As we are rapidly getting closer to the end of 2011 which has been quite an exciting year for the education startup scene, I want to take a quick look at the current state of affairs in the vertical that caters to teachers.
Not long ago there was no real vertical for this group in education though it is clear that teachers are probably the most important people to target besides students. Why no one was interested in creating products for this group might have had a variety of reasons. Probably, the vertical was seen as too difficult to cater to and there was a notion that teachers in general were not open enough to new technologies in their classrooms.
Maybe, the market wasn’t there two years ago when a small group of teachers started their weekly Twitter chat under the hashtag #edchat. Starting with only a handful of teachers it quickly became a phenomenon, drawing in more and more teachers who wanted to connect with like-minded colleagues and were eager (if not even desperate) to talk about the things that really mattered to them. And though I still think that Twitter isn’t the right tool for this kind of use as it is in many aspects too limited to handle all this information, those teachers found creative ways to make it work for them by adding other free tools like TwtPoll and such.
The other big story was probably Ning, a platform that enabled anyone to create a social network. Classroom 2.0 and EduPLN are amongst the biggest ones with tens of thousands of teachers and principals as members. When Ning decided to axe the free plan that most teacher and school networks were built on, there was quite an uproar resulting to Pearson stepping in and sponsoring educational Nings in the US.
So the main problem was that teachers needed to use services that were not created to meet their needs which often resulted in situations were both sides, teachers and startup entrepreneurs, clashed as their philosophy did not match. That’s mostly based in changes in the business model like turning into a paid service or adding advertisement.
But that situation has changed dramatically over the last one and a half years and today the Internet and dedicated sites and services for teachers are popping up like mushrooms which means that the web is becoming more and more a crucial part in the daily life of teachers.
One of the earliest ones, Edmodo, just raised a new $15 million funding round from from Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital. This round also added two Silicon Valley stars to the board: Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Matt Cohler of Facebook which could become crucial for the growth of the network.
Collaboration is one of the major driving forces behind the rise of websites like BetterLesson where teachers can share their lesson plans with others. It even created a new revenue model for them as teachers can decide to sell their lessons to their colleagues.
Another startup that got funded recently and is about collaboration is MasteryConnect. It raised $1.1 million from NewSchools, LearnCapital and imagine K12 for its platform that enables teachers across the US to work together on the Common Core standard on the one hand and it also provides them with detailed analysis on the performance of their students on the other hand.
The Teaching Channel is a portal were teachers can watch and share best practices from classrooms across the US. There is for instance a series of one-minute-videos that show how to get the attention of a class or engaging classroom activities. Teachers can take personal notes and hence create their own library of how to videos they want to implement in their classroom.
Talking about videos, YouTube for Schools is a new, stripped down version of the world’s biggest video hosting site that takes the needs of teachers and schools into consideration. Everyone who uses YouTube knows how messy it can get in the comments. That’s why many districts simply banned YouTube from schools leaving the teachers who wanted to use the huge amount of great educational videos in the dark. YouTube for Schools now offers a clean, curated version, enabling teachers to get access to this source of educational content.
And to answer the question how to motivate and support people who want to become a teacher these days, MAT@USC and 2tor partnered to launch a portal that answers all questions involved in the process in one single place called Teach.com. But the portal is not only for career starters, it also aims to provide seasoned teachers with information about requirements when planning to move into another state, salaries and such.
If you then add smaller projects like mobile and tablet applications to the mix it is clear that 2012 is going to be another exciting year for teachers and principals. This infrastructure tailored to the needs of teachers also has a big potential in driving innovation in schools faster than it is today. Tim Brady, founding partner at imagine K12 explained this grass roots movement as following:
And even the superintendents we talked to are being very excited about that because they usually say:” I sit and I listen to these sales pitches and try to imagine what the teachers want and then I have to go and convince the teachers to use it and push it down.” Superintendents are very excited when a bunch of teachers say:” Hey, we are all using this product. Can you buy this additional feature?” It actually makes it easier for the superintendent as well.
Picture: Back to School! from Shutterstock