Behind the Cube: Anthropology & ALEKS

Meet the Teachers, Learners, and Innovators of McGraw-Hill Education

Sep 22, 2017 · 4 min read

Today’s Highlight: Brenna Gordon, User Experience Researcher

We often say we’re #RedCubeProud. That’s because we’re an ever-adapting, forward-thinking group of learners, teachers, and creators with roots in a square logo that is evolving into a “cube”, in reflection of our dimensional, learning science-based approached to EdTech.

Perhaps what makes our team so passionate about our work is that we genuinely care about teachers, students, and fostering productive learning communities. Many of us have been teachers ourselves, and ALL of us are life-long learners.

To give you some insight into our team, we’re taking you Behind the Cube, one #RedCubeProud team member at a time. Today’s highlight:

Brenna Gordon, UX Researcher

What influenced you to become a UX Researcher?

I always wanted to be a UX Researcher, I just never knew it. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I studied cultural anthropology in college with a strong emphasis on research. I studied mostly how people communicated with each other, especially online, and wanted to use it in a practical way. I heard of one anthropologist who was working for an automotive company — she went around the world and sat in cars with real people and sifted through their belongings inside their cars, looking at the actual way they lived in and used their cars. The company then designed their cars for the people driving them, not the designers building the cars. I was like, hey I can do this, too! I just had no idea “UX” existed, so I figured I would have to work somewhere and invent my researcher role. Lo and behold, I started working at ALEKS and discovered the wonderful world of UX. Long story short, here I am!

How did you come to work at MHE?

I began at ALEKS right when we were acquired by MHE. I started as a temp in the Customer Support department. I quickly became a product expert for ALEKS math and chemistry as well as Connect Math hosted by ALEKS. I was hired on full time and 8 months later I moved into my role as a UX Researcher. Once I learned about the UX department when I began at ALEKS, I set my eye on that prize and networked my way into the researcher role. This is my dream job and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I am inspired every day by talking to people and gathering feedback from users. I hear good things, bad things, and everything in between. Every interaction that I have with someone is unique and special. In turn, every interaction our customers have with our products is also unique and special. Anything I can do to help make their interactions the best they can be is my goal as a researcher.

Why are you passionate about the work that you do?

Have you ever been frustrated by an app or website? I HAVE. Even more so now that I do UX research!! I realize that design and programming choices are deliberate, and if we don’t talk to our users we could be making these choices for the WRONG reasons. Why is that button there? What is the purpose of this [insert thing here]? What is it doing THAT for?! I have a totally different outlook on life now, and I care about our customers because they are humans just like me! Every time I talk to someone, I hear their story. I may be showing them a prototype and asking them to do a task, making them struggle a little, but this is telling us about them as a real person. Taking this data from across a set of people helps us make the best software in the world. By asking real, actual customers what we should do to with our products, we make their lives better. We make learning more valuable for students. How incredible is that! There’s no way to not be passionate about this work. It’s the best job.

What are your thoughts on working in the education industry?

Education is the best industry to work in. We are literally making the world a better place. We don’t do this because we have to, we do this because we want to. If we help one person directly, we help many people indirectly. It’s pretty extraordinary. I don’t think we are just working in the education industry; we are working in the human industry. When I do research with people, I don’t just hear about how we help them learn math or chemistry, I hear about how we help them survive life. ALEKS says “Good Job, Jane” to Jane when she is feeling down in the dumps, when she is being told by others she can’t do anything. We are not just an education company. We are bigger than that. The impact goes far beyond the classroom. I think people forget that learning is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s about integrity, stamina, love, and courage, among other things. That’s what I think about working in the education industry. It’s about all those things and more. It’s a holistic industry, built around people, and it’s beautiful.

Find more Behind the Cube by following our Series or past posts here.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


Written by

We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade