A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge. -Thomas Carlyle
A few words I use to describe O’Reilly School of Technology’s Executive Director, Scott Gray: Brilliant. Determined. Loyal. Visionary. Authentic.
Of course, I may be a bit biased, after all, I am married to the guy, but in my defense, we were just colleagues when I learned that he embodied these qualities. In the early 90’s I managed the Calculus&Mathematica Distance Education Program at the University of Illinois Math Department, while Scott was a PhD candidate at the Ohio State Math Department.
At that time, online learning was just beginning to take hold. The University of Illinois was a pioneer in that movement, having implemented Plato and NovaNet, and then creating Mosaic, the first graphical web browser. In the late 80’s, my professors Jerry Uhl and Horacio Port, along with Scott’s professor Bill Davis, created and implemented Calculus&Mathematica at the University of Illinois. It is still one of the most innovative computer-based educational programs ever devised.
I was floored by this revolutionary program, as was Scott. That’s when fate intervened. He walked into my U of I lab to do some research for a similar Distance Education Program he hoped to start at Ohio State. We bonded over a shared passion for the constructionist STEM-based learning methods that were made possible through the powerful Mathematica software, the innovative C&M lessons embedded within the notebook features, and the flipped classroom structure that took place within the lab at Altgeld Hall.
But even as C&M was gaining traction, I ran into problems translating that formula into an online Distance Education Program. There was considerable expense and confusion involved with configuring Mathematica for each student’s desktop, transferring notebook files back and forth in the grading process, as well as other obstacles that hindered student/instructor communication. I lamented that we were losing nearly half of our students before they ever really got started as a result of those initial hurdles alone.
Enter Scott Gray. He deduced that we needed a way to experience the entire constructionist methodology online with a seamless connection between the learning tool, the student, and the instructor; we needed a centralized technology, a Sandbox, delivered to the student through a web browser to foster “learning by making.” My mind was blown. Remember that the concepts of Web 2.0, Software as a Service, and the Cloud were still 10-15 years away at this point. Undeterred by our earlier obstacles, Scott proceeded to incorporate his ideas into the Web Workshop, which taught students simple HTML by allowing them to type into a web form and then display the results in a pop-up window. Scott’s free tutorial attracted thousands of enthusiastic students who contributed 25,000 web creations within a month; he had created the original MOOC.
But a MOOC is not a full-fledged educational system. Having struggled with ADHD throughout his life, Scott knew all too well that the way a subject is taught can mean the difference between a student experiencing the life changing spark of understanding or the heartbreaking disenfranchisement of being left behind. In STEM education, the practical application of theoretical concepts is a large component of the constructionist learning experience, but so are properly guided discovery, Socratic coaching, and formative assessment. With all of his in mind, Scott and I embarked on our life together building UserActive, the online education system that would eventually become the O’Reilly School of Technology. Crafting the student-centric experience became his mission, even as he built an innovative, viable business model to support that experience, and all within a world that was (and in many ways still is) decades behind in online education.
Scott has been loyal to this mission since its inception. Together with the passionate team he’s built over the years, he founded the O’Reilly School of Technology, as well as a visionary constructionist platform called Making Math that is poised to disrupt and revolutionize the educational market. He is the constant champion of a fully-integrated system for instructors, as well as cutting-edge Sandbox systems for students, specialized coaching for expert course authors, and a second-to-none Student Services team. He continually monitors, analyzes, and evaluates educational and market trends, while avoiding short-lived fads to ensure outcomes that are built to last. He’s persisted in pursuit of his vision despite all manner of resistance and he’s come out stronger on the other side, all for the love of student-centric constructionism.
Anyone who’s met Scott knows the depth of his commitment to education. He sincerely believes in the pedagogy we use at OST, and he wants to share that excitement with anyone willing to listen and learn. As he delivers his educational message and argues his supporting data as only a foresworn academic can, a few glaze over, stunned by the amount of energy he can generate when he talks about online learning. Still others may mistake his conviction and passion for fanaticism–they simply don’t get it and sadly, they probably never will. But just like in school, there are those students and teachers who do get it, whose minds are opened, and where new pathways to knowledge are forged. Those students are gob-smacked with that life-changing spark of understanding and become inspired, and they in turn, inspire us. Scott has connected with the OST team and our students in a profound way. We understand the message and the pedagogy and are committed to it because we know it works.
Of course, I’m somewhat partial. But after working as his partner and colleague for 18 years, I can tell you that his leadership has had a great and positive impact on those of us who know him best. Speaking strictly professionally, my admiration and respect for him have only grown over time, just as the school itself has grown. OST’s ever-increasing enrollment, and passionate faculty and staff, serve to validate Scott’s years of focus and commitment. OST continues to be a labor of occasionally tough, but always abiding love.