Kemi Akinsanya-Rose brings more than 20 years of consulting, operations, strategy, marketing, and education technology experience to Cambium. Kemi provides expertise in these areas to help Cambium develop leadership capabilities, scale business opportunities, and accelerate overall performance. Kemi is instrumental in leading Cambium’s overall and business unit objectives in organizational and talent strategy, diversity efforts, program development, and financial operations to expand our nationwide impact on student achievement and teacher professional development.
Kemi earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University, her Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of Business, and a master’s degree in education leadership from the Broad Center at the Yale School of Management. Prior to joining Cambium, Kemi managed a global portfolio of client relationships across various industries where she provided bespoke strategic consulting services, served as the Chief Operating Officer & Chief Diversity Officer of EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning), and was the Chief Information Officer at the nation's largest school district, New York City Department of Education.
Welcome to Tech insiders where we speak with founders, operators, investors and thought leaders in the education technology industry and report on cutting edge news in this fast evolving field from around the globe. From AI to xr to K 12 to l&d, you'll find everything you need here on edtech insiders. And if you like the podcast, please give us a rating and a review so others can find it more easily. I'm here at ASU GSB with Kemi Akinsanya-Rose from Cambium Learning. She's a chief operating officer of cambium learning group, which has a number of divisions that does a whole lot in edtech. Welcome to the pod tell us a little bit about your experience of the conference and what Cambium's about No,Kemi Akinsanya-Rose:
thank you for that. So my experience of the conference? That's a great question. This is my first time at ASU GSv Summit. It's been amazing to reconnect with people I haven't seen in many, many years. So I feel like number one, there's a sense of community and like reunion Ville is what I would call and then, you know, there's a lot of great content that Deborah and her team have put together. So I've been able to like lean and go to different sessions and learn more about XY and Z. Clearly AI is the hot topic. But I've also gone to other subject matter expert classrooms, I call them classrooms because I feel like I'm in learning mode. And it's been great. And San Diego I would say I was laughing I was like Welcome to sunny San Diego has been a little cloudy. But today is the you know, I see the sun and it's been great to be in a in a location that's, you know, conducive to having lots of different indoor and outdoor conversation. So getting back to another question can be a lending group, we have five different divisions ranging from assessment to supplemental learning to professional learning in the homeschool division, our cambium assessment team is in over I think 40% of kids or students across the country are served by cambio assessment, which is amazing. We have Lexia learning, where we have a lot of different products around English and our core product around professional learning is called Letters, which is based on the science of reading, which has been great to see in action that we have lots of demand, their home school division is called time for learning. As a former homeschool parent, it's great to see that here in our portfolio. And then we also have explore learning, which is our STEM product and learning ADC, which is also another suite of amazing reading literacy kind of tools for teachers and students. Awesome. SoAlexander Sarlin:
with a portfolio like that with different, you know, homeschooling to assessment, to stem to reading, I would imagine that, you know, it makes a very complex matrix, whether you're at a conference like this, because probably almost everything almost anybody is doing has some relationship to what cambium is about. I'm curious how you navigate that when you're, you know, you know, a lot of people here, of course, but if you're sitting in a session, how do you, you know, make sense of some new idea and connect it to, you know, this whole web of the cambium ecosystem? Well, it'sKemi Akinsanya-Rose:
not easy, number one. Number two, what I love about cambium is that our purpose, sole purpose is to really make sure that teachers and students feel seen, valued and supported. And so when you think about the collective aspects of our portfolio, we have a lot to offer a lot of different people so we can, because of our size and our diversity of offerings, you know, that has been a big surprise to me, it just been a welcoming surprise to me in terms of our reach and where we could go. So when I come to a conference like this is in your, as you mentioned, matrix that my brain is always running in terms of like, oh, that's a really cool kind of concept, or that's a great company. And so, you know, we're always on the lookout in terms of how to partner with other organizations, because we just feel like we're part of a tech ecosystem. You know, of course, we feel our products are the best. But you know, we are very much about collaboration and looking above and beyond just, you know, our own company to make the EdTech space work for all people, whether it's a teacher, a student, a community, a parent, etc. So we look forward to that. Yeah,Alexander Sarlin:
lots of different stakeholders and people in the inside. So it goes without saying that artificial intelligence and generative aI have just been a theme of this conference, as has, you know, skills based hiring, skills based learning, you know, a few different things just come up again, and again, when you think about artificial intelligence at this moment in education history, how do you square it with all the different types of learning that you do at cambium?Kemi Akinsanya-Rose:
