Evolve Podcast
A podcast about heroes solving the world's greatest challenges.
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How Change In Education Technology Can Empower Children & Society

Featuring Guest -

Emily Musil Church

Headshot of podcast host.
hosted by: Brandon Stover
May 26, 2020

Dr. Emily Musil Church is strategist, thought leader, writer, public speaker, Fulbright Scholar, and former professor who is now taking education and learning to a whole new level as Executive Director at the groundbreaking XPRIZE which harnesses technology to address global challenges for social good. Connecting over 700 teams to radically transform access to education and learning worldwide, she led the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, funded by Elon Musk, to address the quarter-billion children that cannot read, write, or do basic math. The competition resulted in 5 teams developing open-source, scalable software that empowers children to teach themselves, returning $300 million worth of research, and positively affecting the lives of 3000 children in 170 villages across rural Tanzania.

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what you'll learn in this episode

  • How Emily got started with research in African studies & gender equality as a professor.
  • How Emily became the prize manager for the Global Learning XPRIZE.
  • Why Emily was drawn to nonprofits and working with XPRIZE.
  • What the Global Learning XPRIZE was.
  • What Innovations are coming from the Global Learning XPRIZE and where the teams are now.
  • What the social implications were of the Global Learning XPRIZE
  • How they decide whether a challenge is large enough for an XPRIZE and the behind the scenes breakdown of the process.
  • How XPRIZE is addressing COVID-19 and what it's effects on education will be
  • What the model of Higher Education should look like
  • What XPRIZE is currently working on in 2020
  • What Emily is doing to educate her children during this time

How we can push the world to Evolve?

It's easy to feel like we're falling backwards. It's easy to because of course there are bad things happening. We're not blind to that, but there is so much progress around us. And if we can try to lean into that and realize that the world that's around us is whatever we create. So rather than feeling something is happening to you, go out, learn, create, and build the better future that we want for all of us.

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Hey everyone, welcome to evolve. Today's guest is a strategist, thought leader, writer, public speaker, Fulbright scholar, and a former professor who is now taking education and learning to a whole new level as executive director at the groundbreaking X prize, which harnesses technology to address global challenges for social. Good. Since 1994 X prize has designed and operated 17 competitions. Jerry address grand challenges and awarded 140 million and price purses, including the popular 10 million on sorry prize. That spurred an entire industry of entrepreneurs to reach space connecting entrepreneurs, researchers, programmers and humanitarians to form over 700 teams to radically transform access to education and learning worldwide. This passionate advocate led the $15 million global learning expertise funded by Elon Musk to address the quarter billion children that still cannot read, write, or do basic math. The competition resulted in five teams developing open source scalable software that empowers children to teach themselves returning $300 million worth of research and positively affecting the lives of 3000 children in 170 villages across rural Tanzania.

Being a longtime advocate for the ethics of technology and human rights. She has conducted in depth research in over a dozen countries on three continents, hosts a broad portfolio of experience and political NGOs and in entertainment sectors and served on the senior advisory group for blended finance and the advisory board of the center for technology and workforce solutions, sharing her wisdom of impactful strategies. She has spoken at Google, the Mac million STEM summit and numerous entrepreneurial podcasts and it is published in prestigious outlets including scientific American, international policy digest, England, polar smart girls and Huffington post. I'm honored to welcome the executive director of education and learning X prize and a woman who started her social career and a stroller alongside her parents at an anti nuclear power rally. Dr. Emily Church.

Thank you so much Brandon. Thanks for that introduction. I don't think I've ever been introduced with a stroller.

Absolutely. Well before we get to the expert prize and the global learning competition, tell me a little bit about your research in African studies and gender equality and your time teaching as a professor.

So I really got interested as a, an undergraduate in issues of race and gender starting within the U S I think a lot of that had to do with growing up in Philadelphia in a politically active socially active family and neighborhood. So I was really interested in race relations, relations in general, and my studies led me to I'm trying to understand more broadly how we as a global society constructed ideas of race and gender and how that affected how people were treated around the world. So I studied particularly about the French colonial empire and did a, a project on the first black women in the United nations to help shape the ideas of Pan-Africanism and, and the universal declaration of human rights and how people from the colonies and the former colonies would be shaping what it meant to truly have universal rights.

So from there as a professor, I taught general African studies, African history, back to ancient Egypt, all the way up to contemporary Africa. I did gender studies, particularly in terms of representation in politics and media. I had the great fortune of being able to teach at liberal arts colleges, which meant I had a lot of freedom to create design courses that were built around both my and my students' interests. So as those evolved over time I could really work closely with students and particularly in small seminars, that sort of thing to, to hone in on what their interests were and really follow their passions and say, you know, that can be something that's of interest to you. Something like race relations as it was for me or lots of people could be environment, something else. And there's a whole world of study out there and there's so many stories yet to be told, research yet to be done. I think sometimes students think you, you just have to study something. Someone else did memorize what someone else did, but you're really unlocked when you, when you are curious and able to follow your own curiosity and passion. So yeah, that's, that was my my trajectory and my story before, before it came to X prize.

