A Conversation with: Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning, Inc.
We are honored to award one of this year’s Innovations Awards to DreamBox Learning, Inc. Jessie Woolley-Wilson, the CEO of DreamBox, will be accepting this award on behalf of DreamBox at our annual Innovations Gala on October 21st at the Fairmont Hotel in Seattle, WA.
To find out a little more about Jessie, we asked her the following questions:
CityU: Have you always had a passion for education, or more specifically educational access? If so, why? If not, when was that passion “ignited”?
Jessie Woolley- Wilson (JWW): My father came to the United States in 1957, pre-civil rights, from a little West Indian island called Haiti. He came equipped without an established family network of support, without wealth and without a guarantee that he could find happiness and success in these United States. But what he did have was an excellent education and a belief that with hard work and a little luck, he could make a happy and fulfilling life for himself and his family in America. He believed he could access the American Dream. He made good decisions: he married my mother who is the most courageous, capable, and selfless person I know. Together, they instilled a hunger for knowledge among their seven children and pushed us to commit ourselves to education so that our family would benefit for generations to come.
I humbly recognize that without great parents and access to a great education, my life and life trajectory would be very different. I believe education is vital to fulfilling the promise of America and am committed to unlocking the learning potential of every child so that the lives of individuals, families, and communities can be realized for the greater, collective good. Access to excellent education is the second most important variable to student success, after great parenting. I have been the lucky recipient of both. But I know that the promise of America will be thwarted unless every child is educated. Said differently: educational access cannot be based on luck or on the zip code you are born into.
I have been on a quest to re-democratize learning through the effective use of technology. If we deliver a highly personalized, effective and engaging learning experience, students will persist. When students persist, they progress. When students progress they can achieve mastery and open themselves to the American Dream.
CityU: Tell us a little about DreamBox Learning (e.g., its mission, its services, who its primary customer is, where can people go to find more, etc).
JWW: Mission: Our mission at DreamBox Learning is to radically transform the way the world learns. We believe that every student can excel no matter where they start, where they live, or who they are, and DreamBox Learning can help accomplish this through the use of our intelligent adaptive learning™ technology.
Basic Service: We have developed an intelligent adaptive learning platform that can change the paradigm of learning by integrating individualized instruction with continuous assessment and a rigorous curriculum that is presented in an engaging, motivating way. We have the only technology that has the power to deliver millions of different learning paths, each one tailored to a student’s specific learning needs and level of comprehension. The result is an effective, engaging, and highly individualized learning environment that puts every student in his or her optimal learning zone.
Customer: The DreamBox customer is any teacher, math coach, principal, or parent who believes that children learn best when given the opportunity to be challenged at their own level and pace. Certainly those who discovered and have implemented DreamBox already are those who recognize that the world has changed and therefore learning must change to prepare students for the future they will inherit. New and better tools are being developed every day that offer a tremendous opportunity for improvement. Our customers recognize Dreambox as one of those tools. It can be used to accelerate the learning of struggling students to get them back on track with the rest of the class; it can be used with advanced students to keep them challenged and engaged; and it can be used with on-level students to increase the velocity of learning . It’s flexible and efficacious in multiple scenarios.
* More information about DreamBox Learning can be found at: www.DreamBox.com
CityU: As CEO of DreamBox, what excites you most when you wake up in the morning?
JWW: What excites me is that we are at a special moment in the history of learning. What excites me is that there is a new class of technologies that promise to unlock the learning potential of every child and, in doing so, secure a brighter future for America and the world. What excites me is that these technologies have the promise to make who your parents are, where you live, and how rich you are increasingly less relevant to learning outcomes. What excites me is that people like me can do such purposeful work early in their careers. What excites me is that crisis and challenge can create opportunities for transformative, positive change. The economic crisis we are enduring represents as unique opportunity to accelerate benevolent, yet disruptive, changes in learning. What excites me is that my work at DreamBox is re-engineering learning as we know it and that it can (and should be) fun!
CityU: You received an MBA from Harvard and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Virginia – you really could have done anything. But, you chose to dedicate your career to education. You have held leadership roles at the collegeboard.com, MyRoad.com and Kaplan; and went onto become President of LeapFrog School House, and then served as the President the K12 Group at Blackboard. What drove this dedication? And, exceptionally, why did you focus on technology-based educational platforms?
JWW: I have volunteered in education for as long as I can remember, usually with younger kids, usually with kids that came from less advantaged backgrounds than I was born into. I went to Kaplan because I knew that there were millions of kids who didn’t understand the success requirements for accessing higher education. They literally had no idea how important test prep was in their quest to access higher education. I went to Kaplan at the time when paper and pencil tests were changing to online tests. I was intrigued by the powerful nexus of technology and content. My business acumen told me early on that the cost of educational access would come down as the adoption of education technology expanded. I was committed to making a contribution in education technology because of the promise it had to reduce costs, enhance access, personalize learning and, make learning more engaging. The world was about to usher in a new era in learning, and I was determined to be a part of it.
My work at LeapFrog was particularly satisfying because it allowed me to help young children develop phonemic awareness, letter and word recognition and general reading capabilities through the use of wonderfully engaging handheld technologies. My work at Blackboard helped me to understand the power of the internet and how educational access could be dramatically expanded through the use of SaaS technologies and virtual learning. I think we’re now at that watershed moment in history where technology will truly transform the way we learn on a global scale, giving every child the opportunity to realize his or her full academic potential. Technology’s role in learning will likely continue to evolve but in my view technology in learning is here to stay. That’s great for kids, great for communities, and great for the future of America and the world.
CityU: Do you think innovation is important for furthering or securing access to education? If so, why?
JWW: As a student and contributor to the eLearning space, the answer is absolutely yes. Technology-based innovation is impacting and transforming everything we do from communications to finance, business, government, and certainly education.
At DreamBox, we believe that disruptive technologies are vital to transforming education as we know it. Budget cutbacks mean schools must do more with less. Fewer teachers are covering larger class sizes with students at widely varying subject comprehension levels. Increasingly, job security at all levels of school districts from the superintendant to the teacher rides on test scores. We think school success, teacher success and student success should move from test scores to demonstrated mastery that in its purest sense should be age and grade agnostic. Students should be able to progress at their own pace and should only progress after they have demonstrated mastery of skill or content. And, importantly, students should not feel bored or stupid while they learn. And now, with technologies like DreamBox, they don’t have to. This new paradigm is unachievable without the intelligent use of learning technologies that compliment great teaching. We need technology to play a role in personalizing and engaging the learning experience. Technology can support great instruction at both the teacher and student level and help to deliver great results by informing instructional practice in a highly individualized way. In this new model, everybody wins, especially kids.
A big thank you to Jessie for answering our questions! We are thrilled to present this award to DreamBox!