Education technology expert leverages data to improve the education field

Education technology expert leverages data to improve the education field

In 1997, at only 24 years old, Dr. Matthew Pittinsky helped change education technology when he co-founded Blackboard. It developed into one of the largest global education technology companies, with numerous products that are used by millions of students around the world.

Education Technology

Pittinsky went on to become the CEO of Parchment Inc., and has continued to make products that benefit educators and students alike. In this Q&A, Pittinsky discusses the work that Parchment does, and how it fits into the education technology landscape.

What are the contributions that your company has made to the educational technology field in terms of the products and services that you provide?

Parchment Inc. is a pioneer in education credentials data, partnering with K-12 and higher education institutions and corporations around the world to unlock the critical information embodied in academic credentials, especially transcripts. The company helps organizations and individual people collect, promote and share their education credentials in simple and secure ways.

Our flagship offerings include an electronic transcript service for schools and universities that has doubled in volume year-over-year for the past five years, and a consumer site where students and alumni can order their transcript and access great apps that put their transcript data to work (e.g., "What are my chances of getting into Emory?").

To give you a sense of the size of this contribution, the network of sending and receiving institutions using Parchment is by far the largest credential exchange network, exceeding 9,000 high schools (35 percent of the U.S. secondary market), seven statewide initiatives, and 1,800 universities.

In addition to products and services, what other contributions has your company made in the education technology arena?

Parchment has long been involved in the development of industry standards through its involvement in the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC), Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), and other industry associations. Currently, Parchment is active in the development of EDexchange, a federated exchange network being developed by the Common Data Services (CDS) Task Force within the PESC, and has recently deployed the MyData Button promoted by the Department of Education.

Most recently, Parchment co-founded the OpenSPEEDE initiative. The goal of the consortia-supported effort is to ensure the operation and availability of a vendor-independent server used to exchange transcripts using the standard developed by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) SPEEDE committee, following the University of Texas at Austin's decision to conduct a 12-month assessment of transition options of the operation of the "Texas Server" to a proprietary vendor.

How have your company's contributions made a difference in the educational technology field?

The simple answer is that Parchment really makes things much more efficient for high schools and colleges sending and receiving transcripts. Doing things on paper is inherently inefficient and costs institutions millions of dollars every year in hard costs and human resources. Moving things to be processed electronically could save much of this cost.

However, the contribution that excites us more is that we not only make things more efficient, but we make some things possible that just wouldn't happen otherwise. One of the biggest problems in education is that students move around from one high school to another, from high school to college, and from one college to another, but data about what they've learned at any school is trapped in paper transcripts. Parchment helps "free" this data.

Once we convert those paper transcripts into an electronic format, and are able to normalize the credentials data longitudinally, it can help us overcome some of education's biggest challenges. These can include how to match the right students and colleges to increase high school and college graduation rate nationally.

How have these contributions made a difference in education and the learning outcomes of students?

An example I like to give is this: Imagine going to a doctor. You have that first visit where so much data about you is collected -- you fill out all of the forms about your family history and existing conditions. Then you go back a second time, and the doctor has literally shredded every piece of data that was collected and used to admit you as a patient. And the doctor isn't using any of that information to diagnose you or provide medical advice.

This is the state of admissions today. Colleges collect transcript data and additional data about students in their prior academic performance, but the data stays trapped in the context of making an initial admissions decision. Schools can't use the information to place incoming students into the appropriate programs and courses where they are most likely to thrive.

Parchment solves that problem by unlocking the previously trapped data and making it available for colleges to analyze and use in the context of student support -- not merely admissions. Students are the ultimate benefactors, because their academic credentials data work in a way that improves their chances of college and career success.

What are currently the most important areas in educational technology?

In general, non-traditional credentialing and lifelong learning are important education trends today, and they have significant implications within the education technology sector.

The worlds of academic and professional credentials are blurring, and the importance of credentials data is increasing all the time. With the growth of executive education programs, certificate programs, online badges and other non-traditional programs, the types of credentials and the credentialing institutions are broadening dramatically.

With the growing diversity and range of education options, there's a need for new technology that collects and tracks new forms of credentials. That's why we're seeing increased interest in the idea of a "personalized credentials account," which is the premise of Parchment.com, where learners can store and promote their various academic achievements.

Why is this an important area in the field?

Credentials, whether academic, professional or personal, are the coin of the realm in a knowledge economy. By unlocking the critical data these credentials embody, we help individuals put their credentials to work -- communicating what they know and how well they know it.

What are your opinions about the current state of educational technology?

It is an exciting time with an increased awareness of the big challenges we collectively face in improving access, quality and efficiency in education. Over the past decade, we have seen how technology can enable progress when educators and entrepreneurs work together, and how many ideas, big and small, can play a role in this success when common goals are shared.

We have seen the growth of networks bringing people and institutions together in ways we had not previously envisioned, and how multimedia tools allow information to be communicated in powerful ways. As technology increasingly plays a role in education more data is generated, and putting that data to work effectively has the potential to make a big impact on student success. This ability to harness data to improve the lives of individuals is the reason why I joined Parchment.

What trends have you observed in the educational technology field?

Despite the extended chill of the recession on school budgets, there's been a resurgence of investor interest in education as a market awaiting disruptive innovation enabled by technology.

There is a long history of entrepreneurs entering the education technology field with great ideas, but a misunderstanding of the timing. It is important to not only have a great idea, but to have an onramp that allows you to introduce the idea within the context of how schools work, allowing them to adopt and the new offering to grow, rather than expect a radical shift in how schools operate.

How will these trends affect education as a whole?

The influx of new tools and resources helps fuel competition for better products and services for schools, but education leaders will be looking to adopt proven technologies that allow them to implement change in ways that support teachers and students where they are.

What are the current challenges in the field?

Schools are under increased cost pressures, as the industry is faced with the challenge of managing and integrating a growing volume of data in disparate systems. However, this also creates a tremendous opportunity to help schools do more with less by harnessing this data, including the data contained in transcripts.

How do these challenges affect the education system and student learning?

The more data points we can collect on a learner, the greater the opportunity to use the data to personalize learning experienced for students and successfully prepare them for the transition from high school to college to career.

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