Quick Key to Teaching

A passionate educator teams with a smart entrepreneur to present a most practical tool. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Walter Duncan (r) and Isaac Van Wesep (l) of Design by EducatorsWalter Duncan needed data in real time for a paper-based classroom. A teacher, Walter (pictured, right) says, “I had the option of using data from the previous year’s state exams, which was relevant for students who were no longer with me. I also had data from benchmark exams, common exams that students take every four months, but that data was also too slow,” he explains. “I needed something to tell me how much of my daily, standards-based lessons my students mastered, so I could re-teach and adjust my lessons in real time.” Additionally, Walter liked to

I don’t have time to learn a bunch of new-fangled, magic-bullet technology that promises to solve all my problems. I just need something simple, elegant and functional.

do many outside-of-the-box activities that perhaps seem unorthodox at first glance. For example, bringing his students out into the snow to practice writing Haiku poems. “When I have data to back up these types of practices, it can put administrators who are under pressure to improve test scores at ease,” explains Walter, “as they can see my students are progressing towards mastery of the standards.” With data from short-cycle formative assessments to accompany his tightly-crafted lesson objectives, Walter says he never has to teach to a test, and “my classroom can never be forced to become a worksheet factory.” Walter spent the past fifteen years committing his life to teaching and closing the achievement gap. He has had the opportunity to teach and lead in a diverse set of environments across the country. Walter has teaching and administrative experience with youth from both privileged and underprivileged backgrounds. During his time at KIPP, a charter school management organization, he was able to build community and achieve results. His students showed dramatic improvement on the DC CAS and NWEA MAP exam. Even with the high demands of being a KIPP core content teacher, he still found time to establish theater and basketball programs. For the past two years, before leaving to work on Quick Key full time (more about this clever grading tool in this interview), Walter was an English teacher at South Shore Charter Public School, where his students scored in the top 15 percent on the MCAS ELA in 2012 — yet another validation of the teaching methods that underpinned the creation of Quick Key Mobile. Though his students and administrators were saddened to see him leave, they shared in the enthusiasm and joy that Quick Key attention brought to Walter and his classroom. It is this attitude and work ethic that he brings to his transition to entrepreneurship. Longtime friends Isaac D. Van Wesep (pictured, left) and Walter founded Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Design by Educators in 2012. They have applied their unique brand of creativity and tenacity to successfully launch Quick Key Mobile to a warm reception and a promising start. We asked Walter a few quick questions about Quick Key and how it came to be. In return, ever the passionate educator, Walter tells us about a little boost he got from teacher karma, some of his thoughts on education these days, and what he thinks lies at the heart of teaching.

Victor: This is a very cool tool and as you know, we’ve featured it recently. What’s something interesting about it’s development history? 

QK App best iconWalter: The most important first step was connecting with my co-founder Isaac Van Wesep. I have been a teacher for the past 15 years, but I know nothing about being an entrepreneur. With his leadership in the business arena and my leadership in the education arena, we were able to get Quick Key created and launched. But the interesting occurrences did not stop there. Many teachers often think that teaching is a thankless job. We don’t make much money and truth be told it is pretty grueling. Despite the false stereotypes that are out there, teachers work around the clock and year round. The thing that we don’t often think about is that our students grow up, and then come back into our lives. The development of Quick Key was accelerated dramatically when one of my former students posted a low-quality video of me demonstrating Quick Key on Reddit. It went viral, making it to the front page of Reddit, and garnering over 450,000 thousand views. Talk about teacher karma!

Victor: Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?

Walter: My experience as a career teacher helped us to create a tool that meets the needs of a real classroom. I don’t have time to learn a bunch of new-fangled, magic-bullet technology that promises to solve all my problems. I just need something simple, elegant and functional.

Victor: What’s your short statement on what exactly it is and its benefits?

Walter: Quick Key is a mobile scanner that gives teachers the ability to grade assessments with their smart devices in paper based or hybrid classrooms. Teachers can use real time data to improve student outcomes, without teaching to the test.

Victor: Any highlights about test marketing it or starting out; any interesting feedback, or reaction to it? 

Walter: The feedback has been very positive and some of it can be seen on our iTunes page. But most interestingly, users have started to set up sites to independently share Quick Key Assessments. This was unexpected and very cool!

Victor: Anything else in the works? Additional products or features?

Walter: We are currently in the open beta phase of our software. Quick Key has always been teacher driven, and we have received a lot of insightful feedback. We have taken this feedback and used it as the basis for the changes being made to version 2. Additionally, we are creating an admin version in collaboration with school administrators, so that it meets their specific needs. Version 2 will be a lot easier to set up and use, I am super excited about it.

Victor: Any guidance or advice to educators these days?

Walter: There is a lot of technology available these days, but it can never replace the teacher. Teaching is about the art of inspiration, and that should never be lost in all the new bells and whistles that are available. We must inspire, motivate and engage our students. This is the heart of teaching.

Victor: Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize? 

Walter: Yes, here’s how to stay in touch with us:

Quick Key APP to sign up and Download: http://bit.ly/Kwtx1f

Original Viral Video: http://bit.ly/1efrB5u

Follow Walter on Twitter: http://bit.ly/198q6Za

Join QK on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1efyG67

Quick Key Blog: http://bit.ly/KwYdiJ

TechCrunch articles on Quick Key: http://tcrn.ch/JDNhPE

Victor: Alright, best of luck and thank you, Walter!

Walter: Thanks, Victor!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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