3 Questions for a 2020 Grad Working in Ed Tech | Inside Higher Ed

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Brianna Bannach is a growth marketing manager at Yellowdig and a Venture for America 2021 Fellow. She graduated in 2020 from the University of Delaware with a B.A. in entrepreneurship and technology innovation. Brianna graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: How did it come about that you are starting your career working for an educational technology company? What is the path that brought you to where you are now?

A: To be completely transparent, I ended up in education technology pretty much by accident. After I graduated college and finished a pre-accelerator run by UD, I realized that despite not feeling like a college graduate, I indeed was a graduate without a job. With the pandemic making the job search that much harder and stranger, I pondered spending the rest of the year working on my own venture but ultimately decided that learning from working in a start-up or growing company would be a good place to start.

Within a week of starting the job search, I stumbled upon a job listing for Yellowdig on AngelList, a job search site for start-ups, and was drawn to the impact they are making on education. I joined the team as a marketing contractor and watched as the company and marketing team grew by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, I had already started my application for Venture for America and was eventually lucky enough to be selected as a 2021 fellow. This could have been the end of my story in ed tech, because VFA supports their fellows by offering them a database of partnering start-up jobs specifically looking to hire fellows. As you know, this is not the end of my ed-tech story, because I loved my time at Yellowdig, so we worked together to bring Yellowdig in as a VFA partner and bring me on as a full-time employee at Yellowdig.

Why did I want to stay in the ed-tech space with Yellowdig? First, working in the education space is a great place to be as a marketer, because the products that you are promoting can help to shape students’ learnings and futures, as well as help them build connections that will last a lifetime. Second, this industry is very exciting to be in right now because the pandemic has put pressure on academic institutions to adapt and evolve. Working for a technology company that enables that evolution means that you get to be at the forefront of driving that change. Lastly, I have been thoroughly impressed with the team that surrounds me every day, from their genuine kindness to their deep expertise in their own respective fields that makes it an honor to work alongside them.

Q: You graduated college in 2020. What role did technology play in your education? How did the pandemic impact your college experience?

A: Technology made my education possible once the pandemic hit. All of my instructors reacted to this transition differently. I had one professor who changed a very interactive in-person class to a fully asynchronous self-paced course hosted in Canvas. That course brought in resources from across the internet like TED Talks and online personal assessments of leadership. Another tried to keep the experience the same by continuing to lecture on Zoom during our scheduled class time. And others either canceled some class time or made it an optional forum to discuss questions. One of those instructors also decided to replace the discussion component he had in his class with a tool I had never heard of before, called Yellowdig, and as my current job suggests, I enjoyed my experience and was able to get to know my classmates and share my thoughts in a way that wasn’t possible in our short in-person class discussions.

The way we completed assignments was influenced as well. Throughout my college experience, it was commonplace for me to work on group projects in tools like Google Slides, but the pandemic made group projects an entirely different challenge. We learned to coordinate meetings via Zoom and check in via text, but ultimately it was a lesson in what it’s like to work remotely. Luckily my co-workers are 1,000 times more reliable than second-semester senior-year students. In another class, I was tasked with creating a PowerPoint with recorded audio, which I thought was a fun way to replace presentations. The only other drastic technology change was exams being taken online. Unstable Wi-Fi made this experience extremely stressful, and the lack of trust in students was very apparent with the amazing lengths they went through to monitor us during the exams (though it did result in a funny interaction where the administrator from the monitoring company forgot to mute himself before starting to sing along to his music).

As with many students who were in college when the pandemic struck, COVID essentially ended my college experience abruptly and unexpectedly early. My university did its best to adapt, but this unexpected change left me missing out on things like an in-person sales competition and shadowing opportunities. Things that typically worked in the classroom, like a three-hour lecture once a week, suddenly became much more difficult to stay engaged during once transitioning to Zoom.

The social experience of college also abruptly ended. I was living off campus with roommates, but nobody was comfortable with staying at our apartment due to the uncertainty of the pandemic at that point. Being kicked off campus so quickly meant that goodbyes to friends who live in different home states never got to happen. The typical senior year end-of-the-year events that the college and our majors typically host never happened. Sure, a few clubs continued to host their meetings via Zoom, and close college friends connected to have virtual Jackbox game nights and such, but those last few months of college were forever changed. I’m personally thankful to have had the pandemic only impact a few months of my college experience and am grateful to be able to work at Yellowdig, where we help students have a consistent way to connect with their peers while they constantly have their college experience transition between online and in person.

Q: What advice do you have to other recent graduates and early-career professionals thinking of starting a career in educational technology?

A: Don’t underestimate yourself. Ed tech can be a bit daunting, as it’s traditionally dominated by people with many years of experience across academia and comes with lots of jargon and nuances that you don’t realize exist as a college student. With that said, a recent graduate’s perspective in this space is really powerful and valuable to companies because you have deep insight into their end user.

Also, if you’re truly interested in starting a career in education technology and are still in school, be sure to take note of how your instructors are using technology within the classroom and what you find effective. Set aside time to talk with your professors during office hours or after class about why they designed the course the way they did, and maybe even see if they’ll connect you with the instructional designer. The more exposure you have to the behind the scenes of education, the better equipped you will be entering the ed-tech world.

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