Dan Gizzi: Hi everyone. This is Tech in EdTech! In this podcast, we discuss technology that powers education and improves learning for all. Welcome to today's episode - we're going to be talking about Getting Remote Learning Right. I'm your host Dan Gizzi - VP of Sales at Magic EdTech. Our esteemed guest today is Amanda McGee, Senior Vice President of Curriculum at Accelerate Learning. Amanda thanks for joining today.
Amanda: Thank you so much for having me.
Dan Gizzi: So let's just go through the last year and a half - what's been going - anything new anything exciting?
Amanda McGee: It's been.. It's been a super interesting ride. So I've been able to experience this kind of pandemic and education from um, all avenues. Ah, you know me working in kind of the Ed-Tech industry… My husband is an administrator um in a Public Education setting and then I have 2 kids in Education. So I've I've, we have we have experienced the gamut at this point as we got it all covered.
Dan Gizzi: You've got it all covered. That's for sure. Oh that's that's such an interesting background. Especially you know how you can cross over that and and not only be a builder but also user of some of the things that are out there today and you know. Ah, 1 particularly thinking from just remote learning perspective I understand where you're coming from I've got a young 1 as well. So this is near and dear to me and and definitely led to hear you as well. Um. But just love to hear a little bit about your background and understand you know, professionally how you got into ed tech and and your current company.
Amanda McGee: Awesome! Yeah, so um I I will say that Ed Tech was probably never never the the end goal of where I thought I would end up so um, went to school really thinking I was going to be kind of pre-med I had 2 loves and that that was science and music and I quickly figured out 1 of those is a better career than the other. Ah, so so I kind of had a couple different things in when I was in college that allowed me to essentially teach and realized that that I was pretty darn good at it. So my background is in K23 education so I spent a number of years as a middle and high school teacher. Um, then had ah the pleasure of going you know back to into the classroom as what's called an instructional coach. Probably 1 of my favorite jobs ever - got a little bit of you know, working with other teachers to improve their practice but also still got to kind of stay in touch with with the kids in the classroom. Um, and then I kind of finished out my career in the K 12 education space by being a district-level curriculum coordinator for a forty thousand kid district out here in Texas and really got to kind of experience picking curriculum products and trying to implement curriculum products at ah at a district level and that's, that's where I kind of thought that might be an interesting interesting next move and next place to go and that is kind of how I ended up here at Accelerate Learning and ah have been here at what what we sometimes call the dark side of education since 2014.
Dan Gizzi: That's great to hear I Always loved to understand the journey into the Ed Tech space I myself have ah had an accidental career and landed here for much longer than I would have ever thought and actually left and did come back with with everything that happened in the pandemic you know, just 1 of the interesting things is thinking about you know how there was an immediate overnight shift in the way that education was was going to have to be delivered in this country whether we liked it or not even around the world. Um, you know it was particularly from the printed digital space.
Just to understand a little bit about your company and you know some of the offerings you know how would you explain yourself in the market. You know where you would fit in in that kind of space.
Amanda McGee: Yes, we we you know we fit in a little bit of a different space in the market because I wouldn't well I like to describe it as we are a curriculum that is delivered digitally. Um, but we are not essentially just a digital curriculum. While we do have that digital platform and all of our kind of teacher resource or resources are accessed via that digital platform, we really still write the curriculum product for in-class hands-on experiences. So so you can imagine while. Ah. You know, a lot of these kind of truly completely digital products - the pandemic was this, you know, immediate kind of burst into oh now, everybody's using us. We struggled a little bit because um, you know we are we believe very strongly in hands-on learning, we're constructivists in nature. We want kids to be working together. We want them to be in Groups. We want them to be problem-solving. Um and that's really hard to do in that and that virtual digital space. So we kind of had to have a little a little shift and kind of went into emergency mode and we're trying to figure out things that we could do to help support teachers figure out how to use what is a digital product but is usually used in a very traditional classroom space in this remote learning environment. Um, so so I think I think you know the what I what I hope we talk about today or what we're going to talk about today and where we're going to get with this conversation is kind of that pendulum that swung you know completely to everything's digital in this virtual space and then where that pendulum is swinging back to now as teachers get back in that classroom and I've heard them say over and over again that they want to return to quote-unquote normal um, and then where maybe that pendulum will end up to be a good happy medium of how we figure out how to do this virtual digital learning. Um, in combination with those really good rich, you know classroom experiences. We did well but it was a little bit more of a shift in a learning curve for us than I think some other truly digital Product companies.
