Early Learning Digest

Education Talk Radio: “Ed Tech and the Full Learning Cycle”

"Parents are more confident, the children are more confident, they have these academic skills and they can go from children that have had very little experience in academic activities to becoming the leaders in the kindergarten classroom." -Andy Myers

education talk radio logo

For the Education Talk Radio podcast on April 23, 2018, host Larry Jacobs spoke with Andy Myers, COO of Waterford Institute, on the subject of Education Technology and the importance of parent engagement in early education.

Andy Myers has been in the Education Tech industry for over 20 years and brings to the show his knowledge of and experience with the evolution of Ed Tech and the important role it can play in early education, as well as the opportunities it provides to children and families in underserved and unserved areas.

Highlights include:

  • The early years of Education Technology
  • Communication between parents and teachers
  • Early education options in rural areas
  • The importance of parent and family engagement

Listen to the podcast on blogtalkradio.com/edutalk, and continue reading below for the full transcript. Learn more about Waterford UPSTART, our kindergarten readiness program.

Education Talk Radio: “Ed Tech and the Full Learning Cycle,” Full Transcript


Larry Jacobs (Host, Education Talk Radio):
Good morning everybody I’m Larry Jacobs. This is Pre-K-12 education talk radio. It’s Monday, April 23, 2018.

LJ: It is a pleasure to have you with us. It’s also a pleasure to have my guest today Andy Meyers is with us. He’s the COO over at the Waterford Institute, my good friends. They’ll tell us all about that and we’re going to talk about just engaging the entirety of education, the full spectrum: students, families, teachers, and administration and although Waterford OK is basically Pre-K through 3 and 4. OK. I like to say. We’re going to talk about the full spectrum of education all the way up, and Andy’s the man who is living it right now as I’ll explain just a couple of seconds when I bring him on the show. We’re going to archive the show at education-talkradio.org that’s education-talkradio.org. Go over there and… You’ll see our full schedule for the week and if you keep scrolling down and you’ll see every show we’ve ever done which is about 4,000 of them. Take your pick. They’re all archived we send out a direct link to the show over on Twitter @edutalkradio and we do the same on Facebook. You can follow us over there, friend us at the other one, and then when you do our Facebook then you get a free picture, autographed by Vladimir Putin. We guarantee it. OK. I’m just kidding. We’re not guaranteeing that at all. And if you get a minute go over to www.ace-ed.org, that’s our new media platform. All about accessibility compliance and equity in education. And we’re going to put out the first issue of our digital journal in June. But the website will be up on May 15th. We’d like you to get the digital journal free. We won’t share your info. Just go over to ace-ed.org. Sign up, go to the contact page, scroll down a little bit sign up on the subscription block and we’ll make sure that you get it delivered right to your inbox. Get a lot of press out there. It’s the right thing at the right time and we know that the information is needed so please the information’s yours for free. Sign on up ace-ed.org. I’ve got two lines open and one guest I’m going to take a shot at this one. Let’s see. Is this Andy? No, OK. Is this Andy? Andy?

Andy Myers (COO, Waterford Institute): Hello. This is Andy.

LJ: Hi Andy, how are you doing. Are you. I’m good, are you on the 801 number?

AM: Uhhh…Yes, I am.

LJ: OK because I got this strange thing going on here. I don’t know what’s going on, I’m going to cut that 435 number whatever that is, whoever you are. Just go over to the website and listen, I don’t know who that is. OK. Welcome, Andy. Hey, I had one guest, two lines. What can I tell you…? I didn’t know who the other one was. I gotta tell you, this cracked me up a little bit. We’re going to gauge the full cycle of learning. Alright. And then I read your little bio here and I laugh because you are living the full cycle of learning. You have four kids: one elementary school, one in middle school, and high school and one in college. So, you are living in that spectrum. You don’t. You’re right.

AM: I’m involved in all levels of education right now, both personally and professionally.

LJ: Actually, you’re right, Waterford’s Pre-K-2, your youngest is in elementary. And by the way I’ll give your daughter a shout out. She’s at the University of Utah, right? She’s on the marching band. Plays clarinet. Oh, BYU, she’s at BYU sorry.