Yeah. I love that idea of following your curiosity. And you know, diving into the research that you're super passionate about what led this to you becoming the manager for an X prize?

Yeah. So it's funny, I, for some people they think it was a really strange jump. It was not your typical trajectory for someone who had gone through and gone through a PhD program, become a professor. And then I went for this innovation STEM based nonprofit. But actually in my mind it made a lot of sense because there's two main ways. One is with the work I had done with students about human rights, well it's really saying how do we exist in the world and try to make the world better? How do we as a human community try to push the boundaries of what is possible and constantly move towards the better and the more positive, which is what X prize does. So intellectually, it wasn't really that big of a shift. And I wanted to be able to do something hands on. I had been teaching and studying and I wanted to be involved in some of those projects. The other thing that I found that has really just been reinforced over these past years. I've been at X prize just about six.

Is that the tools that in story and uses. So and, and really most academics when you look at the social implications, the historical economic implications historically, those are pretty much the same tools that you use to FutureCast. So when you're looking into what do we need in the future, you're looking at economic trends and social and political trends. So actually in that way also the tools and the ways of thinking we're not such a as big a leap as it seemed when I first announced that I was leaving and going to X prize.

Yeah. I think that's a great way to use those same skill sets and put them towards, you know, the work at Xpress. Can you talk a little bit about what drew you to this work in the first place? You know, with your parents both being in nonprofits, you, how did your childhood maybe influence your path this way?

Certainly I would say my parents and their parents before them. I mean, I think we have a family tradition of saying it's really important to be engaged with the world around you. So that was also true for, for my grandparents who were cared about their local communities and the world around them. So that was something that my sister and I were always raised to say, whatever you're doing, go out and make sure that it's affecting other people's lives in a positive way. And that part of your responsibility is to be an engaged citizen. And certainly from my parents work in nonprofits, I got a lot of insight. By that time we had moved from Philadelphia to Maryland right outside of DC. So they both worked in Washington D C and, you know, really to see how politics worked. And then we met a lot of people that were doing international work.

So it went kind of more from national work that, that my parents had been doing in Philadelphia to, to international work. And certainly when, when I was in high school, we had a lot of people who were from all over the world. I had friends from Brazil and Nigeria and you know, all over really there. It was a very international public high school. So I think the work at X prize, to be honest, I didn't really know what it, what it was or what this would lead me to. I mean, I, I leaped into it. What I knew and what, what I cared about was that the vision behind it was to say let's try something radically new. And I was told, actually by my my then supervisor was, you know, look, there is a 90% chance that this is not gonna work.

So you got to know that you're going to be working for years on something that is probably going to fail. And part of it was, you know, in like my career in, in academia, there's this very clear path that you go on. You know, the sort of expected path and, and at least for me, I think I was really trying not to fail. And there was something exciting about the thought of going into something where you could fail and we don't know. It's not based on all this research that other people have done. You're not building upon that. Although I should say we can get into, there certainly is a lot of research that goes into what launched the idea. But I mean the prize itself, not knowing if children would be able to teach themselves and whether these, this technology would actually work.

We didn't, this is a field test. It hadn't been done at this scale. It hadn't been done with this population. And then also the vision was ultimately a human rights vision. It was based on the idea that as you said in your introduction, you know, hundreds of millions of children still in the 21st century can't read, write and do basic math. And that's just unacceptable, especially when we have these tools that we can fix this. So the thought of kind of trying to at least roll up my sleeves and try this crazy project was really, was really appealing. Well, we started to alluded to it a little bit, but go ahead and give us an overview for those that aren't familiar with the global learning. Sure. So we launched this competition in 2014. And it was, it was really a new project for X prize overall.

You know, you mentioned the Ansari X prize and we had a number of others, the Qualcomm tricorder X prize. We had by that point, we've now awarded 18, I think at this time we had awarded maybe around, you know, nine or 10 or something. They had all been hardware prizes. So this was our first competition that was software. It was our first foray into education and it was our first field test that was done outside of the U S and with the human population. So even within X prize, which is already very, you know experimental, entrepreneurial, innovative, there was all sorts of new things that we were trying to build here. So the, the idea was Ken software teach children who don't have access to schooling. So some of this was built upon other work that had been done with people had been given access to hardware or we knew there were some other software and areas, but there hadn't really been software developed for children who are out of school who just for some context, about 90% of these children who are on average age nine and 10, about 90% of them couldn't identify a single word in Swahili, the national language of Tanzania where we ran the test.

