I’ve been the Product Strategist for Apperson’s academic assessment solutions for two years now. In that time, Apperson has gone through an incredible amount of change, much of which has been driven by this 60-year-old family company’s ongoing adaptation to technological change and its impact on the markets we serve.
While that kind of change is never easy, there have been some very positive developments as a result. Apperson has built from the ground up a market- and customer-oriented product strategy team, a cutting edge, digitally savvy marketing team, and a truly world class software development team. An early success of this new organization can be found in our game-changing Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) suite of products and services.
The academic assessment side of our business—which is my focus at Apperson—has proven to be a tougher challenge. Traditional academic assessment products, i.e., test scoring machines, answer sheets and reporting software, represent our largest business segment, as well as the segment most directly impacted by technological change and other complex and interrelated market forces.
In addition to being a challenging market, it can—to some—appear a bit mundane.
It’s easy for my colleagues who focus on it to get excited about SEL, a new educational technology offering that focuses on a cutting edge aspect of education. Mid-terms and final exams, on the other hand, might seem less sexy at first glance, even if you can take them on a laptop now.
That is until you meet the professionals who use these products.
I had the opportunity recently to visit an institution of higher learning and spend some time talking with a key end user of academic assessment products: a scan center manager. In many of our nation’s larger institutions, a staggering volume of testing takes place through traditional paper and pencil means, but the resulting scores, data and associated reports need to be generated and communicated digitally.
For example, this particular institution I was visiting goes through hundreds of thousands of bubble sheets a year as thousands of instructors give thousands of exams to tens of thousands of students.
These test takers are working toward degrees in 120 undergraduate majors and 125 graduate programs, many of which are nationally ranked. That, my friends, is a lot of data! For the scan center manager and his team, it’s also a lot of responsibility, and they take it very seriously.
The scan center manager knows he doesn’t have—at first glance—the sexiest job in higher education. He isn’t a dean or a department chair or a professor. No one calls him “Doctor”.
He and his team, however, are unsung heroes of the university. Without their efforts, the university could barely function in the way it does at its current size and scale. The service the scan center provides to instructors—who they treat as and actually call “customers”—serves higher education. These instructors use the wealth of information they receive not only to assess student learning, but to drive continuous improvement for their courses, programs and ultimately the institution as a whole.
One reason I’m passionate about the academic assessment side of our business is that my mission is to build for these professionals a set of tools that helps them do their work more easily, more efficiently and more effectively, which in turn provides a better service to their customers—the instructors—and ultimately the students they teach and the communities in which they live, work and raise their families after they graduate. It’s a worthy mission, because like the unsung heroes that use these products every day, it serves higher education.