Interview with On the Rise Honoree: Johanna Wetmore, EvoText
The PreK-12 Learning Group's On the Rise program recognizes early career professionals in the educational resource community who demonstrate remarkable leadership and innovation.
What do you consider your biggest career accomplishment so far? What about the biggest challenge? How has it helped shape you personally and/or professionally?
EvoText has just passed its fourth year in business in which team size, number of projects, awards, and revenue continue to increase. My biggest accomplishment thus far has been continuing that upward improvement while still maintaining the culture of our company.
We are a company of doers and teammates who continue to prove ourselves day after day. There is no room for politics. We keep our heads down to research, build, and refine for our customers - both our publisher clients and our district clients. No code or design is considered “precious”. If something doesn’t work, it gets ripped out and redone. We are producers and we produce effectively and with a great deal of care and experience. The industry recognition for our work is wonderful and we are thrilled to have it, but we measure our success in daily usage and number of continued satisfied customers.
My biggest challenge thus far has been crafting and shaping Ogment over the past 2 years. We’ve done it without the use of Venture Capital or Angel Funding. We made the conscious decision to be self-funded through the initial development and to pursue development in the way we thought most effective - which is working directly, intensively, and continuously with districts across the country in a co-development process.
"We have an outstanding, incredibly experienced and powerful development team who believes in Ogment and its promise for a simpler more powerful curriculum creation and implementation process. They listened to our Co-development districts, pushed back where necessary, and went in the direction less traveled. Rather than inundate users with multiple tools - we focused on workflow, simplicity, and thoughtful design."
There was certainly a time when Ogment could have chosen to be just a lesson builder, but that would not have met the whole need we saw in the market. Our Co-development districts asked for more and we knew the bigger picture included the entire process of Curriculum Creation and Management - the ability to create, track and measure instructional progress against the district’s goals. Our Co-development districts indicated this need was not being met by other products in the marketplace and we took the leap of faith that the timing would work.
Now we are seeing a surge of District requests for what Ogment offers. Since Ogment was officially released this year, it has already won several awards and contracts, and this has validated our method. Involving educators from the start, throughout the process, rather than just here or there or at the end, is the most effective way to create products for educators.
This challenge has helped me to professionally and personally put any naysayers in their place. I listen to their concerns, act on what is constructive and useful, and then throw the rest away. I think we all aspire to only let in what is useful, but it’s difficult without practice.
Where do you see the future for educational resources? How do you see them changing and growing?
I see Ogment as a contribution, a benchmark, in the continued progression toward educator-guided formatting and arrangement of materials and tracking of their efficacy. What is valuable in education is a proven methodology that sees consistent student improvement. However, that methodology should serve more as a course spine for the teacher to then choose from whatever content resources will help him or her to reach their particular students. Programs that embrace this sort of flexible design and make it easy for educators to follow a roadmap and swap in and out the content and resources that will be most effective for their students stand a better chance for wide-spread adoption.
EvoText puts emphasis on teachers and school districts in the program and curriculum planning process, why do you think this strategy is helpful?
Picture a typical office space where product development occurs: High speed internet, filterless web browsing, air conditioning, new computers, quiet comfortable work spaces where concentration is possible, daily interaction with colleagues, lunch breaks, a flexible work schedule, and usually just one or two people to report to.
Now picture a typical classroom. How many of the above conditions actually apply to that classroom? If developers assume the above conditions for a classroom, they will create products that simply do not work in the classroom. And sadly, that has been the state of educational product development for a long time.
By meeting in person on location with our Co-development sites on a regular basis, we were able to build Ogment the way it needed to be built for better use in the classroom because we understood its operating environment. Simply put by one of our Co-development partners: “I have 53 minutes to instruct. Whatever I use better work for me in my classroom the entire time. If it doesn’t work, the students lose in the end and I won’t stick with that product.”
For more information about the On the Rise program and a full list of 2016 On the Rise Honorees, visit us here.