We were just talking about this over lunch. And so I think my observation, in general is that people are talking about AI and some people are talking about it and thinking about it, in terms of how to apply it in action. As a Chief Operating Officer, my mind always goes from theory to a product solution to implementation. So my hope in terms of the AI wave is that people that are thinking about this technology are really thinking about how it actually can operate and be infused into our products, in terms infused into the way we learn with kids. But there's a lot of implications. And what I'm worried about, I'll start with what I'm worried about. What I'm worried about is people not understanding how AI could work on the ground in the hands of students and teachers, and making assumptions about what could happen and being really leading from a deficit mindset or a fearful mindset, where they're shutting down everything, my experience of AI is, has a lot of opportunity. But you got to match the opportunity with what the customer needs are customer meeting students, teachers, parents, and I see it as an accelerator and an enabler. Done Right? If it's not done, right, and you don't know what, how it's going to be used. And you also just have this binary, either go all in or shut it all the way down. I think that's where we're going to get in trouble. So my hope is anybody that's talking about AI really sits with customers, on the other side to understand their experience of when they actually think about how to implement AI on the ground, that is actually doing more good for the world and not doing more damage.Alexander Sarlin:
Yeah, I really liked that sort of the human centered design user centered design, like let's not sit in our respective I would say offices, but we're, you know, our homes, yeah, our ivory tower and say, oh, yeah, we can use AI for this, this this without actually going to schools going into homes and saying, Well, what do you really need? What can we make better? You know, we use the metaphor on the podcasts a lot about AI being the new electricity, I think that came from from Andrew Yang. And it's a really useful metaphor, because it's like, like electricity. It can sort of be used a almost anywhere, you could electrify a toothbrush, you can electrify you know, light bulb, you can electrify a car, I think about how you know, at this moment, we've suddenly discovered this new form of electricity. And we were trying to figure out where to put it? And can you put it in the hands of students in a safe way? Have you put it in the hands of teachers in a way that they'll actually use and appreciate or will not doesn't make their life even harder? I'm curious, you know, as a chief operating officer, you mentioned you think about implementation, and how you know, if you think of a long process that has no electricity in it, let's say an old fashioned manufacturing artists artisanal process, and suddenly have electricity, and it can go in it go into the lights, so people work longer can go in a sewing machine, it can go in, you can train kids to use it make batteries, like it's overwhelming. So how do you think the C suite at cambium over this next year is going to, you know, untangle all the different opportunities and find the ones that are really valuable?Kemi Akinsanya-Rose:
I love that question, Alex. And I would start with two things. To me when I think about how we want to think about using it. Well, first of all, one thing, I feel like we are in an exploration phase, so I'm hoping over the next year, we are great explorers, and exploring not only within cambium learning group, but also across the EdTech. And actually not even just edtech, across whomever wants to talk about this in terms of how do we use AI for the benefit of humanity. So a year from now, and during this year, it's all about exploration. Number one, number two, I feel like when we think about what we want to do with AI, once we as we were exploring, you know, we've set up what internally, we are in the process of setting up a lot of different what we call collaboration meetups, which is all of our divisions, we have different divisions, but we also have commonalities across common opportunities and common challenges. And so you know, you know, we love to bring people together to think about what if, what are the possibilities? So we're going to be doing a lot of that. And so and and the second thing I would say is there's an internal and external aspect. So as a CEO, I think about how can we use AI in terms of how to make our operational processes more efficient or optimized? And so, you know, thinking about how do we embed AI in terms of how do we service our customers, our customer success teams are looking really into how to use AI in terms of the day to day things that they do in terms of ask answering questions from customers, getting them support that they need. And just in time support is really important. So that's so internal is one thing. And then external, is around our product development. And so we have teams that are living, thinking, breathing, all what you can think of around AI, this is where I was talking about the accelerator. So as we're thinking about developing new products, when we're thinking about developing new questions, you know, of course, we want our psychometricians behind our assessment practices to make sure we're not developing questions in a in the ivory tower. But we want to think about how do we embed AI into our product development cycles at the right time, but coupled again, with making sure we're checking the pulse when bringing the human intelligence into the fold, because artificial intelligence by its self, to me can be very dangerous. And the good thing is that our product development teams are very much very much engrossed in the customer kind of experience. And so that's you know, that that will continue. So how do we merge and converge the to ai n h i guess human intelligence is going to The our exploration question,Alexander Sarlin:
one question I have for you. And I hope this isn't too specific. But in this exploration phase, as you have your different divisions, thinking about things feels like cambium has an interesting opportunity. That time for learning division, the homeschooling division, I interviewed John ittelson, Greg, you know, a few weeks ago, could potentially be a place to, it's just a very different type of learning. It's less regulated environment, there's less PII concerns and things like that. And, you know, as regulations start coming down, and people start panicking or getting really excited about AI, I wonder if a homeschooling division could serve as sort of a laboratory for trying things out before, you know, putting them into schools where the stakes are, can be much higher, and you have many, much more opportunity for sort of explosion. I'm curious if that is something that that makes any sense or is it am I just, you know, barking up the wrong tree.Kemi Akinsanya-Rose:
