“As best practices are being developed for connected, mobile, personal learning, we need to have the political will to change our historic systems. Seat time, age cohorts, drill and kill – these all have to go.” – Joel Heinrichs, USA
Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think. And while access is one of the pillars of revolutionizing education on a global scale, it can also be a challenge for teachers on a day-to-day basis. How do we keep students safe, while still allowing them to use the infinite content available on the Internet? And with the ubiquitous mobile device – allowing anytime, anywhere access to information – this challenge can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Access is at the core of the solutions that Lightspeed Systems offers, and as its CEO, access is something that Joel Heinrichs is tasked with applying to the K-12 market, notably through their product, My Big Campus. “Our team is brilliant,” he says. “We have built a company that is designed to innovate – in terms of how we allow access to Internet content, encourage community engagement, and simply think about known problems differently. But the big driver of this process is not technology – it is a visceral, organizational value to learn, test, adapt, and think. That is our ‘secret sauce.'”
My Big Campus, now available as a Windows 8 App, is an educational hub between devices and the Web. “When we started developing My Big Campus years ago, it was just as a feature to our Web filter: we wanted to be a smarter filter in a Web 2.0 world, keeping kids safe without over-blocking all the dynamic web content we knew could be valuable to learning,” notes Heinrichs.
Today, My Big Campus allows teachers and students to connect, collaborate, and learn – all while safely bringing together all the tools, content, and features students and educators need. And, as Heinrichs says, making all of this information easy to access and easy to share also makes it easy and fun to learn.
“Access to resources, knowledge, people, ways of thinking/learning/being is all possible in a connected world,” adds Heinrichs. “Great teachers and great schools can build on that foundation, but even the most poorly served child at least has a chance at greatness if they have access to the world on their own.”
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I am a child of “The Great Society.” My father was an iconoclastic, innovative alcoholic who was almost always working a new “scheme” to invent or create something. Most of these efforts did not actually pay – so we were very poor. My mother was a saint – somehow raising (largely on her own) nine children to become decent, productive people. Almost all of us graduated from college. But while our mother was a fantastic role model, almost all of us benefited greatly from teachers, counselors, and school administrators taking a special interest in us – making sure we had summer jobs, scholarship opportunities, and the like.
In our case, public education was the classic path to upward mobility. We were lucky to be born with big brains and to have an incredible, engaged mother – but without access to education, our opportunities would have been much more constrained.
So I have been engaged in supporting education as a community volunteer, parent, and trustee my entire adult life.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
There were a number of great teachers in my life, but I think Bill Miller had the most direct impact. Mr. Miller was one of my high school English teachers (probably junior year). I was a very good student, and had always done very well in language arts without a substantial amount of effort. Mr. Miller took the time to really engage with me on essay assignments, giving me comprehensive, specific feedback and challenging me to really learn to write. I am confident that I would have succeeded in college without Mr. Miller, but I also know that I was a much more effective student and learner because of him. Individually focusing on each student’s writing at the high school level is very, very time consuming – but he took that time, to make my individual education better.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
One of the things one learns in the software business (and I suspect in most other industries as well) is that one rarely has a truly unique idea. Oh, you may think you have a new idea – but the minute you spend any serious time with a search engine you usually discover that there are other people thinking about and reacting to the same challenges as you. So I do not know that anything has “changed as a result of our work” – as other companies have also pursued similar goals. But at Lightspeed Systems, we have successfully built an enthusiastic, growing community of practitioners who are defining blended, personalized learning. If we did not exist, these educators would still be pursuing the goal – but we like to think that we are making it easier, faster and better.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
Educators have been talking about the tech revolution in education for years and years. Until recently, however, technology in education has largely just allowed us to do what we had been doing faster and better. But in the last few years, the environment has changed. Mobile devices are a big piece of the puzzle – but it is really a combination of access to high speed Internet, low cost, fast, mobile devices, new digital content/platforms, and a changing culture that has brought us to a point where things may change fundamentally. We now have all the pieces necessary for true learner-driven, personalized, 24×7 learning. We still have lots of mental and regulatory barriers, but it is precisely because how we all work and play has changed fundamentally, that it is now possible for education to change as well.
Young parents today do not know anything about a world pre-Internet, cell phone, or Amazon. It is how they work and learn – and they will begin demanding that educational institutions adapt their children’s education accordingly. (As opposed to the reality that many educational innovators faced a few years ago, when parents would oppose attempts to alter the learning environment because it was “just not how it was done in my day.”)
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
Personalization of learning. Ultimately, all learning is personal – and we can now actually support learning models that make that possible at scale.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
Collaboration. We know the power of networks. We now have the tools for educators and learners to share locally and globally in tremendous ways – making education much more efficient and effective.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A mobile learning device connected to the Internet.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
The current drive to teach 21st-century skills (via Common Core and mobile learning) can potentially transform our educational system.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
As best practices are being developed for connected, mobile, personal learning, we need to have the political will to change our historic systems. Seat time, age cohorts, drill and kill – these all have to go. There is a tremendous amount of institutional inertia at many levels that we must overcome to realize the power of modern technology in schools.
CEO, Lightspeed Systems
Arroyo Grande, California, USA
- Birthplace: Bakersfield, California
- Current residence: Arroyo Grande, California
- Education: B.A. in History from UCSB and MPA from CSUB
- Website I check every day: Facebook (have to make sure my young adult daughter living in Europe is alive and well)
- Person who inspires me most: Abe Lincoln was a humble, brilliant, ethical, and supremely practical leader who subsumed his ego and personal desires to accomplish great things.
- Favorite childhood memory: It snows in Bakersfield about once per decade. So, as a four year old, the first time it snowed I was thrilled. I still remember the thrill of going outside, gathering up snow from the yard, and making “snow cones.”
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Austin, Texas (LightspeedConnect User Conference)
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh every day. Mostly at the absurdity of life.
- Favorite book: There are lots and lots of great books. Today I think I will pick the Malcolm Gladwell series: Blink, Tipping Point, Outliers, and David & Goliath.
- Favorite music: Jazz, pop, folk – pretty eclectic.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? I have received tremendous support from a variety of mentors through out my life. But in my current role (as a “low tech” CEO of a software company founded by a brilliant developer – who has tasked me with building an effective organization to sell, deliver, and support great software), the best advice I received is from Joel Spolsky. I never actually met Joel, but his “Joel on Software” blog (and related books) served as a fantastic guide to better understanding how to hire, support, lead software engineers and developers. And, in the early days of Lightspeed Systems, that was pretty much our team.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi