Clever Breaking Sign-on Barriers to Make Edtech Easier for Teachers

5/19/14Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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they had to help students keep track of their usernames and passwords—which are sometimes different for each app.

“I can barely remember all my own passwords,” says Reasoning Mind executive Foggy-Paxton. She says a single sign-on is an important boon, because time is the “highest commodity” for teachers.

In a recent survey of 204 elementary and middle school teachers commissioned by Clever, the marketing information firm MDR found that teachers spent an average of more than 25 percent of their time in digital learning sessions just getting students logged in or troubleshooting.

Clever is planning its next moves into more services that “make life easier for teachers,” says Bosmeny, Clever’s CEO.

Clever’s users have their own ideas about how the startup can do that. For example, they’ve proposed that the company develop analytics to figure out how well edtech programs are working, and that it expand into higher education and institutions outside the United States, Bosmeny says.

“You kind of become the canvas for people to paint their hopes and dreams,” Bosmeny says.

Krull, the educational technology executive for the Oakland school district, says teachers now have so many digital learning choices that they’re looking for a sort of home base on the Web where they can manage all the options. He compares this to the way the proliferation of smart phones and tablet computers in workplaces sparked the creation of new platform companies dedicated to mobile device management. (One of these is Mountain View, CA-based MobileIron.)

Clever wants to be that go-to place for schools. Its long-term vision is to “build the platform for educational technology,” Bosmeny says. By linking thousands of schools to scores of electronic learning enterprises, he says, Clever has started laying the foundation for that platform.

While Clever has positioned itself as a hub between key players in the digital learning environment, a number of companies have already been vying to create one-stop digital learning platforms, or portals, for teachers and students. These include San Mateo, CA-based Edmodo; Schoology in New York, NY; and Santa Monica, CA-based Engrade, which was acquired in February by digital learning company McGraw-Hill Education. These companies have constructed ready-made sites where teachers can post calendars, assignments, readings, and other resources for their students. By offering their services free to teachers, they’ve acquired millions of users. They now offer enhanced services to schools for a fee.

The Engrade portal is a dashboard that includes a gateway to the edtech programs each school uses, and templates for designing tests of student progress. The dashboard allows K-12 teachers to tailor their lesson plans and assignments by plucking elements from a number of different third-party digital learning providers. For example, a teacher could assign a video from Khan Academy plus an exercise on fractions from BrainPOP.

Krull says the Oakland school district has pilot programs running with Edmodo, Schoology, and Engrade, and each has its fans. Clever’s automated account creation service has helped the Oakland schools gain quick access for students to another platform, Google Apps for Education, Krull says.

Bosmeny says schools can use both Clever and any of the platforms like Edmodo, but students would need to sign on separately to any platform that isn’t a Clever customer.

Clever has a valuable place in the mix because it not only gets student accounts set up quickly, but also updates the data daily as students add courses, move away, or otherwise change their status, Krull says. The details about each student can include their grade level, their class schedule, and the names of all their teachers.

Such granular detail could help teachers move toward Oakland’s goal of “personalized learning,” Krull says. Edtech platform companies could help teachers customize lessons for each grade level, as well as design assignments for individual students who need to pick up specific skills. Krull is looking to companies to build tools to make that simple for teachers to do.

Bosmeny says Clever is considering a range of projects as it decides “what the elements are for a complete and total educational technology company.” The startup is not just angling to become a useful acquisition for a larger firm, he says.

“We see Clever as becoming an enduring company in education,” Bosmeny says.

Clever doesn’t disclose the revenues it has pulled in from digital learning providers as it signed up thousands of schools over the past two years. Sequoia Capital Partner Bryan Schreier, who’s a member of Clever’s board of directors, says, “As far as we know, Clever is the fastest growing technology company in education—ever.”

“We believe Clever has a huge opportunity for growth with technology that is enabling the next generation of learning,” Schreier says.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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