Melissa Loble on 1Edtech, InstructureCon, AI and the only industry she’ll ever work for.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
A teacher at heart, Melissa Loble was recently promoted to Chief Academic Officer at Instructure. A one-of-a-kind edtech leader with extensive experience as an educator in both K-12 and higher education institutions, she is now tasked with building out the global academic strategy function to ensure the educator experience remains core to everything the company does.
“I’m excited to continue this incredible journey at Instructure as we work to inspire everyone to learn together,” Melissa says. “As I develop this new role, working alongside the Instructure executive team, employees, customers and partners, I look forward to elevating the voice of educators and reinforcing the critical role of teachers in creating a better future.”
Melissa has been a powerful advocate for expanded access to quality education for all students worldwide while serving in various edtech industry positions. She currently serves as Chair of 1EdTech Board of Directors, the world’s leading non-profit collaboration dedicated to powering learner potential by fostering an open, trusted and innovative edtech ecosystem. She also holds several advisory roles at organizations such as Internet2, Terracotta and Utah Valley University.
Melissa earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, a master’s degree in educational policy from Teachers’ College, Columbia University and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis on leadership from the Columbia Business School.
EdTech Digest sat down with her at InstructureCon23 for a wide-ranging, free-flowing and lively conversation.
‘Life’s about moments. How do we celebrate those in someone’s journey.’
Congratulations on being chosen chair of 1Edtech not too long ago. And it goes for a year, right?
Thank you! Yep. It goes for a year. It was last March, just this past March was when I was asked to be chair. So I’ve been on the board for about four years now, close to five, I think. But it’s an, it’s an honor—it’s a passion of mine.
Tell me about that— you’ve been with Instructure for nine years.
Yep. It’s almost 10.
Which, in today’s age, that’s a long time. That’s a lifetime.
From that decade-long perspective, what’s your current mission? What do you hope to accomplish with 1Edtech? You have a one-year term right now, tell me a little bit more about that.
Prior to coming to Instructure, I was working at the University of California Irvine doing continuing education and online programs. And so much of that is about having an open ecosystem. The problem with open ecosystems, it’s a whole lot of work. So we were running Moodle at the time, and it can be a lot of work doing a lot of customizations.
And so that experience, when Instructure came along as an opportunity for me to work at, that experience really laid this foundation of, ‘Okay, open ecosystems are awesome, we need to be able to build them, but we need to be able to do it in a way that’s scalable so that we’re not sucking down districts and higher education institution resources to manage all of this technology.’
When Instructure came along, and it was founded on an open ecosystem, and Instructure was the first—and Rob [Abel] will even say this, at 1EdTech—we were really one of the first organizations to put LTI [Learning Tools Interoperability] as a standard on the map. So that openness, that standards orientation was from the very beginning at Instructure.
And and then I started working with partners and customers over the years at Instructure, and it became that much more important to help educate the community on how you can use standards in order to take some of that technology burden off your plate, and you can really focus on that student learning and engagement.
That’s where my interest is, in particular, representing vendors but representing all educational organizations, whether it’s an institution, a vendor, a district, and how can we help everyone build ecosystems more effectively and efficiently so we can actually have better learning. So that’s where my passion and hope is.
‘…how can we help everyone build ecosystems more effectively and efficiently so we can actually have better learning. So that’s where my passion and hope is.’
Even back then you had the foresight to be thinking ahead to those kinds of issues. And then you saw as it unfolded how important that really was.
Yeah. And the power, what really ignited the power between the LTI standard at first and just standards in general, is the community coming together and pushing it forward together. So you also see that power. It’s exciting to watch that, not just how are we creating a better way to build ecosystems as a whole community, but how are we actually all rallying around something to make a difference in education, which is super cool, too.
That’s the camaraderie.
Huge. Yep. That’s the relationships, and that’s the esprit de corps, the intangible that makes the edtech community such a unique thing.
