Q&A with Jeremy Friedman, CEO of Schoology

With cloud based collaborate learning platform Schoology, educators can do things as simple as posting assignments, quizzes and links to additional resources or as sophisticated as conducting online courses, providing one-on-one remediation, or hosting discussions. Schoology connects students and parents to educators and learning resources anytime, anywhere in a safe, secure online environment.

Jeremy Friedman, CEO of Schoology recently took the time to lend us his insights into the education technology industry.

Mr. Friedman discussed the biggest ed-tech trend, greatest obstacle in adopting technology in education, and the future of the industry.  Check out the Q&A below.

What is the biggest trend in education technology that we should be watching?

We’re seeing vendors move from application maker to platform provider and in the process, many are opening their APIs to foster collaboration – not only among end-users, but cross-platform.  This vendor collaboration and openness encourages rapid innovation and content sharing that ultimately benefits students and teachers.

An interesting example is Schoology’s relationship with Blackboard.  While Blackboard is a close competitor to ours, and we come up against them often when selling at the district level, Blackboard Collaborate is one of the featured apps available on the recently launched Schoology App Center.  Vendors and end-users are looking for ways to extend the functionality of their systems or attract new business opportunities via a services model. The open API and public developer platform enables ed-tech vendors to do just that.

I believe, vendor collaboration and cross-platform integration is the future of education software and will continue to be a big trend in the education technology for a few reasons.  First, most vendors are driven to improve the learning lives of students and teachers through the digital medium – so we all share a common goal.  Secondly, data integration is a nightmare in education.  Until the industry successfully tackles this issue, vendors will continue to find ways to overcome this burden.

If you could provide students nationwide with one education technology product what would it be?

As the maker of an Internet-based learning management system (LMS), I want to see every child in America using Schoology on a daily basis.  But in order to achieve adoption you must first provide access.   Internet-enabled devices i.e., tablets, PCs/laptops and smartphones, should be available to all students nationwide.

In the past, most school districts had very strict policies requiring students to leave their cellphones and laptops at home. But, with districts now trying to keep pace with the advancement of new learning techniques and technologies, while facing budget realities, many are starting to rethink these policies and encourage “Bring Your Own Device to School” practices.  I think we’re going to see more and more districts adopting BYODS policies moving forward, while providing students of lesser means with access to school-owned devices.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles in adopting technology in the education space?

Moving and managing data is the biggest challenge holding education back today.  Data integration continues to be a major obstacle for schools and developers.  As districts collect increasing amounts of information on their students – from attendance records to test scores – they are seeking new ways to store, analyze and view this data to improve the academic performance of students.  But the reality is it can take weeks of labor-intensive and error-prone processes to access student data housed in myriad systems and enable the data to effectively integrate and talk to other systems.  This can leave many schools and districts feeling discouraged from working with technology and technology vendors.

For teachers, the biggest obstacle in adopting technology is selecting the right tools.  Many want to ensure they select technology solutions that are supported by their district for ease-of-use, ongoing maintenance, training and system optimization.  Teachers are often asked to do things that take more hours than there are in a day.  They want technology solutions that make their workload easier – that can handle the administrative burdens like entering each student into a system every year and manually updating the same data fields time and again.  For teachers, technologies need to make their day more efficient so they can devote more time to preparing lessons and teaching. Bottom line, they want a dynamic system that enables them to teach better today.

For students, the biggest obstacle is managing user accounts.  They want to log-in once and be able to easily manage multiple teachers and multiple teacher requests from one platform. They want content and communication to be delivered in an environment that’s safe and familiar.

The best way to overcome these obstacles and meet the needs of key stakeholders is to implement Schoology at the district-level.  We are proud to boast that more than 25,000 school districts representing more than one million end-users have turned to Schoology to improve communication and collaboration inside and outside of the classroom by socially connecting educators, students and parents.  With Schoology in place, everyone is on the same page, working together.

Name three companies to watch in 2012.

Well, of course Schoology is a company to watch in 2012.  We’re doing some really exciting things in terms of new features and functionality to be added to the platform this year.  In addition to the opening of the Schoology App Center and the open developer platform for third-parties, we continue to offer educators new tools that make their workloads more manageable and efficient.  For example the new public content feature extends the functionality of the Schoology platform by enabling educators around the world to easily find and share classroom resources.  In the process they are helping build the world’s best repository of educational content.  With the public content feature, teachers can share and collaborate by topic, grade-level, Common Core, state standards, etc., and best-in-class, third-party content such as Khan Academy is now directly integrated into Schoology.  In addition to its user-friendly search capabilities and category filters, the public content feature lets users rate the material and offer useful feedback to the community.  Educators can also save content in their private resource area for future use, or embed content directly into a class with one simple click.  We’re really excited to watch the content library grow and to see how teachers use and deploy the shared content in their classrooms.

Knewton is a very exciting company to watch.  The adaptive learning platform can customize learning technologies to address the specific needs of an individual student based on their particular strengths and weaknesses.  Knewton’s popularity also illustrates that education is one of the world’s largest data industries because it monitors and gathers data on how people learn online. Knewton is able to capture every move a pupil makes – scores, speed, accuracy, delays, keystrokes, click-streams and drop-offs. The platform collects this data and the software continuously adapts to challenge and persuade the user to learn based on their individual learning style. It’s going to change how people learn and how educational content is presented.

Clever and Learnsprout are two companies with the same goal, so I will treat them as one company I’ve been following closely.  Like Schoology, they’re trying to solve the problem of information disconnection in its own way by creating an open API to help education-focused developers more easily integrate with school data.  Here again, we’re seeing new companies be born from the data integration challenges so prevalent within the education industry.  Clever and Learnsprout are attempting to bring innovation into the classroom by making it easier for developers to access student data stored in legacy Student Information Systems (SISes).

Where do you see education technology going in the next five years?

Teaching and learning will become more personalized.  For the next-generation teacher and K-12 students today, the Internet is a part of their daily lives, seamlessly integrated into their daily routines without giving it a second thought.  This is having a dramatic impact on the perception of web-based technologies in the classroom and will continue to spur widespread adoption.  The greater use of web-technologies in the classroom will also call for resolving the integration challenges that persist and using the large, complex data sets to discover new knowledge and improve the learning lives of individual students.

With data standardization educators can create a digital profile for each student that includes assessments, curriculum content and a student’s individual characteristics.  Open data standards, supported by web services, will become common place and ignite the next wave of innovation. Not only will data analytics drive the educational lives of students, but it will also shape the teaching practices of teachers.  Teachers can use real-time data delivered via dashboards to evaluate and modify their lesson plans based on immediate reception.  For example, did adding a video component to the lesson help retention and student aptitude?

As with real-time data analytics, we’ll see more and more technologies emerge that look to empower, and not replace, the role of the teacher.  Robust platforms, like Schoology, that break down the classroom walls and become part of the daily workflow of how teachers engage with students.  Technology platforms that drive efficiencies at every level including managing lessons and homework assignments; administer and grade tests and quizzes; discover and embed new educational content and resources; share and collaborate with other educators on course materials; analyze individual student and overall classroom performance; and effectively communicate and engage with students in a secure online environment.

Lastly, I think we’ll see trends like gamification, or using game design and mechanics to increase engagement in learning will continue to experience strong adoption.  So, what’s popular in the offline world will be brought into the online environment to flourish.

Thanks so much to Mr. Friedman for his contribution! We look forward to new developments at Schoology.