Interview | Mary McCaffrey Wants You to TH(i)NQ

Mary McCaffrey is CEO of THiNQ Ed. Mary is responsible for setting the overall direction and strategy for the company and has more than 25 years of experience in technology and education through her various leadership roles at Pearson, Apple, Carnegie Learning, Duquesne University and Carnegie Mellon University. As President of Pearson’s School Systems group, Mary transitioned the business to its current technology leadership position. Prior to her position at Pearson, she lead PowerSchool, a division of Apple, as President, where she spearheaded the development and sale of its flagship student information system and played an instrumental role in the business unit’s eventual acquisition by Pearson. Mary attended the University of Pittsburgh where she was a Chancellor’s Merit Scholar and graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa.

Victor: Why did you create TH(i)NQ Ed?

Mary: Well, I actually did not create THiNQ Ed, I joined the executive team as Chief Executive Officer mid 2009. Our founders created the company in 1996 with the intent to help schools and districts put their best foot forward online. In 1996, having a website was considered pretty progressive in education. The company saw a need for amazing online web presence that engages district constituents yet is unbelievably easy for any faculty or administrator to maintain. We launched our flagship product, SchoolCenter, and have been innovating ever since.

Since then, we continue to innovate in online engagement solutions for districts and schools. We launched our first student-centered learning network, journ(i)e, in June 2010 and recently introduced a custom branded email communication suite, cour(i)er. Our goal is to meet the unique engagement needs education has with our online solutions.

Victor: What does the name mean? What is it? How was it created?

Mary: At THiNQ Ed, we are passionate about the individual learner and helping the learner reach his/her full learning potential. The lowercase “i” represents the learner and the parentheses around the “i” are the learner’s learning path.

As an innovator in our sector, we are very results and action oriented. We like the word “think” because it is a powerful action word and describes the act of thinking and learning. The “Q” was chosen rather than the “K” in the word “think” because we wanted to steer away from conformity, from tradition, and wanted to be a bit disruptive.

We are very careful about being true to education and maintain our focus on solving problems for education, hence we qualify our scope with “Ed”.

That’s how we came up with “TH(i)NQ Ed”. We believe our name speaks to who we serve, what we’re passionate about, and our culture of innovating for education.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Mary: At THiNQ Ed, we have three main products we provide to education.

TH(i)NQ Ed™ provides online engagement solutions for education for over fifteen years. We offer our award-winning SchoolCenterSM product, which is a web content management solution that enables districts to engage with their community and constituents.

In addition to SchoolCenter, we recently launched our latest communication suite solution for education, cour(i)erSM,  which delivers the best email, messaging, and collaboration capabilities. courier is a VMware product and is repackaged as courier specifically for the K-12 audience.

I am thrilled with our introduction mid 2010 of our student-centered learning network, journ(i)e®. journie addresses education’s need to provide Digital Natives with a safe and structured learning network environment where students and teachers collaborate, create, and share learning experiences and content. journie provides students the platform for enhanced engagement while inspiring self-motivation in their pursuit of knowledge.

journie is built on the passion that the individual learner should be allowed and motivated to thrive to reach his/her full learning potential. We recognize Digital Natives now consume and process knowledge in a way much different than when you and I went to school. In order for us to capture the Digital Natives’ engagement, we need to provide a solution that is second nature to them, and at the same time, is safe and secure.

So far, journie has received exceptional education trade and consumer trade media attention (Tech&Learning, eSchoolNews, CNET, ZDNet, and FamilyCircle) and was named as ZDNet’s Top 10 predictions for 2011.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Mary: Many people are familiar with the top social networking product, Facebook and the top business networking product, LinkedIn.  journie fills the need for an education networking product for connection and collaboration on education specific opportunities while maintaining a safe and secure environment for K12 learners.

journie is not a social network or a business network; it is a learning network that has all of the robust web 2.0 capabilities and features- yet is built for education. Educators may confidently provide this to their digital natives without the online safety risks you would experience with social networks.

In addition to providing a platform that facilitates and encourages learning, we are continuously integrating other solutions within our platform to make the learning experience more holistic. We recently integrated with Google Docs, with gradebooks, and with SIF.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Mary: We see eroding student engagement in K-12, which leads to poor student achievement and lower graduation rates. And despite all of the public funding available for education, student achievement has been stagnant for the past decade.

We looked at the students and how they’re learning today. We looked at what they have available to them in terms of media and also looked at how they are wired differently. Students today are born with technology at their fingertips. They are given the power to consume content whenever, wherever, however they want on whatever device they chose. They can watch TV while surfing online, while texting to their friend, and perhaps even downloading a game—all at once! They’re collaborators, creators and publishers.

