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Best of both worlds (Humans + Internet)

Enable teachers to focus on teaching and the internet to instruct, assess, empower communications and amplify efficient workflows.

Photo of Brett Gentry
6 3

Written by

I am a.....

  • Teacher
  • Parent/Caregiver
  • Student
  • Experiential Distance Learning Product Designer and Program Manager 16+ years

Tell us about your idea


Recently, teachers have been challenged with less student interaction, digital curriculum development, and new workflows. Students & parents are suffering from it. Collectively we can make learning better than before the crisis.


Teachers are human beings and exceptional at working with other human beings. 

The Internet enables us to learn, communicate and collaborate at a distance. 

Distance Learning Content (DLC) is comprehensive and effective.


There are 3 million teachers in the US building effectively 13, K-12 curriculums. The Internet alone is a poor substitute for teachers. DLC is largely not curriculum-focused, disparate, and ranges in quality, cost, & features.


Create pure, open & crowd-sourced, DLC curriculums that enable comprehensive student and teacher workflows, from subject-to-subject, continually evaluating student knowledge, with remediation and assessment. 

Teachers focus on people, software focuses on workflows, students gain agency over their education, and we are ALL better off than before.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

A classroom full of 25+ students means the teacher is often very distracted, has to teach to the lowest common denominator, and often only spends quality time with the most vocal students. Assuming the distance learning curriculum is engaging enough to keep student's attention, and dynamically adjusts to the child's level of knowledge, students will actually learn faster and the teacher will have more time for personal assistance. As a world, we could be learning faster & more effectively.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

We have 3 children that we are effectively homeschooling right now due to the inefficiencies with the rapidly assembled distance curriculum.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have the time to help their children and this distance learning situation IMO will continue through 2021.  The inequality of education will become ever wider unless we can free up teachers to do what they do best, by leveraging the strengths of the internet and edtech content.   

I have an array of experience from being one of the many product design father's of Microsoft's Official Distance Learning for their global certification training, to being a 6th-12th grader teacher.  The content and technology are out there.  It just needs to be combined in effective and efficient workflows that allow students to be independent and teachers the time to teach.  Now is the moment.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

Bay Area, California


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christopher Wright

Brett, this idea cuts right to the core opportunity before us in edtech. With COVID, it's as if the tide has gone out on all aspects of the edtech world thus revealing its limitations, inequities, and missing pieces. We need to get moving toward an optimized edtech future. You've identified key needs — optimized teacher/student connections and optimized workflow to make that possible — all leading to optimized learning — learning that consistently meets each child's individual needs. So, count me in! And you can count on my nonprofit's freely accessible edtech — core STEM content accessible in 95 languages.

Photo of Brett Gentry

This article is timely:
Wanted: Curriculum Providers Who Can Help With Students’ COVID-19 Learning Loss

And this one: "However, some educators believe that with EdTech it can be easy to lose track of what really matters – a strong emotional connection between student and teacher. In Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s fourth annual Educator Confidence Report – a survey of over 1,200 teachers and administrators – created in collaboration with YouGov, 94 percent of educators stated the most important quality determining a positive learning environment is the connection between student and teacher.

Such a connection is unlikely to be replicated by an e-learning app or a chatbot. However, what EdTech can do is make the lives of educators easier by streamlining their marking process, entering grades and gathering information about students’ individual abilities. This leaves educators free to focus on the part of teaching that matters most to them – connecting with their students. "

Photo of Rachel Siegel

Thank you for posting your idea, Brett Gentry - was excited to read your submission! I am struck by the "many hats" you wear and can see how your roles as distance learning product designer, teacher, student & parent contribute to your idea. I'm curious to learn more about what the "human interaction" component might look like. How do you see the role of the teacher developing/changing? How might the teachers focus on their students in new, innovative ways if they are using the software? Thank you for sharing and best of luck as you support the 3 little ones at home!

Photo of Brett Gentry

Admittedly this is all very conceptual.