I mean, do you not agree?
100% agree. It’s so interesting. So even today we’re doing this, we’re having a summit with all of our partners, and there are people I worked with at the very beginning of my career in that room. Like everybody, like we all want to stay. Because we’re all mission driven, whether we’re on the institution side, the vendor side, we all want to be together and we all want to lift up things together, which is why it’s the only industry I’ll ever work for, for good or for bad.
Instructure and InstructureCon has been described as “the world’s most united edtech community”—what’s behind that—who wrote that, and what areas has it united?
I actually don’t know who wrote it exactly, but I will say that the spirit behind it: I think we’re a unique organization because we serve all aspects of the lifelong learning spectrum. We have a really strong K-12 collection of customers. We have a really strong higher education collection of customers and throughout the higher ed spectrum. So community colleges, state colleges, universities, privates, all of the above. And we’re creating relationships with professional learning organizations. So that ‘unified’ to me is coming from, we’re PK through 20. Or, PK through 60, or however you want to, whatever the phrase is to talk about that lifelong learning. We have customers that we’re bringing together to do that.
Okay. And now, back to 1EdTech—I don’t want to bore you.
No, no, no, no. This is great. I can talk about this all day!
Well they use a phrase and they use it often—“open, trusted, innovative.” Could elaborate on each of those—that phrase is so woven into everything, and something I keep hearing from 1Edtech, formerly…
Formerly IMS. Yep. So the open piece is really about enabling districts and institutions to build ecosystems that do not require proprietary integrations between technologies. Because that becomes really expensive for districts and higher education institutions. Like they, it’s just cost prohibitive. So the idea of “open” is making things like, how do you do basic authentication integrations, or how do you move data back and forth, making those standards based and open. So it’s a level playing field where all of then the edtech vendors that are looking to serve districts and higher education institutions are competing on the, you know, bespoke integrations that are super expensive to build and all of that. But what they’re really doing is driving innovation because that stuff’s taken care of and they can move more innovative teaching and learning technologies forward. So that’s where the openness, the before—
I’ll interject here. So just for the lay person who’s not—because a lot of people “1EdTech” goes right over their head—
Oh, completely. It’s true. Yep.
And with the old name, it goes even—
Further over their head. We’ve been talking about this. Yeah. We have to fix that.
So, here in the U.S., you plug in a device. In Europe, you need a different plug. In a nutshell, that’s this area of ‘interoperability’ (or not)—is that a fair analogy?
It’s a very fair analogy. Think about the universal chargers that you go buy whenever you travel out of country, that is what standards are doing. It’s allowing one thing to plug into another and pass electricity. Right. And work seamlessly together.
Wasn’t there another thing too that just came out where was it, you know, with the iPhones and chargers, where they’re gonna say, okay, none of this—there’s going to just be one…
Yes. Everybody’s gonna be using one single kind of adapter. It’s the idea: how do you bring it so people can use it more easily?
Right. And then you hear a collective sigh worldwide.
Oh yeah. Right! Yeah. Why? It’s like, why do we all have to solve the same problem over and over again and spend money to solve the same problem over and over again, right?—when there’s a standard way to do it.
So that’s going to help. And 1EdTech represents that same conceptual idea, and it’s going to help drive efficiencies all over the place.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Absolutely, yes. Institutions don’t have to spend a lot of money making sure these integrations work and staffing them up. Vendors. We don’t have to spend a lot of money making sure, because it’s standardized and we’re not making a bespoke integration with 500 other vendors. It just, like you said, it just rises that rises everybody up. Okay. and allows for more innovation. That’s the innovation piece that we were talking about, the three pillars and 1EdTech, that’s the innovation piece. So if we’re putting standards, if we’re using, we’re making it so everything works together more seamlessly that gives us all a chance to drive innovation forward—even in ways we may not have expected because we’re seeing use cases surface because everything’s working so well together. And then the trusted piece is about privacy specifically, but more generally, how do you know you’re out there leveraging tools like you’re a teacher? How do I know I’m using the right tools that are still gonna protect my students, but help them learn. And so that’s where they have a whole—1Edtech has a trusted apps directory where you can go get information on the security and privacy of applications.
