AWS Public Sector Blog

A pivotal time for education and how your organization can be a driver for change: IMAGINE EDU recap

Kathryn Finney, CEO and founder of Genius Guild, inspires IMAGINE attendees to innovate in the face of the seemingly impossible

Kathryn Finney, chief executive officer and founder of Genius Guild, inspires IMAGINE attendees to innovate in the face of the seemingly impossible.

The 2021 IMAGINE Education conference brought together education leaders and executives from across the country and around the world in an all-day event to discuss the future of education. It was my honor to deliver the keynote address to highlight some of the ways that the education community in the public sector is transforming the very essence of learning with the cloud. I was joined by Kathryn Finney, the chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Genius Guild and General Partner of the Greenhouse Fund, who expressed how educators are driving innovation for their students and making the impossible, possible.

After over a year of learning, teaching, and collaborating at a distance, we have seen so much incredible transformation in the education community. And what’s more: the leaders in K12 and higher education institutions, and education technology (EdTech) companies—and the students they serve—are making history.

When my daughter was returning to school a few weeks ago, she acknowledged that herself. She instinctively knew how important, how unique, and how challenging this back-to-school season is. She told me, “Mom, I am going to be a part of history.”

Accelerating digital transformation for education

Pictured: The four pillars of digital transformation for education.

Pictured: The four pillars of digital transformation for education.

At this pivotal time in the education community, it’s more important than ever to share learnings and best practices to grow together to best support the success and achievement of students and learners. As education leaders and their students rewrite what’s possible in learning, this new foundation for the future of education is supported by four key pillars:

1. Modernize and secure the academy

At the center of digital transformation is helping education organizations provide a foundation to innovate and bring down their costs. It allows for a secure place to start. It’s integral for all institutions of learning in the academy—from K12 and higher education schools, to professional training and certification programs—to modernize administrative operations to be more secure, agile, and resilient.

As one example, the public school district in Loudoun County, Virginia was challenged with keeping up with the demands of students, teachers, and parents while using aged on-premise data centers that suffered from the technical debt of upkeep. Loudoun County experienced multiple unit failures, which made it hard for them to operate, let alone innovate. One weekend, there was a 48-hour power outage, and the district—which serves more than 82,000 students—experienced a two-day down period. They then decided to move to the cloud. They first migrated small applications to AWS, and then their whole student information system. Modernizing gave Loudoun County more backup, resilience, and security—while lowering costs—giving Loudoun County new resources to spend on supporting student success.

The rise in cybersecurity threats also means education leaders must consider how best to protect student data, financial information, research, and more. Modernization helps institutions and organizations create secure and compliant digital infrastructure.

2. Turn data into wisdom

Once an institution is modernized and secure, opportunities open to innovate on behalf of students. One of those new opportunities is the ease of access and synthetization of new data. Data allows you to make smart decisions for your educational institution and for your student outcomes. Data insights help more students succeed in their classes by tailoring their curriculum to their learning needs, providing access to the right support services, and helping students plan for their career. Data is everywhere, but unless you know where your data is and how to break down existing data silos, your organization will be unable to derive meaningful, actionable insights. A data lake lets your institution read the data and unleash opportunities from those insights.

The Community College of Philadelphia wanted to use data and analytics to increase enrollment, improve student retention, and drive student success while reducing dependency on inefficient manual reporting processes. Through an eight-week pilot process, the college was able to create a data lake and support dynamic reporting for faculty and staff.

Educators have also long desired more resources to provide more personalized approaches to better address students’ individual learning needs. Our EdTech customer Discovery Education for example launched an enhancement to their platform, that will help educators spend less time searching for digital resources and more time teaching.

Discovery Education’s “Just For You” area of its K12 platform is powered by Amazon Personalize, where educators have access to unique personalized resources based on the grade level taught, preferences, and resources the user has used in the past. Increased personalization, machine learning (ML), and data analytics are going to continue to help the education community innovate.

3. Enrich the student experience

Educational institutions and EdTechs pivoted almost overnight to support virtual learning. Now, learners have come to rely on 24/7 access to personalized digital experiences inside and outside the classroom—pushing educational institutions to the edge of innovation for their communities.

Modernizing in the cloud and using data insights to drive actionable change allows institutions to support the crux of education: enriching the student experience. The cloud gives educators an opportunity to meet students where they are, and give students more agency and personalization in designing their education journey. Beyond the classroom, education institutions are looking at how they can better communicate with, engage, and support their students.

