Udemy has become one of the best-funded companies in edtech, having raised another $80 million earlier this year, bringing its total raised to nearly $300 million. So, what are its plans, and how does it see the market for online courses changing after the pandemic? Those were some questions we brought to Udemy’s CEO, Gregg … Read more
Though many are eager to forget 2020, data scientists will be keeping the year top of mind as we determine whether the pandemic’s impact makes 2020 data anomalous or an indication of more permanent change in higher ed. As we develop new predictive models and update the existing ones with data collected in the last … Read more
I was 20 years old and wearing my best suit. I woke up early so I could make the one-hour trip to Midtown Manhattan to begin my Wall Street internship orientation. The Sponsors for Educational Opportunity team planned an intense training. We learned Excel modeling, financial terms, and networking. The goal was to leave the … Read more
Sometimes, a great idea takes an unexpected turn that makes it even better. When VoiceThread’s founders first started dabbling in software, they aimed to answer a key question: If you took an image and recorded the audio stories behind it, would this digital artifact have more value? Sometimes, a great idea takes an unexpected turn … Read more
The U.S. edtech industry is massive. By our estimate, startups and companies raised upward of $2.2 billion in 2020 alone. Yet, curiously, the amount districts, states and the federal government spend on these products each year is something of an unknown variable. According to a new analysis published this week by the Edtech Evidence Exchange, … Read more
Investment in education technology over the past year shattered previous records. And some surprising new patterns have emerged in certain parts of the world. Brought to you by AWS Edstart, the edtech startup accelerator program. Learn more here, and apply to become a member or get involved today. See where the dollars are flowing, and … Read more
Virtual reality (VR) technology is poised to impact many aspects of modern life including education. Early implications are that VR has the potential to enhance and optimize collaboration between teachers and students—in both remote and classroom-based environments. Early studies, such as ones from international researcher Richard Van Hooijdonk, show that virtual and augmented reality tools … Read more
Some of the most transformational technologies are those that not only solve a problem, but also dramatically change an entire field of study or industry. Jake Schofield and Labstep believe they are doing just that. Their cloud-based technology is changing the way scientists and researchers document, share and ultimately replicate their discoveries. Stemming from first-hand frustrations in the lab, Schofield and his team realized that maintaining a traditional paper lab book, or deploying any of the available digital lab books, often resulted in lost results, wasted time and missed collaborative opportunities. Poor design, expensive subscriptions and time-consuming installation inspired Labstep to build an alternative platform that aims for the documentation and sharing of research to be easy, safe and secure.Schofield recently spoke with EdSurge about the success of Labstep in both the scientific research and academic communities.Some of the most transformational technologies and applications are those that not only solve a problem, but also dramatically change an entire field of study or industry.EdSurge: Tell us about Labstep and the problem that you’re solving for academics.Schofield: Originally, I worked in biomedical and genetic research. We were making major advances in science but using very archaic ways to gather, collect and document our data and processes. The industry is still more notebook-oriented. Historically, about 60 percent of all research has not been able to be replicated. Initially, we set out to be an academic or teaching tool, but soon became a powerful tool for all scientific researchers as well. We realized that there was a huge need for capturing their work, while sharing and collaborating in real time. We didn’t want to see great scientific work continue to be dependent on a scientist or researcher having to also spend additional and separate time trying to capture their work. We knew there had to be a better way. We wanted to tie together all of the tools and resources in science and collect a process record that you can share in real time with colleagues. It seemed like this would really benefit the science itself. Labstep has set out to bring real positive change to science and lab environments in both academic and commercial research. In academia, an instructor can now access their research methodology in real time and be sharing it with 50 students as an example. On the commercial side, one of the first rapid COVID-19 tests developed in the U.S. used Labstep as their platform.What is the importance of providing Labstep for free for academics?Our mission was to have a positive impact and benefit as many scientists and researchers as possible. The