Paving the way to student success: An interview with Katie Blot

E-Learn Team and Katie Blot
07/08/17
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Washington D.C, United States

Katie Blot

Katie Blot is Chief Strategy Officer at Blackboard Inc. In this capacity, she’s responsible for aligning Blackboard’s business to industry and customer needs – overseeing key functions including industry strategy and development, business line leadership, product and partner management, and marketing – and ensuring Blackboard builds and delivers products and services that customers love.

As a mother of three boys, Katie is both professionally and personally dedicated to advancements in education. She is actively involved in research and trends in student-learning outcomes, competency-based learning and the links between education and employment. She participates in discussions on innovation in education and serves on the Executive Board of a local early-childhood education provider, the Board of Directors of the NEA Foundation, and the Board of Directors of UPCEA. Thanks to her background, E-Learn had the opportunity to interview her.

E-Learn Magazine: What is your definition of student success?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

Katie Blot: Broadly, I think of student success through two lenses: that of the institution and that of the student. As an industry, we have always focused on the first, defining the outcomes a given institution has for its graduates both academically and more holistically. Something happening now that is personally very exciting to me is the growing emphasis on the lens of success as defined by the student. After all, our systems of education exist to serve students and the societies of which they are a part. So, I think part of how we define success has to be whether we have helped the student achieve their aims, which can vary widely from student to student. For one person, that might mean earning a degree or certificate to position them for a career. For another, that could mean taking focused coursework to help them broaden their skill set and advance in their current job.

What is the most important contribution a professor can make toward student success?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

A positive professor-student relationship is critically important for learners to achieve their educational goals. Professors are usually the face of learning to the student and the most important personal connection the student has in their academic life. That’s why a timely outreach from a professor can make all the difference when it comes to a learner who may be struggling to understand the material in a course. With that said, professors are often leading classes of several hundreds of students, so it can be challenging for them to connect on a personal level with each student, or keep track of how they are performing. That’s why at Blackboard, I’m proud that we are focusing on providing innovative technology that proactively alerts professors to students who may be struggling and makes it easy for them to reach those students with personalized outreach.

How has the definition of student success changed in the last 20 years?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

I think the most profound change that’s happened in the last 20 years is the evolution in how we think about measuring success. We have moved from the measure of success being ‘access’ alone to an expanded ‘access and completion’ to, now, a holistic view of ‘access, progression, completion and career readiness.’ I think there has been a shift in the education community and there is now consensus that it’s not good enough to help students gain entry into college. We also need to cultivate supportive environments that help them succeed when they are enrolled and ensure they graduate and are positioned for whatever is next for them.

Student success is more important today for both students and institutions than it’s ever been. For individuals, the increase in the percentage of jobs that require post-secondary education means more need higher education to achieve their goals. And the rise in performance-based funding has required institutions to change how they define success. I find this very exciting – because the goals of the student and the goals of the institution are becoming more aligned.

What are some of the factors that institutions need to pay close attention to in order to increase learner success?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

When looking to increase learner success, I would say that nothing is more important than data and information. It is nearly impossible to improve something you can’t measure – or to help people if you do not know they need help. Data can be used in a multitude of ways to advance student success. It can be used to inform institutional decision-making around key components of the student experience; to enable personalized experiences that engage students in meaningful ways; and to help the student make informed decisions about his/her own pathway.

In today’s world of an almost overabundance of data, the challenge is less about having data and more about how to harness it as information and surface it at the right time to be able to make a difference.

What does it mean to be student-centric?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

Simply put, student-centric means that we think first about the student and their needs as we define the education experience – and we use those needs to shape what we do. I contrast that to the institution-centric way that education evolved in most cases. We identified the outcomes that we wanted for students, determined the best way to deliver them to large numbers of students and then created an experience completely shaped by our delivery abilities.

I think the rapid rise in student expectations coupled with increased competition for students has really accelerated the student-centric movement. Today’s students want the personalization, flexibility, and conveniences that they have in all other aspects of their lives in their education. They demand tools and experiences that meet these expectations and set them up for success. Given this fact, it simply is not feasible for most schools to have an institution-centric model anymore. With the advancements in technology, it is also possible to be student-centric today in a way that it just wasn’t before. For example, before technology, it was near impossible to provide a personalized student experience at scale – even though we all knew that this was probably more effective and certainly more appealing to the student.