Not to wade into controversies, but I’m curious about the “trusted” part. I’m thinking, come on! Student privacy is—well, in many ways we’re already in a surveillance economy.
We’re in it and it is almost inescapable. Cell phones, for one, have permeated our lives. And same with the rest of technology. And so in this way, student privacy, isn’t that kind of a joke?
Student privacy in particular is important to teachers, leaders, probably mostly like district education leaders, because they feel as though they need to protect students where students don’t know maybe where their data’s being used.
So that’s where that layer—you know, it’s funny because you’ll see people, they’ll use apps and you’re like, Do you know they’re taking all of your data? but you’re upset over here about this company using your data. Right. There’s this lack of education.
The place that’s really valuable in the edtech space is K-12 districts, schools, universities, being able to protect students where they may not know how to protect themselves, or at least how to make the right decisions for themselves.
Do I want this app to have my data or not? Or should I—or, what does it mean?
Chat GPT is a great, great example. They go drop their homework in there, that homework’s now out there, right? It’s out there being used to teach that model. Do they understand that?
So I think that “trusted”—my belief is, is that “trusted” place needs to be about education as well as empowering districts and schools to be able to help protect students where needed.
[Before being named CAO], you [were] VP Customer Experience — define “customer experience.”
So, I think there’s a definition for it, and then there’s how we apply it at Instructure. The overall definition is how are you making sure a customer, from the moment we reach out to them to potentially become our, our customer through to we’re supporting them 20 years into their contract, that whole journey, there needs to be somebody stepping back and saying, what does that look like? Like, how does somebody get the right when they need help at any part in that spectrum, or they need to buy something new, or they need to change their contract, whatever it is in that spectrum, how are we looking at that full spectrum holistically with the customer in mind? So they have that best experience for the journey. And there’s a lot of, just in technology companies in general, research that’s starting to come out around how that makes a difference in how consumers buy. At Instructure, my role is, once a customer has purchased one of our products, they’re now in my hands. So whether it’s we’re helping them get started with it, whether we’re supporting them on regular basis, whether we’re building strategic goals for them together—all of that journey, I’m responsible for making sure customers have the kind of journey that enables them to be successful.
‘I’m responsible for making sure customers have the kind of journey that enables them to be successful.’
Did you have some ideal experiences—
It’s interesting. So my husband and I have a game, so if we have a good or a bad customer experience, we’ll always like talk about it with one another.
Does he work for Instructure?
Different field entirely—he’s a scuba diving instructor. He was a K-12 teacher for many, many years. So we can relate a little bit, but if we’re just out, we buy something, whether it’s online or out, or we have an experience and we’re like, that was awesome, or that sucked. We talk about it and unpack it. So I’ve tried to bring just some of my own personal experiences, things I hear from other people from just everyday life of buying or engaging in something, and how do we try to bring those principles to the table?
I love that it’s practical—real, practical experience.
Completely. Completely. And it’s a different world and field.
You drown if you don’t have a good experience!
Absolutely. It’s so funny and it’s interesting. Some of the training is terrible. It’s like, it’s sad that needs an uplift. But he just actually bought a new piece of scuba equipment and it’s really cool because he purchased it and then two days later, somebody from the company reached out and said, Hey, this has been delivered. How you doing with it? Have you unboxed it? Do you need any help? And then a week later he got this cute email saying, Hey, we know you have this technology, just so you know, it’s excited. It wants to get wet. Are you getting it wet anytime soon? Like it was this like series of really fun scuba references that just was like a reminder or a touch point in that journey. I’m like, oh, we have to think about that. Like, how do we celebrate? Life is about moments—kind of a theme here, too. Life’s about moments. How do we celebrate those in someone’s journey. So yes, we try to bring in good and bad experiences wherever we can to think about how does that shape how we work with our customers.
