educationtechnologyinsights

Improving Student Engagements and Results

By Doug McCollum, Senior Vice President, Products Strategy, Development, Technology/Platforms at K12

Doug McCollum, Senior Vice President, Products Strategy, Development, Technology/Platforms at K12

In the light of your experience what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening with respect to the Artificial Intelligence space?

Artificial Intelligence is very exciting for me because of its potential to shape truly personalized and adaptive online learning. This includes the capabilities of machine learning to dynamically identify students’ strengths and weaknesses and learner levels and to instantly target instruction to their areas of greatest need at just the right learner level. It also includes automated scoring capabilities—latent semantic analysis and natural language processing—that make it possible to written and spoken performance tasks and to leverage that data in providing personalized coaching and re-teaching to help students prepare for high stakes tests and to succeed in the workplace, where communication skills are absolutely critical. AI can also be used to dynamically provide recommendations for teachers on how to group students for targeted instruction and can be leveraged to improve teaching practices by assessing how teachers deliver their lessons—for example, capturing the balance between time spent lecturing and more interactive approaches to delivery. 

Could you talk about your approach to identifying the right partnership providers from the lot?

The focus is always on what will improve student outcomes and engagement. My goal is to find the right balance between new development and partnerships. Typically, when it comes to partnerships we are looking for innovative capabilities, like automated scoring, or content, like 3D simulations, that would be challenging for us to develop on our own. Another major consideration is how we can integrate partner capabilities and content in a way that will still provide a seamless user experience for students and teachers.

Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful project/initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?

This year, we are launching a new automated reading level scoring through a partnership with a company called AMI. The assessments are self-administered and provide automated scoring of both oral fluency and comprehension, making it easy to track students’ reading growth over a school year and to identify students who are struggling.

The capability is being integrated into our digital library, Big Universe, and leveraged to recommend texts at each students’ reading level. In addition, we are now integrating Stride—an innovative gamified adaptive reading and math supplemental solution—directly into our courses to provide additional adaptive practice at a students’ learner level on the specific skills and standards being covered at any given point within the courses.

"AI can also be used to dynamically provide recommendations for teachers on how to group students for targeted instruction and can be leveraged to improve teaching practices by assessing how teachers deliver their lessons"

We are also developing 20 new Career Readiness courses with a focus on Project Based Learning. Students will collaborate virtually to complete projects that draw on a wide range of skills—ones that will be critical for them to succeed in the workplace.

Finally, we are developing a new student interface for our K-5 Learning Management System designed to meet the needs of younger students, to provide a more personal connection with their teachers—who are remote—and to begin making connections with classmates who are distributed across the state.

What are some of the points of discussion that go on in your leadership panel? What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?

The primary areas of discussion are related to our goals of improving student outcomes and preparing students for success in the workplace. And these are the goals that drive our company’s strategy. In my area, we are continuously looking for how we improve our courses, drive adaptive, personalized learning, and improve student engagement to help students grow and succeed.

In addition, we are focused on an end-to-end experience that extends beyond coursework in preparing students for success in the workplace—preparing students for certifications, proving badging for skills they acquire, connecting them with mentors, and helping them network with potential employers.

Can you draw an analogy between your personality traits, hobbies and how they reflect on your leadership strategy?

I believe that the most important personality traits for a leader are self-confidence, humility, energy, and passion. Self-confidence and humility seem to be contradictory, but I believe both are essential. Self-confidence is critical to be able to tackle challenges, overcome obstacles, take chances, etc. with a belief that the work you are doing can and will be successful. I believe that teams can usually achieve more than they believe that they can, but would be unable to push them to do so without having the personal conviction in what we are doing.

Humility is equally as critical. It is vital for leaders not to ask their teams to do things they wouldn’t do themselves, to recognize that they can always get better, to have an ongoing desire to learn and get better and to be objective and honest in assessing what has and hasn’t worked. Passion and energy are also critical—to care deeply about what you do and to attack it with intensity.

How do you see the evolution of the Artificial Intelligence arena a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

 I see Artificial Intelligence transforming our digital learning ecosystem to provide deeply personalized competency-based learning in which every student can move at his or her own pace, get instant access to virtual tutors or bots, get intelligent, immediate feedback on every response—written, spoken, etc. At the same time, AI will be disruptive in the workplace, radically impacting the types of jobs that are available and eliminating many jobs. It will be increasingly critical for today’s and tomorrow’s generations to be adaptable, to develop skills that can be broadly applied to different types of jobs, to continue learning and growing. And AI as an educational tool can support that by making it possible for people to learn quickly anytime, anywhere throughout the course of their lives.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?

Always listen and learn. Approach your work with energy and passion. As mentioned before, be confident in yourself, yet humble. Keep things in perspective, always remembering how lucky you are to pursue work that you enjoy. And have fun.

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