ImBlaze Monthly Newsletter May 2020
Updated: May 29
Welcome to the ImBlaze monthly newsletter. Every month we’ll be updating you on the latest updates and improvements, and checking in with Co-founder and Director of Technology David Berg and lead engineer Soumya Basil.
In April it became clear we needed to not only respond, but also plan ahead. For this issue of the newsletter, we'll continue putting our interviews with David and Soumya first (humans first), and we'll eschew traditional product updates for a larger update later.
Let’s get into it.
Hey David, thanks for joining us again. I apologize for starting off a little direct here, but with more and more schools declaring budget cuts... why does ImBlaze matter?
Let me start from the a 20,000 foot view first. For high school students the relevancy of in-person and in-school learning has taken a big hit. In its place we’re discovering that kids need to learn in a variety of spaces — online, in the classroom, on a walk in the park, with their parents — and that learning *is* happening in all these spaces. Because of this, we as educators need to get more creative and innovative about how to measure that. We can’t just measure what’s happening in the school building anymore.
How are we measuring problems with inequity? How are we measuring success? How are we measuring engagement and learning? Even if we were just shifting to one extra place -- online -- those measurements are going to continue to be a challenge. But it’s also going to get more complex because kids aren’t *just* going to be learning online. It’s just not going to happen. The idea that it’s gonna be two places — in school or online, that's too narrow. Too many kids are going to fall through the cracks -- they might learn well in one but not the other. Do we accept that half the time they’re not learning well? Education has to be more flexible. The good news is, we know that there's all this learning *out there*, and we know that we can get way better at supporting and managing. So: 1) schools are going to have to expand distributed learning options for students, and 2) schools are going to have to figure out how to support and oversee that learning.
The next part is... ok all that's great, but Why ImBlaze?
The reality is I want kids out in the real world and learning in more distributed ways. If that’s done effectively, at scale, measuring student learning, without a platform? That’s great, that’s fine. No platform is a platform. Spreadsheets, post-it notes, whatever you have to do, do it.
Well the but is that we think ImBlaze is a pretty dang good tool. And we think that if you're going to invest in any tool, it should be in one that makes adapting your school to the needs of the student and the moment as easy as possible.
As the director, how has your thinking about next year changed?
I say this every time but we’re always making product improvements based on user needs, and we’re doing that more than ever. We’re doing cool things around compliance - so students can upload documents and links that align to their learning. We’re looking for ways to create badges. That’s all previously planned. Maybe biggest shift is we’re exploring what it takes to add a virtual component to ImBlaze -- allowing students to attend virtual, or hybrid, mentored learning experiences. That’s going to happen this summer. But note that we are doing virtual internships in a less binary fashion. While currently students may only be able to do internships virtually, we want to leverage those virtual relationships into irl (in real life) as we move post-COVID. So you will see that functionality as part of our virtual internship component in ImBlaze.
Anything else that feels important?
This is the time for activist educators to stand up and stand for change they believe in. It’s asking a lot, because educators are under a lot of stress. But I believe that system leaders are looking for ideas about how to build a more resilient system. They don’t want this to happen again. And there are teachers, and staffs in buildings that have those ideas. And leaders are open to thinking more creatively, open to shifting from the walled garden idea of school, more than ever. You can inspire that change.
Thanks David -- appreciate the time and the words of inspiration.
Hi Soumya! Good morning!
Hi Wilson. Good evening.
It's our third one of these, and I'm wondering, to start out tonight... how you feel about speaking directly to customers through these interviews?
Usually customers just see the end product. I think its interesting that they get to see behind the scenes and see what’s coming up. I’d be interested in knowing more about something I use on a daily basis so… I guess I hope they do too. People are always coming up with suggestions and wishes they pass along to us. I guess I hope that these interviews give them a chance to see what’s happening under the hood, and trigger solutions that they may pass along to us, along with a better understanding of the system they're using.
What's the most exciting thing for you from this past month?
Besides seeing the individual improvements actually work... I've been having a lot of fun making a proper plan and design for scheduling those improvements. Brainstorming about the different approaches we could take to tackle a problem. Thinking, "ok I have these solutions in place," while also being aware that those solutions might be me just thinking about the best case, easiest scenario. So then I try to find alternate solutions as well. You have to strike a balance between best case scenario, for engineering fidelity, what is feasible within the timeframe without losing functionality, while coming up with an elegant solutions. That’s the best part for me.
What are the questions you’re asking yourself when you’re thinking about the effects of social distancing continuing?
The biggest one for me is: Are internships themselves going to be different? Previously, internships meant doing work under the guidance of a specific mentor.
So number one is will the idea of internships be different? Will they talk to their mentor? Second, how will long term relationship building and professional network building be effected. Right now there are specific days that students go to an internship. There’s a time and specificity. When it becomes virtual, it might open up opportunities to students to do *more* internships, to connect to *more* people. It could even be that an internship -- because it’s virtual -- might give students both a chance to connect to new people in the short term, and it might be easier to maintain some of those connections long term because you might not have to give up new opportunities to maintain your connections. You might be able to do both. And... maybe that's a good thing.
I thought about it when I saw my son who said one day ‘I want to learn about history because it's fun, it's all stories!’ the next day it was maps and the world, the next day plants. Kids are so curious, and its at the push of a button… will internships be something similar?
That's all for this month. May you be more well tomorrow than you were yesterday.