Dan Gizzi: Yeah, STEM in and of itself just lends itself to being a very interesting place to talk about from a curriculum and education standpoint where you know you would think it would be almost the driver to lead itself to digital but then having to take a step back to understand that you know if you're doing some kind of an experiment, there's you know it's no way for a second grader to understand what condensation is without taping that plastic bag to the window to actually see it happen.
Amanda McGee: Yep absolutely
Dan Gizzi: and and I could say that from experience because there was bags with water taped around my house while we were teaching from home for a year and got to experience STEM firsthand. But with that shift you know, um, just obviously disruption in and of itself during a pandemic is 1 thing you know when I think about the STEM resources in K12 they've become almost a disruptor themselves as well. You know, um in your mind you know where you come from having been an educator previously and now as being on the dark side as well. You know I've I'd never had that in-classroom experience myself other than being a learner and obviously a parent myself, but I've always considered myself a dark sider of having been in publishing it in EdTech for as long as I have from from that perspective you know where would you say you've seen you know some of the not so good things you know some of the things that could be avoided as we look and you into that transition back into what this Hybrid life is going to be.
Amanda McGee: Um, yeah, so I think you know 1 of the the biggest things is this idea that a completely digital or virtual um experience can replace that classroom teacher. So so much of educating kids - it has nothing to do with the content so much of it has to do with those relationships that happen within that classroom between the teacher and student and between the students together so to to so to kind of think that those could be easily you know, figured out or or you know solved for via just moving everybody into a digital platform was was really hard. Another thing that we saw is that a lot of districts - It was just a lot at once. So not only were these teachers figuring out how to adjust their instruction, what resources to use, but but many districts were also at the same time kind of “Oh well, you know let's let's go ahead and force all of this into a new LMS” and so they were you know putting a new learning management system in place and and how do you grade things virtually versus what you used to doing in paper and pencil. So it was just a lot and and and you know, kind of I think that is where that shift to want to go back to just what is normal what we're comfortable with um is I think that's where that that want - that I'm hearing from a lot of teachers is coming from - because they were just completely overwhelmed ah for for a while - which I think is what one of the things that led to a lot of these endeavors having less than ideal implementation. Um, and so my fear is that is that we will kind of have this idea of of see! you know this digital stuff didn't work. My kids didn't do well. Um, and and that's what that's what I'm hoping we'll be able to avoid avoid and pick the the good things that happen from this and then realize those things that are hard to replicate in that in that digital virtual space and figure out a way to kind of get them back together.
Dan Gizzi: And yeah I think that that hybrid response to learning is is going to I think in my opinion be what comes out of this is being that. Okay, the the proper balance between instruction that's happened in traditional manners or the manner up to and then what that leads to in the future as well. You know I think it's it's Great. You touch upon that you know the inequity of of connections. You know I think that was a huge challenge initially that was hopefully you know something that was an eye-opening experience to understand as new products and new things are developed that you know that's something to think about that. Not every child is going to have that device and and not also not every instructor is ready to to teach that way yet.
Amanda McGee: Right? right? But I think I mean that was 1 of the good things dan is that we have seen and continue to see with all of the you know the the ESSER funding that's that's being released out to districts is that the increase of devices in schools. Um, we there's lots of districts that are you know, but. They're not there there I don't think they're spending that money quite as quickly as as a lot of people thought that they would and I think it's because they're really worried about putting that money to something that that might have a recurring cost once that those funds dry up and that money's gone so a lot of them are using that either either you know kind of repay themselves back for devices bought or using that to to buy devices. So the the studies that I've seen that have come out and I'm not going to quote numbers because I don't have them open in front of me, but just the the number of devices or number of schools that that are closer to 1 to 1 has increased pretty drastically over the past 2 years um which is good because that has always been 1 of those things that that people have wanted to do more in the digital space I think a lot of people have known that's you know you just get resources that are more up to date you get resources that are staying on top of things that can change and morph and and grow as technology grows. Um way more than the the traditional textbook or paper and pencil resources. But there's always been kind of this this hesitancy to do that because maybe you know with those resources, the devices weren't as readily accessible to all kids as as they needed to be. Also, we've seen lots of you know that just the spotlight being shined on kind of what you just talked about which is that inequity of of internet access at home. Um, whereas it's not just I don't think you know those of us who have internet that's great. It's kind of 1 of those things that you just assume is everywhere at this point. And I think this really showed us that it's not - there are a lot of a lot of families and a lot of students who are still only accessing the internet via sometimes no device but often via some sort of cell phone cellular device. Um, so you know my um, also a school board member I left that out earlier with my facets of experience this pandemic but we did a lot to you know equip buses with Hotspots loaned hotspots out and so then we're still doing things right now to figure out a way, You know for us as a district to provide maybe figure out a way to provide that internet access so that we can continue to give our students these these kind of virtual digital resources at home.
