The Future of Education: Technology for Efficiency and Connection

An Interview with Katie McClarty, Chief Academic Officer, McGraw Hill School

Dr. Katie McClarty, an innovative industry leader with deep expertise in psychology, assessment, and instruction, recently joined the team at McGraw Hill School Group as Chief Academic Officer. Get to know Katie and her vision for the future of education in the interview below.

Can you share a bit about your background and your journey in education?

I have always loved learning. Apparently, I enjoyed reading the encyclopedia as a child and would bring it with me, sharing all my new insights with my parents. As I have grown, I still very much value learning, not only for knowledge acquisition but also for the opportunities it creates. I earned my bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and am still a proud Cyclone. I left Iowa to attend graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin.

My Ph.D. is in social and personality psychology, where I studied issues such as personality assessment, educational assessment, and the interaction between personal characteristics and situational characteristics on various outcomes including self-concept, working memory, and academic performance. Then I worked for Pearson Education for over a decade and was the Chief Assessment Officer at Questar where my primary focus was on summative assessments. There I also earned by Executive MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota. At that point, I wanted to be more involved in the classroom-level assessment, instruction, and learning so I moved to Renaissance.

I believe change happens in the classroom, and I am thrilled to now be at McGraw Hill where we have a wide variety of resources for educators and students that span core, intervention, and supplemental purposes. I am continuing to learn and grow myself while working at a company that is providing opportunities for all learners. McGraw Hill’s vision is to guide you along the path to unlock your potential, no matter where your starting point may be. That resonates with me because rarely is the path linear, but we can all continue to move forward toward the next goal on our journey.

What are you most looking forward to exploring in your new position at McGraw Hill?

There are many things I am excited about in this new role, but I will mention two initially. The first is how we adjust to the changing needs and models of education brought about by the pandemic. The COVID-19 school disruptions accelerated the adoption of digital learning and digital materials, but many educators made those changes out of necessity rather than planned implementation and associated training. Additionally, some students thrived in a mostly digital environment while others were disengaged or lacked access. The most effective ways to incorporate digital instruction, practice, and assessment components is one of the things I am looking forward to exploring.

The other is about the best ways to make connections between core, intervention, and supplemental materials. Educators have access to many different tools, but around two-thirds of the licenses go unused. With each product providing a separate platform, experience, approach, content, and data, it adds more burden to educators to make sense of all the pieces. At McGraw Hill, we are looking to create a more connected classroom and share information across different products to help educators focus on the whole student – not on disparate technologies. This is especially important as teachers are being asked to do more, and school districts are facing an educator shortage.

What excites you about the future of teaching and learning?

As we look toward the future, I think education systems will need to be both clear on what students are expected to learn (i.e., content standards and skills) and flexible in how they learn and demonstrate that learning. Educational providers will need to focus on making easy, integrated systems for educators which allow them to teach core material and differentiate for students learning at different levels. There must be connected materials for whole group instruction, small group instruction, and individual practice. Lessons should be taught with options for different contexts in order to facilitate culturally relevant pedagogy. In addition, choices should be given for how students can demonstrate their knowledge – including written assignments, projects, presentations, and more. Assessments (within and at the conclusion of lessons and units) should give quick feedback to educators to inform their next steps in instruction, better support differentiation, and identify whether interventions are working as intended. 

These are tall orders for education systems and educational providers, but many needed pieces already exist. Increased use of technology by educators and students (accelerated by the pandemic) provides the opportunity to collect and use data in an ongoing manner. Artificial intelligence allows us to create adaptive algorithms to target content difficulty to the skills and needs of the students. End-of-lesson or end-of-unit activities can be provided including a variety of options in digital or print format. By using simulations or other technology-enhanced interactions, students can complete projects or experiments virtually and could help compensate for a lack of funding or equipment.

Areas we need to continue developing include how to incorporate student interest and background knowledge into our models for personalizing learning and how to create comparable scores when students are selecting different activities or ways of demonstrating knowledge. By working closely with educators, students, designers, and researchers, I believe we can solve these challenges and create the educational materials needed to provide more effective and efficient learning.

What do you believe is the most important role of curriculum providers in the current education landscape?

The pandemic exacerbated variability that already existed in classrooms. The degree of unfinished learning varies across grades, content areas, schools, and students. As curriculum providers, I believe one of the most important things we can do is to support educators and make it easier for them to teach children during these times.

 One way this can be accomplished is through better connections within and between products. For example, as an educator is preparing to teach grade-level content, how can he quickly find the appropriate pre-requisite content to fill in knowledge areas that may have been missed in prior years? Teachers need to be able to do this without having to get all the instructional materials from the prior grade level. How can a teacher move seamlessly between whole-group class instruction and targeted small-group lessons with students grouped according to a common need? This requires assessment of student needs to facilitate grouping. How can a teacher easily access student reading materials at a variety of reading levels so that all students can learn about the same history or science topic? Curriculum providers need to include scaffolding or text at multiple complexity levels.

Overall, we can help make the process of preparing to teach easier so that educators can spend more time working directly with students.

Dr. Katie McClarty is the Chief Academic Officer at McGraw Hill where she oversees a team of content, design, and instructional experts to create curriculum programs and learning experiences for students and educators across a variety of disciplines. Previously Dr. McClarty held senior leadership roles at Renaissance Learning, Questar Assessments, and Pearson Education. Her expertise includes college readiness, assessment design, standard setting, and gifted and talented education; she has published widely and presented nationally and internationally on these topics. Dr. McClarty is editor of the book Preparing Students for College and Careers: Theory, Measurement, and Educational Practice (Routledge, 2017). She is also a recipient of the 2013 Charles F. Elton Best Paper Award from the Association of Institutional Research for her work on the importance of Algebra II and the 2015 Best Paper Award from the National Association of Gifted Children for her work on acceleration. Dr. McClarty earned degrees from Iowa State University (B.S. in psychology), the University of Texas at Austin (Ph.D. in social and personality psychology), and the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota (MBA).