Insights, trends, and analysis from a veteran leader in the edtech space.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Title: Senior VP Education PartnershipsOrg: Discovery Education
Reach: 4.5M educators, 50M students
Fame: EdTech Leadership Award
Quote: “Any classroom technology, from the pencil to the iPad, should have as their end goal the improvement of student achievement.”
Looking Ahead: “I think the rise of embedded formative assessment is one development that will really change teaching and learning in the future.”
An acknowledged thought leader and powerful voice dedicated to supporting the success of each learner, Scott Kinney has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of professional learning and educational technology. As Discovery Education senior vice president of education partnerships, Scott collaborates with educators and administrators around the world to develop and implement customized solutions that empower them to meet strategic goals and build modern, digital learning environments supporting student achievement. Under his leadership, Discovery Education is serving 4.5 million educators and over 50 million students around the world, and transforming teaching and learning in half of U.S. classrooms, 50 percent of all primary schools in the UK, and in more than 50 countries.
The true strength of the American public education system lies in the administrators and teachers at the front lines of the effort to prepare students for life beyond graduation.
Previously, Scott served as Discovery Education’s senior vice president of professional development. In this capacity, Scott led the creation and launch of Discovery Education’s professional learning portfolio and managed all facets of the professional development line of business. During his tenure at Discovery Education, Scott also launched the Discovery Education master’s degree in instructional media, oversaw all Discovery Education public policy initiatives at both the state and federal levels, and supervised the continued growth of the organization’s professional learning community, the Discovery Educator Network.
Scott regularly consults with high-level education officials and policymakers, and has testified before Congress on the future of learning. An accomplished public speaker and author, Scott has keynoted countless education conferences, presented at numerous administrator events, and has contributed articles and opinion pieces to various education publications. In 2015, Scott was recognized by EdTech Digest with its prestigious Leadership Award for his efforts to support school systems worldwide as they transition from static textbooks to dynamic digital content as a core instructional resource.
Prior to joining Discovery Education, Scott spent 15 years in public education, serving at both the school district and regional service center levels. In addition to his K-12 work, Scott has taught undergraduate and graduate classes for Kent State University and Penn State University and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.
What is the state of the edtech industry in 2017?
Scott: The state of the edtech industry in 2017, in my opinion, closely mirrors the state of K-12 education nationwide in the sense that, like classroom teaching and learning, the edtech industry is undergoing a period of tremendous change.
As I look back at the industry’s impact on education over the last decade or so, I think you can see some distinct phases.
As I look back at the industry’s impact on education over the last decade or so, I think you can see some distinct phases. In the first phase, the focus was on hardware and devices. Across the country, we saw a proliferation of laptops, tablets, digital whiteboards, student response devices, and other pieces of hardware. Relatively quickly however, I believe educators realized that, without truly understanding how these new technologies supported effective instructional practice, these devices were, well, just machines.
This realization led to the second phase of edtech’s impact, which was marked by the rise of high quality digital content. During this period, the content industry caught up with the hardware industry, and began creating and distributing the high quality digital content that make the various pieces of hardware, now ubiquitous in classrooms, truly impact teaching and learning.
That brings us to the edtech industry’s current state. With the rise of OER and many choices in hardware and various technologies, educators find themselves awash in content and devices. Today, I think the really successful companies in edtech are saying to their school-based partners, “Look, you have a lot of choices to make in terms of content and hardware, and we know that the way your teachers teach is going to change based on the decisions you make, so let’s work together on a seamless plan that is going to help you choose the right digital content, the proper devices on which to deliver that content, and the professional development your educators need to help you realize a return, or digital dividend, on your edtech investment.”
Companies that are ready to provide that type of support to school systems today are the ones that are best prepared to help schools improve teaching and learning well into the future.
What do you think has changed in the last five years?
Scott: As I speak with school leaders across the country, I hear all the time that the biggest change in education has been the rise of new education stakeholders.
