This is a transcript. For the full video, see Share My Lesson Part 2 - The growth of SML, and challenges faced.
[00:00:00] Michael Meyers: Welcome to our Tag TeamTalk on Share My Lesson with Kelly Booz, the director of Share My Lesson and e-learning at the American Federation of Teachers. I'm Michael Meyers, the managing director at Tag1 Consulting and we are joined today by Peta Hoyes, Tag1's Chief Operating Officer. This is part two. If you missed part one, our intro and background, please check that out. And this segment, we're going to talk about the rapid growth and how AFT avoided becoming a victim of their own success and was a huge success with their Share My Lesson initiative and be sure to check out part three, which is building on that success and what's coming up next.
[00:00:39] Kelly, thank you for joining us. Peta, thank you as well. Really appreciate you guys being here. We want to talk about, you know, one of the biggest challenges in being so successful and, you know, for the folks who missed the first segment Share My Lesson is the largest repository of online lesson plans on the internet, serving a really wide audience of people from, you know, parents that are homeschooling their, you know, their children because of COVID to teachers and private schools and public schools. And, and when you grow so rapidly, you know, keeping your systems online, keeping up with the influx of information that's coming into the system. There is a lot of challenges that you need to address and face to, to remain being successful. So Kelly were there any early catalysts or initiatives, you know, that, that propelled SML to its success? Is this something that, that built steady over time.
[00:01:41] You have a sense of, you know, how you guys got to where you are today.
[00:01:46] Kelly Booz: Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, so, and I think even starts from the relationship that, you know, we started with Tag1 and working with you you know, starting in 2016 time frame, but you know, we, we ended up rebuilding the site on a Drupal platform and you know, Essentially having to rebuild from the ground up, completely redoing it.
[00:02:09] And that was an intentional decision on our part to shift gears because previously we had created a site that was in partnership with TES Global and the American Federation of Teachers and TES parted ways, amicably, largely cause TES went into kind of the fee-based lesson plan area, which is not what the AFT would want to do.
[00:02:28] So, you know, over the course of the years. The over the course of this time we have been able to really work closely with Tag1, to really envision and make come to life some of our dreams of what we want on the site you know, initially when we relaunched the site on a new platform, a lot of it was just making sure that, you know, our teachers could get to what they needed to because, we restructured the UX experience for educators. So there was constant like tweakings here, but one you know, key moment where I felt like we were like. Wow, we really play a significant role and our site. Plays a significant role was actually right after the Charlottesville incident. And was it 2017? We pulled together an incredible group of partners, maybe two weeks after that incident, which was Facing History and Ourselves, Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, a couple of educator members and Randi Weingarten, our president to put together a webinar to just talk about and unpack a lot of the issues that happened as part of that Charlottesville incident, whether it was race and hate.
[00:03:40] And you know, think that the title of it was When Hate is in the Headlines and you know, and we also have incredible collections of resources on racism and anti-racism and you know resources on social justice issues and stuff like that. So all of a sudden that's really, when I, I feel like. A moment where the catalyst moment where I just saw wow.
[00:04:05] You know, people are really hungry for some of this, like hard to teach content, but we also, you know, with these great partnerships that we have, we're able to really pull together some, some resources for educators.
[00:04:18] Michael Meyers: So current events, public events. I know that Randi's a really well known public figure.
[00:04:23] We were watching CNN the other day and my wife was like, Randi's on, you know, we see her on TV all the time. Are there events like Randi going on TV that will generate a burst of traffic?
[00:04:38] Kelly Booz: Yeah, even. Yeah. It's especially since, especially since COVID hit and school's closed you know, we, when Randi goes on and does interviews and is talking about resources that are out there, both for educators and for teachers.
[00:04:54] And when she mentioned Share My Lesson and particularly in this new kind of world that we're in we saw, we see some significant spikes on the site and, and new users coming to find content that we have on the site.
[00:05:07]**Michael Meyers:**Okay.. So we've talked about current events and public appearances. What about, you know, other initiatives that you do, you know, that that helped sort of promote and drive traffic to the site?
