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“Why you should make it memorable!” With Dr. William Seeds & Jose Ferreira

I’m pretty sure I’m going to look back on my career one day and think the time we’re living through right now was the most memorable. It’s one of the most important, and challenging, the world has faced in the last hundred years. If this pandemic had happened even 10 years ago, learning would have […]

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I’m pretty sure I’m going to look back on my career one day and think the time we’re living through right now was the most memorable. It’s one of the most important, and challenging, the world has faced in the last hundred years. If this pandemic had happened even 10 years ago, learning would have come to a complete halt. But today, we have technology that at least has the potential to create a better outcome.


As a part of my series about How To Develop Serenity During Anxious Times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jose Ferreira, Co-Founder & CEO of Bakpax.

Jose Ferreira started as a tutor and ended up ‘jailbreaking the GRE’ earning the endearing term ‘the antichrist’ amongst from the Educational Testing Service for figuring out a strategy while at Kaplan for how to ace a section of the test. From there he went on to found adaptive learning edtech giant, Knewton, which extensively used student teachers in classrooms at colleges like Arizona State University to reinforce and right-size math content to align with individualized needs along with student teachers and tutors for SAT, LSAT and GRE testing. Recognized as a World Economic Forum (Davos) Tech Pioneer in the education space. Now, Jose is the Co-Founder and CEO of Bakpax which is a new online tool that uses artificial intelligence to grade hand-written homework and assignments in seconds, reducing the hours that teachers spend grading so they can focus on their students. For more on the app, watch this 1 minute demo video here.


Please share your backstory and what brought you to your specific career path.

Istarted teaching for Kaplan Test Prep back in 1991. I’ve always loved learning, and education has been my passion ever since. I believe strongly that education is one of our most important challenges as a society — and a cure to most societal ills.

When I founded Knewton, it was with the vision that every student could receive a truly personalized curriculum best suited to his or her needs. The Bakpax vision is even broader — Bakpax was founded with the belief that teachers, along with students and their parents, will benefit from the deeper insights that come from being able to capture the billions of data points that come from a student’s interaction with their day-to-day work. Regardless of whether they do that with a pencil and paper, or a completely online experience, Bakpax allows teachers to gauge student performance in seconds, and it gives students instant feedback, helping engage them more. By enabling that level of insight, we can empower education like never before.

Please share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to look back on my career one day and think the time we’re living through right now was the most memorable. It’s one of the most important, and challenging, the world has faced in the last hundred years. If this pandemic had happened even 10 years ago, learning would have come to a complete halt. But today, we have technology that at least has the potential to create a better outcome.

With the reliable video conferencing apps available today for our smartphones, teachers can run fully online classes and lectures. Teachers are also using phones to check in with individual students via call or text. The tricky thing has been how to manage assignments. Teachers post assignments online, but then the student has to complete it, return it to the teacher, and the teacher has to grade it. So, in some ways, it’s turning out to be a perfect time for our company, Bakpax, to launch our service. We use AI to read handwriting and “auto-grade” assignments. Students can complete assignments on paper or on their phones. Teachers don’t have to grade — we do it for them. Students and teachers both get instant feedback. We also give teachers lots of free content, so they don’t have to waste time making it or hunting for it online. And the service is totally free. So Bakpax is proving to be quite useful and popular right now, which is gratifying. It’s nice that we’re able to contribute something positive to help teachers in this very difficult time.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

This moment is also a turning point for business and work culture. Well before COVID-19, we created Bakpax as an entirely remote organization with the belief that building a strong culture was possible no matter where we were all located.

There are so many ways to cultivate community, even remotely. Our team has Coffee Chats, which are 15–30 minutes of optional nonwork chat over video call. It’s like a virtual water-cooler. We have off-topic Slack channels to talk about common interests, such as creative writing and gaming. We also do virtual coworking, where team members can choose to be in a video call and work quietly together. When working from home, this feeling of being in an office with others not only helps us feel more connected, but it also builds the interpersonal relationships between coworkers that otherwise may not work together on certain projects.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Maybe it’s because we’re all thinking a lot about RNA and DNA right now, but one that stands out is Richard Dawkins’s classic, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins paints a portrait of genes as tiny structural elements that govern success or failure. They are invisible to the unaided eye, but have a massive influence on the macro world. There are so many parallels to business, especially to start-ups. Plus, it was in that book that Dawkins coined the term “meme,” which was remarkably prescient of our current social media-dominated world.

The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Find a support system. Working on a remote team has shown me that you can still feel deeply connected and supported despite distance. We ask each other for help, and offer our support to each other daily.
  2. Make time for those closest to you, whether that’s intentional time spent with those in your household, or video calls with those you can’t be with right now.
  3. Use this self isolation to take up an old or new hobby. Our Bakpax team members are supporting each other by participating in writing challenges together, learning new instruments, and sharing photos of their adventures in bread-baking.
  4. Practice self-awareness. Tune in to yourself and consider your needs. For example, while working from home, take breaks when you need to, try to get some fresh air if you are able to, and practice self-care in order to avoid burnout.
  5. Create structure in your day-to-day. Make and keep small promises to yourself to get up at a consistent time, get dressed every day, and eat meals at regular times. For those who are struggling to become accustomed to working from home, I would say that creating structure will help you navigate these challenging times.

From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious?

During this time, what we need for ourselves is likely what others need as well. The five ideas I mentioned previously are ones I’d suggest to anyone, but I’ll also add that it’s important to be empathetic right now. This is affecting everyone’s personal lives. Your coworkers have kids at home, concerns about their relatives and the economy, and lack of supply at grocery stores, just to name a few struggles. Supporting others starts with empathy, and it continues with checking in and asking how they are feeling. It’s the first question I ask in every meeting, whether internal or external: “How are you and your loved ones? All okay? Anything I could do to help?” Business doesn’t really matter until you know the answers to those questions.

Please share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

The ancient Greek scientist Archimedes famously said, “Give me a lever, and a place to stand, and I will move the world.” Learning is that lever. Whatever issues you care about, you actually care about education. You can prove this to yourself quite easily. Take any major societal problem that you care about, and then take a look at the available data on incidents of that problem in a given country. You can find this kind of data published online by institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, universities and non-governmental organizations. As you examine the statistics, you’ll notice that as you break down a country’s population based on their highest individual levels of educational attainment — primary, secondary, some college, college graduate, university, etc. — societal problems decline as education levels rise. As you increase education access and quality, previously intractable problems just begin to disappear on their own. Education is the ultimate investment, whether for an individual or an entire country. I’ve devoted my whole career to trying to improve it.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We’re working on the vision behind our movement every day. Education is one of the biggest challenges — and opportunities — our world faces. We believe that tools like Bakpax are enormously helpful to teachers and students. We save teachers’ time. We make their lives easier. We give students instant feedback. We create persistent learning profiles from all of a student’s daily right/wrong data, most of it trapped on paper homework assignments that have always just been discarded. And Bakpax doesn’t require students to have access to technology — they can just as easily use a pencil and paper as they can a fully online experience. That means that we’ll be able to generate developmental insights that will help teachers plan for all students, not just the wealthier students. By ensuring equity in education we’ll be better able to address so many other challenges, from racial justice, to social justice, to poverty and beyond.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter @JoseFerreiraEDU and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/joseferreira

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