Edtech Startups Using Big Data: Junyo

Using big data has had large benefits and also large drawbacks since its introduction to education. However, some edtech startups are successfully using big data in all the right ways to bring new insight to faculty, teachers, and students.

Ever since the demise of inBloom, some companies shy away from using the label, big data. Iterations of this label include: learner analytics, learning data—but all still make some parents uncomfortable when third party companies gain access to it. Yet, there are a number of larger companies using big data without the same scrutiny edtech is experiencing due to their focus on security.

This series will highlight some startups that are using big data effectively, by concurrently addressing security concerns and promoting innovation.

Junyo uses real time data analytics to help educators find better learning solutions. They’re using data to understand students and to help inform students and teachers about what is happening in the classroom. Junyo also helps teachers identify the strengths and weaknesses of students.

Steve Schoettler, founder and CEO of Junyo, recognizes both the importance of securing data, and at the same time what it can bring to education. “What big data lets us do is look at data across lots of students to get a much better understanding about how students are unique,” said Schoettler. “That’s really going to be one of the keys to get to personalized education that a lot of people have been talking about for many years. The opportunities are tremendous.”

He recognizes that the task to secure data is getting harder, but says it’s important to answer those questions of security right up front. He said that involves having really good security and transparent policies.

Schoettler’s background in security validates his belief that technology does not have to be sacrificed for security. “A lot of the consumer internet companies try to make people believe that they have to make a choice between innovation and privacy and that’s not really true,” said Shoettler. “We strongly believe that you can have both. You can have innovation and you can protect data in ways that will build trust with parents, students, and teachers.”

Schoettler said the education sector can learn a lot from security models in other industries, such as healthcare and finance. Since education has taken longer to adopt technologies, it may explain the extended timeline—but Schoettler said it’s not fair to students who do not have a choice as to how their data is being used or secured.

This is why he’s working to create a platform to promote conversation for companies and educators about securing data.  “There’s a lot of privacy groups creating advisory notes and guidelines for best practices, but they don’t really have enough information to help somebody put it into practice. There’s not enough templates out there.”

Schoettler believes a movement needs to take hold with people from all over the education sector to support the cause of protecting data. He said the need was so great, he created a separate entity, Education Data Privacy, in order to promote this dialogue.

“To use technology that people trust, there’s going to have to be policies that are created by collaborations between vendors, schools, parents, teachers and administrators—all the constituents—and I didn’t see any other organization that was bringing together enough people from a diverse enough background that would have the ability to create standards. I think it’s important for the industry to move forward.”

Schoettler wants to advocate for policies that are pro-consumer and pro-individual and it needs to happen before legislators and policy makers put up walls. “There are something like 100 different bills being discussed in states and districts around the country right now to protect student privacy. It’s a nightmare for any vendor to have to go and understand all of those.”

Even worse, Schoettler said a lot of those bills that are trying to protect privacy have a potential of harming the student by preventing the kind of innovation that could happen with big data.

This is another function Schoettler hopes Education Data Privacy will have. He wants the organization to be able to tell people the benefit of these technologies. With all the talk about what could go wrong, Schoettler wants to talk about what could go right.

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.