Sramana Mitra: Can you give me an example of the projects?
Steve Gross: An example would be developing a contraption that leverages materials that normally wouldn’t be available inside the classroom.
Sramana Mitra: But what has that got to do with online learning?
Steve Gross: There’re two things that we are talking about simultaneously. One is online learning and the other is virtual learning. There’s a huge degree of overlap there but they’re not exactly the same thing. We are digital first and everything we’re talking about is on a digital platform. There are other aspects of what we’re offering that are unique to the online learning environment and the virtual environment that our platform provides.
Beyond that, another way to think about this is how does learning happen outside the classroom? Yes, it’s enabled by technology and yes, the projects that we’re talking about are captured within our platform. The assessments are digital. That’s all part of the digital platform. It’s also the learning environment in which learning occurs that is part of our special sauce. That’s related to our online learning platform but that’s not directly the same thing.
Sramana Mitra: As I’m thinking about the question that you’re raising, it could be that you’re providing exercises that require going outside and doing something physically and something with the hands. Then inserting the result into the digital platform for grading or feedback. Those are ways in which the physical virtual process could be fused. Is that what you’re trying to say?
Steve Gross: Exactly. For example, collaboration. We place a high premium on the ability of students who are dispersed to collaborate with each other on these projects. Not that we force them to do so, but that’s a school decision. The capability is there. Quite candidly, I believe that a huge proportion of students in virtual schools is because they want to be there.
They’re in that situation because they have to be. Sometimes, they’re lonely. Sometimes, they’re from a place of challenge. Maybe there’re social issues. A large proportion of students are in that situation. We are focused on helping those kids. It can be lonely. We can all empathize with that. We’ve seen this time and time again. It’s incredible the collaboration that can happen between people who have never met and forming, what seems to be, close relationships through our program. It’s touching actually.
We are providing the collaboration capability. Let me tell you something else. All this is great but it needs to be brought to life by the teacher. The teacher is critical. The role of the virtual teacher is very different from a brick and mortar teacher. It’s just very different.
Sramana Mitra: I agree.
Steve Gross: We believe that that difference has been under appreciated.
Sramana Mitra: I think the gap that you’re pointing out in the kindergarten up to middle school is where it’s much more challenging. Even though these days children are very savvy with handling devices and iPads, there are question marks around how healthy that is. Is it a good idea to use iPads in lieu of baby-sitting. There are lots of question marks floating in the world at the moment around that device-led interaction.
Steve Gross: That’s, for sure, true. That goes back to our standpoint about online and offline learning.
Sramana Mitra: I like what you’re pointing to; to create a pedagogical framework that uses online to manage the process and maybe facilitate collaboration and sharing and at the same time, doing activities that are more hands-on and more outdoors. I think that pedagogy doesn’t really exist at a broad scale in the current environment.
Steve Gross: That’s exactly right. The teacher needs help too. Our platform provides that. We place a high premium on embedded instructor support especially for the virtual teacher. We believe that that’s an underserved part of the market too.
Sramana Mitra: Excellent. Thank you for your time.