Fine Grain Data is a series of interviews with our senior research scientists conducted by our communications intern, Megan Ciszek. The aim of the series is to get to know the people who make up ACTNext, and explore some of the motivations and thoughts driving their work on developing the next generation of tools for learning and assessment.

We invite you to check back frequently over the coming weeks as we post the rest of the Fine Grain Data Interviews. This week, ACTNext Lead Architect, Kurt Peterschmidt shares his thoughts on the projects he’s working on, his personal research aspirations, and more!

What brought you to ACTNext? 

I’ve been in the education software arena for about 20 years, a large portion of that designing and building large scale assessment systems.  I started with ACT in the Office for Innovation which was disbanded with the formation of ACTNext.  ACTNext was bootstrapped with some of the previous OFI members.  Being at the intersection of research, prototyping, and eventual development into actual product and services is enticing to me

What do you do at ACTNext? And what are some of the projects you’re working on?

As lead architect, I am involved in shaping and prescribing the architecture and systems used to achieve our goals.  This is a blend of building prototypes from scratch and using already existing components or systems. As the development staff of our group is small, this means taking care of the implementation, integration, and hosting needs as well.  

I’m often involved in some manner with the majority of the projects we undertake.  The one that I’ve devoted the most time over the past year has been the development of our mobile application, the ACTNext Educational Companion app

What is your personal research mission/vision/aspiration? Goals? And how does this align with ACT and ACTNext’s mission? 

I find the most enjoyment in working on a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution.  With my background this primarily means bringing to bear a confluence of existing software solutions with a mix of new and then finding the right way to integrate/interface that with the intended audience.  ACTNext’s mission is to essentially focus this broader pattern with a psychometrically, AI/ML driven approach for the educational world

What are your personal research interests? 

The constantly evolving software development world has been the focus for my entire career.  Staying abreast of patterns, languages, available services, and the hardware to drive/deliver/consume it all is a never-ending learning experience which I thoroughly enjoy.  Spending over 20 years in the educational sector gives me great passion for the tantalizing prospects the solutions to improve people’s lives that are yet to be built

At this point in your career, what are you most proud of professionally? 

I’ve been involved in educational products that have spanned from pre-k to post-secondary, involving instructional, assessment, and financial aid/grant management.  Through these products I have interacted with educators, administrators, and federal department of education employees.  Along with my software background and touch points with educational research, I have a very broad perspective bridging these three areas (research, technology, educational customer)

What future trends do you see in your field, and are there any that you are particularly excited or concerned about? And how do you see yourself contributing to these trends? 

Machine learning technique usage is increasingly pervasive in products and services that surround us – including the educational industry.  How best to apply these in a manner that is beneficial to a person’s educational journey or to inform an instructor is in its infancy and ripe with opportunity.  I know how to apply these techniques, build the systems to run these in large scale, and have the familiarity with the learning environment/customer to integrate it in an appropriate way

What is a fun/interesting fact about you? 

My first foray into programming was self-taught.  At age 12 I wrote my first game on a TI-99/4a computer with an extended basic cartridge ( ).  I also built a graphical Mandelbrot set exploration tool in college that’s still available on the web today, 20+ years later… :