Leading efforts to support educators in the coming school year—and years to come.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world, educators scrambled to stand-up new infrastructure and systems by which they could maintain students’ continuity of learning. Through arduous work, grit, and determination, school systems—supported by companies across the edtech industry—made transitions to digital teaching and learning in weeks instead months or years.
‘…my belief in the bright future of K-12 education has been bolstered by the response of teachers nationwide to the pandemic.’
Discovery Education was among the first edtech companies to react to the pandemic by making its K-12 platform available at no cost to schools not already using its resources through the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. More than 15,000 schools took Discovery Education up on their offer, and more than 200,000 educators participated in the free professional learning sessions the company provided to teachers worldwide working to master the new remote classroom environments.
Sitting at the center of Discovery Education’s COVID response and now driving the company’s efforts to support educators as they begin to prepare for the coming school year is Pete Weir, Discovery Education’s Chief Product Officer. Recently, EdTech Digest sat down with Pete to discuss the new enhancements made to Discovery Education’s award-winning K-12 platform, the education landscape beyond the pandemic, what’s next for edtech, and more.
Good afternoon, Pete! Great to connect with you today! Discovery Education broke some major news recently regarding new enhancements and features added to the company’s K-12 platform. Can you provide a little summary of those upgrades?
Thanks Victor, and so great to be back and speaking with you! Yes, Discovery Education is incredibly excited to roll out a variety of new features and enhancements to our K-12 platform. The latest updates to our flexible platform include:
- A new classroom engagement experience called Quiz, that provides multiple ways for teachers to promote active learning in the classroom and track student progress in real-time. This includes pairing quizzes with our engaging library of standards-aligned video content.
- New Activity Templates based on Discovery Education’s SOS Instructional Strategies that makes creating classroom activities and presentations easier than ever for teachers and students.
- Tighter integrations with the leading Learning Management Systems includingCanvas, Schoology, D2L, and Infinite Campus. This improves the ability of Discovery Education platform users to quickly search for and share resources.
- More than 1,500 ready-to-use instructional activities designed by Discovery Education’s experts. Teachers can assign them to students as-is, edit and personalize these lessons , use the integrated Activity Builds to quickly create their own dynamic lessons, or make their own custom lessons from scratch.
- New and simpler ways to log into the Discovery Education platform, including QR codes.
- A completely redesigned Video Player matching the platform’s lighter, redesigned look that makes it simple for teachers to incorporate rich media into the learning experiences they design and deliver every day.
A lot of these features and enhancements seem to be about supporting educators’ use of content. Is that right? What is the ultimate goal of these updates?
That’s right, making it even easier for teachers to integrate digital resources into daily instruction is one of the key goals of this latest round of enhancements and updates. We want to easily provide educators time saving, ready-to-use activities for every class, proven instructional strategies and teaching tips, and activity-building tools that drive collaboration and creativity while supporting the daily use of our award-winning content.
In addition, the latest version of our flexible K-12 platform improves teachers’ ability to engage all students with timely, relevant content located in one central location. With the new Discovery Education platform, educators are empowered to design interactive learning experiences that spark curiosity, make daily quizzes and classroom discussions lively and engaging, and provide all learners the literacy and language support that makes possible those “light bulb” moments teachers love so much.
Finally, we want to simplify access to the digital world by providing all students and teachers one secure platform that seamlessly plays well in their existing edtech ecosystems. The new login methods we are debuting makes accessing our platform effortless without compromising security.
Also, our integrations with learning management systems are tighter than ever, so school systems can confidently merge our content and resources into the learning environments districts already have in place.
Together, all of the new features and enhancements in the Discovery Education K-12 platform are making the path to integrating digital resources into all facets of teaching and learning smoother than ever.
What do these enhancements mean for Discovery Education as a company?
There is no shortage of edtech in today’s classroom. In fact, there’s a tool for every task and any content search will provide you with seemingly endless choices. When it comes to tools and content, the endless number of choices facing teachers and school administrators can be overwhelming.
Discovery Education is simplifying the integration of digital resources into teaching and learning by combining the tools teachers need and the content they trust into one, simple-to-use platform that dovetails into the IT (Information Technology) infrastructure school districts currently have in place.
By integrating the relevant, timely content we’re known for and professional inspiration to engage students and track their progress, we are transitioned from an amazing content company to educators’ indispensable, daily learning platform.
We see this as a big shift for not only the teachers we serve, but for Discovery Education as a company, and we are excited by the possibilities this unlocks for us.
With it looking like the pandemic is beginning to recede and that the coming school year will begin in-person and maskless what’s one thing from the era of Covid education you think will stick around post-Covid in the K-12 world?
In speaking with educators nationwide, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are really two important items from COVID-19 teaching and learning that will continue to be critical in the future.
