REMOTE Summit Spotlight: Susan Winslow, Macmillan Learning

Fierce Education Editor-in-Chief and Head of Content Elliot Markowitz recently spoke with Susan Winslow, President of Macmillan Learning regarding:

  • The changes she has seen in higher education over the past year as a result of COVID-19.

  • What are some of the biggest challenges facing Higher Education.

  • The examples of innovation from the past year that will have long-lasting positive impact in the higher education market.

  • How Macmillan products/services help meet these challenges.

  • What can we expect to see from Macmillan to continue to address the needs of the education market?

Macmillan Learning is a gold sponsor of the REMOTE virtual summit, hosted by Arizona State University (ASU) taking place June 9 and 10. CLICK HERE to learn more about REMOTE, or to Register to attend

Fierce Education: What are some of the biggest challenges you see facing Higher Education?

Susan Winslow: First and foremost is student engagement. Students were frustrated with learning online and we saw the kinds of behaviors that degraded the experience. Many stopped handing in assignments. Teachers couldn’t use physical classroom proximity to engage and motivate their students. We saw many people without their cameras on. So, I think the big thing we realized was we can’t apply the same tactics that you could in a physical classroom. So digital learning became a challenge and students needed to operate in a different way and that continues.

The second issue, and this has come up a lot in my discussions, is instructor motivation. We can’t forget that instructors are tired right now. They originally thought that they would have this semester of COVID and instead they have been running this three-semester marathon. One of the things we learned is that we thought there probably was a greater level of experience than in fact there was. We saw that by the amount of training needed and peer to peer learning we were asked to facilitate. They were juggling all these new tools and trying to create this effective learning environment and they had to learn new pedagogies as a result of the new environment. So, they’ve done a great job and every instructor who has had to teach in this time deserves a great round of applause. But it was a lot, and they were tired. So, one of our priorities is learning how we can keep supporting them because technology isn’t going to go backwards, and so we are going to go back into hybrid classrooms.

The third thing I would say is about equity and access. We learned that, although there were issues with equity and access before, COVID really shone a light on these issues and how many ways it can surface. Do students have a place where they sit quietly? Do they have access to a computer? Do they have a fast enough Internet connection? So, the good part about seeing everything brightly lit up and showing the problems is that we can address them. That is a pretty high priority for anybody involved in education.

Fierce Education: How does Macmillan Learning work with higher education institutions to meet some of these challenges in terms of engagement, access, equitability?

Susan Winslow: We were fortunate enough to launch a new platform that we had in development right at the beginning of COVID. And the whole idea of “Achieve” is it was built on solid learning science principles. And our goal was to try and make it easy to implement evidence-based teaching. We asked, how can we help them set up a course and achieve the goals they want with sound practice? So, this was really an interesting time because not only did we launch the new platform, but we were also getting feedback and doing continuous software improvement and we realized there is a big opportunity around engagement.

Our engagement tools were centered from our history of iClicker and now embedded in Achieve. We can marry up the data that came from asynchronous work with the in-class tools that they used with iClicker data such as polling, and asking questions, to touching areas on a picture to give input. We can now connect those things and reveal those insights to instructors. So, we were evolving right alongside instructors as they were learning to teach. Although it was well out of a beta, as the hybrid environment evolved, we did too.

Fierce Education: How did the platform evolve during this period?

Susan Winslow: It comes back to simple things. Peer-to-peer learning being such a strong part of the launch. People were using the tools we put in Achieve in really creative ways, and then we enabled them to teach each other. We connected them through various methods—directly, sharing assignments or webinars or working with authors. We saw how beneficial that was to start that and then listen.

One of the features we recently launched was around self-regulated learning and trying to help students figure out what is their goal in this class. But the way we started looking at that is getting students to understand that they have a goal—they want to get through it, they want a certain grade. Whatever it is, articulate it. So, then they can start building a framework and understand if they are doing the right things to meet that goal. And that was born by watching instructors do that with their students.

Fierce Education: Can you drill down a little bit further on what Macmillan Learning is doing to help address the student engagement issue?

Susan Winslow: One way is by strictly looking at what they are doing. That is where our experience with iClicker really helped shaped some of the kinds of experiences and tools that we created. For example, there is a quick series of questions instructors and you can ask every ten minutes in their Zoom class and here is how to deploy it. Just that alone really ups your engagement scores. And they learn quickly what to expect. 

We tried to implement similar ideas on the asynchronous work. So, we created a new series of activity types around collaboration and also to hold each other to a bit of a higher standard. The nice thing about creating a modern platform is that you can look at what is happening and look at the data recording of what a student is doing or how often an instructor is assigning something.

One of the things we saw is the most success in was around peer-to-peer learning, and specifically in an English product where they can easily comment, in their own language, with each other, with an instructor with guidance with a rubric developed by instructors. We were definitely developing tools on that end of things knowing that freshman students, who were probably the worst cut out in the last year, were missing in their first year with their peers. That is a pretty important year in learning, and not just for academics. And while I know we didn’t replace all of that, we were very aware we were creating content tools around this because that is what they were missing.

Fierce Education: What are some of the innovations that have been implanted over the past that have had the biggest impact on higher education?

Susan Winslow: I think the blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning work together. It is not one or the other and they should not be thought of separately. They need to work together. Solving the equity and access issue is going to remain. How do we get to the point where all people have the same access to these tools and there is a lot of underneath that but we can work forward as an education industry? 

Also, assessment. What does authentic assessment mean? Are there inherent biases in tools that do the typical multiple-choice assessment online? How can you support student privacy if you are doing proctoring online? So, we really started thinking hard of what authentic assessment should look like in the future. This is not an easy thing to solve but it is another one of those things that is out of the box now.

For more Fierce Education REMOTE Summit Spotlight interviews see:

REMOTE Summit Spotlight: Angela Gunder, Online Learning Consortium (OLC)

REMOTE Summit Spotlight: David Kokorowski, Pearson

REMOTE Summit Spotlight: David Levin, ASU