Why the CEO of a pioneering firm assembled a brand-new leadership team.
PANEL DISCUSSION | moderated by Victor Rivero
Jamie Candee is relentless in her pursuit to put the educator first in everything that her online teaching and learning company does.
So it follows that Jamie, recently featured as one of the Top 100 Influencers in EdTechby EdTech Digest, would expand her executive team with industry experts and educators:
Marcus Lingenfelter, Senior VP of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships;
Karen Barton, Ph.D., Senior VP of Research and Design;
Jason Scherschligt, VP of Product Strategy and Experience; and
Christy Spivey, VP of Curriculum and Assessment Development
…join her company, Edmentum, as it experiences strong growth and demand for partnerships with educators across the globe.
(pictured above, from left: Marcus, Karen, Jason, Christy)
“The most important thing we can do is listen to educators and what they need. Any decision that is made for a new product must be made with the best interest of the teacher in mind.”
Built on 50 years of experience in education, the company’s solutions currently support educators and students in more than 40,000 schools nationwide.
“I am beyond ecstatic to welcome all of our new executive team members,” says Jamie.
“Our team has been trailblazers in education technology, and we are just getting started. As we enter a new chapter, we have assembled the right team to better serve educators worldwide,” she says.
In this panel-in-print, we get up close with the individuals on her newly expanded team to get a better idea of the people leading the technology, and how their mindset and their approach will be key components of their future success.
They have a lot to say.
At a later point, we’ll follow up to see how they’ve done—and where they’re headed next.
For now, enjoy an enlightening conversation.
As former teachers, why do you think it’s important to have an educator’s perspective in the edtech business?
Karen Barton: Educators, students, and their contexts vary, and sometimes vary in ways designers may not have anticipated, even in ways that may have unintentional outcomes. Understanding the contexts in which any solution is being utilized is critical to ensuring the solution best meets the needs of the educators and learners.
Christy Spivey: The most important thing we can do is listen to educators and what they need. Any decision that is made for a new product must be made with the best interest of the teacher in mind. That’s a philosophy we embrace at Edmentum. What we need to do is extend that to having great empathy for educators and build programs that delight them and allow them to have a better connection to improving learning for their students.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your previous positions that will inform your current work?
Karen Barton: 3 things: 1) The interactions we have with one another matter. They matter because when those interactions are positive, there is engagement, trust, joy, and success in our work, in the educators we serve, and in our personal lives and communities. 2) Data is only as powerful as our collection of it and should not be limited by the modeling paradigms of the past. And, 3) we should understand that even the best designs, methods, and intentions may not be aligned with the way in which educators leverage our solutions. As such, we should be sure to focus on what educators and learners really need – first – and work to meet those needs with flexibility, innovation, and usefulness.
Marcus Lingenfelter: No significant challenges are overcome by any one individual, organization, or governmental entity – ergo, strategic partnerships are critical to mission success. Consider the partners enlisted to put American Neil Armstrong on the moon. Competing aerospace companies Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin aligned their unique capabilities to the demanding requirements to realize technological and engineering capabilities previously regarded as science fiction. Education’s challenges today are equally daunting and require a similar approach that aligns interests and capabilities of multiple organizations to ensure mission success. That mission – student success!
Jason Scherschligt: Many times in my career I’ve been reminded of the value of observing and understanding the challenges of those who use your product. If you want to lead a product, you need to get out of your office and experience what your users experience. Educators work in complex environments with a unique set of demands and pressures. I want our product teams to obsess over the needs of educators. Getting to know educators in their natural environment is the best way to do that.
“If you want to lead a product, you need to get out of your office and experience what your users experience.”
Christy Spivey: Most of my career has been spent in Education. First as a classroom teacher and then at Edmentum. Over the years, I have worked with many educators and school districts, and all of them have one thing in common – needing more time to help students achieve their goals. With this experience, I am excited to continue to work with educators to make sure that everything we create exceeds educators’ and students’ expectations.
Marcus Lingenfelter, Edmentum’s newly-appointed Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, has two decades of leadership experience in postsecondary education including campus roles at the University of Virginia and Penn State University along with cabinet-level positions at Widener University and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Advancement for the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) – the non-profit established to dramatically improve math and science educational outcomes for the country.
What would you say is the biggest need for educators today?
Karen: Empowerment – the freedom to meet the needs of their learners in a variety of ways; and the training and support to ensure they are equipped to do so.
Christy: Educators need to feel supported and to have their voices heard. If we can provide educators with tools and data that give them the information they need to maximize their time with their students, then we are supporting teachers in a way that gives them the ability to use their talents in the classroom.
Why should educators feel optimistic about the future of education technology?
Marcus: Education technology, when properly deployed, has the ability to put a highly effective state-certified teacher in front of every student regardless of location or personal circumstances. Whether it is reaching students located in exceptionally rural parts of the country where teachers can’t be recruited or into the urban centers that experience high teacher turnover rates, technology has the ability to positively impact some of education’s most intractable challenges. Therefore, educators concerned about equity and access for all students should feel tremendous optimism about what the present and future hold for impacting student outcomes via education technology.
Jason: Several trends in technology and culture are converging in ways that will help educators and students succeed. These include big data sets and powerful analytics, which will help us understand the outcomes produced by our instruction and assessment, and new interactive capabilities, like virtual and augmented reality, which will enable teachers to provide really creative and engaging learning experiences. At our company, we won’t chase technology for sizzle, but apply it on a solid base of research to genuinely help teachers teach and students learn.
What trends in education have you most excited?
Karen: I’m most excited about the shift away from a sole focus on state summative tests and a focus on supporting educators in collecting evidence through multiple and varied measures and meeting the needs of all learners.
