Behind the scenes with the Chief Product Officer for one of the largest edtech companies in the world; tracing his arrival and direction forward.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Dedicated to creating digital resources that empower and inspire both educators and students, Pete Weir is Discovery Education’s Chief Product Officer.
Pete is a seasoned technologist with more than 15 years of bringing great ideas to life. Prior to joining Discovery Education in 2018, Pete led product development and analytics for various functions at Red Ventures and Bankrate.com, focused on creating innovative, customer-centric digital experiences. His background also includes nearly 10 years at Deloitte Consulting, working with public and private sector clients on digital strategy and large system integrations.
Pete holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business school and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond. Pete lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and two sons, and his favorite subject in school was statistical programming. Pete’s favorite teacher (and employer) was his grandmother, Evelyn. After her retirement from teaching, Evelyn started a teacher supply store where Pete began his career.
Pete, great to meet you, and thanks for sitting down with EdTech Digest for your first interview. You recently joined Discovery Education as the company’s new Chief Product Officer. Can you share with readers the attraction of working for an internationally recognized edtech company like Discovery Education?
Pete: Thanks Victor and appreciate the opportunity to talk with you!
My interest in working at Discovery Education began a few years back. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and for a while, I kept bumping into folks that either worked at Discovery Education’s Charlotte headquarters or knew people that worked in our Charlotte office, and I continued to hear amazing things about the company’s culture and mission.
In conversations with members of the Discovery Education team, I found that each person I met carried with them a genuine passion for serving educators and transforming teaching and learning. I also found that I shared the team’s belief that digital curriculum resources, supported by sustained professional development, can create engaging, immersive learning experiences that transform classrooms and improve academic achievement.
‘…each person I met carried with them a genuine passion for serving educators and transforming teaching and learning.’
That sort of alignment made joining Discovery Education something I had to do. I felt that my background building products in other industries could be combined with the insight and experience of our team of talented educators, and that together, we could continue building Discovery Education’s reputation for creating exciting, innovative digital resources that empower educators to engage all students. Our sense of mission and purpose powers Discovery Education’s culture and, simply put, makes it easy for me to get out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step.
On a more personal note, joining Discovery Education has been sort of a homecoming for me. My grandmother was a former educator who later became an entrepreneur and started a teacher supply store in Silicon Valley, and my very first job was working at her company serving teachers across California. Joining an organization like Discovery Education that is dedicated to providing schools and educators around the globe the high-quality digital curriculum and professional development they need to create classroom experiences that prepare students for future success continues my family’s tradition of serving educators.
How did your previous roles prepare you for your new role at Discovery Education?
Pete: Prior to joining Discovery Education, I had a number of different product leadership roles at Red Ventures, a company that brings consumers and brands together in powerful, customized digital experiences. Prior to that experience, I worked for nearly 10 years at Deloitte Consulting, collaborating with public and private sector clients on digital strategy and large system integrations and software development.
Both of my previous employers had a laser-like focus on creating innovative, customer-centric digital experiences with a focus on delighting users. Likewise, Discovery Education is educator-obsessed and dedicated to providing teachers the best-in-class digital curriculum, content, and professional learning opportunities they need to engage students and drive academic achievement. Education is complex and constantly evolving, and my goal is to strategically combine data analysis and feedback from educators in the field into actionable feedback my team can use to guide the development of innovative digital products and services.
Can you talk a little bit about Discovery Education’s product philosophy?
Pete: Sure! So, as I was going through the process of joining Discovery Education, like many job seekers, I did research on the company and its products and was immediately impressed with the tremendous work of Marty Creel, our Chief Academic Officer, and his team. Discovery Education’s digital curriculum resources and professional development services have won just about every type of award in education, and in interviews and thought-leadership pieces I was able to get my hands on, I learned that Discovery Education’s product team shared my focus on the end-user and was completely dedicated to creating resources that help teachers extend their impact in ways that both engages all learners and improves student achievement.
As a team, we’ve put together the Rule of Three, which guides how we think about product development. At a very high level, the rule of three goes something like this:
Step One—The Listen Phase: Gather the input of teachers, school administrators, and students using (or sometimes not using) our services to learn about what features and content they would like added to our services. We also probe users to try to identify needs they haven’t considered yet. It’s an arduous process, but definitely a critical step.
Step Two—The Iterate Phase: Processes the feedback we receive and use that feedback as a guide to enhance our services. This is when our team of talented designers and engineers bring to life solutions that we put in districts’ hands and then measure for effectiveness.
