Karen Cator & Vic Vuchic on Whole Child Focused Edtech & Inclusive Innovation

Karen Cator

On this week’s episode of the Getting Smart Podcast Tom is talking with Karen Cator and Vic Vuchic.

Karen Cator began her education career in Alaska as a teacher and as Special Assistant for Telecommunications for the Governor of Alaska. This led to Apple, where she directed their leadership and advocacy efforts in education. She then was appointed to lead the office of edtech in the Obama administration which culminated in her joining Digital Promise as CEO in 2013. Recently, Karen has headed back to Apple to focus on their edtech initiatives and to continue to work on access and equity.

Vic Vuchic is the Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Promise Global. Before his time at Digital Promise Global, Vic consulted with a number of foundations and organizations on education technology, innovation and philanthropy. Prior to consulting, Vic developed strategies and managed over $100 million in technology-focused grants at the Hewlett Foundation to launch and grow the Open Educational Resources movement and create and advance the Deeper Learning strategy.

On this episode, Karen and Vic cover the origins of digital promise and identify what is missing in education R&D (money, time and incentives). They also talk about the League of Innovative Schools, the Learner Variability Project and the Center for Inclusive Innovation. This new center will focus on inclusive R&D, “if you’re going to do R&D, how do you make sure it has a commitment to equity,” said Karen.

Tom then asks the guests about the numerous invention opportunities in learning:

  • Every learner with a device (home internet access, students with their own device)
  • Coaches for schools (Verizon schools)
  • Integration/Support/Pedagogy
  • Learning anytime, anywhere
  • Whole child in learning environment design and product design
  • Personalized Learning
  • Learner experience
  • Challenge-based learning
  • Reflective muscle, agency
  • Measurement: nascent challenges

Key Takeaways:

[:10] About today’s episode with special guests, Karen Cator and Vic Vuchic.

[1:09] Tom welcomes Karen and Vic to the Getting Smart Podcast!

[1:17] Karen reflects on the launch of Digital Promise in 2011.

[2:11] Tom shares his appreciation for Karen’s leadership during her role as the Director of the
Office of Education Technology for the U.S. Department of Education.

[2:44] Karen shares what it was like launching Digital Promise while leading the office of ed-tech.

[4:09] Digital Promise has had an important and unique role in the research and development
(R&D) space of helping to link science to practice. Was that part of Digital Promise’s initial mission?

When Vic took a break from studying as an engineer, he picked up the jazz flute! Does he still
practice it or have a favorite flutist?

In Vic’s career, he in part launched the age of open educational resources (OER) during his
career at the Hewlett Foundation.

Karen highlights the innovations in learning and development that she is most excited about
and thinks are potentially the most important.

Has Digital Promise’s work with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools helped to advance
technology and reliable internet access into the hands of students?

Vic highlights and the innovations in learning and development that he is most excited

[17:45] Originally launched in 2011, the League of Innovative Schools now includes 114 districts
and almost 3,900 schools. What is the role that the League of Innovative Schools plays in
relationship to innovation?

All 114 districts within the League of Innovative Schools share the common attribute of
stable and effective leadership which indicates that building support for an agenda over a long
period is critical in letting innovation take root and be brought to scale.

[21:02] Another important lesson from the League of Innovative Schools: the combination of a
leader and their own mindset/view of innovation and the leadership of the district is critical.

[21:57] Digital Promise and their partner districts have been making a push toward more inclusive
leadership. Recently, they announced their Center for Inclusive Innovation. Karen elaborates on its
vision and mission.

[23:55] Over the last two years, Vic has developed an amazing web of research that is now
searchable by case study or symptom. It helps teachers connect with important resources. As Vic
thinks about the potential impact that the learner variability project can have, where and how does
he think it’s going to make the biggest difference?

[28:05] Tom’s lightning round on the theme of innovations (for both Karen and Vic): 1. When you
think of the category of “learner experience,” what are the innovations that you’re most excited
about? 2. Why are you excited about challenge-based learning? Why is it important? 3. What are you
excited about with regard to measurements and credentialing? What about the challenges?

[39:35] How Digital Promise has done a fantastic job of leading innovation for equity.

[40:03] Learning formats and new school models that Karen is excited about.

[41:22] Is Vic a fan of micro-schools or nano-schools? What does he think about new learning

[43:19] Tom highlights the incredible work that Karen has done in the last twenty years.

[44:13] Vic thanks Karen for the great work she is doing in the world.

[44:44] Tom thanks both of the guests for joining the podcast

Mentioned in This Episode:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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