The College of Liberal Arts (CoLA) at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) wanted to make it simple for students, faculty, and staff to contact support agents when they need technical help, but their legacy call center didn’t provide positive student engagement. Calls were dropped or missed entirely, which hindered learning when students couldn’t access the help they needed. The Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) used the AWS omnichannel contact center support solution Amazon Connect to provide students with support and answers faster.

CoLA launched the new contact center on Amazon Connect at the same time most of the campus transitioned to working, learning, and teaching from home. Student wait time dropped from 15 minutes to less than 30 seconds to talk to an agent. Even though the contact center’s volumes more than quadrupled because of remote learning, costs went down by nearly 30 percent. Most importantly, student satisfaction with IT rose to 84 percent—and with their technical issues quickly resolved, students could turn their focus back to learning.

4. Educate tomorrow’s workforce

We depend on educational institutions, from K12 to higher education and the EdTechs that support them, to make sure tomorrow’s leaders have the skills to thrive in a digital world and create innovative solutions in the face of global challenges. To that end, AWS is working in collaboration with K12 and higher education leaders to adopt programs focused on expanding access to cloud skills training and education globally. Last December, Amazon committed to providing 29 million people around the world with access to no cost cloud computing skills training by 2025, and recently, Amazon announced it will pay college tuition for our frontline workers. AWS has also committed to upskilling collaborations in eight US states, as well as abroad in Singapore, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, and Spain. These statewide and country-specific training and education commitments bring together policy leaders, education institutions, economic development organizations, government leaders, and employers to help build the next generation of tech workers, as well as help reskill the current workforce.

Recently, AWS and Howard University announced an initiative to upskill its students and build pathways to technical careers with cloud computing courses and training resources for educators. This collaboration will give students access to a curriculum aligned with in-demand cloud careers and hands-on experiences built by AWS experts to prepare students for a professional landscape in need of skilled cloud talent. The collaboration will also build pathways for students to pursue careers with cloud-focused job boards at Amazon, our partners, and with our customers.

How can your organization be a driver for change?

As one of the most influential women in tech (Inc Magazine)—and fellow Chicagoan—Kathryn Finney’s work is transforming the future for generations of black entrepreneurs and investors. Finney is both the CEO and founder of Genius Guild, a business creation platform that uses the venture studio model to invest in Black entrepreneurs building scalable businesses that serve black communities and beyond, and the General Partner of the Greenhouse Fund, a $20 million dollar venture fund that invests in amazing Black founders. At the 2021 IMAGINE Education conference keynote, Finney showcased her passion for innovation, inclusion, and entrepreneurship in education.

“Problems often seem impossible, until they’re not,” Finney opened in her address. “Innovation is solutions to seemingly impossible problems.” Finney explained that today, educators are the ones harnessing innovation and pushing it forward. “What we know now is vastly different than what we knew in March 2020,” Finney said. “And especially as educators—what you know now is vastly different. In a short time period, you had to change how you teach completely, how you engage with your students, how you engage with each other.”

Not only have educators adapted to an entirely new framework of teaching, but educators are leading the charge in solving problems that previously seemed insurmountable. Finney shared that equitable access to broadband internet has been a systemic problem for years in the United States. There was a 20% achievement gap between students in households with a gross income under $100K compared to over $100K. And there wasn’t a lot of motivation to fix this for low income students—until pandemic restrictions moved learning remote almost overnight. Educators pushed and lobbied for better internet access to teach teach students in low-income families. Now, more accessible and affordable broadband internet access is a key component of the upcoming infrastructure bill because of the power of educators to drive for change. “Educators make nothing be impossible. Everything becomes possible,” Finney said.

Watch the keynote on demand here.

Keep the conversation going

Stay involved with the conversation about how to transform the future of the education sector with the AWS webinar series, “Imagine: The New World of Education.” The webinar series brings the ideas and conversations from the IMAGINE Education 2021 conference directly to you on a monthly basis, year-round. Each month, the series will bring together thought leaders from across K12, higher education, workforce development, and EdTech providers to dive deep into the most pressing challenges facing education and highlight promising ways forward.

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Kim Majerus

Kim Majerus

Kim Majerus leads the global education and US state and local government vertical at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Her sales organization includes education technology (EdTech) and government technology (GovTech) independent software vendors (ISVs) and solution and vertical strategy leaders who focus on health and human services, justice and public safety, transportation, and the internet of things for state and local government customers.