Drowning in Student Data? Two Companies Offer Solutions

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By Betsy Corcoran, EdSurge

Teachers who want to use technology in the classroom to its best potential typically face a problem dealing with computers that's weirdly reminiscent of dealing with a roomful of bright but disruptive students: It can be too much of a good thing.

With sophisticated high-tech tools comes a deluge of data, and for a lot of teachers, finding the right resources at the right moment can be maddeningly difficult. What's more, the most sophisticated programs, which deliver detailed reports about student progress, don't share data--which means that teachers can wind up with multiple "data dashboards."

So educational technology entrepreneurs are starting to offer up a bit of help for both of these programs, according to two reports in today's EdSurge newsletter.

In Mountain View, a startup nonprofit organization, EdNovo, is doing early "alpha" tests of a Google-like search program for helping teachers find exactly the right digital content at the right time. And in San Francisco, a firm called EdElements just got a huge boost of financing to support its work in building a unified "data dashboard" that can combine data from different programs to help teachers avoid an air-traffic-control like problem as they try to mix and match the tools they use.

First EdNovo: with a team of almost a dozen educators and engineers, former Google executive Prasad Ram is building a free search engine he calls "Gooru" to retrieve digital content starting with math and science. So far, the team has tagged and organized 20,000 free resources on the web, along with 1,200 class plans and "classbooks," which are effectively playlists for learning. The effort is still very much under construction. Some 300 educators, including teachers at Oakland International High School, Milpitas Unified School District and FlipSchool are providing the first feedback. But Gooru promises to deliver what educators have long dreamed of: an education-specific search engine that pulls up timely and usable material for teachers. Educators can request a chance to try out the program here. [Update: Gooru is now open to any user.]


There are also a wide range of more comprehensive teaching programs that many schools are using to create so called "blended learning" models: fusions of teacher-led and computer assisted instruction. (Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute offers more detailed definitions of blended learning here.)

A bevy of ed-tech programs are emerging to serve as this kind of teacher's right-hand aide: for instance, Dreambox Learning helps K-3 students develop their math skills; Compass Learning offers a broad suite of K-12 programs.

In most cases, teachers trying these programs out want to mix and match their options like picking out a box of mixed chocolates. Why not some Dreambox for math and then a little Accelerated Reader for language arts?

But the nail-biting truth about mixing up these sophisticated learning programs is that each one has its own, carefully designed "data dashboard." Use three programs and you'll wind up staring at three data dashboards. What's needed is a way to get the programs to talk and share data--or a way to build a single "data dashboard," that can channel the reports from individual programs and portray a single, coherent report.

There are a handful of efforts to build such uber-dashboards.  Charter school program Rocketship Education has been growing its own, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is also fostering the development of common standards that could be used more broadly by any program. New York City's school district has worked with a program called Desire2Learn to craft a dashboard.

And then there's San Francisco EdElements, run by Anthony Kim. Kim is one of the country's leading blended learning consultants. He's worked with KIPP and IDEA schools to create blended learning programs in those schools. Along the way, his team has begun partnering with different ed-tech companies to wire up their programs to return data to a single dashboard--something Kim calls a "Hybrid Learning Management System." So far, Kim's team works with 15 different vendors.

Kim's efforts got a boost this week by a $2.1 million equity investment by investors that include the NewSchools Venture Fund, Tugboat Ventures, venture capitalist, Wally Hawley, and the three founders of edtech incubator, ImagineK12.

It'll be interesting to watch how these two intriguing ways could help teachers be more incommand of the explosion of emerging digital tools.