Preparing students and building confidence for lifelong learning with AWS
This is a guest post by Michael Hight, chief technology officer (CTO) at Waterford.org.
Waterford.org is an early education nonprofit committed to advancing equity and excellence for young learners. Waterford.org provides personalized programs for our youngest learners, from pre-kindergarten to second grade, and support services for families and educators so the adults in a child’s life can help them reach their full potential. All of this comes at no cost to families, thanks to local, state, and philanthropic funding. To deliver these educational resources to families and children, we use Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Addressing education equity through technology
A core part of our mission is to make sure that all children have access to early learning resources. To provide services in an intentional and inclusive way, our technology solutions need to be highly adaptable. To enroll students, we embed ourselves with school districts and local nonprofit organizations and adjust to their needs so we can deliver the right resources. We configure our education solutions—whether it’s providing devices and internet connections to address the digital divide or providing software to supplement classroom teaching—to meet the unique needs of the communities and children we serve.
Waterford.org delivers adaptive, educational content directly to children through e-learning software. We use AWS technology like Amazon CloudFront to deliver more than 8,000 games and activities that are interactive and adaptive – creating a personalized learning experience and enabling children to learn at their own pace. The curriculum is engineered based on the child’s age, developmental stage, preprogram assessments, and more. As children demonstrate mastery of new concepts, they move on to more advanced content. Likewise, if a child encounters challenges, the system can suggest additional resources, such as teacher tutoring or caregiver coaching, that may be beneficial. We generate these insights by storing and analyzing data in Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). Using Amazon OpenSearch Service, we are constantly integrating machine-generated data like test results, rate of learning, and progression through the curriculum, with family and individual feedback to improve learning in real time.
Mapping the child’s progression through various learning paths demonstrates the effectiveness of Waterford.org’s curriculum modeling. For example, children enrolled in the Waterford Upstart Program make 2–3 times the learning gains compared to their peers. Said one Waterford Upstart parent, “The adaptability helps with keeping the child engaged, with challenging the child with keeping them learning and progressing. That was wonderful to me because I didn’t have to worry about, ‘Okay, she’s over this, what do I do next?’ The program just naturally does that for you.”
In addition to its learning software, Waterford.org offers live guidance and tutoring to the adults in a child’s life. We established an intelligent call center using Amazon Connect to field customer service questions and provide live learning assistance. This has allowed us to prioritize incoming calls, requests, and tasks, creating efficiencies and maximizing our staff’s capacity to focus on our mission. Integrating systems allow us to connect our in-person programs and resources to our online services, enabling families to schedule coaching or host video conferences seamlessly.
A true learning loop
Waterford.org recently underwent a large-scale data migration to a data lake on the AWS Cloud. We can now integrate and analyze data in a central location to generate insights and create better curricula and content. Our data comes from many sources, like products and applications (e.g., question answers, test scores, and performance on activities), coaching feedback, and more. With all the data in one place, we can analyze a more holistic feedback loop to determine the right mix of services that produce the best learning outcomes for our students.
The technology will allow us to identify patterns and make data-based recommendations with the goal of helping students before they encounter roadblocks. Applying machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can enable Waterford.org to predict learner outcomes by combining historical data and predictive modeling. For example, if the data demonstrates that learners who typically struggle to recognize letter sounds also struggle with phonetic spelling, we can determine intervention strategies to help children before they struggle and build self-esteem while learning. Beyond determining when intervention is needed, we use ML to define what measures are needed and how to best deliver them on a learner-by-learner basis.
All eyes on impact
Across our organization, we have a complex platform that we continue to redefine and develop on AWS. We leveraged existing AWS services and built bespoke applications when needed to expand our programs and advance our mission. Because we work with the youngest of learners, it’s integral that our platform maintains strict data security and governance practices. We appreciate that at AWS, security is the top priority. AWS supports 98 security standards and compliance certifications, and all 117 services that store customer data offer the ability to encrypt that data. We use AWS to make sure our data is secure and protected. As a nonprofit, we must also prioritize cost savings, so we chose a cloud provider with transactional, pay-as-you-go pricing. Our compute needs, volume, and usage change vastly through the school year and the summer, and with AWS, the cost of running our organization’s system scales up and down with our technology demands.
As we continue to grow and build with AWS, we always return to our mission and ask the question, “What will deliver the most impact?” With cloud adoption, there are so many technologies and capabilities that can help us advance our mission and deliver education that not only creates academic readiness but also instills confidence. We’re working to make sure that all children arrive at school ready to thrive in any learning environment.
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