For years, the stakeholders in education could be counted on one hand: the board of education, teachers, students and, to a lesser extent, parents. However, the number of local stakeholders have grown tremendously in the last five years. With information now ubiquitous, no longer are school communications disseminated once a month through the local newsletter. Today, the availability of real-time data related to curriculum, school performance, and spending decisions have made the inner workings of our community schools almost completely transparent.
This increased transparency has resulted in everyone from community groups to local businesses having a view into the administration of their school system, and social media has provided the platform from which the new stakeholders can voice their opinions. Sometimes these groups have varying needs and conflicting objectives, but no matter their stance, school administrators must work hard to be responsive. Managing these groups, and meeting their sometimes-conflicting needs, has made the school administrator’s role exponentially more challenging.
This trend is mirrored on the national level. The number of organizations contributing to the national dialogue on education has grown tremendously over the last five years. New organizations representing the business community, parents, teachers, and others have sprung up to advocate at the national level for the many new voices in education, which personally, I see as a tremendous benefit. The more ideas and the more perspectives brought to the national discussion on improving education for all learners, the better.
How have you seen the role of service providers change in that time period?
Scott: Five years ago there was very much an “us and them” relationship between service providers and school systems. However, since then, we at Discovery Education have seen this dynamic change considerably, and I believe today, school systems now see us as their partner.
A couple of things are driving this change. On one hand; school leaders are looking for more from their service providers. There is a realization that a company like Discovery Education, which is working with school districts across the country, has a lot of value-added expertise it can bring to the table. We can say, “You know, we’ve worked with a school district like yours, over here, and they had the same challenge, and they overcame it by doing this, this, and this. Can we show you how they did it? Can we connect you to the school leaders that worked on this challenge so you can learn from them?” It is these kinds of value-added conversations that build trust and help grow more positive relationships between services providers and school districts.
In addition to school districts looking for more from their service providers, I think the businesses serving educators have made a significant change to how they operate as well. For instance, from the CEO on down, there is a belief at Discovery Education that we only succeed as a company when our educational partners succeed. I think that ethos drives our team to go the extra mile or take the extra step to make sure the schools we are working with see great results.
Discovery Education has been around for more than a decade. What do you think contributes to your organization’s staying power?
Scott: Part of the reason we’ve been so successful for so long is the corporate culture I spoke about earlier: “we only succeed when you succeed”. The school systems we work with recognize the fact that the Discovery Education teams that come to their school district are ready to roll up their sleeves and help them meet their goals, and that this attitude has helped us grow a lot of strong, long-term relationships with the school systems we serve.
After all, if one of our district partners utilizes our services and does not see the academic achievements they expect, I’m sure they would not look to us for further support, and frankly, they are going to tell all their colleagues and friends about their experience. However, the opposite is true is well. If we deliver on our promises and our school-based partners see academic gains, we have confidence that we will expand their relationship with us over time.
The role of the educator is changing as technology becomes more prevalent in teaching and learning, and I think two factors are driving this shift.
The other factor contributing to our longevity is the quality of our services. Our product development, curriculum, and professional development teams are, in my opinion, the most talented folks in the industry, and are dedicated to developing and delivering the best-in-class digital resources and professional development services. So, when you put together a winning corporate culture and truly top-notch services, I think you have a recipe for success.
As technology integrates deeper into teaching and learning, how have you seen the role of educators change?
Scott: The role of the educator is changing as technology becomes more prevalent in teaching and learning, and I think two factors are driving this shift.
The first factor is the realization that we know more about what good instructional practice looks like than any other time in history. I believe one of the most important roles technology can play in the classroom is to support those practices. Things like formative assessment, differentiation, etc. have always been employed by great teachers. Today, however, I think technology gives educators the ability to utilize these proven instructional practices at scale and in a way that was simply not possible five years ago. The understanding by educators that technology can help them better apply best practice to their classroom instruction is motivating educators to transform their teaching.
In addition to technology empowering educators to scale good instructional practices, I believe that in the Information Age, where every fact and figure is at students’ fingertips, the educator can be much more impactful showing a student how to apply, analyze, and evaluate information than they can be simply delivering information. In today’s world, there is a growing understanding that the ability to help students achieve these higher levels of understanding and ultimately create new original thoughts and ideas, truly defines the evolved, 21st Century educator.