So it is a very low literate population with children who were by us standards. Normally you're doing early literacy, you know, at an earlier age. So nobody was designing for these kids. If you took software that was designed for four year olds, the content is not really as engaging for a 10 year old who's, who's learning literacy. Similarly, these were communities that didn't have access to internet obviously, and even electricity. So what we really wanted to do was go and test it with a population that would say, no matter what the circumstance, this would work. So that's what part of the reason we tested out of school. Of course the idea was always can this also work for children who do have schooling? And I'm a parent myself and we all know now most kids out around the world or out of school due to Cobra 19.

So this is an issue for all children, but we wanted to say, can this work even for a child who might be, you know, in a war torn area or in a refugee camp and not have a parent or a teacher with them. So that's really why we wanted to test in this community. One question I get a lot is about how we actually came to Tanzania. So I do want to make sure to, to touch upon. You know, we didn't just go and drop all this stuff somewhere. It was years. The thing, the invisible part, people don't see the years of work that the global learning team did to set up this competition. Talking to national government, regional leaders, district leaders, you know, elders in the community. You know, you talked about all these, you know, hundreds of villages. This was not a small project or something that just from above or just in one community.

This was all sorts of coordination, building trust and making sure we were in a community that wanted us. We were in conversations with lots of different countries. And we wanted to pick an area that had equal access to technology and learning for both boys and girls, a place for relative safety for the kids. A transition of power that would be a safe transition of power and also linguistic enough linguistic uniformity that there was a big community that spoke one language so that we weren't yeah. Creating our, asking our innovators to create in lots of different languages. So we asked them to create in Swahili and English. So this competition, the whole thing was about five and a half years. The field test itself was a year and a half. We had people from over 40 countries creating software. All of it was open source was also really big.

Part of this is that we said at the end of this, even if it fails, which we thought there would be a good chance it did, it's still a miracle to me that we said, but at the very least there's going to be five really good versions of learning software in Swahili that is open to the world. So we have that, that's in Swahili and English, all five of our finalists. We're required to open source. And then we also made all of our data available. So the idea was that the end of this, we want this to be a project the world can build upon. So once we got the results of this worked and worked better than we ever thought it could, it's not for X prize to go out and solve this. This is now okay world. We know that this is possible.

We know there's a market, we know there's a hunger and we know most importantly that this works for children and now go build. Yeah. Have you seen anybody take that open source content and start innovating on it or solving any problems beyond what you guys did in the competition? Absolutely. So first of all, all of our teams are their work. So not only so all of our finalist teams, but even semi-finalist teams and some teams that didn't make it to the semifinal round. There is a lot of work to be done and there's such need. So I am so proud and happy every time I see a new pilot or a new language for our five finalists and our two grand prize winners, 1 billion and kick kit school in particular, you know, we're in close contact with them and they are building all sorts of new team 1 billion has now built a a hardware device that goes with their software that's at a good price point that is, you know, chargeable with solar, all sorts of things.

Kitkat school is working in six or seven new languages now. And then for the open source, we've seen a number of communities who have built upon that. So I believe there's something about like eight that I'm aware of. Eight new languages that people are building from that open source. And then one in particular that was the first out of the gate macsoftware MIQ software they localized and made for free in the Google play store versions of 1 billion and KitKat school renamed them obviously. But they put Hindi and Urdu and English versions and then they, they have distributed them to tens of thousands of children in India and are expanding from there. So we actually just videoed this to see some of the kids getting these tablets. Right before everything went on lockdown. So we're going to release a series of videos in about a month to commemorate the one year we awarded in may of 2019. So this is one year later and we're saying where are they now? What are the teams doing? What has been localized, you're going to be able to see a lot of that. We have a series of six videos that are coming out shortly.

That's awesome. Truly exponential technology. Can you share some of the social implications that this technology had on the families that were using this?

Oh yeah, that's so, you know, I talked about us the team really spending so much time working with the communities. Part of that, you know, we, we had really strong operational partners, the government of Tanzania world food program, UNESCO data partners, RTI international. So this was truly collaborative. And while we were working with Tanzania and UNESCO in particular, one of the things they really expressed to us was it was very important to track the social emotional implications in these communities. So while the global learning X prize project was really measuring the learning gain, so reading, writing, and math, it was baseline. The kids, where are they before they get the software? And then at the end, how much have they learned in those three categories? That's what the judges were, were basing their results on. So but we really, so we, with UNESCO, the university of Doris alum in Tanzania developed a social emotional test because what they wanted to know was, what does this mean for the child's confidence?