When they come to school, they’re asked to put all of that away. They’re expected to sit and listen. That’s not even relevant in today’s 21st Century workforce. Yet somehow, we still expect students today to learn the way we prefer to teach.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Mary: journie was something I thought of well before I joined THiNQ Ed, and the company provided the opportunity for me to bring that vision to reality. We wanted to provide something that kids like, that parents trust, and something that educators can use to facilitate learning. Our vision is that journie becomes such an integral part of a learner’s life that they just don’t “turn it off” when they’re out of school, they’re constantly building their learning experience.

Any district or school can get journie almost instantaneously. It’s so simple to get the accounts set up and like other networks, once your account is created, you can start adding content to build your online learning experience.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Mary: journie is a subscription-based online solution “in the cloud”. We sell journie to schools and districts. Our list price starts at $8.99 per user per year for a set of 1,000 licenses.

Parents should demand this in their children’s schools. Can you imagine for a price of two coffees, your child has a year long access to a learning platform that encourages them to create, share, and publish their school work? Can you imagine telling your child that he’s on the learning network too much and to stop focusing on his homework?

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Mary: We have a district in Oklahoma, Putnam City Schools, that is just blowing us away with how they embrace innovation and learning. Particularly, there is a physics teacher who is working with his students to publish their version of the physics textbook because they feel the printed version is now dated. This is an example of how knowledge is collected, collaborated, and syndicated for future students to build upon.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it NOT for?

Mary: Our solution is for the individual learner. Right now, it’s for students, teachers, parents, and education. In the future, we would like to expand on this and make it available to learners of all ages. There’s workforce development, there’s second-generation careers for retirees, and there’s pre primary schools.

journie is a learning network and is not intended for purely social activities.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Mary: Well, my passion is to create solutions that engage today’s learners to better prepare them for their future and the future of our country and world.  It is critical that we embrace our changing technological world and put it to use for each learner. I recently presented at the 2010 American Association of School Administrators on the topic of the digital divide. Not the technology divide between the haves and have nots; but a larger and, in my opinion, much more impactful divide. It’s the divide between our current educational infrastructure— the digital immigrants and our core audience—the digital natives. We must connect with students recognizing how they’ve changed and the highly technological world in which they prefer to spend their time—whether it be for social activities or learning.

As a technologist in education, I want to lend all of my energy and resources to help educators with this advancement.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating TH(i)NQ Ed?

Mary: I know that I am an example of learning as a way of life. I was a great student in school and embraced my education fully. But it has been my working career, learning how to work with and motivate others, watching the world change and changing my work and career with it, the experience of raising my own children and living through their educational experiences, my interest in problem solving and constantly trying to figure out a better solution that led me to understand that, if education is to benefit everyone—we need to reflect the needs of those we are attempting to serve.

I’m fully committed to enhancing the private/public partnership and believe that small businesses like ours have an obligation to identify and execute solutions to enable each student the opportunity to enhance their learning.

Victor: How does TH(i)NQ Ed address some of your concerns about education?

Mary: We believe student achievement is the biggest concern educators have today. In fact, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are programs at the highest level in our country targeted to address student achievement.

We also believe students achieve because they’re engaged with what they’re learning. There are many ways to engage students, such as making the topic relevant to them like project-based learning. Our take is that we can and must engage students with technology and enable them to access this learning network, whenever, however, and whatever they want.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Mary: We are very optimistic about the future of education. Everywhere you turn, in the media, to your local PTA, including the President, is talking about education. It is recognized at the highest level in our country that we need to solve the student achievement issue; that we need to prepare our next generation of workers for a real, 21st Century, knowledge-based workforce. It’s the only way to compete globally in the future.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of TH(i)NQ Ed? What makes you say that?

Mary: THiNQ Ed provides solutions that will engage and enable learning. We know that we need to be a part of the solution not just one more piece of the puzzle. It is time for our education system to recognize and put to use the world that students live in and embrace.

THiNQ Ed is focused on the learner. We know that we need education infrastructure to deliver education to all of our students and we will bring the necessary support services and solutions to the infrastructure. But it is the learner who needs to be and is at the center of our thinking.

We believe it does take a “village to raise a child”. Using journie, students, teachers, parents, professionals, and experts will all collaborate resulting in richer and more substantive learning experiences.

This fundamental drive and dedication to the ultimate learner experience is what THiNQ Ed is about. When we make the learner successful, education is successful.


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to:

  • Christina


    Wonderful article! Thanks for sharing the news with the world.

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