I believe that most school district leaders, and indeed, most teachers, understand that these concepts are reshaping teaching, and for the most part, educators at all levels are comfortable with this new reality. Eventually all educators evolve their practice, but if we want to accelerate this change, we need to get serious about a true, systemic investment in professional development.
What’s the next big innovation that will change teaching and learning?
Scott: I think the rise of embedded formative assessment is one development that will really change teaching and learning in the future.
For the past several years, Discovery Education has been working with districts to replace their traditional print textbooks with a digital core instructional resource that incorporates multiple languages, reading levels, media types, etc. Along with providing content that meets the needs of diverse learners, we are also incorporating into our services formative assessments that help educators gather and analyze data on student learning and promote academic growth.
We believe that assessment does not need to be distinct from instruction, but that our checks for understanding can be rolled up in a way that meet the needs of both students and teachers. After all, what educator wants to stop “teaching” to start “testing”? I think if the technology can grow to the point at which the line separating teaching and testing disappears, everyone wins.
Got any stories that really capture how service provider/school system partnerships truly improve education?
Scott: So, one day, I was sitting at my desk and I received an email from a school administrator in South Texas with the subject line: TECHBOOK.
As I read this email, I learned that a student in this administrator’s Texas school district, who for a long time had struggled with their schoolwork, finally had an academic breakthrough. In the past, since the student’s parents did not speak English, they could not help with their child’s homework because all the materials were in English. However, the administrator reported that since the school system began using our Techbook and its Spanish translation, the student’s grades improved tremendously because the parents could now support their child’s academic efforts at home by toggling back and forth between the English and Spanish translation.
For me, that story really encapsulates the impact school systems and service providers can have on learning when they collaborate.
While there are some very serious political, demographic, and economic challenges facing education today, I firmly believe that America’s public education system is among its greatest success stories.
What are your thoughts on the state of education today? What makes you say that?
Scott: While there are some very serious political, demographic, and economic challenges facing education today, I firmly believe that America’s public education system is among its greatest success stories.
Yes, there are some brilliant education policy makers, service providers, and political leaders at the top of the pyramid who are supporting public education in important ways. However, the true strength of the American public education system lies in the administrators and teachers at the front lines of the effort to prepare students for life beyond graduation.
Flashback. Scott Kinney speaking at a 2009 hearing before the Education & Labor Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, in Washington, D.C., on The Future of Learning: How Technology is Transforming Public Schools. Scott has been a longtime advocate of modernizing learning.
The administrators I meet with on a daily basis are truly dedicated to their students’ success. They have high standards for their students and have an equally high standard for their teachers. They seek to improve their teachers’ classroom practice through effective professional development, and they treat parents as partners in the effort to have each student reach their highest potential. Finally, they are inclusive leaders that seek the input of a variety of stakeholders across their school systems.
Likewise, the classroom teachers I meet through the Discovery Education Community are also a source of my optimism. Like their administrators, they hold their students to high standards and they seek to build great relationships with their students. They are creative, prepared, and organized. They are masters of their subject matter and communicate frequently with parents. They innovate and believe that failure really is just the first attempt in learning.
With administrators and teachers like this, I have no doubt that no matter the current situation, the future of teaching and learning in our country is bright.
Your thoughts on the role technology should play in education today?
Scott: In a sense, technology has always been in education. Pencils, books, chalkboards, they all are technologies. So, I think we really need to ask ourselves, what is the role of the latest generation of technology in education, and I think the answer there is simple: to improve student achievement.
Now, that will look different in different circumstances. Some technologies help teachers improve their professional practice. Other technologies better engage students in learning. And some technologies help teachers measure student progress to goals. Collectively, all these technologies work to support and inform teachers when designing instruction, selecting teaching strategies, and choosing materials and resources, ultimately leading to improved student achievement.
No matter the scenario, at the end of the day, any classroom technology, from the pencil to the iPad, should have as their end goal the improvement of student achievement.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]