[00:05:23] Kelly Booz: Yeah. And it's, I mean, it's are the webinars that we do have been incredibly well attended and valuable, but what another, another moment after the Charlottesville incident we were approached by a partner to partner on doing a webinar with Steven Spielberg, talking about Schindler's List. It was a 25th anniversary of Schindler's List.
[00:05:41] And that was another moment of like, Wow. We're we're this we've made it now where we get to have, Steven Spielberg, you know, on, on a webcam with us, that's pretty exciting. But we also, you know, we've been doing another thing that's been incredibly successful for us. And we use Share My Lesson is the conference homepage for all of these different events, but we do a virtual conference each year.
[00:06:05] In fact, we'll be doing our ninth virtual conference this March 23, 24, 25 time frame. And. That. I mean, I like to say that we, you know, the virtual conference is something you can do in your PJ's, but that's become like, you know, that everybody's been in their PJ's for the last year or so now I say we've been doing virtual conferences before it was the hip and cool thing to do.
[00:06:26] But you know, that is a, that is a complete traffic driver for our site because we're doing lots of. We're working with organizations and partners and everybody is co-promoting the conference and their resources together. And that is a three night over 40 different webinars that we do. Each webinars, you know, open for a certificate or professional development certificate that if their school, if a student, a teachers school district will accept it, they can get credit for their continuing education.
[00:06:56] That they need to do to keep their certification teacher certification live but another kind of like being in the right place at the right time moment for us. And you know, back to that Randi question about, you know, her going on TV. Last year, our virtual conference. For whatever reason we scheduled it, March 24, 25, 26, we normally do it at the very beginning of March.
[00:07:20] So go back in timeline during when COVID shut things down on March 13th, all of a sudden we have a virtual conference that was already in the books and scheduled a week and a half after. You know, the entire world shuts down. And so we, because you know, it's a conference that we've already done our presenters we're really able to shift gear quickly to take the content that they were already going to teach and talk about how you can tweak it for more of this, like digital learning, the distance learning, remote learning environment.
[00:07:51] And we went from, you know, the previous year, which was. You know, record shattering for us having 22,000 registrations to over 70,000 registrations last year. And so, you know, that's been a, a sweet spot for us just because we can pull. such great people. This year, you know, we had over, well, well over 100 proposals for only 40 slots.
[00:08:13] You know, we've got. PBS and Disney and you know, Randi obviously will be presenting and you know, we've got, we've been approached by some incredible organizations that will be, you know, bringing content to us to our members and AFT members.
[00:08:29] Michael Meyers: Wow. I mean, this was already in an amazing resource you know, during the time of COVID it's so invaluable to, you know, folks that are teaching, you know, remotely for the first time, you know, in, in dealing with topics that, you know, for the first time.
[00:08:46] Kelly Booz: [00:08:46] Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, again, everybody was struggling. Like I you know, I. I've got to now a kindergartener and a second grader that had been learning exclusively virtually. And so how do you balance balancing supporting them in their learning environment and then also working full time and especially in the spring, when there really wasn't, you know, regular, at least regular, you know, virtual school for my then first grader.
[00:09:10] I was going to Share My Lesson to find content and resources to help support her. So we, she didn't lose everything that she had already gained from her first grade year that, you know, briefly ended March 13th. So, you know, we, we had a lot of folks that are able to discover us, but that's, I think that the exciting thing is how much we've been able to, to build on Share My Lesson, to be in a place that we have such an incredible tool that.
[00:09:37] We're in the right space again at the right time. And we've been building for this over the course of the years with you guys, as you know, our, our partners to create a resource that not only, you know, teachers who've been coming to us, but now a huge audience of parents too of content that they can find to, to help.
[00:09:55] So, you know, whether it's distance learning or Health and wellness. I mean, that's a huge thing right now for educators. In fact, we've - while we still do our professional development with continuing education units, we are now also doing just wellness and health series. So on Wednesday of this coming week, we're doing a yoga session.
[00:10:14] We've done a Zumba session. We've done meditation, you know, so we're just saying, Hey educators, Let's come together and, you know, let's let's exercise our minds and our bodies together. And it's been incredibly valuable because people are stressed out right now.