For their aspirations. Do they have different careers? They want to, you know, is there, they have a different envision, a different future for themselves. We also interviewed the parents and adults in the community. Because there was concern what would happen if you bring this technology and would the children still be doing the tasks that were important for the community, you know, farming and housework and other things that, that were their responsibilities. And would their attitudes and behavior change. So we went through and, and interviewed both the children and the adults, so that wasn't part of the judging, just to be clear, but there was we have all of that data also available on our data repository. If you go to data dot X prize.org we have all the results from the global learning test in terms of the cognitive gains.

And we had that whole social emotional study up there so people can look at what happened. And, you know, we talked a little bit about the software and all the things that are, that are out there now, but there's also so much more research. We're working with Nottingham university. There's students who have contacted from Yale and other places who are continuing to do research and use this data. So, you know, I'm hoping this will just continue to, to give and to grow cause there's a lot of questions that were outside of our scope, you know, things like was, you know, some of the areas where fishing communities in somewhere up in the mountains. So was nutrition did that, did that affect, you know, learning gains and all these sort of questions of really, can we look at where the children who are marking higher levels in confidence was their reading going up at a higher level?

So there's all sorts of work that I think we'll continue to see in years to come. And it's partly why we wanted to make everything free and available for people.

Yeah. How do you guys decide whether a question or a challenge is large enough for an X prize? Oh, that is a great question.

That is something we really you know, is always a great discussion and we have a new X prize. But basically one of the main things is it does this affect the world. So everybody knows there are lots of issues and problems in the world. And we hope that we can help inspire and encourage people to create innovations in their community wherever they may be. But for an X prize, there's something that has to create change that's not, you know, a 10% difference, but something that the idea is it's going to be exponential change and it's something that will be a global issue. So something like learning and education, clean water housing you know, oil spill cleanups, you know, these sort of big issues that would have an industry that could grow out of it, solve a global global problem and create transformational change. You mentioned that the competition was five

Years long and a lot of the user, you know, in similar time ranges. And you mentioned there quite a bit of research going beforehand to set up the prize. How does the model sort of work and what is going on at each stage of this?

One of the ways that we generate new ideas? Well first of all, we love to get, we get people writing us all the time and we love ideas. Even things, you know, famously we say before something's a breakthrough. It's a crazy idea and we do get lots of calls coming in, but it's great. We love it. That's the world we play in. So we like to listen to ideas from people all over the world. We have a big event every year called visioneering where we bring together really a diversity of people who are, I mean, you've got governors of States sitting with a pop star sitting with you know entrepreneur all talking together and they're looking at a problem and everybody has their own way of kind of looking at it. So we really try to bring those ideas together and we have a theme for each visioneering each year that says, okay, we're going to do something in the world of you know, whatever it might be that year, this year we'll probably have something to do with pandemics and disaster response.

You know, last year we had things on, on environment and the circular economy. So we sort of had these themes and then people talk about it. We bring in experts in those areas. Cause we want to understand the landscape of what has already happened and what has know failed or not. But then we also don't want to be stopped there and say, how do we push beyond the edge of what's possible. So another thing we like to say is we look for things that are both audacious and yet achievable. So it is just pushing beyond every X prize. Here's a little, you know, behind the scenes, look, I have never seen an X prize in my six years there. There's been a lot going on that at some point experts weren't telling us there's no way this is going to work. And so even, I'll give you one example.

There was one, I can't remember, we must have been, it's either one or two years ago where we had our water X prize, which was pulling water out of thin air. It was the week before our test and we had a big staff meeting and the team, the water team was like, yeah, we don't know if this is going to happen. We were all like, so we don't know if there's going to be a winner. And you know, it was this, they had to create a certain amount of water. It had to be you know, at the same or lower price point as municipal. And it had to be carbon neutral or negative and, and within 24 hours. So people were just up for 24 hours watching to see if this would happen. And here's, so there's this excitement, but it's, you know, every time there is this edge of possible.

So we, we also wouldn't do an X prize if there wasn't at least some chance that it might not work because if we were sure somebody else would have done it already. And even one of the things we hear from our entrepreneurs, you know, we have some people who start, who haven't done anything and we love these stories. Somebody who's never been an entrepreneur, never been involved in this topic, whatever it may be, whatever the X prize is. And they are then inspired to say, you know what? I want to learn how to code too so that I can build the software. And then we have other people who are have spent a career already doing whatever the topic is. So we do our best to try to level the playing field in the way of like providing some resources, having people talk to, you know, getting pitch help on things, talking to experts, that sort of thing. But even people who have been in the field for years and years have said repeatedly, and this is X prize after X prize, we wouldn't have gone that extra step if we weren't pushed, you know? So it's still that idea of pushing to the possible is really key to our work.

