New Role at ACT!

Monday November 6 will start a new era in my career as, “Lead Assessment Specialist,” at ACT. The title is similar to others I’ve had over the years (Lead Content Curator, Senior Manager, Teacher on Special Assignment…) but the work is a new, more technical direction! I will be known as the Business Owner (in Agile Development) for the OpenSALT tool within ACT. For the past year I’ve been working with the OpenSALT Consortium as the primary ACT representative, and performing SCRUM Master duties, etc. while overseeing the content curation pipeline and staff for OpenEd.

This past month OpenSALT was used as the tool to launch the ACT Holistic Framework. As ACT devotes more resources to the project more stakeholder communication and coordination is required. This will be the first job I’ve ever had not directly working with content/curriculum, which will feel strange – but on the other hand one reason I was chosen is because of my extensive content/academic standards knowledge. Basically I started out as a consumer of content and standards (teacher), then a trainer of teachers, and this is the next step on helping those who actually create the content and standards themselves at the technical level.

I will certainly miss working directly on OpenEd and the educational resources there! I was the first educator who had used OpenEd in my classroom in to be hired on full time in 2015. The details are still unclear a bit to me – Adam says Lisa encouraged him to ask me – but when I was initially asked to join the team, it took me by surprise. Regardless, I took a job requiring a skillset that far outmatched what I initially had (unbeknownst to me!), and ran with it. I am proud of the work we have accomplished at OpenEd and am excited to continue to watch the usage and application grow as integration with ACT products increases. If anything, having someone with fresh perspective on OpenEd’s current place in the market ecosystem is needed and I was probably holding it back.

Thank you Adam Blum and the entire OpenEd team for supporting me, helping me grow, and to ACT for this opportunity! I am looking forward to being under the leadership of Donna Matovinovic in Assessment Design and working even more closely with colleagues at ACT to empower students, educators and employers.

ACT Leadership Cohort Trip 3 (Iowa City, Iowa)

This third leadership cohort trip was the best professional learning experience I have ever had. Considering I was in education for 9 years and have been leading learning experiences as well as attending conferences for the last three years at least, that’s a tall statement!

It wasn’t just the way the content was presented (a mix of discussion, lecture, panel, experiential, small group, active movements), but the content itself was deep, organized and immediately able to be applied to my day to day work as well as a resource for the future.

A day by day summary would be boring to read, but what I got out of it most was the focus on product development. Coming from education I have realized I am sorely lacking in many concepts of business and as I came to OpenEd later, much of the planning and conceptual thinking behind the product had either already been done, or as Content I wasn’t privy too the leadership brainstorming.

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This graphic in particular(source unknown) was encouraging to see! As I’ve worked on OpenSALT it’s been eye-opening to see how much leadership thinks something will take when in reality it may take a lot longer (or shorter!).

 

The best part though by far was hearing about how ACT’s “horizon 3” division thinks up ideas and how to make them into actual products. The process is rigorous but designed to allow for numerous failures. Since this is a public blog I shouldn’t reveal the details, but let’s just say a lot of ideas come up and most of them don’t make it past stage 1. The ones that do go to another team for review and eventually they are turned into actual products. We had a chance to take ideas of our own and go through the same process in one day (normally the initial idea staging takes three days, as the presenters were keen to mention…). It was intense and full of great debate back and forth, but eventually we came up with a product that we think would serve a need based on market research. The next time we meet in October we’ll dive deeper into the product and see if it will actually be turned into something that the market needs and ACT and provide.

In my own career, I’ve gone from being a teacher and not thinking about products or the implications thereof to being deeply involved in making OpenEd a successful product that helps students and teachers around the glove -over half a million teachers and students have signed up and used the site over the years… and that number is only going to grow as we become the official remediation site of the ACT test.

I was immediately take away some of these ideas and use them with developing OpenSALT.

Two years of EdTech!

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2 years full time at OpenEd have passed and I thought I’d write a bit about what it’s like to go from being a public school teacher to working in education technology, or EdTech as it’s commonly called! It’s been three years since I was a classroom teacher – so if I did go back, it would probably take a year to re-learn everything I was doing before!

I had been consulting for OpenEd for over a year before I came on full time, writing math assessment questions and curating resources. I had visited the office a few times so sort of knew what the office environment was like, and was definitely tempted by the idea of going for a run on my lunch break in beautiful Los Gatos!

The financial implications were perhaps less known than I would have liked- salary adjustment pretty well made up for the 3x different in rent, but what we didn’t take into account was the higher price of food and healthcare. On the other hand, even after we moved offices to 8 miles away I can still ride my bike to work and even in bad traffic it’s usually no more than a 20-30 minute drive to the office.

The hardest part to adjust to has been the lack of seasons of work. In teaching it’s easier to push through certain rough patches because Christmas Break is coming, or Spring break, etc. Of course summer was always great – even when teaching summer school, it was still better than a full day’s work. Now when I take a vacation it usually just means I have more work and less time to do things in and as a manager there are always issues that I’m thinking about to squash before they pop up as problems.

The advantage to the office lifestyle though is being able to go on a coffee walk with colleagues, talk to adults (sometimes a negative) instead of teenagers all day, etc.  In addition, we’re not as susceptible to faculty meetings, fire drills, no dances to supervise, etc. Distractions happen but can be managed by simply asking the person to not bother you or moving to a corner of the office away from other people.

The absolute best parts of working in edtech has been the learning! I started making a list of all of the things I’ve learned over the past two years and aside from being pretty boring (Github, some actual programming, technical standards, all about the Common Core and other taxonomies, etc). To not just be user of edtech but a creator and facilitator of it has been an amazing thing. It’s still cool to get emails from people that work for the likes of Google, Microsoft, Canvas, etc .I have always been pretty adept at computers, but came to this job and felt like I had to start all over in my knowledge!

This job at OpenEd/ACT truly engages me on a level of content, technical, and leadership development. When I started, I was simply the primary Math Curator and led the rest of the Curation team – those who are actively curating the videos, games, assessments and interactive resources on OpenEd.com so students can use them more easily. Now I do more leadership, less math, and more technical. I write dataclips in SQL to accurately make reports of the resources that OpenEd has for various partners and internal goal-setting. I use Geckoboard to track our goals and hold the team (and myself) accountable. I know Github well enough to be able to make my own branches of OpenSALT and merge it back into the development branch when warranted. This year I’ve been privileged to be a part of the ACT Leadership Cohort, even though it means time away from my beautiful family.

When OpenEd was purchased by ACT last year, at first I was nervous. Being purchased by a summative test company seemed like the worst thing possible for a student-centric educator like myself. Yet as I have gotten to know the people and company of ACT, I’ve been very impressed. They are professionals, driven towards creating a placement test that will help students know what they are capable of, and the Work Keys program has lofty goals as well to help give employees and employers knowledge about skills and capabilities. I am greatly excited about work I can make public soon around taxonomies of academic skills.

I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of ACT and excited for what OpenEd continues to do and expand. I have never met someone from another company who wasn’t in this business to make things better for students and teachers – even Pearson!

ACT Leadership Cohort Trip 2: Chicago

The purpose of the trip to Chicago was to show us the efforts that inner-city students must go through to get through the school system and hopefully onto college – and also what can happen when they do not.

We met with many amazing leaders from Chicago Public Schools, non-profits doing work that is being used as a template for many others across the country, University researchers, and former government representatives.

On Monday the first day, we visited two very different schools – Tilden Career Community High School and Kenwood Academy. Tilden was almost haunting in its age and the character of the students and staff. Raw, passionate, innovative, yet almost acting as a symbol of the neighborhood in that the school with a capacity of 1500 only currently carries around 400 students. The cavernous front entrance, adorned now by a metal detector, welcomed students to a nearly empty school. Yet Principal Sweeney was full of passion, the students there spoke highly of teachers supporting them and of scholarships with plans to go beyond their school. A GREAT non-profit called Umoja partners with the school to offer Restorative Justice Training, Social-Emotional Skills, and Curriculum to advance students lives. Students shared how the restorative approach had helped them along with being around peers and staff that believed in them.

From there we went on to Kenwood Academy. This was a high performing school that was both selective in nature and a, “neighborhood,” school. Students that were asked to talk to us there had plans of going to Ivy League colleges with scholarships, performing on Broadway, had watched Barack Obama’s speech that morning at the University of Chicago… amazing. One student noted that the ACT LOVES right triangles which drew some laughs. Here the model was all about supporting students through a multi-faceted approach aided in part with research from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research(Link to Research). The differences in the facilities were striking. At Tilden, the library was bare of books and technology. At Kenwood, it was bright, relatively modern, full of books and new computers.

Heading to the Swissotel for the evening (I snuck in a short run in the hour we had between arriving and dinner!) in downtown Chicago was great – I’d only been to Chicago once before in 2013 other than airport transfers, so loved seeing the river walkways and new additions to Millennium Park.

That evening, we had the privilege of listening to several members of the Chicago community who had grown up in a very poor area – the Cabrini-Green projects. Inspiring stories born of community, forged by hardship and rewarded with successful lives. One thing that stuck out to me was how they instantly invited us into their lives. As one person started – “You’ve all heard of Cabrini Green right? Ok good,” even though I at least hadn’t. I also loved hearing the nicknames and how those youth-oriented identities played a big role in shaping future lives. My own youth nickname of B-Dawg doesn’t quite stack up!

Tuesday morning, we heard from Aarti Dhupella from National Luoius University and Lila Leff from the Emerson Collective. Both 18158015_10155296724577386_935245371016558923_nspeakers talked a lot about ways to encourage students to succeed with alternative undergraduate pathways. I was most taken by the reliance again on GPA rather than standardized test scores – to me grades are subjective, but apparently also an indicator of the persistence one needs to succeed in college. There were also comments that they feel the ACT doesn’t necessarily indicate success in college, which was a pretty bold statement to a room full of ACT leaders!

Our next visit was with a community college Associate Vice Chancellor discussion credentials and career pathways. Chicago Community Colleges used to have 500+ courses and pathways for students… now they’ve narrowed it down to less then a dozen pathways to make more productive pathways. This was a meeting where I personally really felt at home because it was all of the familiar concepts from my years in both public school education and as an adjunct faculty.

Finally, we went to a pizza restaurant called Roots for a final set of meetings. There we met a young man named Kyle Westbrook of the Partnership for College Completion ( I could not find a website). This organization attempts to make sure once students get to college they are able to finish and enter into careers -not jobs.

We heard a lot about how micro-credentials and the ability to track workforce-ready skills throughout a students K-16 career and beyond would greatly assist students who may have trouble completing a program a study. In addition, more data throughout an education career can help become a formative measure of future success, connect those students with mentors, identify social-emotional skills that the student is lacking, and more. It was a timely trip that cemented ACT’s commitment to underserved learners and how the entire company needs to move towards enabling technology to help accomplish those goals.

A few quick ideas:

  • If a school system sees what social-emotional skills a student is weak in, they can connect them with a mentor that is strong in those skills
  • If the CASE file format (standards) is well-integrated with Badges/Micro-Credentials, we can have true portability of informal skills to degrees and credentials down the line
  • Connecting academic formative assessments to social-emotional skills is something that should be happening in the next few years here. For example, if we notice that a student is working on a problem and doesn’t know how to try a different method, that can be translated into a Navigation skill that talks about trying different approaches in a different context and then circle back to the academic skill.