AM: Yeah, it’s a little rivalry in the house. My wife and I are both University of Utah graduates and we sent her down to BYU, so…

LJ: So now you’re gonna have to live with that, just wear proudly her T-shirt when she brings it up. What can I tell you? Before this. By the way, Andy’s got a long history in ed-tech. We’re going to talk about this. You were COO for Pearson’s digital learning business unit, Senior VP over Pearson US K12 curriculum division. CEO at Scientific Learning. All good companies, great companies Chief Strategy Officer at Renaissance. But you started as I think a sales rep at Waterford, am I right?

AM: I did. And it’s funny. Technology has come quite a long way. In the early 90s when I used to take the product out to show to educators, I had a desktop computer that I would haul around and padded packaging so that it wouldn’t get damaged and we had it on a luggage cart. And the schools as I pulled it into the school they wondered whether I was moving in or what all of that was for. It was really just to show how it would look in a lab on the computers they had and the kind of computers we needed to run what we were trying to do were pretty large. So, it was, it came a long way it’s not as complicated now where you can log in and show it online. But those days that was uhh…

LJ: Yeah you can do that on an iPad. It’s unbelievable! I can only imagine you doing that having walked into the office and the smell of a mimeograph machine was prevalent through the air, wow long time ago.

AM: It’s funny, I was very young at the time, so it took a little while to build the credibility both because I was in my early 20s and carrying technology, something very new to schools, and that it looked so intimidating with all of the equipment and all the pieces and parts that had to be put together so, the presentations would start off a little choppy because of that. But eventually, we’d help them understand that technology could be a tool that would be helpful in their teaching and learning

LJ: Was that when you were originally with Waterford at the beginning?

AM: It is yeah, and you know it’s not only has the technology changed but the attitude of educators about technology has changed quite a bit. I think there was a fear that the technology would actually replace a teacher and there was a fear and a comparison of you know will this software do what I can do for a child? And then today of course it’s very different. The teachers view technology as part of the tools that help them be more effective and know more about their kids, but it was in those days it was not only unfamiliar and intimidating from a technology perspective but it actually there was some fear of job security, what it would mean for the future of education.

LJ: Sure. You know that brings up an interesting point Andy which I’ve ever thought about this. The cohorts in a lot of the educations schools are… (connection problems)

LJ: Andy are you there? Here we go. Andy let me bring you on here. Andy?

AM: Yes

LJ: I lost you my, Skype just died. Yeah, my apologies. I don’t know what happened there. OK, I’m going to kill the Skype thing. Alright. And all of a sudden you weren’t there anymore and by the way neither was I. So, I apologize for that. Did you hear what I asked you?

AM: No, you were just at the beginning of the question, then it cut out.

LJ: Ah I apologize, I didn’t know. You know when you said that technology might replace teachers, and everybody was scared of that at the beginning. That’s accurate, and it went well into the 2000s. Up until a few years ago but there is a serious teacher shortage out there, the cohorts are dropping into a lot of education schools. Hawaii, as I used as an example a minute ago, which you didn’t hear, you know was in drastic, drastic shape—rural schools are in drastic shape, and with the technology we have today, and I don’t mean this derogatory to teachers at all. Are we going to be using technology to replace teachers when we have this drastic shortage? And I know that’s a strange question, but I’m curious what your answer might be.

AM: Actually, I don’t think so, but I do think what will happen with technology is a couple of things. First of all, there are different aspects of education that technology is very good at providing, practice for example, students practicing their skills is very necessary to become proficient but also can be very tedious and not necessary for a teacher to provide that practice experience for every student every day. And the other is just that once that practice is taking place, all kinds of information about student’s strengths and weaknesses can be provided to a teacher. That then with that relationship can provide very targeted instruction. So, I think that probably what can happen is that technology can address some of the instructional challenges where there needs to be individualized support for every child. But then with the data that that yields, the teacher can be very targeted in the limited amount of time they have for each student. So, I think it’s really a combination of the two together that is the most powerful.

LJ: Yeah good answer. Using the technology to use that teachers we have. I like that. That’s pretty good. OK excellent answer by the way. No wonder you’re the CEO. Congratulations. COO Alright. Congratulations.

AM: After 23 years you’d think I would have learned something about how the technology and teachers can work together.

