AUGUST 03, 2015
We are pleased to announce Kelly Leahy Whitney, the newest member of the iCivics team. Kelly joins us from PBS Learning where she was the Director of Curriculum. She will serve iCivics and our 80,000 active teachers as the Chief Product Officer; supporting the expansion of iCivics’ impact through strategic partnerships and providing leadership on product development. We took the opportunity to speak with Kelly about her past experiences in digital learning, as well as her excitement and vision for her newly anticipated impact.
iCivics: You have a very accomplished and knowledgeable past when it comes to digital learning resources;
KLW: Thank you! I'm very excited to be joining the iCivics team! Civic knowledge is such a critical subject, and iCivics is the industry leader.
iCivics: What are you most excited about getting started on at iCivics? What challenges do you anticipate?
KLW: There's a lot to be excited about right now! We are exploring the possibility of creating new materials to support civics instruction in high school classrooms, and we are hoping to launch additional materials to support teachers who are integrating the 2016 election into their classrooms as well.
Product design for teachers must understand what content and skills the teachers want to teach. We ask how they want to teach it, who are their students, and then provide them with highly usable resources that surpass their expectations.
iCivics: Your most recent position was Director of Curriculum at PBS Learning Media. From your experience, what goes into producing great curriculum for teachers and their classrooms?
iCivics: As you begin your new role at iCivics, what part do teachers play in the process? What would you like to do for our teachers and students?
KLW: Teachers are the most important part of our product! If we don't think of them at every turn, we will not have a successful product. iCivics materials are currently designed to be integrated into 45-minute teaching blocks, and have many complementary components to respond to different teachers' needs and preferences. Research shows that social studies and English-Language Arts teachers like to pull different ideas from different places to make their lessons fit them and their own style. We want to make sure that we have a range of materials for teachers who want to use our upcoming high school curriculum.
What I'd like to do for students is to create engaging and interesting activities and games that help the students on their paths to becoming knowledgeable, engaged citizens who see that they can personally impact communities, culture, and country. I would like students to feel a sense of ownership in the founding documents, frameworks, and ideas.
iCivics: What is most intriguing about the digital learning and edtech industries? Where do industry leaders succeed? Where do they fall short?
KLW: The promise of digital learning is tremendous, and we are learning each year how to make better resources. Educational technology companies need to offer digital and innovative traditional classroom solutions. At iCivics, a major requirement for success is that we have downloadable lesson plans and materials ready to go in addition to award winning digital games!
Our goal as an industry is that we will be able to meet students where they are, to customize materials and learning paths based on their interests, and to assess their understandings of materials then offer the next level that they need to succeed. Our goal is giving students experiences beyond the four walls of the classroom in a way that goes far beyond textbooks.
Ed tech companies fall short for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason is not understanding the challenges facing teachers. Today's teachers often have a variety of challenges having to do with support, from support of administration to support of parents, to baseline technology use: is the broadband working? what do I do if the computer shuts down and starts doing updates? how do I best engage students with technology in small groups? do I have the ipad cart in my class today?
Educational technology companies need to offer digital and traditional classroom solutions - it's a major part of success that we have downloadable lesson plans and materials ready to go, in addition to award winning digital games!
iCivics: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our teachers?
KLW: We would love to have more beta testers to help try new products! If you would like to be a tester, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org