Dan Gizzi: That's great to hear I've been in wearing all of those hats I can't imagine you have time to sleep for yourself.
Amanda McGee: And I do sleep I love sleeping that's 1 of my favorite things to do.
Dan Gizzi: You know as as a company were there any things early on then obviously that you were able to do for example to facilitate some of these early lessons learned.
Amanda McGee: Yeah, so 1 of our you know first things like we said was quickly realizing you know oh you know we are so rich in those um classroom experiences you know we we write in what's called the 5 E method of learning. So the you know engage is the first 1 and then the next 1 is explore and so how can we allow for those those explore type lessons. What can we do to help support our teachers so we kind of early on took an initiative kind of you know, created a project that didn't exist that Year in the plan. And started figuring out a way to create some virtual explore videos for our for our teachers putting them on our platform we did that in both math and science. So essentially you know, maybe you can't experience this this ah Lab at home that we can do it for you and we can video it and we can you know have little pause points where you pause and take your data and record your data and and kind of write about your conclusions. So that's kind of the first thing that we did um and then we actually later in 2020 started a project with you guys, Ah, to actually work on creating 200 virtual explore experiences so there are some of those things that you know like you said are are hard to replicate in the virtual environment. But then there are a lot of things especially in science that you can't actually experience in the natural environment. Um, and so we really started trying to think about what are what are some of those types of you know - I don't I don't want to call them simulations because they're not all like lab simulations - but just experiences that we could we could create and working with the Magic EdTech tech team to to help kids you know, kind of explore those concepts without maybe all of those physical materials that they need or without having to be in the classroom with their teacher. Um. So that's been a really really fun exciting project that that we'll we'll be wrapping up kind of next spring-early summer. So excited to get those out to our customers.
Dan Gizzi: That's great to hear I think you know 1 of the areas that I'd like to explore a little bit before we move on to the the final section here is just you know thinking about from a usage perspective. You know so just to kind of close the loop around there. You know again very heavily focused around learner experience as it should be. You know what are some of the things you know from learner experience on the teacher side would you think are important particularly from a technology standpoint as we've identified these gaps over the last eighteen months shift to what the future looks like you know, are there some areas around that that are being explored or talked about. Um, that you you’d like to address.
Amanda McGee: Yeah, so you know this is 1 of those things and I I think you've we've probably all heard someone say it. But you know this is that area where where our kids I mean many of them, mine in particular, have had some sort of device you know since the before they could you know, do anything. They're always reaching for phones. They're you know they they they had some sort of tablet my kids read on ah on a Kindle now. Um, so they're just they they are used to this. This is the generation they grew up with. We still have a lot of teachers who are struggling. Kind of becoming comfortable in that in that digital space. Um, I think as a company we kind of experience this ah more than others because a lot of teachers tend to think that a digital product is a supplemental product whereas we are a core. product like you could you mean you can use this as your core tool for instruction with math or science. But we deliver all of the curriculum and all of the resources and I guess what you would essentially call quote-unquote a teacher's addition to the teacher on a digital platform and we, we just kind of I get surprised on a daily basis with how many teachers are still kind of struggling ah struggling with that and ask us often for you know where's the printed teachers guide. Um, which for me, it's hard to wrap my head around because as soon as you print something it's out to date. It's out of date and and you know you can't update it whereas we really pride ourselves on trying to keep our curriculum growing and and morphing ah morphing with our teachers from their feedback and that gets harder or harder to do the more that we print. So, it's really trying to figure out how to make those teachers comfortable. With this which are things that most the time the kids are the kids are super comfortable, comfortable with um and I think it's we focus you know, even for myself and I don't know about everyone in the industry but we tend to focus the most on kind of. The students and and what what kind of experiences those kids need and and what the kids need to be successful and we often forget that those teachers are the direct conduit between our resources and those kids. So we've got to figure out um a way to make them more comfortable, ah being the driver of the learning experience and sometimes that learning experience being in a digital virtual virtual environment.
Dan Gizzi: I'm going to ask you to put your parent hat on for this question. So as you're thinking about now you're you're you know, being an I'm in Florida you're you're in Texas we've been in states that very quickly tried to revert back to you know some form of what normalcy was.
What would be some of the things that you would say as a parent looking at the way the education was trying to shift back to that traditional that is worrying you a little bit.
Amanda McGee: Um, so the traditional method of teaching tends to be this 1 size fits all approach so we design a a you know, kind of whole class whole group learning experience especially the more and more you know the higher up we get dan likes when you get into the secondary world. You know you you design your lesson that's going to be fifty minutes and you deliver it to all those kids where when we were in that virtual environment I think we we saw that the virtual environment and those resources allow us to have a little bit more differentiation and to tailor-fit some of those things um to individual kids and kids could work at their own pace. And you know move move further if they needed to move further. So that's what worries me is that we're we're we're going back to kind of this 1 size fits all 1 lesson for all kids approach when I just you know there it could be such a such a good ah hybrid blended approach to that, um, if we could get teachers to to remember the remember the things about that that virtual experience that they had during covid that that might have been positive um and and tie into that and figure out how we can kind of blend those things together and that and again you know science major here - so the the. Amount of paper that's that's starting to come home again. Always I'm like oh are we print off all these worksheets - We don't have to do that.
Dan Gizzi: If you could go back and tell yourself your your last year of teaching you know something to change what would that be.
Amanda McGee: I I think about this often because I and again my husband's still a high school Principal so He thinks I'm crazy. But I say that I will I will finish my career back in the classroom. So I often think about what you know when I do that, what's it gonna look like um, I would tell myself that it is feedback to my students is the most important thing. Um so really trying to work with my kids and where they're at, what what standards or objectives have they mastered what have they not and trying to give feedback to move them, move them all forward and get them to all be successful or not even successful so much as getting them to all show growth and progress in whatever I'm trying to teach them.
Dan Gizzi: And finally the last question - what advice would you have for your peers and your customers on post-pandemic life.
Amanda McGee: Um, so you know I guess my biggest thing is I think that my hope is that we have all realized that there isn't this kind of quick fix. There's not ah a you know there's not a digital product. that's the Number 1 answer out there traditional classroom teacher might not be patric traditional classroom teaching might not be the best answer either. But it's but it's how can we work together to come up with this kind of hybrid approach that allows the technology to do what it does well. And then also allows the teacher to do what the teacher does really well. Um, so I kind of imagine a world where we have these rich in-class experiences where that teacher is serving as a facilitator. We've got kids working together in groups and problem solving and thinking critically and then there is also this digital experience that's happening um, where where that learning is more personalized to each student's needs and maybe their learning styles. But those things aren't in conflict. Um, they're actually something that could work really well together and you know I just my biggest thing is is we kind of we need to help those teachers see that. And and and see the dream of that and you know a lot of them like we said want to go back to normal right now I think as a as a kind of space in a market, we need to help them create what that what that new normal is um and I think we could do it.
Dan Gizzi: Amanda thank you so much for joining me today I really appreciate the time and your insight into this from so many different aspects of you know where you are not only in in the world but you know having been a parent now an educator and you know selling to the products for the educator space and and looking to go back to away from the dark side. So there, there is a path back to the light which is great to hear so ah.
Amanda McGee: Um, yeah, 1 day I might I might only make it a year, Dan and and and say who what was I thinking but I do I missed it.
Dan Gizzi: You have you have to have a way to ride off into the sunset.
Amanda McGee: I loved Middle school children. So I was told very early on in my career that that if if you like that that level of crazy. It's hard to - you missed it a lot and I think that's very true.
Dan Gizzi: Absolutely So thank you all again for listening in on this episode of Tech and EdTech and we hope you'll join in and listen into future episodes.