Christy: I’m really excited about the focus on equity and access in education today. We live in a time where the power of technology should be providing access to all kinds of instruction for all student populations. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be fighting as edtech professionals to ensure every student has access to this technology. I’m also excited about the discussions around new ways to assess student learning. If we really want to know how students learn, then we need to rethink how we assess that knowledge.
Karen Barton, Ph.D. joins Edmentum as the Senior Vice President of Research and Design, bringing 20 years of experience in education to the role. She previously served as Vice President of Learning Analytics at Discovery Education and most recently as Vice President of Assessment Solutions at NWEA. In her new role, Karen will lead Edmentum’s research, academic program design, and psychometric efforts, with a focus on ensuring every Edmentum program is valid, reliable, endorsed by educators, and produces positive student outcomes.
What is technology’s role in education?
Karen: To support educators in providing engaging and accessible material to all students, freeing their preparation time to focus on needs of individual students (not just prepping material for the whole class), and providing data, recommendations, and relevant content for each student – where they are in their learning journey and what they need to move forward. For students to have access to greater experiences and learning in the medium of their future, and exposure to digital opportunities (careers, access to information, working digitally, etc.).
Jason: I think it’s fundamentally augmentative. You can never take people out of education, because the entire enterprise of education is intended to help people become more capable and societies become stronger. So, technology in education exists to help teachers and students thrive, rather than to replace anyone.
What four trends in the coming years are edtech “trends to watch”, ones that will require some shaping and leadership? Name and define the trend, and describe briefly the sort of leadership that may be required to navigate it.
- Innovations in data modeling to expand our understanding of student learning, strategies, and needs.
- Collaborative problem solving to build skills necessary for working in teams in career and even in college courses.
- Adaptive learning, that is, not only adapting assessments but adapting recommendations of instruction. This should incorporate rich models of data and learning. It will be important for these systems to incorporate educator and student perspectives relative to learning needs.
- Tighter integration of assessment and learning, where assessments close to the classroom become part of the larger system of assessments connected to state-level assessments and accountability. Ensuring the purposes and usefulness of classroom based assessments do not lose their value and meaning when put into an accountability context will be critical.
These four really come to mind:
- Really granular competency-based education (CBE), where every morsel of learning and assessment is closely aligned to specific standards and outcomes.
- Adaptive learning, where we use artificial intelligence to deliver the right kind of instruction at the right time for the student.
- Gamification, where the psychology of motivation and competition are applied to enable learning.
- This one’s a bit of a personal interest, but technology applied to teaching the arts and humanities. Historically, edtech has emphasized math and hard sciences, where right and wrong answers might be easy to calculate, but I’m especially interested in watching how technology is applied to more nebulous and complex artifacts like poems and plays and paintings and history.
Jason Scherschligt joins Edmentum as Vice President of Product Strategy and Experience. He brings more than 18 years of experience leading innovative product management and user experience approaches in organizations like the Star Tribune, Capella University, Jostens and GoKart Labs. Jason will focus on designing and managing industry changing, captivating education products that truly empower educators, engage students, and provide education leadership with the insights they need to develop and maintain education programs that create access, equity, engagement, and positive learning outcomes.
What is the responsibility of a more established company such as yours to the edtech space? What makes you say that?
Marcus: As the nation’s original distance learning platform (PLATO), Edmentum most certainly has a responsibility to lead. However, such leadership is not just in the “edtech space” per se, but rather for helping all our education partners realize positive student learning outcomes for the benefit of all concerned. The challenges facing our communities – local and global – are significant and require everyone to lift their gaze to get the bigger perspective and then act responsibly, in collaboration with others, to solve the problems.
Christy: For any edtech company, there is a big responsibility to make sure that all programs and solutions we provide really have the educator in mind. We can only do that if we work with educators directly and listen to what they need. We also have a responsibility to use technology to bring more access and equity to student learning. At our company, we want to be at the forefront of pushing for innovative and proven programs that work for all students and educators.
Christy Spivey assumes the role of Vice President of Curriculum and Assessment Development for Edmentum. During her tenure, Christy has served in a variety of roles shaping the company’s curriculum development strategy. Embracing her experience in the classroom, she ensures educators are involved in every step of Edmentum’s design and development to provide programs that meet the needs of educators everywhere. Christy leads a team of deeply committed curriculum and assessment designers focused on creating a new paradigm in differentiated instruction, blended learning, and active learning models.
Anything else you might care to add or emphasize, any parting words of edtech-relevant wisdom, or commentary about the future of edtech?
Karen: Educational technology has the potential to revolutionize our education systems – from primary through university and career training, and how we teach, train, learn and collaborate, and to bring societal balance. To do so, we need to attend to building platforms, data, content, and assessments that balance our attention across the diversities of learners and contexts, and work to address the discomfort of change that comes with progress – change that will require edtech companies to attend to legislation around the educational systems that govern educational models, as well as to be very cognizant and intentional around data privacy.
Jason: I often think about Marc Andreesen’s aphorism that software is eating the world: almost every interaction or transaction we conduct somehow involves software, and that includes educational experiences. We can’t escape that, but we can shape it. Education remains humanity’s best hope for its future, and I’m excited that we get to shape how teachers apply software to enable student achievement.
“Education remains humanity’s best hope for its future, and I’m excited that we get to shape how teachers apply software to enable student achievement.”
Christy: Today’s students should be going to school and interacting with technology in the same way they do in their social lives and time outside of school. We have a responsibility to support educators who want to make technology a seamless part of their instruction to engage students in learning. We need to have empathy for the complexity of teaching and learning and find ways to make both easier for students and educators.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]