FreshGrade Looks to Boost Parent Engagement in Classroom
FreshGrade is an education resource for teachers, parents, and administrators that mirrors how people communicate and use technology today, opening a window into the classroom to ensure maximum student engagement and progress. The company was founded in 2011 by Lane Merrifield and Steve Wandler, and is headquartered in Kelowna, British Columbia. FreshGrade’s mission is to focus on minimizing the challenges facing teachers in the 21st century classroom by providing opportunities to streamline lesson planning and assessment, as well as allow for more time spent working with students and communicating with parents.
To learn more about FreshGrade, EdTech Times interviewed co-founder Lane Merrifield.
Company at a Glance:
Company name: FreshGrade
Date founded: November 2011
Founder’s name: Lane Merrifield, co-founder
Company Twitter: @FreshGrade
Founder’s Twitter: @lanemerrifield
Company market segment: K-12 Education
What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
FreshGrade is an education tech company that develops mobile and browser-based applications for educators, students, and parents. Our free personalized apps bring a new level of transparency and connectivity to the classroom, which is used by more than one million people in over 70 countries with users across all 50 states.
The FreshGrade suite of applications features student portfolios, parent engagement, custom assessment tools, custom activities/assignments with curriculum alignment and classroom announcements. Using the apps, teachers and students can capture, document and communicate examples of student learning through secure digital portfolios. Teachers can also map learning objectives to assessments and activities to ensure lessons are focused and early intervention strategies can be created for struggling students.
While parents are provided ongoing communication, students are given the opportunity to have a voice in their learning. FreshGrade’s core customers are educators, school & district administrators and leaders in the education space.
How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
With both my mother and sister being educators, I’ve witnessed the amount of work that goes into preparing report cards and sharing meaningful data with parents. I always wondered why this process has remained unchanged for so long. With the explosion of new technology and social media, it was very bothersome that we lived in a world where we know more about what a friend did on vacation today than what our kids did in class today.
I soon realized all the anguish — of students falling behind, parents frustrated with feeling out of the loop, educators losing track of students — could be avoided with real-time access to information and data. This sparked the idea for FreshGrade, a tool that captures, documents and communicates a student’s progress to the parent all through a mobile device.
What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
What differentiates FreshGrade is that it is more than just a sharing platform for videos or photos. FreshGrade focuses on capturing the learning that’s taking place in that moment. Teachers can create explicit assignments with learning objectives and can choose from different assessment options. In addition, parents and students can see teachers comments in their individual portfolios. We believe this blend of qualitative and quantitative learning data is what fuels FreshGrade’s growth and success.
What are you working on currently?
Our team is constantly developing and rolling out new features that will continue to attract teachers and district administrators worldwide. We are also in the beginning stages of working with a handful of universities to conduct long-term studies to examine the tool’s growing impact on improving learning outcomes.
What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?
Today, FreshGrade has more than one million users in 70 countries worldwide and in all 50 U.S. states. In the next year, we expect our user base to drastically expand. Our team recently finalized a $11.6 million Series A round of funding, which brings our total funding to $15.9 million, to help fuel this development. In addition, we are in the process of building teams across North America to help support our users locally.
In addition, we will be working on some large integration projects that will make the user experience even better.
How are you changing the face of education?
Despite the advances in technology, teachers and districts have struggled with a lack of awareness among parents and the issue of impactful engagement remained unsolved. Our goal is to inspire a focus on the challenges facing teachers in the 21st century classroom. We believe FreshGrade is the solution, as it presents the opportunity for parents and students to move beyond simple report cards, and truly assess how students are learning, developing and improving. With FreshGrade, parents have real-time access to what’s going on in a classroom for the first time in modern history, allowing for more meaningful connections to be made at home and beyond.
What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
My entrepreneur journey has been fueled by my passion for the convergence of creativity and technology. My first endeavor was launching Club Penguin, the largest online virtual world for kids, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2007 for $350 million. I later served as Executive Vice President for Disney for five years before returning to my entrepreneurial roots.
In 2013, I also founded Wheelhouse, an organization that supports early stage technology companies and entrepreneurs through mentorship, access to early stage investment capital, and connections to global business networks and executive expertise.
Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
Technologically, we are looking to become the Facebook of education in the way we bring everyone together around a meaningful and shared data platform. In terms of mentors, we look to educational leaders, like John Hattie, Damien Copper, and Sir Ken Robinson.
Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
In the past, most educational technologies were largely built for the administrators and above. This provided those administrators with the tools they needed, but making teachers frustrated along the way. In the current and future world of educational technology, all users need to be better served—this includes teachers, students, parents, and leaders.
The educational technology market is becoming a much more user-centric space, and we expect this trend to continue. The biggest change we’ll see in the next five years will be all about actionable insight from raw data. Not just data for data’s sake, but the use of data to anticipate student’s needs and better measure the effectiveness of technology on student outcomes.
What advice do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?
Work with educators who are in the classroom immediately. Make them your consultants and your champions from the start. In addition, always consider students as an integral part of your equation and consider how your company is going to help assist teachers, empower students, and improve outcomes. Finally, consider the importance of instilling a sense of self-directed and lifelong learning in all learners.
Hannah is a Boston-based writer who hails from Ohio. She has recently become interested in photography and loves taking portraits. You can normally find her curating her Instagram feed and eating all things carbs.