Emily Chesbrough: From the Classroom to Edtech

Emily Headshot.jpg

Name: Emily Chesbrough

Current position: Product Designer at IXL Learning

Degree/year: HGSE Master’s in Technology, Innovation and Education, 2015

Tell us a little bit about your journey and experience working in education.

My experience in education started in the classroom: I taught second grade, all subjects, for two years in San Jose Unified School District. I used a lot of edtech products as a teacher - IXL Learning, DreamboxImagine Learning, Lexia, Lego WeDo, the list goes on. I saw firsthand that using edtech inspired my students to be more curious, creative, and resourceful. As a teacher, edtech products helped me meet students’ needs and deliver more engaging and meaningful lessons. I decided that I wanted to dedicate my career to creating and delivering the best edtech experiences, which brought me to HGSE. In grad school, I focused on learning to design and build edtech experiences with educational outcomes in mind.

After HGSE, I joined Clever to help large districts to implement edtech at scale, first as a District Partnerships Associate, then as a District Success Manager. Clever solves some of the most pressing technical problems districts face, from helping districts comply with data security and privacy regulations to getting students logged into apps without having to memorize dozens of passwords. I learned so much at Clever about the struggles districts face implementing edtech, from selecting products to managing technical challenges. I wanted to get closer to the edtech development process, which brought me to IXL Learning. As a product designer, I create new features and enhancements to the IXL product to meet student, teacher, and administrator needs.

What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I vividly remember a very important lesson I learned from Professor David Dockterman, in his first lecture for Innovation by Design. He walked the class through the history of technology adoption in the classroom. From radios to TVs to computers, the same cycle would repeat itself: schools would buy new technologies, but not train teachers on how to use them, how to integrate them into lessons, or how to show students how to use the technology to its full potential. As a result, the majority of these technologies would sit in the back of the classroom, unused. The lesson: you can develop the edtech panacea that solves all educational issues, but if schools and teachers can’t integrate it into the classroom, no one will use it. Implementation matters.

What's it like working in edtech? What advice or guidance do you have for other educators interested in transitioning out of the classroom and into similar roles like yours?

Edtech is a fascinating industry because it brings together people who have a passion for education and who have deep experience as educators, designers, and engineers. There are so many great student and teacher success stories I get to hear every day at work, and I feel like I am part of an industry that is improving educational opportunities and experiences.

If you’re an educator looking to move to edtech, I would think first about your career goals and make sure a career in edtech will fulfill them. If you are looking to design edtech products or help other educators discover better ways to use technology in the classroom, a role in an edtech company could be a great place for you. If you are looking to be a community leader and shape the lives of individual students and families, being a teacher is probably a better fit.

If you feel like you want to make the move to edtech, I recommend doing research on the kinds of skills and experiences needed to contribute at an edtech company, and then figure out how you will meet those needs. For a lot of educators, going into sales, account management, customer service and marketing can be great because those roles all leverage the communications skills and persuasive abilities that teachers use everyday in their classrooms. If you want to design edtech products, but you have no design experience, start designing edtech experiences now in your classroom! Create your own websites and edtech materials, use edtech products with your students and think creatively about how you would improve those products. You can also explore design schools and graduate programs that specifically cultivate this experience, like I did. If you want to go into engineering but don’t have engineering experience, explore bootcamps and graduate programs that can help you build those skills, and start coding projects on the side. I cannot stress enough how important it is to start practicing these skills before making the jump into edtech. Not only will you gain the experiences you need to thrive in a new role, but you will also see if you enjoy the day-to-day work involved in that role.

What are some of the issues you’d like to see addressed in education? What role do you think technology can play?

This is a hard question. Some of the most pressing educational issues (school funding, teacher development, school safety) are best addressed by government policy, in my opinion.

One of the most pressing issues in education is the achievement gap, and I think technology can help address the achievement gap through personalized learning. Edtech products give teachers the power to quickly pinpoint the exact standards a student is struggling to learn and directly address those needs, all in a fraction of the time it would have taken a decade ago. That said, we need teachers and schools that are fully equipped to address these needs - technology is only one piece of the puzzle.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I plan to be in edtech, working with and hopefully leading teams to design impactful technology for classrooms and schools.

What are some things we wouldn’t learn about you from your resume?

I love art - I’ve been doing ceramic art for years in my free time, and I find it’s a great way to express myself creatively and expansively.


This interview was conducted by Merisenda Alatorre, HAEd's Communications and Marketing Director, who had the pleasure of meeting and working with Emily at HGSE.

Want to be featured as our next Alumni Spotlight or know someone who should be featured? Click here to nominate yourself or another alum!