Google.org and TalkingPoints team up to support teachers and students
Navigating the school system can be difficult. For parents whose first language is not English, it is even more difficult. Family engagement can help. Family engagement – defined as the involvement of a family in the education of its child – is a powerful and underused lever for student success. No one knows this better than Heejae Lim. The founder of Discussion points, Heejae leads the work of the non-profit tech association connecting multilingual families and teachers through accessible technology.
In 2018, TalkingPoints received $ 1.5 million in funding from Google.org and a full-time Google.org Fellows team. One of those fellows was Fiona Yeung, a UX designer. I had the pleasure of chatting with Heejae and Fiona to learn how they connect families and educators.
Shannon Farley: Heejae and Fiona, you are both children of immigrants. What experiences growing up connect you to the mission of TalkingPoints?
Heejae Lim: As a Korean immigrant, I grew up learning English as a second language and went to school with many immigrant friends. But there was an essential difference between my experience and theirs. My mother spoke English which gave her “the voice” and the ability to be involved in my education. She helped me with my homework and figured out what it meant when my school sent home an authorization slip that required her signature.
This was not the case with my immigrant friends whose parents did not speak English. These peers had difficulty in school. Some have given up. I realized that the difference in our trajectories was not due to gaps in intelligence, but because of my mother’s involvement in my learning. And I knew my experience was not unique. I saw a tremendous opportunity to facilitate this engagement for the millions of immigrant students and families who are left behind by our education system. And that’s how TalkingPoints was born.
Fiona Yeung: I’m a first generation Canadian with Asian parents, so I grew up speaking Chinese or “chinglish” – a mixture of Chinese and English – at home and English at school. Like countless families, we have experienced the linguistic divide which has made it difficult to navigate the school system. I feel a huge connection and a huge responsibility to TalkingPoints’ mission to help families overcome this divide, because their story is also mine.
Shannon: At TalkingPoints, you focus on an important aspect of educational opportunities: family engagement. Why did you choose this approach?
Heejae: Research clearly shows that family engagement can be twice as efficient to predict student success as the wealth level of a family. Family engagement can be transformative for students, but immigrant families face significant challenges in supporting their child’s learning. Barriers range from language gaps and multiple jobs, to being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar American school system. At TalkingPoints, we remove these barriers with accessible technology. Our goal is to unleash the potential of family engagement and, in so doing, the potential of students across the country.
Shannon: You’ve been successful so far. TalkingPoints has reached over 3 million teachers and families. Can you explain to us how you support them?
Heejae: Thanks Shannon! At TalkingPoints, we harness the power of technology to build relationships between educators and families in disadvantaged communities. Our multilingual engagement platform connects family members and teachers through messages translated back and forth, informed by human translation, and powered by artificial intelligence. It’s as easy as texting. Accessible technology is at the heart of our mission, so families only need access to SMS to get started.
Shannon: Tell me more about how you take advantage of AI!
Heejae: Our use of AI allows us to deliver the highest quality and contextually relevant translations. Additionally, we use AI to understand patterns of communication between families and teachers. These themes help us identify best practices for relationship building.
Shannon: Fiona, you joined the TalkingPoints team in a pretty unique way – as a Google.org Fellow. Thanks to this program for Google employees, you have volunteered six months at TalkingPoints. What did you work on?
Fiona: Working with TalkingPoints through the Google.org exchange has been an amazing experience. As a UX designer, I was able to help TalkingPoints visually rethink and reinvent its three applications. From evolving its communications application to offering product support, to designing new features for the web application, I have been delighted to provide key contributions to the TalkingPoints platform.
On a more personal note, it was very rewarding to use my design expertise to support a mission close to my heart. I feel fortunate to have been able to make a real impact on the families served by TalkingPoints.
Shannon: Heejae, what was it like hosting Google.org fellows?
Heejae: It was awesome. As the host organization, we have been fortunate to harness top talent within Google. The fellows brought a new perspective. They have helped us make significant progress towards our mission. And, by working with fellows, our TalkingPoints team has gained valuable experience and knowledge.
Fiona: Since the scholarship, I have stayed in touch with the TalkingPoints team by helping shape UX processes and onboarding the team’s first UX hire. I am so excited to see what they are going to accomplish.
Shannon: As of March 2020, education is radically different. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work at TalkingPoints?
Heejae: The pandemic has widened the learning gaps that already exist for underserved students. We saw a huge opportunity to support students and teachers while they were at home. So we have grown to facilitate 100 million conversations between over 3 million teachers and parents by the end of 2020. This impact really highlights the need for our work, and I am delighted to continue to accelerate our work. growth.
Shannon: What will be the impact of TalkingPoints and the features you’ve created together over the next school year and beyond?
Heejae: Looking to the future, our team is blessed with valuable information, innovations and new technologies forged over more than a year of distance learning. As we collectively fight against student learning loss due to the pandemic, family-school connections will be essential in helping students regain lost ground. I am delighted to lead this effort and continue to expand the work of TalkingPoints to reach more families across the country.
Fiona: Echoing what Heejae said, as the world continues to shift to distance and hybrid learning, tools like TalkingPoints will be more important than ever. I am so proud to have been a part of this work, and look forward to supporting the TalkingPoints team in the years to come.