Yeah. And I think somebody's actually asking the question and being open to the crazy idea because that's what eventually gets people thinking, well, you know what, maybe this is actually possible. Yep. I think one of the cool things that X prize also does is bring these diverse people together. So I remember listening to the one about the oil spill and in one of the people innovating on that was a tattoo artist. And so it's like these people come from all kinds of different walks of life, different ages. How do you guys really foster that mindset that, you know, if there, if you have a passion to work on this, you could create a possible solution.

Yeah. So that's you know, we really try to make that central to everything we say. It doesn't matter how old you are, what degree you have, what your background is, where you live, any of those things. If you have the best idea, you can win this competition. You know, the, the, the origin story for X prize really our founder Peter Diamandis talks about being inspired by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, which many people don't know, was also a four prize competition. And everybody thought, Oh, there's no way he's going to win this Ortega prize. You know, it's going to go to a world war one aviator. And, and Charles Lindbergh was a of a postal carrier, a flying mailman, you know from st Louis. And people called him the flying fool and said, there's no way. And obviously we know the story there that he ended up being the first one to cross the Atlantic.

So that idea of, you know, people may call you a flying fool. It doesn't matter who you are, you can have that best story. And one of the things, there's actually a project that I'm working on right now since the conclusion of, of, of, of the global learning X prize. We really that question of how do we make sure that we can get this idea to everyone. I'm inspired us to start a new initiative at X prize called X prize connect. And this whole idea was exactly the question you're asking. The idea behind X prize connect is how can we make sure, even if you're not an entrepreneur or a celebrity or a billionaire, you know who's, or somebody who attends visioneering, that anybody can get the idea and the ideas from X prize get inspiration and have an ability to interact with the work we do.

Because those of us who work at X prize, we get inspired by the people around us. You know, we are really a platform to bring people together. So we get to see these incredible people and get inspired by them. So we were saying, how can we make sure other people feel inspired? This was even before the world, you know, shut down due to COBIT 19. So I think it's even more important now that people need hope and inspiration that we can solve major problems. We know we're all more connected than ever before and we know that things can, you know, things like school that you think are always going to be there can suddenly not be there. So with X prize connect, which is actually launching next week on may May 14th so it is this, we are having three main categories of work.

We're having smaller competitions and challenges primarily for youth. We have free research, re resources, learning resources, and then immersive experiences. And we want to make sure, you know, part of this is to make sure we are reaching underserved and underrepresented communities in tech. We all know or I think people know that in, in tech it's still, there's really, we have a gender problem. We have a race and ethnicity problem. There's really a lot of underrepresented groups and it's so important that we have voices from all over to create the technology that's going to shape our future. So that's, you know, diversity both within the U S but globally. We really want to make sure that we're talking about, you know, if most young people live in developing and emerging economies. So we want to make sure that we are fostering the next, you know, Elon Musk, everybody from, you know, all sorts of great minds that are all over the world.

And so anything we can do to help inspire that next generation of global go getters and creative minds, that's what we want to be able to connect and reach. So that's why we call it X prize connect. And actually our first our first inaugural events. So when I say we're launching next week, you'll be able to see our website and what we're launching an event that's called code games. And it is a video game making challenge. And this is for kids ages 10 to 18, anywhere in the world. So, you know, part of this is to say, how do you envision a world, you know, in the world of gaming you can be, you can create anything. You can create a new planet, a new world, new characters. We are giving special grand prizes to people who can create in the categories that X prize works in, which is environment, equity and exploration.

So there are grand prizes for four prizes there. But really we want kids to be inspired to say we can be creators of technology, we can help envision the future. We hope they'll start with this and maybe compete in a, in a full X prize sometime. But this is getting them into that idea. We've got free resources saying, here's how you build a game. People don't have to be gamers. They don't have to have ever built anything. We even have written a opportunity for people to write and design a game who maybe don't have a computer at home or, or you know, internet access to those resources. We still want to be able to say, here's how you can build some, you can print out some stuff and go home and design something on paper. It's about unleashing the creativity, imagination of young people all over the world. So yeah, we want to reach everybody. It's a little grandiose, but we do,

No, I think that's a wonderful and loved the idea of basically sharing these resources, these idea, and then the inspirational people. I mean, that's exactly what I'm trying to do with the podcast. I get the joy of interviewing all these people, hearing the wonderful ideas, getting sparked up, just like you guys do in the office, hearing all these things. And I want it to be able to share that with everyone else. And so, you know, this being one channel in order to do that.

Yep, absolutely.

We talked a little bit about, you know, the convergence of technology and people and ideas and you know, bringing that together to fight different things such as now the covert 19 pandemic and you guys actually brought together something called the pandemic Alliance. So can you talk about how X prize is kind of utilizing this for that, but those resources for this?