That said, "human interaction" under strict Shelter-in-Place is limited. The most common synchronous communication now being video conferencing, phone, instant messaging with presence (so you can see when people are online and typing), and not face-to-face. Face-to-face is ideal in many ways but that could be organized locally (e.g. things to do that would keep us 6'ft away) but beyond the scope of what I am thinking right now.

Teachers can focus on helping students solve problems rather than lecturing which can be and often is, handled by DLC products. Include the lighter curriculum development requirements, less class policing, fewer materials organizing and prep, allows teachers to become more the counselor/mentor/leader role which you are likely quite familiar. Assuming teachers have more time to spend one-on-one or with small groups, children will learn faster and potentially have better emotional experiences. Perhaps the concept of certain ages in specific classes becomes less important, and of more importance is where students are within the curriculum and socially/emotionally. It may no longer be about advancing children through a curriculum at a fixed pace but allowing children to work through curriculums successfully first and foremost, and advancing because of it.

A possible scenario might look like this. Teachers provide the morning, "Welcome to school message" (routine is important especially when remote for children), providing a feeling of connectedness and seriousness. During the day, everyone's online presence in the class is obvious, so even though everyone is working through the materials separately, they know they are not alone. Teachers are a vital part of the days multiple learning loops. Educational subjects/topics can be read, listened to, watched, interacted with, assessed, then followed by the teacher working with children on what they still don't understand. The teacher becomes the backstop and can solve issues no technology can. Because the progress data and assessment are instantly available to the teacher, they know who needs what help and how to organize the groups or feedback sessions. Based on daily or weekly results, the teacher could propose remediation solutions for certain students, in order to help them progress successfully. This is part of the overall curriculum.

The software and content are already out there. It just needs to be tied together in an effective fashion. And thank you for your thoughtful questions!

Photo of Rachel Siegel

I so appreciate your candor, Brett Gentry . We fully welcome conceptual ideas in the Challenge, so I appreciate that you took it one step further by imagining what a "school day" might look like! Your mention of teachers taking on more of a counselor/mentor role got my wheels turning - and I wonder about the types of professional learning/training/resources that teachers might need in this new era to be the social-emotional support for their students. Many teachers are providing this support for parents as well.

I really like what you said about everyone's online presence being known to help create a sense of community; help them feel less isolated. Such a simple and yet powerful design point.

Have a great weekend!

Photo of Brett Gentry

re: presence; that's 15 years of remote work experience talking. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback.

As for teacher/school/district training, there are a few aspects I can think of: remote training, social-emotional, academic/curriculum, and technology training.

Remote work used to be highly suspect years ago when I first started. Now it's been widely proven to be highly rewarding for employees and productive for employers. Here's a link to a plethora of excellent remote work resources:

Social-emotional training I suspect you would have many resources? I suspect much of the support will be needed for the teachers as well since many of them are accustomed/thrive on more face-to-face interactions.

Academic/Curriculum training ideally is provided by the groups assembling the 13 core curriculums. Of course, there will be many more than 13, but the point is there will be far fewer than 3 million. The challenge will be assembling the curriculums in a way that will make it work simply for teachers. Google Classroom is a great start. Perhaps the most expedient and effective way to start is to have teachers submit their curriculums for peer review and voting.

Technology training will continue to be provided by the district/school but I can see where this will also be provided by the groups creating the curriculums.

The key aspects of this project are:
1) Enable students to be self-sufficient learners. This frees up parents to work, teachers to teach, and allows students to advance "academically" based on competency rather than age.
2) Leverage teachers' strengths as human beings. Focus on what humans do best. Let software do all the grunt work.
3) Leverage the Internet's strength. Pre-recorded lectures, interactive content, gamified experiential learning, remediation, assessments, distance communications, etc...

There are many challenges but at this moment in history, I don't think we have much choice. We will be keeping distance until we have a vaccine and the earliest that will be is spring 2021. You can't have kids go back to school (though we probably will...) and expect them to stay 6ft away, wear masks correctly, and sit in confined classrooms for hours without spreading the virus.