commercial researchers such as big pharma and industrial scientists pay for Labstep which allows us to offer it to individuals in academia for free. Once we get many users at one institution, we set up more of an institutional arrangement tying into their systems. But it’s free for all individual users to start. We now have a big team to support both academics and private researchers. We always had the idea to solve a problem in terms of a pain point felt by users and then worked out a mission that aligned with our goals. How is Labstep transforming how research is carried out? Is it about saving time and money?All of the above. Science has recognized that reproducibility is a problem. We have had digital notebooks and lab reports for 10 years, but they have depended on the individual researchers to do the manual work. This is about our application allowing all of the devices, tools and instruments to collect the data and information, while sharing and collaborating in real time. When you make the ground-breaking discovery—let’s say a new cure for cancer—you can share the steps and processes so others can benefit. It’s incredibly disruptive for both researchers and academics. Jake SchofieldWe’re not a notebook where you write down what you’ve done, but rather we are a collaboration tool that captures a snapshot of the steps and processes and then that is shared in real time. You can have others commenting and taking a look at the work. You can share meaningful insights in a collaborative way. We see ourselves as a stepping stone to change the way all research is conducted. Science is a bit broken. We need to make sure we capture the process and apply these to other research and discoveries. It’s about making sure one’s work is reproducible. Any especially memorable success stories within academia?The community has grown organically. We will often get one user and then other colleagues come on board. It might start with someone at Oxford University, but then they collaborate with someone in America. The largest life science research facility in Europe—The Francis Crick Institute in London—started using Labstep with individual lab groups and then it grew to an institute-wide deployment. They are a real hub with collaborators all over the world. These guys are literally global leaders in the science community in key areas such as cancer, immune systems, malaria health and aging. We are working with many other large research facilities and organizations around the world, but Francis Crick has a very large and high profile position with hundreds of researchers there. If you take a powerful, influential and disruptive research organization and deploy Labstep institute wide, tremendous scientific work is going to be advanced. How have AWS and AWS EdStart contributed to Labstep’s success?Being part of the AWS EdStart, the edtech accelerator, program and partnering with AWS has been incredibly powerful and impactful for us. Cloud computing is the industry standard for a reason. It allows one to scale up rapidly with disruptive technologies. Allowing us to produce a browser-based solution that can be accessed on any device is a game-changer for the scientific community. It’s been a huge advantage to be part of the AWS network and leverage all of those relationships and technologies. There are many factors in our success, but it’s an advantage to bring a disruptive cloud-based solution to market with amazing technical support. This partnership has provided a greater understanding of the education space. Any tips for entrepreneurs who are entering education?My advice to others would be to make sure you’re starting with solving a real problem. Make sure it’s about looking for a pain point that you want to alleviate versus just being a value-add.I was a scientist first. So, we have been very scientific about how we create products. We are mission-driven. We focus on problem solving. It’s about pulling together some of the best minds to join the team. We have followed more scientific methodology vs. start-up methodology. I might be an entrepreneur first and foremost, but I approach my work scientifically. My advice to others would be to make sure you’re starting with solving a real problem. Make sure it’s about looking for a pain point that you want to alleviate versus just being a value-add. There are some unique business aspects to working in the education space. However, it’s about not getting distracted by anything else beyond solving a problem. What’s next for Labstep? We have some really disruptive and powerful things coming out soon. We want to become the go-to, foundational tool for lab-based research. We want to be the dominant global tool for scientific research and experimentation. We want to change how scientific research is conducted and impact the research in positive, accelerative ways. We want to be part of all of vital, disruptive research—medicines, chemicals, food—and see that real world impact. Yes, we’re building a business. But beyond that, the clients that we’re partnering with are having a huge positive impact. It’s exciting to be part of their success and global problem solving.