Any highlight that you could share—something that you do for your customers?
I have a good one that’s coming. We have an online community where teachers and people running our technologies all come together, get resources, get guides, but also just share ideas. Almost 2 million people are active in this community. And tomorrow I’m gonna announce that we’re going to include a panda bot that will help people coming into that community in a conversational way, go find resources and connect with one another better. And I’m really excited for that because we’re in an in an era we have too much information in there.
There’s so much that we’ve collected because we want to be so open and transparent, it’s hard to find stuff and there’s no beautiful mind map of how to make it better. There’s no, make this website better perfection. We just need ways to get people closer to the information faster.
So we’re gonna announce that, but the community’s something pretty special in edtech, too. I think we have one of the largest ones in edtech and I love that. Because everybody back to the education’s a community—everybody wants to help each other, everybody wants to help each other in our community, which is super cool.
I love the bent you’re taking as far as, ‘How can we do this? Get people together.’ You know, it’s simple.
Get people together. Yeah. And make that meaningful. They don’t want to get together to be sold something, necessarily. Or get together for not solving a purpose, but how do you bring people together around their mission?
The future of learning is just ahead—what do you see? You just went over Panda Bot—that sounds like a little bit of AI.
Right there. Yeah. That’s AI.
Seems like there’s some AI fatigue. But then again, it’s like this tsunami that’s coming and it’s about to crash and there’s the drawing back of water and people are like, is it here yet…well, yes—the wave’s right up there and about to land on your head.
What do you have to say about the future of learning?
I won’t necessarily specifically talk to AI, but AI feeds this. I think there are two things coming. A new understanding of efficiency. So something that AI does afford us, but other technologies coming out as well are doing this. It’s gonna be way easier to build content, to bring content to learners that’s more meaningful content. So a really good example for a long time, I teach. And so I’m very interested in things like gamification, simulation scenarios.
So for example, it’s really hard to build a simulation of something, but if we want to prepare people for the workforce, they need to have the experience as we’re preparing them, that they’re going to have in that workforce, AI and other technologies are gonna enable us to do that so much quicker and more efficiently.
We’re going to see, in my opinion, a proliferation of better content, more content, more engaging content that learners can interact with that is easy for teachers to get their hands on so that they can spend more time in personalizing their experiences with their students. We’re going to get out a lot of the administrative stuff in the next three to five years that you have to do in education. And it’s going to be all about that connection with the student and the students together. That is what’s so exciting for me.
‘…it’s going to be all about that connection with the student and the students together. That is what’s so exciting for me.’
The pandemic brought some of that on already because it brought to the forefront how important that interaction is. And now technology’s enabling people to spend more time with that. So I think that’s what we’re going to see. People are going to care more about working with the entire student and spending that time and engaging with them as they’re developing their skills.
Well said; I really appreciate your time—thank you! Anything that you were hoping I’d ask about that we didn’t cover?
No, this is great. These are all the key conversations that are happening in this space right now, so, yep. Love it!
Concerning AI in education, I feel like it’s inspiration. While the pandemic was really hard, it was—teachers were overwhelmed. There were so many challenges, but there was inspiration, too; that: Oh, we can do things differently. This is exciting. I have the space to take some risks and to try some things.
And then we came out of the pandemic and everyone was like, Oh gosh, do we have to go back to the classroom?
And now AI came just in time to say, Wait, wait, wait, wait. No, you can actually go take some risks. Go try some things. Yeah. I mean, don’t be too risky, but it brought the hope back; that, help is coming! Right? It’s like even if you’re still stuck on that boat for 10 days, you can see the rescue ship out there and you’re like, oh, yeah—I can get inspired again and things are gonna be cool.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org