An Interview with Leslie Redd: LearnBIG

Oct 3, 2013 by

Leslie Redd

1) Leslie, first of all, tell us a bit about yourself, your background, your education and experience.

My entire career has focused on enhancing and strengthening educational environments for varying grade levels. I’m originally from NYC and attended the United Nations International School, and was fortunate to be really engaged at school. I’m driven to create quality educational experiences for students around the world no matter their age, family socio-economic class, or geographic location.

After graduation from Cornell University where I was a government major, I worked at the Smithsonian Institution, then I pursued my master’s in public affairs. At the University of Washington in the mid 1990s, I coordinated two projects; one which helped public administration faculty from Central and Eastern Europe teach using the case study method, and the other which looked at stellar examples of labor-management cooperation around the U.S at the state and local level. Following those projects, I worked as a volunteer leader in early childhood education and subsequently spent seven years as a senior administrator at a PS-grade 8 independent school.

Two years ago I pivoted to working for an entertainment technology company, Valve, and led an effort that supported educators in their classroom use of a popular physics-based 3d puzzle video game. I became immersed in the game-based learning movement and its accompanying educational technology efforts. In May of 2013, I had the opportunity to join LearnBIG and be able to bring diverse educational resources to a global audience. Although my main focus is as Director of Content and Partner Relations, as a startup, I’m involved in every part of our company. We have a great team that includes teachers, parents, grandparents, students and lifelong learners.

2) Now, tell us about Learn BIG – when was it started, and what are you trying to accomplish?

LearnBIG launched in the beginning of September and solves a big problem. It’s really difficult to discover and compare the best learning resources. There are thousands of online courseware, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), educational games, lessons, videos, audiocasts, and skill building tools, on every subject known to humans. Yet all these resources are hard to find, hard to evaluate, and are not all in one place. At LearnBIG you can find exactly what you are looking for whether you are a parent looking for math games for your little one or a teacher looking for social studies or science videos or tools for your Pre-K through grade 12 student. You might be a high school or college student looking for resources to use to write a paper or courses to extend your learning, or a lifelong learner desiring to learn programming or graphic design to make yourself more valuable in the job market. LearnBIG has over 15, 000 resources and we are adding more all the time.

3) Many teachers scour the net for supplementary materials – and then find the cost- is this a problem?

Over 85% of the online educational resources we’ve collected on LearnBIG are free. You would be amazed at the depth and breadth of free content teachers can access on the internet. LearnBIG is dedicated to helping educators find what will work for them and their students. We include the price of the resource front and center, and a teacher could use the Cost filter to find only free resources.

4) Tell us about LearnBIG’s Career Paths?

LearnBIG’s Career Paths are an initial attempt to connect the dots for young people and career-changers: what do I need to know in order to pursue a particular career? When I was at Valve, we received hundreds of emails from folks between the ages of 14 and 24, from Montana to the Ukraine, all asking the same question, “how do I become a video game designer?” A difficult question to begin with, answering becomes exponentially harder when individuals have little or no access to traditional education either because of their geographic location, inability to pay high tuition rates, or both.

LearnBIG’s Career Paths looks to guide those motivated individuals by placing eLearning resources at their fingertips. We’ve identified competency-based jobs and laid out what skills are necessary and which resources can help you come closer to your goal. These are free or low-cost alternatives in the form of self-guided courses, videos, interactive tools, and of course, MOOCs.

5) You indicate that you match up materials with learning styles- how exactly do you do that?

LearnBIG offers the ability to search by format and device, this means that for example, auditory learners can search and find audiocast resources which are accessible through iOS if they happen to have an iPod. Kinesthetic learners can easily search for games and tools. For those of us who absorb all our information through reading: we’ve got text. LearnBIG recognizes that there are a myriad of devices and platforms out there – you can filter your search results through those as well.

6) Let’s take one area- art- what might I find on this subject ? and how many “ hits “ would I get?

Art – almost one thousand! From a CalArts Coursera course “Live! A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers,” to an Annenberg Learner video “The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers,” to The Kennedy Center ArtsEdge’s tool “Resources for Aspiring Young Artists,” TED talks, Khan videos and more.

Searching for “art” is great for exploring, however, if you filter for the subject Arts, and then dive deeper for more specific disciplines like architecture, dance, music, media studies, etc., you’ll end up with more targeted resources. And of course from there you can filter for format like video, image or simulation.

7) I know that there are many of these “ apps “ but what if the student does not have an iphone?

Every school or learning environment has access to different types of platforms or devices. Most of the resources collected on LearnBIG work on the basic browser of a desktop or laptop computer.

8) Are things downloadable from your site?

LearnBIG has launches! Once you find something interesting through your exploration or search, you can then click on the Launch button to leave LearnBIG to interface with the resource on their home site. One doesn’t actually download anything from LearnBIG.

9) Is there a membership cost or fee?

LearnBIG is free of charge, and we encourage users to make an account for additional functionality such as the ability to create a collection or follow someone who is finding resources interesting to you.

10)What have I neglected to ask?

With the advent of the Common Core, LearnBIG has the ability to filter by standard-aligned resources. As the creators of content align more and more of their products to standards, especially free content, LearnBIG will make sure we include them.

Collections are a really great way for teachers to aggregate and share resources with their students to support and enhance classroom learning. If you teach creative writing, you could create a personalized collection under your profile, give instructions in the collection description, and then share the collection by emailing the url to students and/or parents.

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