[00:10:28]Michael Meyers: I was just thinking I could use that health and wellness
[00:10:31] Kelly Booz: Me too, I tell you what, I don't mind working Wednesday nights because I, you know, I moderate the wellness session and I'm like, I get to work out.
[00:10:40] While I'm doing this, it's kind of cool. I get to come in a t-shirt and yoga pants, but let's be clear. I've been wearing yoga pants for the last year, so that's not new, but
[00:10:48] Peta Hoyes: To me this is one of the biggest, like success pieces of what's happened over the last couple of years. This you know, it's not just about responsiveness and sort of.
[00:11:00] Sifting the cream of the crop kinds of lesson plans or PD for a particular event or time or subject matter. But, you know, ultimately it's, when you think about, you know, K through 12 or, and higher ed, when you, we look at grades and topics, that's a very large taxonomy of stuff. You know, and having people sift through that to find good stuff AFT themselves, make it easier because they curate some of it for you and say, here, this is the best of the best for this topic.
[00:11:28] But even during this, these particular events, like COVID last year, having to deal with subjects that are. I liked the word orthogonal to those subjects and grades, you know,
[00:11:41] and being able to create those kinds of you know, big topical areas that people can still get organized content.
[00:11:48] That's been a large part of what AFT has been doing over this last year, and we're trying to find even easier ways for them to to allow people to slice and dice it, not just with search, which is huge, but also through communities that specialize in a particular topical area. Or, you know, breaking them down into other sections of the site that makes sense.
[00:12:09] Kelly Booz: Yeah. And I mean, you know, it's not like when we've all these new features that we've added to the site, since we launched with you in 2016, we've added a lot of resources in functionality to share, Share My Lesson. No, none of us thought about like, okay, there's going to be a pandemic. We need it, you know, to work like this.
[00:12:26] But we have had you know, didn't have any of that foresight by any means, but I think a lot of the decisions that we've made and the updates that we've made on the site. Have been super helpful to where we are today in the world. And you know, fortunately this is, you know, a big commitment of the AFT and as big and Randi Weingarten, such a supporter of it.
[00:12:50] So we're able to, you know, think through what can we do and how can we make it better? It's not just, okay. , we made a website. You know wash my hands. I'm done. Walk away. We're no, we're constantly just like educators. We're constantly looking at it and saying, okay, how can we do this better?
[00:13:07] How do we make it easier? How do we make it, you know, relevant? Gosh, it would be really great if we could do this, you know, those first couple of years when we've launched and relaunched the site in 2016, there was a lot of, you know, Clean up that we had to do not necessarily clean up, but there were some things that just weren't functioning the right way, or, you know, we may, we had some missteps in terms of SEO and making sure the search engine optimization and making sure that when the site was launched, that we had, we're doing the right thing to make sure that our site stayed relevant.
[00:13:37] With an SEO, because it's great if you build a great site, but nobody can find it. That's always a challenge. So we've, we had to make tweaks, but I like to say, now that we're in this really sweet spot where we you know, have been able to do the thing, some super cool things that we've always wanted to do.
[00:13:55] Michael Meyers: Yeah, you, you, you guys are in the driver's seat now, you know, you've really you know, been able to get on top of the growth, you know, to drive success. I'm curious what, like, when, you know, when you started to see a lot of success you, you know, what are the things that happened that, you know, the site didn't anticipate?
[00:14:16] Like, I would imagine all of a sudden you're getting a lot of lesson plans, you know, a lot more than, than the system was ever designed to handle, you know, so, you know, there's features and functionality you want. And then there's things that it's like, Oh my gosh, you know, Yeah. How did you guys handle, like, what were some of those, like unforeseen, you know, problems that arose from such, you know, a rapid influx of information and people and how did you deal with them?
[00:14:44] Kelly Booz: Yeah. I mean, you know, some things, I think that everybody, every site deals with and, you know, like ours, where people can create accounts and add content and comment on stuff, you know? So I think this is a common experience of just making sure there's some spam protocols in place. You know, because that, that was a challenge that we've, you know, still are checking in and overcoming and having to put some guard rails there.
[00:15:06] You know, as we become more popular, seems like people want to be able to sell their keto diet supplements or whatever. So, you know, there's, there's that component.