Step Three—The Repeat Phase: As the science of teaching and learning is constantly evolving, so must our services…therefore, I would never consider any of our resources as completely “done.” Continuous improvement is one of Discovery Education’s organizational values, and as such, we are always looking for ways to improve our services.
While we are tweaking the Listen Phase to include more quantitative components, moving forward we will continue to rely on the educators we serve to learn more about what enhancements they want and need, then, we will iterate accordingly.
Can you tell me more about your first really big project, Discovery Education Experience?
Pete: Absolutely! Discovery Education is very excited to offer educators the opportunity to preview the new Discovery Education Experience, which will be available in schools at the beginning of 2019-2020 school year.
About 18 months ago three of my colleagues, Lance Rougeux, Discovery Education’s Vice President of Learning Communities, Kyle Schutt, our Director of Learning Communities, and Jeff Hopwood, our Director of Product Innovation, began an ambitious effort that looked at how we would build a new generation of the award-winning Discovery Education Streaming Plus. By looking closely at our data and conducting user research with hundreds of educators, our team set in motion the creation of Discovery Education Experience, which is currently being previewed by educators nationwide and will be ready for teachers and students at the beginning of the coming school year.
Discovery Education Experience combines engaging, curated, personalized digital curriculum resources that help students better understand subject matter with a rich library of creative, research-based instructional strategies that supports teachers as they integrate digital media into instruction in meaningful, effective, and practical ways. In addition, we’ve embedded into Discovery Education Experience a suite of content creation tools that support not only an environment where teachers and students can collaborate and create together, but also the creation of grab-and-go lessons that help educators dive deeply into targeted topic areas.
Through the work of the entire team at Discovery Education, we’ve completely reimagined one of the one of most well known and well-used edtech services in education, and I encourage folks to head on over to http://www.discoveryeducation.com/experience to learn more.
While you are new to edtech, what’s your impression of the state of the edtech industry today?
Pete: Having just returned from the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, I would say that the state of the edtech industry is strong. My hat goes off to Richard Culatta and the talented team at ISTE for putting together such a vibrant event. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a lot of technology conferences across different industries, and I would put ISTE at the top of conferences I’ve attended.
I think the energy I witnessed at the ISTE conference is a reflection of the state of the industry. From attending the show, I heard from educators and service providers that there was a great sense of optimism about the direction the industry is moving in, and I agree with that assessment. When I look around at the edtech landscape, I see a tremendous level of innovation, and that leads me to believe that for edtech, the best is really yet to come.
What is the next big innovation you believe will change education in the next two years?
Pete: I think artificial intelligence, or AI, has real potential to be a change agent within education. AI has the capacity to create more dynamic and responsive user experiences, which I believe will deepen edtech’s impact on teaching and learning.
At Discovery Education, we’ve been exploring AI’s potential to power the personalization of the teacher’s user experience. We believe this innovation will create richer, more productive interactions with our services that will give teachers more time back in their day. I think that as the use of AI spreads across edtech, the cumulative effect of more productive user experiences will be that teachers have more time to spend with their students, which I think we can all agree will be a good thing.
How about the next five years?
Pete: My answer is still AI. Right now, I believe we are integrating AI into what I consider as edtech’s low-hanging fruit. I think in the next five years we’ll refine AI even further and it will underpin many if not all the edtech services educators use today.
What is your impression on the state of education in general?
Pete: In the relatively short period of time I’ve been with Discovery Education, I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of educators both within Discovery Education and in school systems across the country. These individuals are many things: passionate, creative, caring, determined, innovative, motivated, and a hundred more positive adjectives. But most of all, they are 100% dedicated to helping each student they serve live up to their fullest potential. The tremendous power of America’s educators is truly inspiring, and it is because of them that I answer: the state of education in America is strong.
What role should technology play in education?
Pete: Simply put, the role of the edtech in education is to extend and expand the impact of the teacher. No artificial intelligence, no app, no digital service can replace the teacher. It’s the job of companies like Discovery Education to create the tools and resources educators need to amplify the work of educators everywhere.
‘Simply put, the role of the edtech in education is to extend and expand the impact of the teacher. No artificial intelligence, no app, no digital service can replace the teacher.’
If you could fix one education issue completely, what would it be?
Pete: If I could, I would provide every child in America access to a high-quality education. It is fundamentally unfair, and in my opinion un-American, that zip codes, economic status, nation of origin or any other factor dictates who has access to a high-quality education in our country.
As a nation, we need to work together to ensure each student has access to the qualified teachers, safe buildings, immersive experiences, and great resources that together create a high-quality education. It will take a concerted effort to make equity of access a reality in America, but if I’ve learned one thing at Discovery Education since I’ve come aboard it is this: Educators make it happen.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]