I'm smiling over here, because as a former homeschool parent, and actually, as a former customer have time for learning before I started at cambium learning, Cheryl dodge the president of time for learning, I always joke about this, I would say that we in terms of privacy, we treat our homeschool division, just the same as everybody else. And so when I think about to answer your question about homeschool division, can we try out some certain things and maybe do some exploration and try some pilots or whatever else? I don't know, I actually don't think I would not think that way in terms of trying it just with the homeschool division. I think we need to figure out where is the best use case, across all of our divisions. And it might be homeschool division, I think from a regulatory perspective and privacy perspective, you know, we take that very seriously. And my prediction is that we will test out AI across multiple divisions, but based on where the biggest opportunity in need is. And it may or may not be in our whole homeschool division.Alexander Sarlin:
That makes a lot of sense. I had a feeling as I was asking that that something was not going to good not going to collect together. But I had to ask anyway, I was curious. So as you go around this amazing conference, we're here on the third day, what are the takeaways that you're going to bring back and a to your to cambium? And you know, you have these, this exploration phase and these collaborative teams working together? You know, what are some of the nuggets that you're going to bring back and say, this is something that you know, should be part of our conversation? Have you made sense of those yet? Or is that going to come in the next, you know, week or two of synthesis?Kemi Akinsanya-Rose:
We brought a whole team here, and we just did a debrief over at lunch where we did a little go around in terms of that exact question. And I think in terms of our key takeaways, it ranges from, number one, understanding whoever we met at this conference that we want to collaborate with, that's outside of the cambium learning group, but inside the EdTech family in service of student outcomes and achievement and teacher, I would say, bringing the joy of teaching back to the classroom. So when I think about, you know where my head is at, it's really about both my parents were teachers, so and I saw them struggle, to be honest, in terms of teaching, I think it's a hard one of the hardest professions ever. And I have had first hand experience with that. So my hope is that the key takeaway is how do we bring more tools and technology and put the into the hands of teachers to make their lives easier, and give them space, I call it get rid of some of the administrivia the things that we can automate, that we can help them do faster. So then they can actually go and spend time in terms of and remind themselves why they fell in love with teaching in the first place. That is, to me a key takeaway. And there's some really cool stuff I've seen here that are possibilities, and our team needs to be debrief. So I'm really excited for all of our product development teams to get into that. That's one thing. I think the second and last thing that I'm taking away from this conference is around. And this is more of a macro thing. How do we bring the student and parent value proposition that to center stage. And what I mean by that is, when I came to this conference, what I noticed is that Deborah and her team have done a really excellent job of converging and merging K 12 and higher ed, and hopefully, we're not going to see it as two separate things. Because parents, you know, when you think about college, you know, if we're not preparing our kids for college becomes problematic, not only in terms of their success rate, but if kids are not even interested in going to college. That's why I'm going back to the value proposition. We just have this conversation, how do we bring back the value proposition of just learning and education, and making sure kids are like, wanting to come to school. And so my hope is that we will continue to do what we're doing with which is creating engaging edtech tools, so kids look forward to coming to school, and don't either drop out or decide not to go to college or continue learning I actually just want to call it learning not just college because you know, people have multiple pathways. But what we're seeing in my mind is teachers, I think I saw a stat that was scary. Over 50% of teachers are thinking of leaving the workforce up in the next two years and I'm like, Oh my gosh, what would happen if that's the case? You know, where are So it's really a, it's a crisis in a sense. And so my hope is, again, how do we make sure those teachers do not make that decision. And we are not the only one, we are not the silver bullet, we are not the only one that can manage and do something about that. That's where we have to link arms, with every single person, I would say in this conference to think about, you know, how do we not have that happen? And so that's what's on my mind when I leave San Diego.Alexander Sarlin:
I love that it's such an interesting combination of you know, we're in something of a crisis with the teaching profession. There's we know there's anxiety and depression and loneliness among students. How do we bring the joy back to both sides? I think that's what I'm hearing you say and, and how can we use technology? How can we use AI? How can we use human? How can we use our community to make teaching a more joyful profession and people don't want to leave in two years, and learning a more joyful profession and not feel like students are just, you know, going through the motions or you know, everything like that. So that is a really exciting and inspiring vision. I you know, I don't think we talk about joy enough in the education world teachers think about it, certainly, but I don't talk about it quite enough. So I really I really liked that. Thanks so much for being here with me. Chemi, Arkansas rose, COO of cambium learning group. It's really been a pleasure and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. So much, Alex. Thanks for listening to this episode of edtech insiders. If you liked the podcast, remember to rate it and share it with others in the EdTech community. For those who want even more and Tech Insider, subscribe to the free ed tech insiders newsletter on substack.