[00:15:20] Peta Hoyes: There's also the, the aspect of trying to tag content, because this is a, you know, you already have a really large taxonomy people, you know, that you're crowdsourcing stuff, so you want them to have flexibility, but you want to make it easy for them to do that because you know, any particular subject or some topic and can fly across lots of grades or even multiple subject areas sometimes. So making it easy for people to do that, but also easy for easier for administrators of the site that are dealing with hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, to be able to, you know, check it, you know, check some of that stuff. And even sometimes auto tag things with like common core standards which we use some, some AI machine learning, third party tools to help look at the way that that content might get tagged and then get pushed to the AFT administrators to check, yes, this follows this standard.
[00:16:21] That that's actually been a pretty big aspect of managing, not just the million plus bodies that are on the site, but also the hundreds of thousands of assets that are there.
[00:16:31] Kelly Booz: Yeah. And I think some of it is, you know, the adding. Adding the ability for a user to add state standards. And the four core subject areas are common core, common core national standards, state standards, or the next generation science standards was a big thing, but there was a huge concern that if we open this up, because in the previous site, While we would add standards, it was all manual and we would do it, but that's doing manual standards.
[00:16:57] Adding manual standards takes time. And that's not really scalable when you have a smaller staff. So, but, so we wanted to add the ability for users to be able to tag their resources to their individual standards, whether, you know, you're, I live in Virginia. So whether it was to a Virginia standard of learning or to, you know, a California standard or to the national standards but then not only that, you know, there's a relational, you know, the Virginia standard of learning may be related to the standard that's in North Carolina and that same kind of social studies area.
[00:17:28] So, you know, allowing those relations of a resource that I've added for Virginia to be showing up for a teacher, who's looking for that as a very similar standards in North Carolina was of value. The concern, however, was okay, well, what if, you know, somebody adds these resources and they tie them to standards.
[00:17:45] How do we know that they are really, truly aligned to those standards? Because that's a, you know, standard align, resources and resources are important for, for educators and, and really frankly, also really mostly important for school administrators to say like, okay, are, you know, are we teaching. Are we teaching based on our pacing guide and based on, you know, our state, our individual state standards.
[00:18:07] So too, so one of the things we did is we allowed users to add their content tagged to those individual standards, but then we have another layer where. We have a team of cadre that will review resources that have been added in tagged to the standards. And then we can verify that that resource is actually not only quality, but it's also, you know, really, truly aligned to the right standard.
[00:18:30] So it was, it's a little bit of a catch that we added, so we can scale more with the standards alignment, but then also have some guard rails in effect to you know, if somebody adds something to say, yeah, no, this is really good. This is quality. Or Not give that stamp of approval, essentially.
[00:18:48] Peta Hoyes: And dovetailing on that actually is the relationship to doing more personalization.
[00:18:53] Because again, a lot of resources trying to figure out how to get the, get someone, the things that are most relevant to them based on their profile information or the things they explicitly say they're interested in.
[00:19:05] Kelly Booz: Yeah. And that was a, that was a big update that we did because before, you know, whether, if I was a science teacher in middle school, Well, I'd have the exact same experience as somebody who's an art teacher in high school.
[00:19:18] On the site, you know, our emails, everything was, you know, the going the same messaging was going. It was not personalized. We weren't in a position to really do a whole lot of targeted marketing, with our content. And to some degree, that's always was an intentional decision in terms of how people create accounts on Share My Lesson.
[00:19:35] We wanted the barrier for somebody to be, get on Share My Lesson and get their content to be super easy and low. So at the registration on Share My Lesson, we don't ask for subject or grade. We asked for first name, email, and zip code, and that's essentially it. Problem with that is if we want to grow and really want to personalize, we really need that, you know, that information in terms of who our users are, are you in middle school science teacher or are you a high school art teacher?
[00:20:03] And so the personalization was a key that I like to say. It's kind of like a, a combination of like, LinkedIn meets Netflix. You know, in fact, or even Facebook to some degree, because you would create your account. And then every time you come back in, you're prompted to say, you know, Hey, do you teach this?