Sure. Yeah. So the pandemic Alliance that was directly in response to coven. And so, you know, we talked about earlier, normally it takes a lot of years in research to start and design an X prize. But we want it to be really flexible and responsible. I mean, the world changed quite suddenly. We were living in a new environment and we wanted to say, what can we possibly do to help respond? So, you know, I mentioned with global learning X prize that we, that we put our data up on our data collaborative. So that's really, that was something that was new that started last year or this data platform was built over the year. And so the pandemic Alliance really brings together partners from all over who are doing work and saying, how can we work together collectively? So it's similar to what we do in envisioneering where we're bringing people together back when humans could actually interact face to face. But we're doing that with data sets right now. How can we learn from each other? How can people who know different things about you know, health and transportation work together and, and find common solutions to these. So that's should have that in front of me. I think it is. It's X stack or backslash fight, COBIT 19. But yeah, that's our, our pandemic Alliance. So,

Well how do you think, what do you think the longterm effects of copays will be on education?

Oh, I mean, if we weren't already having our revolution, I think in, in education, this is just accelerating that, I mean, nobody knows what happened of course, but there's a few key things that we're seeing. First of all, there's the question of are we ready for remote learning and how do we do that where we know we now know that this is something that anybody could have to deal with. I'll say with global learning, we were trying to say it years ago because millions of parents all over the world have this question where their kids can't go to school and now you have parents in other communities and particularly enrich countries for the first time. We're like, Oh wait, my kids can't go to school either. I mean this is why we did the project because we know millions of parents need that.

This is a reality. Parents need to have the ability when there's no school to have adaptive good software. So I mean I won't go down a whole rabbit hole of conversations I've had with other parents about what apps do and don't work and what their kids like and don't like that the schools are providing. But you know, there are lots of different learning apps. But we've really just started to see the transformation of what tech can do. Now I want to reiterate here, cause I know there's going to be people listening who are saying, yeah, but my kids don't like being on zoom all day or they don't like a lot of the tech. So you know, I just want to go address that right away because I agree. Again, I also have kids, I have, my daughter is now refusing zoom meetings.

So I hear you on that. The idea is not to replace teachers. The idea is how can we really effectively get learning for children no matter what. And no matter where they are. And what we found with software is that you can do things in a much shorter amount of time, particularly when the learning is tailored to that one child, whether you have special needs, you know, whatever it is, people learn differently. And we do have the technology to be able to use particularly with machine learning, AI to adapt to anyone's learning style. And then you get more effective learning so you can get something done in, you know, an hour or two that, so you're not sitting there doing endless exercises that you may not need or you can spend more time on the thing that you're really stuck on and then go and interact with other people.

Go do projects. You know, it could be creative, write poetry, do music. I mean, this is not about just, you know, like machine efficiency. Like we're going to get everything in and that way it is saying, do the things you need to do in an effective way. Let's make sure everybody's getting what they need. And then let's live fully. And that includes hopefully someday, you know, interacting with other humans. Everybody does well when they have an adult, every child as well, and there's an adult who cares about them. That is really important to have that. So let the adults in their life be it teachers or whomever, be able to actually focus on the needs of that child and not be necessarily sitting you know, doing this one exercise over and over. That doesn't have to be done that way. They can get to know the whole child.

We can work on mindfulness and empathy and creativity and all of these other things that are so essential to, you know, human wellness and wellbeing. So yeah, I think that's certainly one thing is making sure we have the right apps and people see it's more critical than ever. I think we are accelerating the ability to deliver this sort of learning. I think we are really facing questions that have been asked maybe a little bit on the margins, but you know, why is this one thing so expensive or what really is the benefit of getting this school versus that school at all levels from the preschool to higher education? What does it really mean to learn? What really is the value? Now, you know, I, I mentioned earlier you asked about my, my career before X prize. I believe strongly in education, in higher education, in liberal arts.

You know, even though I also am a passionate advocate for technology that comes along with understanding the broader world and understanding people, you can't just create, you know, technology is used by and made for people primarily, not exclusively. Obviously there's, there's other sort of tech, but the idea is to have tech that interacts with us as human beings with the natural world around us, with the environment, with animals. If you don't understand the cultural nuances of a community you're in or if you don't understand the broader environment, if you're doing ocean cleanup but you're not thinking about what's happening to the animals or climate, I mean all of these things. You know, I don't think that means we just delete these really important parts of learning that are community based, that are holistic, that has humanities in it. You know, I don't believe in, in tech that is separated from, from that much broader learning. If you had a magic wand, what would be an ideal model of higher education for you?

You know, I think it's really important to have a community where you are meeting people have different ideas than you do. One of my, one of my concerns, you know, cause I, I love the ability to have courses and learn from people anywhere in the world and that you shouldn't just have, you know, the one or two professors in your department that are studying the thing you want to study. I love that anyone in the world can hear from anyone. The thing that you, one of the things that you miss online is, is this, that sort of intangible when you're walking out of the classroom with a classmate who is from a different part of the world or different part of the country has a different background, has a different perspective. You know, even think about my own favorite memories as a student and it was really processing what you were learning in class and talking to someone and arguing often and really pushing your ideas.

