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Interview with an Innovator: Andy Hepburn, GPS Education Partners


GPS Logo.pngAndy Hepburn is Chief Innovation Officer for GPS Education Partners (GPS) in Wisconsin. This unique community-based educator provides outcomes-based training for manufacturing careers, working closely with employers and local high schools. As CIO, Mr. Hepburn has partnered with Realizeit to offer a personalized and adaptive learning experience for GPS’ 200 students throughout the state.


Q: Can you tell us about your background and your previous experience with learning technologies?

A: I was a high school history teacher within a traditional college prep environment. While I was there, we slowly introduced technology over the years, but we did it poorly.

After I left education and began working for an IT company, I began to see that educators really weren’t preparing students to do anything more than continue going to school. I began exploring how we teach, learn, and how we can leverage technology to help. Too much of traditional schooling has end points—learning doesn’t need to stop just because you hit some artificial milestone.

If you ask anyone in education what their goal is, they’ll say, “We want to create lifelong learners.” You don’t have to create them, that’s going to happen naturally. What you need to do is provide the tools and resources for people to keep learning.


Q: What problems are you trying to solve at GPS?

A: The big problem was this realization that young people should have more choices beyond preparing for four-year college. There should be an option for students who define themselves as hands-on: someone who thrives on working and learning at the same time. We wanted to provide them with an equally powerful opportunity to prepare for the workplace. Society has few options for students where we can say, “Well, if you’re not interested in a four-year college, here’s another way to pursue your passion without any stigma.”

We want to provide the same kind of instructional support and focus for those choices, and really raise the academic relevance. We want a student to be able to say, “There are a lot of options for me.”

The other issue is that, in manufacturing, there is not a clear path to these technical roles that companies are hiring for, thanks to this focus on college preparation that’s been in place since the mid-1970s. Many people who wind up in manufacturing do so as part of a “Plan B”. That has a negative impact on the growth of our middle class, our economy, our country. Not every high school completer goes on to college. Why can’t we offer these students something more meaningful than a minimum wage job?

 

 


Q: Why Realizeit? Where does it fit with your vision?

A: We were trying to find a solution that would let us realize—no pun intended—training deeply rooted in competencies. When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re being hired because of the skills and competencies you possess that give employers confidence in your capabilities.

Most people come out of traditional schooling with a diploma which reflects courses they’ve taken, but they can’t necessarily translate that into a list of skills or competencies. If we’re going to create meaningful hands-on learning experiences, the key is coming up with a competency-based system that lets students demonstrate what they know and what they can do. So we began looking at what was out there.


We wanted a system that was content-agnostic and pure to the inherent concept of “If I can prove I
have mastered this concept, I can move on to the next one,” no matter what industry or subject we
were working in. Realizeit was doing that. Having the flexibility to create the competency maps, creating those connections between what students know and what they do, is really what attracted us to Realizeit.


Q: How has Realizeit adapted to you?

A: Often when a company begins to scale, there’s a disincentive for allowing customization of their product, because it’s harder to manage. If I’m trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, I don’t want to be with a company that’s going to try to box me in. The respect and the commitment that Realizeit has shown us in terms of making the product work for our needs has been impressive. If we had to do this without Realizeit support, we would not be as far along as we are.

Q: How have your different stakeholders — students, schools, employers, instructors— responded since GPS began implementing personalized, adaptive learning?

A: The benefit to the students is that there’s a clear pathway for them—they understand what they’re doing and why, and what they need to do to complete the work.
The second most impacted group has been GPS itself, because we’ve been able to really organize and define the experience that the students have, and the data is showing us that we are getting more consistency in how we deliver the material.

Prior to Realizeit, we allowed a lot more freelancing from instructors. Sometimes that yielded phenomenal results, and sometimes it meant some students missed out. Educators often want to make teachers the center of the educational process, but our model puts the student at the center. And that is resulting in better quality overall.

For employers and school districts, Realizeit is providing the evidence we need to prove that the program has rigor. It’s allowed us to expand the conversation in a transparent way and gives them confidence, and has also made the conversation around what gaps still need to be filled in much more productive.

We can now provide schools with the competency-based reports that give them the confidence to continue investing in us. For the employers, it helps them understand what we can provide when we can show them a knowledge map. And it also helps them play a greater role in the training process—they help us define the curriculum.


Q: Would you say that the investment has been worth it? Bearing in mind that you’ve been altering your own implementation as you go along.

A: It’s absolutely worth it. I think you’re always tempted by the idea that there’s an easier way, but I’ve been around long enough to know that there really isn’t. The indicators keep reinforcing to us that it’s a valuable process. With all the conversations about workplace-relevant training and manufacturing jobs, we feel that our work at GPS has never been more relevant.

And with Realizeit, we can extend our reach in a way that’s uniform and consistently produces data we can act on. Realizeit gives us the opportunity to serve a much larger number of people regionally and, eventually, across the country.

Learn More

Discover how Realizeit’s personalized learning and adaptive teaching system can help you and your students reimagine how you teach your courses while respecting your domain expertise and teaching style. Contact us today at (847) 241-4577 or click below to request a demo.

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