Technology designed to enable human behavior can solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. In just the past few years, entrepreneurs have figured out how to transport vaccines through the developing world at a stable temperature and how to repair space stations with equipment produced on a 3-D printer. Real solutions to providing equitable access to economic systems, improving healthcare, educating billions, and sustaining our planet are within reach.

There’s no shortage of problems entrepreneurs can solve. But there is one challenge that is essential to solving all others: the need for equitable, accessible, and effective education for every person on the planet.

One challenge is essential to solving all others: the need for equitable, accessible, and effective education for every person on the planet. Tweet This Quote

I started my career as a teacher in Chicago. In those classrooms, the harsh realities of my students’ lives made national headlines. I became singularly focused on controlling what I could control – their classroom experience – knowing that what we did there together every day would make an enormous difference in the trajectory of their lives and ultimately the communities they could impact.

My 15 years as a Chicago teacher and later a district administrator supporting instruction for over 100,000 students brought me to a fundamental realization: great instruction could be scalable, but it wouldn’t happen through teacher education and professional development alone. And teaching reading, writing, and communicating effectively in the information age wasn’t going to happen in isolated cubicles, either.

In this era, technology for education is going to have to move beyond providing content to individuals and assessing their understanding of that content. We need technology to improve the way teachers and students interact with one another in classrooms if we are going to improve critical thinking, writing, and communication. These are the higher order thinking skills that cannot be taught by multiple choice alone, which is the key to success in the information age.

Technology designed to enable human behavior can solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Tweet This Quote

Technology can be harnessed to fill the education system’s gap in delivering powerful instruction for every student, even in places too remote to offer traditional schooling. This cannot be done, however, by removing two of the most powerful influences: teachers and peers.

In education, there are some gaps a machine can’t fill, such as understanding how an argument with a friend might have affected a student’s performance on a given day or recognizing the intelligence of an error. Teachers can see through terrible spelling and sentence fragments to understand that a child reasoned brilliantly about a topic and composed a sound argument. Technology can’t look into a student’s eyes and remind them that they are cared for or that their ideas are powerful and with a little more hard work they will succeed.

Ultimately, teachers create the context in which it is meaningful to put forth effort. The best classes are the ones no one wants to leave when the bell rings. In those classrooms, the level of student engagement drives all of the students’ performance and perseverance, in a way no data dashboard ever could.

In education, there are some gaps a machine can’t fill. Tweet This Quote

In this messy human business of education, every teacher and set of classmates has strengths and weaknesses. The art and science of teaching, just like the art and science of cooking, involves so many talents, skills, and tactical steps. So while technology cannot standardize every critical aspect of the experience, it can do a lot to create the conditions for success for every classroom.

Four years ago, I left Chicago Public Schools to find a way to use technology to make the best classroom instruction scalable. My solution is ThinkCERCA, a platform designed to help teachers spark courageous thinking among their students. We center ten levels (grades 3-12) of lessons on the same topic and focus all of those lessons on the same debatable question, like “How should we farm in a world facing climate change?” or “How far should we allow machines to go in our lives?”

With this approach, we provide teachers with the content, expert lesson design, and direct instruction in peer-to-peer collaboration and debate they need to teach a classroom of diverse learners. By focusing on technology that embraces the role of an educator and peers in the classroom, we empower teachers to deliver their best instruction.

The best classes are the ones no one wants to leave when the bell rings. Tweet This Quote

Explaining ThinkCERCA as a concept in the early days, before anyone could see the product, was such a challenge. Customers and investors had difficulty imagining a learning technology that was designed to improve a whole class’s interaction versus a technology used by individual students in cubicles. Only those who understood how important it is to think out loud together as one learns to read or write more effectively could see the promise of ThinkCERCA in its concept phase.

In its beginning stages, the success of ThinkCERCA depended on the support of early believers. We were innovating in a paper-based complex industry; we needed a team that could work through the challenges by committing themselves to the real, substantive solutions to complex problems.

The angel investors and earliest subscribing customers helped us build and launch the technology, and now the results are driving the company’s growth. The ThinkCERCA methodology – born out of years of classroom instruction – works. In the last few years, third-party studies have shown that students using our program gain an average of 1.5 to 2.5 years of growth. ThinkCERCA has made an impact. The technology-enabled human instruction has fundamentally changed student outcomes in just a few years.

Technology can’t standardize every aspect of the classroom experience, but it can do a lot to create conditions for success. Tweet This Quote

In a world of social impact, great companies are companies that produce much better outcomes at a much lower cost. Treating our customers like customers is one of the keys to our success. We know if we don’t deliver results, they won’t subscribe. Every step we take is driven by a focus on student results, and scaling those results is what will also drive the scale of a great business.

As entrepreneurs in education, we have to be the best at both instruction and building a business to solve these global problems.

About the author

Eileen Murphy

Eileen Murphy

Eileen is the Founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA. She taught English for 15 years and was the founding English Department Chair at Walter Payton College Prep as well as the author of 360 Degrees of Text (NCTE, 2011). As the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for over 100 of Chicago’s highest performing schools, she became passionate about the role technology could play in education in the 21st century and left CPS in 2012 to develop ThinkCERCA to help all students achieve career and college readiness. ThinkCERCA is one of the top Literacy Courseware Challenge winners (Gates Foundation).