There's also the community based things people are learning about themselves and their identity. I think being able to have a space, a safe space where it is focused on you as a young person traditionally, although obviously people can go to college at any age. I still think that model of having the space to be and create and become a young person without all the consequences necessarily. You know, like there's, there's something about dorm life, you know, where you, you're maybe not paying that electric bill, but you are having these sort of conversations. Now that said, I think the other part of it is we can't isolate students. We know young people have incredible ideas. We talked about this already. This is part of the central part of X prize connect is unlocking the potential. We believe that young people can dramatically change the world so they shouldn't just be regurgitating and listening to a Sage on the stage and work experience is important.

So I think the more that people can have some of that community experience be a young person, be out there kind of as you're leaving your your family or your community that you grew up in and your experience in new community, that's really important. But if you can also have work experience, project based learning, go out and get internships, take a year off or in between or during the time while you're teaching. I mean, I think that really kind of blended model of maybe you are out making money or you know, getting experienced, sharing your ideas. Lots of young people are starting companies, you know? Yeah. Start a company. There's lots of things that you can do in college. I think the idea of what it means to be a college student needs to shift and is shifting. I just don't, you know, and maybe it's just having been in higher ed for so long I just don't think we just throw people at 18 years old automatically. Except for the few who want to, but you know, to, to get rid of this model where you can have a place where you're learning and experiencing outside of what you grew up with is really important.

Yeah. I think one of the things the X prize does really well is connecting the innate human nature to want to have him do something mean and like solve a complex problem. How do you think education could better prepare students with the skills and knowledge to kind of align their passions with a big problem in the world?

Well, I mean, I, I have a dream of having X prize competitions the way you have, you know, football games and football rivalries that you have deans of college students and it's like UCLA versus USC or whatever. I'm solving a problem. So, I mean, of course I'd love them all to compete next prizes. We've had college students and by the way, junior high school and high school students. So let's not forget about them. Competing in X prizes. You know, we have some youth competitions, but we also have had, you know, 13 year olds as part of prize winning X prizes who are competing right alongside a, you know, 50 year old expert in something. So absolutely, I think the more someone is engaged with the real world around them, the more they're going to care about their studies. So don't stop reading books and learning and listening to people, but also build and create at the same time.

And you know, when you can, that's where the magic really happens. When you can connect your learning about the world and knowing that what you're doing has an actual impact out there. I mean, that is, that is, that's learning and that's what's going to keep people passionate and engaged. Yeah, absolutely. Or what are you guys working on now in the learning and gritty section of express? So we are finalizing a design for workforce development. So, you know, we had an adult literacy X prize that launched right after global learning that was for low literate Americans. And you know, really growing out of global learning and adult literacy, which both closed those two competitions closed in 2019. We wanted to continue and say, what are the, what are the next steps? How should X prize support this community? And all the things we've learned in game based learning.

So that's where we had X prize connect grew out of that. So that's a really big project as I've mentioned. And then there's workforce development, which is, so once you have an adult literate, how do you quickly rescale them for new jobs. Now this, this prize design went through a lot of or has been going through a lot of revisions, much like you, you talked about our pandemic Alliance. We're all responding to how the world has changed so dramatically. I'm in the midst of this pandemic. So, you know, there are so many unemployed adults right now in numbers we haven't seen in, you know, two generations or more. So you know, that we did shift that. That's something that we will hopefully be launching soon. And we also have a gender lens initiative. So we are looking at really how data looks first to sort of your default data tends to be a male body.

You look at things like seatbelts or how we understand what symptoms for a heart attack are. And there's these real implications that what happens. You know, we sometimes think data is just numbers, but what happens when you leave out certain populations. So we have a health based gender data gap around healthcare that is also in development. And then working on a bunch of lesson plans and curriculum to go along with all X, X prizes we've had in the past as well as the ones that are, that are happening now. So we want to have that alongside videos that people can see, you know, watch a show, having something engaging. See actually watch the entrepreneurs doing what they do and then having something you can do and engage in. So those are the things that are, that are coming up this year.

We're still hard at work from our homes. Yeah. And we have a also future of learning labs. So part of this in in the fall we are doing our theme is around gaming. And again, this is growing out of the competitions we've had before. So how can gaming really give the young people the skills that they need for the kind of, and also have an opportunity for creative you know, engagement. And I think a lot of parents have some anxiety when their kids are playing games all day. You know, they see their teenager or you know, young, young, a young adult playing video games all day. And there's a lot of misconception about games and the, the things that you can accomplish, achieve and learn with games. We want to highlight some of that. Talk about and also learn from people. So we're going to have this lab, there'll be some talks and tech demos that come out of that that we'll be able to share that talk about the future of learning and hopefully we'll have some crazy ideas that come out of that that can become the next big expertize.