Montessori learning has 100 years of refinement and validation behind it. Yet, fewer than one percent of students worldwide are in what Ray Girn, CEO of Higher Ground Education, would consider an “authentic, high-fidelity Montessori program.” I think that there is an opportunity to achieve what ride-sharing apps or Airbnb have achieved: show the world another way of doing education at a sufficient scale.“Our goal is to build the systems of scale that allow for uncompromisingly good Montessori education that’s accessible to the children of the world,” explains Girn.Higher Ground’s global Montessori ecosystem includes 75 schools, a virtual school, a system for finding local Montessori-trained nannies and resources to support new parents and homeschoolers. All designed to take Montessori learning from fragmented to mainstream and modernized, the ultimate goal is to bring Montessori education to far more parents and children.The pandemic could have halted that work, but Girn and his team leaned in, finding ways to support families and continue to grow Higher Ground. EdSurge talked with Girn to understand how acquisitions and adaptations, combined with unwavering support and sage advice from investors, helped them thrive during a challenging season.EdSurge: What’s your vision for Higher Ground, and how is technology helping you get there?Girn: Our goal is to build the systems of scale that make uncompromisingly good Montessori education accessible to the world’s children. That means identifying why so few children are in authentic Montessori programs and creating paths to change that.Because ours is an alternative ecosystem, and we develop meaningful skills, I think that there is an opportunity to achieve what ride-sharing apps or Airbnb have achieved: show the world another way of doing education at a sufficient scale. In doing so, we hope to inspire and empower the many others working towards meaningful education reform.I don’t see us single-handedly changing education, but I think we have a real opportunity to be part of the pioneering few who launch that change and help it ultimately take hold.Guidepost Magnificent Miles (Credit: Higher Ground Education)Ray GirnWhat role does technology play in your growth, particularly right now?Our whole approach from infancy through high school is deeply technology-enabled. We are actively making the most of the opportunities to leverage technologies that exist across the educational domain.Ray Girn’s Book Recommendations
We’re about to launch a digital platform for new and expectant parents, called Guidepost Family Framework. It’s filled with resources for how to parent for independence, bringing an integrated approach to the basics like sleeping, napping and feeding, and then more and more as children get older. Then there’s Guidepost at Home, where we digitally train and place Montessori-trained nannies and share learning materials for homeschooling.Our virtual program is core to our operations—particularly during the pandemic. As of August, we have 10 school partners, including public schools, accessing and using our digital curriculum online.Guidepost El Dorado (Credit: Higher Ground Education)Have acquisitions supported your scaling efforts as well? Yes, we acquired CozyKin late last year because their platform helps us match families to nannies and nanny shares. Before that, we acquired Montessorium, which is an app-based developer as well. I don’t see us single-handedly changing education, but I think we have a real opportunity to be part of the pioneering few who launch that change and help it ultimately take hold.The need for adaptable programming was increasing before COVID-19. Now it’s mandatory. The idea is, if you want to hire a nanny, home school, do virtual school, attend a physical school, or even set up a micro-school for two months while you’re traveling, we’re creating a program where people can move from one to the other and in any part of the world. In many ways, technology is what facilitates that.Has the pandemic altered the way you handle workforce training?Workforce training is one of many examples where COVID-19 is accelerating the trajectory that we were already on. If you look at Montessori, or even just education, human capital is the single most important driver. The teacher and the school leader, that’s where the rubber meets the road.From the beginning, we’ve been thinking about training digitally. How do we make it more accessible, more on the job, and do it everywhere? I think Montessori isn’t 10x, 20x, 50x bigger primarily because doing it right requires nuanced training and mentoring, and that just hasn’t been done at scale yet.We see technology as a big driver in training. We’re largely virtual, and that’s accelerated because of COVID-19. We have a federally-recognized certificate from infancy through adolescence in Montessori practice. We use 3-D headsets to have this immersive experience of being in a classroom and doing micro observations, then you go into a Socratic seminar and discuss what you’ve observed. We’re trying to help educators internalize these principles, so what you learn becomes part of who you are when you’re in the classroom. How have investors supported your growth, particularly now during the pandemic?Learn More About Higher Ground
There was a lot of uncertainty in the spring. What you need from investors, as an entrepreneur, is conviction when you’re feeling doubt and also doubt when you possibly have too much conviction. Peak State Ventures, one of our early investors, has shown that and demonstrated tremendous confidence in our mission and vision. Their trust didn’t waver at a time when, particularly in April, it wasn’t clear where the world was headed.Beyond that, they’ve exercised the dual virtue of being helpful in terms of introductions and access to their network, supportive critiques, but also poking holes in plans and sharpening our approach. They also recognize that we, like our students, have to find our own way, and I’ve appreciated that.