[00:20:20] What are you interested in these grades? You know, where do you teach? So really there's kind of a constant drum beat as you come back into complete your profile and then. There's also the ability for users now to follow other users or follow partner organizations. And then by doing so, doing those following, you'll not only get notified based on your grade and, your subject of resources that are relevant and in your kind of grade and subject areas.
[00:20:47] And now I'm science, you know, middle school science teacher, receiving science resources when I log in and when I'm, when I get emails. But I also can get notifications from, you know, an organization. So National Science Foundation has awesome content on our site. And, or yeah, National Science Foundation or NBC Learn partners with the National Science Foundation on a lot of stuff.
[00:21:10] They have awesome content on the site. So if, as a follower of them, if they're adding new content I will get notified to say, Oh, this is great content.
[00:21:18]Michael Meyers: That's I love this use of guard, rails checks, and balances, you know, coupled with technology to make it easier for people to create content for you to check the content for them to find the content. It's a really great example of, you know, how you scale a site. Outside of these, you know, scalability and volume challenges.
[00:21:43] How did the site itself grow and evolve, you know, were there, you know, with all of these new users and features, were there new needs that arose and you know, and how did you address these.
[00:21:57] Kelly Booz: Yeah. You know, one of the things that we really, one of the things that actually was frankly, always a dream of ours to do, and that we were able to do finally was to create communities on the site.
[00:22:11] So, you know, we always wanted a place where, let's say I'm a social studies teacher. I can join a community of other social studies teachers and find great content and social studies and be able to share stuff with other social studies or let's say, you know, I went to this incredible summer learning professional development Institute.
[00:22:31] And one of the things that I needed to be able to do was to create. Lesson plans and materials as part of, you know, the project in the summer, we wanted to be able to have a place that somebody could create either an open or closed community where users could add their content and be able to share and comment and discuss different components.
[00:22:51] So we launched communities and the time we launched communities, I think it was in 2019. And I'll, you know, I'll definitely say that, you know, the communities, especially now you know, our distance learning community, our wellness community that we have on the site, some of the stuff that we're seeing currently have been very helpful and valuable because we're able to, within those pages within those communities share content that a lot of folks have been looking for.
[00:23:23] And then there's been a lot of sharing of ideas too, within the discussion board.
[00:23:31] Peta Hoyes: So I would say there's probably one other scaling challenge that. You know, it was always there and it's always a constant sort of push forward and that's around search. You know besides adding, you know, faceted search and expanding that so that people could narrow focus a little better.
[00:23:51] You know, there were also, you know looking at and forward to ways to make search. You know, more relevant or allow people to do better. It's sort of choosing, is it you know, user rating versus true relevancy versus you know, date on something. But search in and of itself is always an ongoing you know, feature enhancement because it's.
[00:24:20] Probably the first thing that people go to when they want to find geometry lessons for a particular grade.
[00:24:26] Kelly Booz: [00:24:26] Okay. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think even doing some of the user testing that I know Tag1 was doing is we're working on some more updates for the site. You know, one of the things. Common things that they heard it doesn't surprise me is that they use the search bar.
[00:24:39] That was some of the surveys that we've asked to you know, to get to that content. I mean, Google my gosh, how often are they updating their, their search in there? And you know, how the, how the Google, how that works in their, in their world, their entire world is based on search and serving up content.
[00:24:55] So yeah, we do have to constantly tweak that to make sure that we getting the right stuff to people as easily as possible.
[00:25:03]Michael Meyers: Kelly, Peta. Thank you guys so much for joining us for the second segment. I think everybody wants their initiative to be successful. And when you are lucky enough and fortunate enough to achieve that success to stay on top of it and to continue to be successful.
[00:25:22] Is even more challenging that sometimes then that achieving that success. And so it's, it's really great to be able to share some of the things that you did. And next up, we're going to talk about building on this success. You know, where you guys are going from here. All the links that we mentioned are going to be posted online in the show notes.
[00:25:41] If you like this talk, please remember to upvote subscribe and share it with all your friends. You can check out past Tag1 Team Talks at tag1.com/tagteamtalks. And as always, we would love your feedback and input. Let us know if there are more topics that you'd like to hear us talk about. Reach us at email@example.com.
[00:26:02] Again, a big thank you to Kelly and Peta for joining us. We'll be back soon. Thank you.