Absolutely. Well, I'd be remiss not to ask, you had mentioned you had a couple daughters and so I'm curious what you're doing to supplement their education and development.

Yes. So actually I have a daughter and a son. And my well it's funny, my, so my son who is four years old you know, has not really been engaged with he doesn't use a lot of screens. You know, he's, he's little. And so I was trying to find some software that would work. He wasn't liking it. There's something that has preschool provided. He was like, ah. And I found in my drawer at home, I didn't even know I had it. Global learning tablet. That was one of the ones back from when we first got them, when the judges before we even went to Tanzania. So I dusted this thing off, charged it up, and my son loved it and I was like, Oh my goodness, thank goodness I'm making this up. This is a true story. I actually took footage of it and sent it to the team and my daughter, who had, she had been about his age when we first got that software, she was like, I remember this, this is the best game.

And she was sitting with him, so they were actually playing the global learning tablets. So, you know, again, when I said this is for all parents, you know, we were testing in Tanzania, but the vision was something that is engaging and fun for kids everywhere. So you know, certainly there's that. And then you know, there are some great apps that are out there, but I also have been trying to encourage them to build. So to be honest, we're also going out into nature. We're trying to identify, you know, plants and flowers and we have you know, building tools. So I'm saying, okay, who can create you know, we had them build a little ships out of cardboard. We had them create rockets out of these little building tools. So, you know, we're trying to get them to, to just have fun with what they're doing.

And obviously there's some basics depending on, you know, for the four and seven year old, there's different things they need to be learning at this time. And some of that's apps and some of that is in person and engaging with the world. So frankly it's the same thing. You know, what I'm doing with my children is what I hope for all children anywhere in the world and for young adults as well, that you are learning the basics and the skills you're going to need to be able to thrive and to get a job, which you were also unlocking your own and passion and engaging with the world around you.

Right. Yeah. Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find out about you and the X prize?

So we are@xprize.org and connect, which will launch May 14th. Is that connect dot X prize.org the pandemic Alliance is now. Yeah. And that one I should also have right there. But if you Google a pandemic Alliance X prize, it's there and I believe it's X prize set or backslash fight, COBIT 19. We are on, we have a YouTube channel. We've got you know, Instagram Twitter. So we have a newsletter, we would love people to sign up. We you can talk about which sort of areas you're most interested in. For those of you who love the environment or equity exploration. We've got online communities at community that X prize, that org where we invite anyone can come on there and you know, give us your ideas. We ask for feedback on things. So like some of the designs I told you about that we're working on and gender data gap for healthcare and workforce development.

Housing. We have these communities you can get on there and talk to experts, you can ask questions. So there's really a lot of ways to engage and I hope particularly for those of you who are 10 to 18 or you know, 10 to 18 year olds, anywhere in the world code games is available starting next week. Again, free resources build games. We're so excited to see what young people are going to create. We have no idea. I mean really you can create anything and that's going to run through October and awards will be at the end of 2020. So please encourage people to build games and share their, their vision and learn new skills all at the same time and maybe win some cash during May 14th.

Awesome. Well, but be sure to put all those in the show notes for everyone to find. My last question is how can we push the world to evolve?

Well, I think it's really the things we've been talking about this this whole time. It's, it's, you know, it's not as complicated I think as, as we sometimes feel like it's such a daunting challenge to say, you know, how do you go out there and change the world? But really if you talk to people, listen to people, build and engage with the world around you, I think that's how we're evolving. We already are. I mean for all of the bad news, and I know I have been certainly reading plenty of it. There's also the stories of people who are building and finding new ways. Particular in the midst of this crisis, you see human creativity, you see human kindness, you see people building, creating, finding their ways. And particularly, you know, I'm going to put on my historian's hat, my historian hat from, from my past, when you look at how far we as human beings have come in the last, you know, hundred years, let alone before that we really have made progress.

It's easy to feel like we're falling backwards. It's easy to, you know, cause of course there are bad things happening. We're not blind to that, but there is so much progress around us. And if we can try to lean into that and realize that the world that's around us is whatever we create. So rather than feeling something is happening to you, go out, learn, create, and build the better future that we want for all of us. Yeah, absolutely. I think the world's going to change and it's up to us to decide whether we want to have an active role in that change or if we're just going to let things happen to us. Exactly. Well, thank you so much, Emily, for coming on today and sharing everything you have. It was a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on and hope to see some video games coming out of this and most importantly, people who are engaged and feeling like we do have a better future if we make it. So thank you for having me on today.