to make it so much smoother in the end, and quicker to get through to the end point.
Dan: That's great to hear. I think, you know, what would you say, so using that as your mentality moving forward, you know, to provide some advice, if somebody is thinking about getting into this type of space, either in the publishing world or the EdTech world and, you know, looking to be more from a more inclusive perspective, you know, what would you say would be some of the challenges that someone might be dealing with, as they're thinking about that transition?
Emily: Yeah, it's, well, I could say can feel isolating, like; Oh, my gosh, what do I do? Where do I start? Um, one thing I would say is, it's an evolution. It's not going to happen overnight. Okay, and a statement. A statement I like from one of my favourite trainers is no ego, amigo, like we're all any best we can, and be open to learn it. And with that, though, so you've got the evolution takes time, that time that requires investment. So, you need to put in the money and the people, right? So it's slow moving, but you can get there and seek expertise, right? No one has to go it alone. You may have internal expertise, right, maybe your company you're fortunate enough to have that. But additionally, there is external expertise out there and available and ready to help companies, people with this work, so don't go it alone. Okay, it can be done more efficiently with the help of those experts. And there'll have to be a strategy and process for this. So, you've got your existing product versus your new product, there's going to have to be prioritization. So, are you going to go for that new shiny Bell? Right, the bells and whistles? Or are you going to make that tough choice to fix what's currently there? And then proceed on to those new features. So that's pretty, that's tough. There's also, you know, do you have a website? Do you have learning content? There's a process for developing compliant content, right? There are best practices for that. There's also for developing platform. But then both of those pieces have to come together. And I think that's a great challenge at McGraw Hill. You've got your authors, you've got your platform, and then you've got your intersection of those two, you really have to have a seamless flow end to end. And that's hard. And it's really hard in a large organization, such as ours. And then training, we need to invest in training. And people, people are not able to do this without that confidence, and just getting that initial bite of success and then take it from there. It's possible, but it's not easy.
Dan: If you were to look at your former peers going back into your classroom days, with everything that you know now what's out there, what would be one word of advice around that for them? You know, the teachers that are out there that, you know, may have struggled with this transition into digital space that are going to be coming back into the classroom, what would be one word of advice you would have for them or one phrase or for example?
Emily: I would say partner with the publishing companies, partner with these EdTech companies who are providing these materials, who are also there to help you help your students. Okay, you don't have to go it alone. Companies are set up to support you in doing that.
Dan: That is great advice. So what else is on your plate back to schools almost here, once it's over? What's going to keep you busy in the fall?
Emily: Oh, man back to school. So isn't my boys back in school? Yeah, we've got that. And accessibility is going strong and McGraw Hill. We've done so much work on the higher ed front. But k 12 we’re digging in deep, and there's, we got a lot of work ahead. But we've got great people doing the work, they're motivated. And the conversations around accessibility, it just builds and builds. So, I'm expecting good things. Great things from McGraw Hill.
Dan: That's great that Emily, thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate the time that you've taken. You know, we obviously enjoy these kind of conversations and, I would honestly say from my own perspective, I've learned a lot about accessibility in our times together. And in hearing you talk about you know, what, was always an afterthought for me as a salesperson, and now has been, you know, again, as I mentioned, thrust very much into the forefront of what we do, and, and all that we need for our students.
Emily: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, I do think it's a challenge. We're all doing the best we can. And we can't be competing with each other when it comes to accessibility. We need to be supporting our customers, right, our teachers, our institutions, our students, and I'd love to see more sharing of ideas about how we can come together and do that.
Dan: Absolutely. So as we close out today's Tech in EdTech, brought to you by Magic EdTech. I want to thank you again, Emily, for joining us here today and to all of our listeners out there who continue to support us. Thank you and we hope you'll tune into future recordings beyond this one.
Emily: Thanks so much.