Greg Shrader tailors a helpful path for educators.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
“We originally created TeachQuest as a means to create a community among the teachers who graduated from the teacher certification programs offered through the National Teacher Education Center,” says Greg Shrader, Managing Partner of TeachQuest, a suite of classroom tools for educators. “Our goal was to keep those teachers in contact with one another, to provide them with productivity tools that support teaching and learning, and to create a vehicle for professional growth. We then saw a broader market in which those same tools could be used beyond new teachers and assist the teacher community at large.”
Victor: As TeachQuest was originally Teachbook, was there initially more of a social networking component for teachers?
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Greg: I created TeachQuest. I am the Managing Partner and a long time educational technology researcher and developer. My research at Northwestern University in the 1990s was the basis for the creation of TeachScape – a professional development portal for teachers. I left TeachScape in 2003 to focus on the National Teacher Education Center which operates alternative certification programs that provide special education, bilingual, math and science teachers to school districts. In 2009, I created TeachQuest as a means to build community among the thousands of teachers who earned their license from programs offered through the National Teacher Education Center. Focused on the future, TeachQuest is now nationwide and helping the teaching community at large streamline lesson plans, connect and grow.
Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?
Greg: TeachQuest is a professional community where teachers can communicate, share practices, blog and network. It is also a productivity platform supporting the day-to-day work of teachers by providing tools that leverage teacher’s time and effort toward improved instruction. For example, the Planbook tool in TeachQuest allows teachers to build lesson plans tied to the Common Core standards and to share those plans with their principal. It also allows teachers to attach media resources to their plans. More importantly it automatically posts homework assignments and resources that teachers attach to their plans to a public website where students can refer to them from home. And, it archives lessons indexed by the Common Core (or state standards) so that they can be retrieved and referred to or reused in subsequent years. In Planbook teachers can plan once and accomplish a range of related goals.
Soon TeachQuest will launch an integrated Moodle feature that will allow teachers to support online learning. That platform will keep a history of all lesson plans, assignments and resources that a teacher includes in their Planbook and automatically provide access for students. The Moodle platform will also provide professional development resources to teachers and schools.
TeachQuest also plans on developing a gradebook feature and tools that will allow schools and districts to integrate TeachQuest with their enterprise systems (e.g., Powerschool).
Victor: How is it unique? Got competitors?
Greg: TeachQuest is different because it integrates communication and community building tools with productivity tools. It also leverages the power of the Internet to eliminate duplicative tasks. If a teacher writes a homework assignment in their plans, why should they also need to log onto a school website to post the same assignment. With Planbook a teacher can write the assignment once and communicate it simultaneously.
There are a number of competitors in this space – but TeachQuest is the only one that integrates community with productivity.
Victor: When was it developed? Anything interesting or relevant about its development history?
Greg: It was originally developed for launch in 2010 with relatively modest goals – to serve our own community of teachers. Interestingly the company was sued pre-launch and as a result of the publicity we have users from every corner of the world. In our current re-launch under the TeachQuest name we are focused on providing more robust tools on a nationwide platform.
Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?
Greg: It originated in Chicago. It’s available now everywhere at www.teachquest.com.
Victor: How much does it cost? Options?
Greg: TeachQuest is a free service including access to the Planbook Tools. There are however premium Planbook features that include the ability to share plans and automatically post from Planbook to a public website. The premium features are available to everybody in a free trial. After that, the cost for individual teachers is $20 per calendar year. There is also pricing for schools and districts starting at $450 per school site.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Greg: TeachQuest is currently being used by thousands of individual teachers. We have also recently had the adoption of TeachQuest on a schoolwide basis at several Chicago area schools. If you are interested in a school or district plan please call us at (866) TEACH-61. For a limited time, plans are available at a discount to celebrate our launch under the TeachQuest name.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Greg: TeachQuest is tailored for educators. It provides productivity tools for teachers and management tools for administrators. For example, when a school buys a site license, the principal gets a dashboard that allows them to access all of their teachers’ plans. Stacks of printed lesson plans are replaced by one automatically generated screen that provides data about plans and allows a principal to quickly access an individual teacher’s plans when doing a classroom visit.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Greg: I think it’s a bright day for education. Sometimes the focus, like so many other things these days, is on the negative. People focus on the few teachers who under perform, on scores that might be lower than we’d hope, and on comparisons between the United States and other countries. I’m not saying that these challenges don’t exist, but look at what has been accomplished over the past 10 years.
We now have data systems that allow us to track the individual learning of students.
We have teachers that are trained to use those tools and provide instruction that is more responsive to the needs of their students.
As a result teachers can tailor instruction to actual day-to-day needs rather than simply move on a straight path through the curriculum. Kids win here as instructional time focuses on improvement.
We have tools that allow for instruction to continue beyond school hours to support kids at home when they are stuck on individual problems. Kahn’s Academy is a great example here. We hope that Planbook will facilitate a similar approach by allowing teachers to attach media to plans and share it with their kids.
We have the wide-scale adoption of Common Core standards that will make teaching and learning more comparable across the country and drive the development and adoptions of textbooks on a national level. Planbook supports this by allowing teachers to easily index Common Core Standards to their lessons.
We have school days that are longer. In Chicago, we have the return of the arts and physical education to the curriculum.
We do all of this for all children in this country. Remember that in many countries children as young as 12 are separated into academic and vocational tracks based on the results of high stakes tests. When you see comparisons of test scores at the middle school and high school level, we are often comparing all American children to the sub-set of children who have been allowed based on admissions testing to pursue academic learning.
So there is a lot to celebrate in education in the United States. It’s our goal at TeachQuest to support the teachers who work so hard everyday to a make that happen.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating TeachQuest?
Greg: That’s a hard question to answer. Parts of it are found above. I started my career as a Teacher in 1989 and went to grad school in 1994 focused on the role of technology in improving teaching and learning. I did research at Cornell and later at Northwestern at a time when the Internet was new and promised to make the power of computing accessible to all children. We build software to help middle school students analyze scientific data, curriculum to help teachers use it, professional development to help them learn new practices, and technologies to deliver that professional development at scale.
Over the past 10 years much of what we considered research in the 90’s has become common practice in schools all over the country. But the technology landscape is fragmented. There are tools for learning, tools for planning, tools for communicating, tools for grading, tools for tracking student progress, and the list goes one. Many of these tools have built in redundancy.
At TeachQuest we are committed to leverage. Our vision is to create one destination – one login – where the multiple tasks that teachers do everyday can be supported and streamlined and the redundancy eliminated. We aren’t completely there yet, but Planbook is a great start.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Greg: I think the future is bright. We are seeing the beginning of a revolution in the use of data to refine instruction and improve teaching and learning. Sometimes this transition will be painful and require us to think differently about our day-to-day work, but on the whole its a positive trend – one that we see teachers supporting quietly everyday. That’s the untold story about education. It’s not about the few teachers who under perform. We have that in every profession. It’s about the vast majority who get it done everyday and head home at night knowing they made a quiet difference in the lives of children.
Victor: Any quirky stories?
Greg: Well, unfortunately most of our funny stories have related to the recent lawsuit. On the upside the original lawsuit was filed on the first day of school in 2010 generating worldwide interest and a broad community of users.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of TeachQuest?
Greg: We are on Quest to provide communication and productivity tools that leverage teachers’ time and effort. But at the end of the day TeachQuest is a community of teachers. It’s not up to us. We are excited to see what novel uses teachers will make of TeachQuest.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: [email protected]