LJ: But they must work together. They must work together. It’s you know it’s like saying chalk will replace teachers. Back in 1970. That’s not the case. The chalk doesn’t write itself and the teachers know what’s going on. But it’s a concern out there and we have to use technology to an advantage. OK in this day and age. Alright which you guys doing for years, by the way, at Waterford.

AM: Let me give you an example too because I think there’s actually another step, sort of the next step for technology, and that is how to involve the families and parents and start early, you know. The communication challenge between a teacher and students exists also between a teacher and parents. And if you think about how much time a child is spending at home before they ever arrive at school, how much opportunity there is for engagement with adults at home versus school, and how limited in many parts of the country the opportunity is for parents to understand how they can best help their children in the limited time they have with other responsibilities. Teachers communicating with parents and helping them understand their role as the child’s first educators is critical, and one of the things we tried to do at Waterford is not just provide software that’s instructionally helpful for students to progress, but also building tools that help teachers and parents communicate. In fact, we have our state virtual pre-K program and we have what we call personal care representatives, which really support families as a mentor and a teacher before the child comes to school. And they provide advice and support to parents, but they’re looking at data on the student’s progress and how well they’re using the system at home so that data of the student progress then someone who has some expertise talking to the parents say hey here’s where your child is struggling, here’s something you can do that would help them. Then that magnifies the ability to help these kids because now you’ve got more adults involved knowing what to do to help children. And it’s not possible without the technology to be able to run that kind of an operation.

LJ: I agree with you. And you know it’s interesting, we talk about how you’ve been involved in educational technology for 23 years which is amazing ladies and gentlemen, Andy is only 31 years old. That’s just absolutely incredible.

AM: There was a day when people used to say you know, “How old are you?” That used to mean that I was young and now I think it’s the reverse. “How old are you?” It’s flipped, and I don’t know when that happened but… it did.

LJ: Life elevated in Utah. Everybody stays young in Utah, it’s like the fountain of youth, so not to worry about it. There’s an interesting side to what you said. You know when I was a kid, and I’m older than you, OK, but when I was a kid the extent of the engagement with the teacher was when I did something wrong or I got a D, or an F and my mother would go. That was really the extent, and teachers really didn’t stake too much in communication with the parents et cetera and it was you know a localized neighborhood school in Philadelphia. But just let’s talk about that for a second, EdTech allows this. But what I’m curious about, what are your thoughts on family engagement? Alright. Since when you started till now, because you’ve been doing the Pre-K stuff for a long time. You know it from time ago.

AM: Well for so long really, for so long we just thought we’ve got to take care of this challenge of students coming in unprepared in the school, once they arrive it’s the first chance we get. And that was typically in kindergarten and these kids would come, some of them had never had any experience with reading or print. And it really was up to that teacher to figure out how to use the technology to try to help close that gap. However, I think there’s been a lot of research that indicates those first years make a big difference. If there’s anything that we can do to help the families, and even their younger siblings that follow these kids, so if the families get engaged and understand with one child how they can help before the child arrives at school, then the other siblings that are younger benefit. And so, I think that when I talk to education leaders even though they don’t have often direct funding for Pre-K programs, a lot of their time at night when they’re laying awake worrying is spent thinking about the kids they’re going to get the next year or the year after that. And how to involve the community. And so that’s been a big focus of ours is how do we try to step a year ahead of where these kids arrive in kindergarten and see if we can help these parents so that when the children arrive, the teachers say, “These kids are prepared. And my job is just got a lot easier.”

LJ: It does and talk about that in terms of Waterford for a second, just what you do to get the parents involved in the early years, of the preschool years, which I think is key stuff that then we’ll talk about EdTech.

AM: Yeah. So, in about 2009 as seeing this problem, and this is I was not at Waterford at the time, but the organization began working with students in the state of Utah, just a few hundred to start, where the software was provided at home and working directly with the families to have the children use it five days a week, 15 minutes a day. Lots of other time during the day to socialize and even be involved in a Pre-K program. But this was the academic component that was helping them learn their letters, learn their numbers, become familiar with print and most importantly develop confidence. And as that grew and as the research results showed impact, the state continued to fund it, parents continued to sign up, and now about 1/3 of all the students in the state of Utah are in this four-year-old program called Waterford Upstart. And the great thing is when we talk to the schools, because we do work with schools, K-2, they can tell us, “We know which kids are the Upstart kids when they come. We know which families have had this experience.” The parents are more confident, the children are more confident, they have these academic skills and they can go from children that have had very little experience in academic activities to becoming the leaders in the kindergarten classroom because of that one year of not just software but also just interaction with parents and helping parents understand how they can help these kids as they are as they’re learning.