Illustration: Student-centric.
Illustration: Student-centric.

I’m seeing more and more institutions adopt a student-centric approach to everything from curriculum design to student services. They ask key questions such as “What do our students want?” or “What would make their lives easier?” They involve students in almost every decision they make impacting the student experience and they recognize that students aren’t a single category – but are actually a super set of many, many different cohorts who may have unique needs.

What do you think will be the most significant change in education within the next 5 years and how is Blackboard preparing for this change?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

While there are a lot of big changes that seem to be afoot in education, such as the exploration into new delivery and funding models and the re-thinking of some of the critical building blocks of education (e.g. courses and credit hours), change happens slowly. When I think of a five-year horizon, I think the changes within that window that will be transformative are how we use emerging technology to drive learning outcomes and student success. An area of growing excitement is how augmented intelligence and cognitive computing will greatly increase our ability to scale truly personalized learning experiences. At Blackboard, we’re working closely with IBM to see how we might be able to leverage their Watson technology to influence student pathways and their persistence in college.

What initiatives does Blackboard have that contribute to a better understanding of the world of the learner?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

There are several ways in which Blackboard is able to garner unique insights about the world of the learner.

One way is through community interaction and input. Blackboard serves over 16,000 clients across 90 countries, reaching over 100 million users. This unparalleled reach gives us an incredible vantage point from which we’re able to understand what’s happening in education. Every day, we have the opportunity to sit and hear from education leaders around the world about the challenges they are facing and how students’ needs are changing. We also actively solicit input from our clients on a regular basis, leveraging everything from technical previews of our products and customer research groups, to our Innovative Teaching Series where we bring together cohorts of educators to talk about best practices. In addition, through our Blackboard Community, we actively engage our clients in discussion forums and use their feedback to inform our decisions as a company.

Another way is through research. Blackboard also conducts unique and complementary types of research to help us garner insights about the world of the learner.

In our data science research practice, we investigate how faculty and students use learning technologies and look into the relationship between that use and student achievement. We conduct this research with anonymized data to improve our products, but also to share our findings and insights with the broader education community. With the large data footprint that Blackboard has to analyze, our team is able to look at student learning and achievement in a way that no other company can.

We also do qualitative, empathetic research that seeks to understand what people do and why they do it. We spend a lot of hours in the classrooms of faculty, and in the dorm rooms of students conducting immersive interviews around the higher education experience and with advisors who are helping students every day.

The quantitative research helps us understand “what” and the qualitative research helps us understand “why.” When we pull these together, we get powerful insights into the world of the learner.

Given your role, you’ve had the opportunity to understand the current status and challenges in education worldwide. What are some of the biggest commonalities and differences you’ve seen across regions?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

One of my favorite things about what I do at Blackboard is the opportunity to meet with people dedicated to education and student advancement around the world. I am always struck by the commonalities across regions – as well as humbled by a greater appreciation for the different challenges that various locales face.

Illustration about Commonalities and differences in education across regions.
Illustration about Commonalities and differences in education across regions.

 

The things I see that most areas have in common are:
1. A mission of equitable access to a quality education,
2. a growing student focus on the value of education (a combination of whether it is affordable and whether it is ‘worth the investment’) and,
3. an increased emphasis on career readiness as a primary outcome of education.

Some of the things I have seen that are unique to certain markets are:
(a) A need to rapidly scale quality education – usually seen in countries with a rapidly growing middle class and,
(b) greatly increased competition with pressure on enrollments – usually seen across mature education systems.

When thinking about technology for education, the LMS usually comes to mind. What are institutions missing out on when they limit themselves to only thinking about or considering an LMS?

Katie Blot, Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc.

Driving learning outcomes isn’t only about what happens in the classroom. What happens outside of the classroom is just as important – and sometimes more important. For example, in K-12, involvement of parents and community members is critical to student success. That’s why digital communications tools that allow teachers to connect directly with parents, and help school districts share important news with the community are imperative. In higher education, non-traditional students who are juggling multiple personal and professional responsibilities can benefit greatly from online collaboration tools that allow them to connect with professors or classmates outside of school hours. For these reasons, institutions should be thinking holistically about how technology (outside of just the LMS) can improve all aspects of the student experience and lifecycle.

Katie Blot es Chief Strategy Officer en Blackboard Inc. Photo: Christie’s Photographic Solutions.
Illustration: TRiiBU Studio

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