The first item is highly engaging content. Presenting students with high-quality, standards aligned content was a critical component of teaching and learning long before COVID. However, last year’s shift to remote learning truly highlighted the importance of integrating high-quality digital resources into instruction. When the content was not engaging, students simply logged off, and the opportunity for learning was missed.
As students return to the physical classroom, engagement will continue to be a top priority for educators. While teachers and students are understandably excited to return to the classroom, digital content will continue to be an important part of instruction. I think that in the future, those teachers and administrators selecting content to use in the classroom will set a very high bar for what is defined as “engaging” and companies like Discovery Education that provide content and tools will have to continue to innovate to meet that tighter definition.
‘…in the future, those teachers and administrators selecting content to use in the classroom will set a very high bar for what is defined as “engaging”…’
The second item is the importance of easy-to-use tools providing educators real-time feedback. During pandemic teaching, the limitations of Zoom made it more difficult for educators to read the normal cues their students provide to show either did or did not understand the lessons they were being taught. So, many educators had to find new ways to gather feedback from students that they could use to shape their instruction.
One of the new features of our platform—Quiz—makes gathering real-time feedback easier. While the addition of Quiz was planned pre-pandemic, the tremendous value this brings to educators quickly became apparent. Working seamlessly with our content and designed for use in any either the remote or in-person environment, Quiz provides a new avenue for students to engage directly with our content, and their teacher in real-time.
Through these interactions, teachers get valuable information they can use to help tailor their instruction, including exit tickets for each Quiz that tells the educator not only what students know and don’t know, but also how students are feeling about the content they are reviewing. It’s an exciting new feature in our platform.
What is a lesson edtech companies like yours learned during the pandemic that you will take forward?
Well, there are many great lessons we took away from the pandemic, but I think one of the most important lessons is the value of interoperability. One of Discovery Education’s goals is to fit naturally into school and school systems’ digital ecosystems, so long before the pandemic, we were working with most of the sign-on, rostering and learning management systems to improve interoperability.
‘…there are many great lessons we took away from the pandemic, but … one of the most important lessons is the value of interoperability.’
However, the pandemic compelled us to re-evaluate how these connections work for teachers and students. For instance, we looked at how to make it easier to search our resources from within learning management systems and how to make creating an assignment for students easier – all with the goal of having our content and capabilities fit naturally into teachers’ and students’ workflows.
We’ve found with safe, secure access methods and even better LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) integrations and experiences, we could make it simpler to merge high-quality content and resources with the systems that educators depend on every day. This not only helps school systems see a better return on their infrastructure investment, but also helps teachers save time. I think in the future, the various systems educators use will only grow more interconnected, which will benefit everyone eventually.
What’s your general outlook on K-12 education going forward?
What a great question!
Well, I think that when you look back over the last 16 months or so, you can see that the entire K-12 education system was stress-tested in a way that it had never been before. I think our system has shown itself to be incredibly flexible and resilient and here are some indicators why I think the future is bright for K-12 education:
K-12 edtech infrastructure improved tremendously in the last 16 months. Yes, it was not a perfect transformation everywhere, but we likely saw 10 years of growth in K-12 education edtech infrastructure consolidated into just over a year. Technology leaders in school systems across the country performed at an incredibly high-level during this time and accomplished transitions to digital learning in days that in the past would have taken weeks. Thanks to them, students continued to learn no matter where they were, and for that, I believe school technology leaders are among the unsung heroes of the pandemic.
Device equity is better than it has ever been. At the onset of the pandemic, school systems nationwide undertook an enormous effort to put devices in the hands of all students. A recent EdWeek survey found that about two-thirds of educators recalled there was one school-issued device for every middle and high school student before the pandemic. Another 42 percent said the same about elementary school kids. In the same survey, 90 percent of educators said there was at least one device for every middle and high schooler by March of 2021. An additional 84 percent said the same about elementary school students. Clearly, we’ve made some progress here.
We have also found new ways to get students online at home who don’t have reliable internet access. Some school districts parked wifi-enabled buses out in their communities, while other districts provided families their own wifi hotspots. Other school systems partnered with local internet service providers to find solutions to the issue of reliable internet service for all students. Of course, we have a lot more work to do on this issue, but the pandemic forced educators and industry to produce new, creative solutions to the challenge of getting everyone online.
‘…the pandemic forced educators and industry to produce new, creative solutions to the challenge of getting everyone online.’
Finally, my belief in the bright future of K-12 education has been bolstered by the response of teachers nationwide to the pandemic. Once again, teachers showed their flexibility, creativity, and commitment to students as they worked to maintain the continuity of learning, and their work has shown a bright spotlight on the incredible value of classroom educators.
As we emerge from the pandemic, teachers will play a critical role in evaluating students’ needs post-pandemic – both academic as well as social and emotional – and Discovery Education is actively listening to their needs. Given the work done by K-12 teachers in the last 16 months, I am 100% comfortable in saying that the future of K-12 education is bright!
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]