LJ: It’s good stuff. And by the way I just want to make mention, you know of course you know, Senator Stevenson right in Utah?

AM: Yes of course. Yes.

LJ: Yeah. And Howard has been on the show, and he’s the Utah state senator, a very powerful man by the way in the state of Utah, and a wonderful guy. He’s been on the show when he was the one who got that through the state legislature so many years ago now.

AM: Yes, absolutely very visionary.

LJ: The man deserves credit. As does Dusty has the founder. Dusty Heuston the founder of Waterford and Ben of course. OK. Who you know have just been doing this for so long and they’ve been doing it for great for great learning for great kids. I have to ask you something Andy, you know you’ve seen the Ed Tech field evolve. Did you watch any kids watch 60 Minutes last night?

AM: I did not see it. No.

LJ: OK. It might be worth catching, it’s fun. It was a fun segment. I think it was this middle segment. It was about the MIT media lab here in Cambridge Massachusetts and near where I live. And they’re just doing whatever needs to be done and they just play with technology to make the future work. Alright. And you know education is changing, the way kids learn is changing, digital natives we can go through everything about that. Where do you see the next step in Ed Tech? You’ve been in it a long time now.

AM: Yeah, I think you know we’ve gone from the sphere of technology and having it seem like something that was not a fit for the classroom to now having all kinds of different solutions and in some ways even too much technology for a teacher to be able to manage and understand. And I think that the challenge has gone from the acceptance to you know effective implementation, technology for technology sake, of course, is not effective. And the question is how is that technology best used and how do these tools work together. Are they saving the teacher time? Are they giving more insight into students’ strengths and weaknesses? Are they motivating students or are they engaging parents? Or is it a distraction? And I think that implementation and effective use is the key. And looking at classrooms today teachers, that are really good at using technology it almost seems just natural, seamless like using technology at work. Alright and then you see places where you know the technologies used and it’s disconnected from the classroom or it’s not really in use to drive the goals of saving teachers time or helping students learn. And I think a lot of education technology companies don’t spend enough time thinking about implementation and usage and how it fits the user experience and how it becomes seamless. And so, it can become a challenge now to be almost on the opposite end of the spectrum. Now it’s become overwhelming as opposed to something to try to keep out.

LJ: Yeah in some cases it is overwhelming and I’m glad you said that you know. I have to ask you something. I think you heard at the beginning of the show where we were starting our new magazine called Accessibility Compliance and Equity. And to me the equity side is a key thing. I mean we all want everything to be accessible for our kids. We want that companies in the school district to be complying and that goes without saying. Alright. But we bandy around the word equity, and equity is something that’s very, very important. When I think of Ed Tech, I always think of kids in rural schools who will be able to connect with the finest physics teachers so to speak. OK. God forbid their school is short a physics teacher or they don’t have enough physics teachers to go around. OK. It’s ok to me the technology and actually what you’re doing with Upstart represents equity. Alright. I’ll say it that way because you know kids in a wealthy suburban district, whatever the case may be, they’re going to get their preschool experience and the best there is—mom and dad are both college graduates, let’s say etc. But there were a lot of people out there who don’t live that experience and what you guys do with Upstart, we’ll focus on that, OK brings about equity. Alright. That’s simple. I’d like your thoughts on technology and equity.

AM: I think that’s a great point. You know technology makes it so that the geography doesn’t really matter anymore. And the challenge… you hear a lot of people talk about the value of Pre-K programs, which absolutely is the ideal, but I know that there are many students that don’t have the opportunity to attend one of those types of you know geographic centers where kids come together to get a great Pre-K experience. There’re waitlists, rights. There are costs. It’s not a segment, although it’s growing in funding, it’s not a segment of education that’s been as highly funded as K-12. And so, you have these kids where the choice isn’t whether to go to a high-quality Pre-K program or not. The choice is, are they going to get any experience before they arrive in kindergarten or not? And in those cases, having a solution where you can empower the parents and provide the software regardless of where they are located makes a significant difference. You know it’s interesting as we’ve measured the impact, there are a lot of aspects of bringing kids together that are very important in Pre-K, the socialization and developing the interpersonal skills. And yet on the academic side, we’ve seen that the software and parent involvement is as good or better than those other programs on the academic side. So, they’re both important, it’s important to have both, but where you have access to neither, and this is the vision of the state of Utah and also Senator Stevenson, make it available so that these kids that have no other choice can come prepared. It just sets them on a totally different learning trajectory than if they don’t get that experience.

