An All-Hands Time for Education

all hands april at alamo

The staff of Civitas Learning gathered last week for our quarterly All Hands meeting. Important business updates were shared, as were creative entries in our first Civitas Learning film festival: CivFest.

When Charles Thornburgh and I started talking about launching Civitas Learning, we both had the feeling that the right forces were in place to do something special. Conversations about increasing college completion, fostering deeper learning, innovating with new learning models, and improving the education outcomes for low-income students were reaching a tipping point. Federal, state, and local governments were pushing, foundations were advocating, and higher education leaders, teachers, and reachers were innovating. Moreover, digital tools and curricula were expanding and the need for education to enable people to ready for compelling careers, increasingly complex civic challenges, and ever-changing life situations was becoming clearer.

There seemed to be plenty of ideas, ranging from hopeful to exhaustingly hyperbolic. What was missing was production-quality data systems that would provide insight into what was working and what wasn’t. Committed educators trying to drive positive change needed better data to target and/or tune new ideas to achieve their important goals. Even more scarce were apps that would bring insights to the folks on the front-lines of learning—e.g., faculty, advisors, or the students themselves—especially insights driven by real-time or predictive data, which has become commonplace in business, healthcare, and professional sports.

We decided it was the right time to build an organization committed to this work. Civitas Learning was formed—named Civitas Learning because Civitas means “community” in Latin and we thought the name carried the right connotation: let’s pull together in an “all-hands-on-deck mission” to bring the best of data science, design thinking, and educational innovation together to help students learn well and finish strong.

Last week Civitas Learning had its quarterly “All Hands” meeting for the team, pictured above. We do this each quarter to mark our progress, share our learning, and chart our continuing course. It’s also a time to take stock of our growth. In just a few short years our team has grown to over 100 data scientists, engineers, developers, and project managers, collaborating with thousands of educators at diverse institutions from R1s to access universities to community colleges to private elites to HBCUs. Together, we have committed to a Million-More Mission focused on improving how students learn and reach their educational goals.

We always begin these meetings by having one of our partners share the work in more depth. The meeting prior had Dr. Richard Rhodes from Austin Community College sharing the learning from their mega-learning-lab ACCelerator launch and their Degree Map app roll out – including their Degree Map “slow-jamming the news” video produced for their convocation. If you watch the video, please note that those performing are their VP of Instruction, President, and Board Chair. We had nothing to do with producing it, but we hope we had a lot to do with the spirit of commitment to helping students chart their course.

slide intro for Marni Baker Stein UT SystemThis all-hands meeting began with Dr. Marni Baker Stein, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, who shared the innovative project work around the University of Texas Rio-Grande Valley programming, especially their technology-rich, competency-based TEx vision for medical education. What was especially compelling was the idea of the persistent, progressive profiles for students to help them document and guide their learning journeys.

As we stood in the back auditorium and looked at our rowdy and growing team, the powerful data platform and engaging apps they have produced, and the inspiring work of the partners we are informing and powering, Charles and I were struck by the progress and the promise. Yes, we’ve produced case studies, learning briefs, and even published in journals to document ongoing learning and solid impact. But these meetings—much like our bi-annual partner summits—bring it home in a more compelling way. It’s the stories from the field that especially add the color and the context that keep us all grounded in the importance of this work. We especially love that our team is grounded in these efforts, connected to them so deeply. There is much more to be done and so much more to learn. But these “All Hands” meetings help us fully appreciate why learning together is so important in the work of helping striving students succeed.

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