LJ: Yeah, it really does get them on a different learning trajectory and just talk about this for one second. I would say pre-K, I use the cliché you build the good foundation, you build a good house. Get kids good in Pre-K and boom everybody uses that cliché. But you know you’ve really seen a difference. OK over the… and Waterford has seen a difference, and by the way, Waterford Institute is not a product company per say, everybody. They are literally an institute. They have a school at all that sort of thing where they make these things work. Alright. And it’s kind of like that media lab what’s the next step there. They had actually started this a long time ago. So, my question is OK where do you see all this going? Let me ask you that.

AM: So, you know I guess there’s two ways to talk about the future of education technology. One is in education itself, which we’ve talked a lot about. The other is sort of the business side, which I think is worth mentioning. You know it’s become a very interesting space for investors. And you know ten years ago it was very early stage and there wasn’t a lot of focus. And now you have you know companies and entrepreneurs and some great talent and organizations putting money into the space for innovation which I think is great. I mean part of my career I’ve spent advising companies that have taken in venture capital, I’ve worked for an organization that was private equity owned. I’ve worked for public companies and education. And there’s no doubt that the attention has raised the level of innovation and talent in the space. But I will say there is one interesting wrinkle to all of that, and that is, why I like being a part of Waterford so much for this particular purpose, there are certain areas of education that need attention and help that really don’t make economic sense for business. And one of those of course is the involvement of engaging with families at home. It can be done online. But one of the things that we’ve found is particularly in Utah there’s a lot of refugee families that come into the state, oftentimes we can’t reach them just by sending an e-mail or by having a phone call. We’ve got to actually go out and visit with these families and so we’ve had people that have gone out into the homes. It’s just not something that I would have had the flexibility to do at other countries, at other companies because it just it doesn’t make economic sense, it’s not scalable. So, this is a particular area where you know I feel like the nonprofit status of the Waterford Institute makes a big difference because we need to do whatever it takes. Providing the hardware, provide Internet where necessary, the family relationship, whatever it takes doesn’t really align with the financial objectives that you have when you’re when you’re trying to you know satisfy investors. So I think overall the interest in education from an investor perspective, the for-profit, the competition there’s a lot of benefits. But for when it comes to early childhood where the funding is more challenging, where the needs are more diverse, I’ve really appreciated the fact that with Waterford we have this financial flexibility. I had a friend that was at another company actually mentioned, you know, “We wouldn’t even be interested in a contract like the one you have with state of Utah, just wouldn’t make sense for us. It’s perfect for you guys but this just wouldn’t align with our financial objectives to do something like that.”

LJ: Right. That is a very interesting point. If you look at health care as an example, what you just said. The pediatric, the children’s hospital, which we all care about, St. Jude’s and all that sort of stuff and all the ones in the various cities. They are the most poorly funded hospitals because most people when they’re at that stage, and god forbid your kid has to go into a children’s hospital. OK. You don’t have the money yet to give them a big endowment, but if you go to the cardiac unit were heart attacks people are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, they have money they endow the hospitals, they give charities to the hospital. It’s harder to get money because it’s so far away from graduation, into Pre-K than it is into the rest of education, and people always think of education they think of 11th, 12th grade when kids are deciding on a college. But by then. OK. That’s way in the future. You got to get the foundation right. OK to have it make sense. It’s an interesting thing. I’m so glad you guys are on top. It’s really strange thing. Where do you see all this family engagement going? Do you think we can keep them engaged through 12th grade as much as we want to?

AM: I certainly hope so, I think the importance of education is I think universally understood. Sometimes life gets in the way…

LJ: Except by Congress, except by Congress….and they care about their kids, don’t misunderstand. They do care but they don’t see it. It’s every government in this state, look at Oklahoma just recently as an example. They just won’t fund education. OK. West Virginia, same thing.

AM: You know you know there are so many different competing priorities when it comes to funding. There are so many different competing priorities in a family when it comes to education. I mean if you’re worried about having two jobs and trying to take care of children, single parent home, there’s all kinds of things that get in the way. But I’ll tell you when these families engage with our with our personal care representatives, when they know that someone’s looking out for their child and keeping them focused on the child and their education, at the end of these years when the Pre-K year is finished and the families meet for these graduation events, they’re looking for the person that they’ve been talking to that’s been supporting their family and they just have a different sense of confidence. It’s one of those things that just falls to the bottom because some parents, families don’t know exactly what to do, and it’s not that complicated to just have simple conversation once a day that’s informed by some information about your child’s interests, their strengths, and weaknesses in education and make a difference. And I think these parents feel empowered, they feel like it’s easier than they thought, and I hope it’s changing their view of how they can help their children. Certainly, the technology is great to have available and helpful in schools. But it’s these relationships between the adults and the children that I think in some ways technology is really helping develop

LJ: And actually brings up an interesting point that kids are digital natives some of the parents are too. But the kids are really digital natives these days. I’ve got to ask you a funny question. In the whole scheme of things, who’s the most, what’s the most important factor? Is it the school, the teachers, the administrators, the students, or the parents?

AM: Well you know I think it I think it’s the parents. And here’s why. The time that’s spent in school and the number of children that are in a classroom per teacher. Great teachers can have a great impact. But you and I probably both have similar experiences where we don’t remember exactly what different teachers taught us, but we remember certain teachers based on the interest they took in us individually, the relationship, the connections that were made. They cared right. And the likelihood of having that with a teacher for a student as they go through school is pretty high. But that teacher’s impact in terms of how many hours and how long that is, it’s not going to be a lot of time in the grand scheme of their education and their life. When a parent and a family understands the right type of communication how to help their children, how to build that kind of relationship, it’s a lifelong engagement of many, many, many thousands of hours. And so, the impact can be so much greater. Schools play a critical role. Sometimes those connections are not established in the home and a school becomes that next line of defense to help the child be successful. But the odds are stacked against the success in that situation, and that’s where you know everything has to go right with the instruction, the teachers, the technology, and that click that happens in the life of a student where they really just find their confidence and their drive. You know the likelihood of that happening without the family support, it’s just it’s just lower and it puts a lot of pressure on schools

LJ: Here Here. So, parents get on the stick. And by the way talk to your congressman, you want good Pre-K. I’m just going to give you a plug here, Waterford Upstart, Waterford.org. And I’m telling you Waterford Upstart, I’ve talked to folks who are using it all over the country. You know that Andy. And they just love it. The educators just adore it. OK. And you know who really loves it. The third grade teachers because they’re getting kids that actually are all trained and well et cetera. You know it’s just these kids come in.

AM: We hope so. Yeah yeah for sure.

LJ: You guys have never stopped that goal. That was the goal to begin with and that’s the goal now. Alright. I mean it. Yeah yeah. It’s really, it’s really you are you are the stars of Pre-K, what can I tell you. Andy Meyers thank you. This is wonderful. We apologize for the gap. Blame LinkedIn.

AM: No worries it was great to visit with you, Larry, thank you.

LJ: Well it’s wonderful to have you here, my friend, so enjoy life elevated out in Utah. That’s their license plate, everybody, Life Elevated. OK as opposed to where I used to live, New Hampshire, which was Live Free or Die. The only actual license plate with a death threat on it. So, Life Elevated is much, much better. Andy Meyers thanks a million. Terrific. OK.

AM: Thank you very much.

LJ: Thank you. Yes, you will. Bye-bye. Well, I guess you knew who that was, that was Andy Myers, the COO of Waterford Institute. Alright. And boy you want to find a great company, that’s it, that’s all I have to say on that subject. And like I said he’s living the full spectrum. We got a kid in elementary, middle, high school and college. Alright. We’re going to archive the show education-talkradio.org, tweet it out @edutalk radio, I apologize again for that gap. I have no idea what happened to all of a sudden LinkedIn wasn’t there. Alright. My name is Larry Jacobs this is Pre-K-12 Education Talk Radio. Thanks for listening. Have a great day. We have another show at noon and hopefully, the LinkedIn will stay for that one.