LearnBoost: Bringing Innovation and Openness to Education (2/2) ☆

| September 14, 2010

Continued from Previous Post: LearnBoost: Bringing Innovation and Openness to Education

LearnBoost (Class view)

LearnBoost allows teachers to manage their classroom by offering an amazing gradebook and software for managing and creating lesson plans, tracking attendance, maintaining schedules, integrating calendars including Google calendars, seamless tagging of Common Core State Standards, and much more.

This is the second segment of an interview with LearnBoost CEO and Co-founder Rafael Corrales.  (Read the first segment.)

NG: With other companies offering comprehensive school-administration software, why are you keeping LearnBoost primarily a gradebook?  How are you maintaining your focus?

RC: There are two things that keep us focused: 1) don’t have the time to do everything, so we’re always thinking about what’s our highest priority and 2) we don’t want to include every single feature because then you have bloated software.

A lot of our customers said that they wanted to be able to subscribe to their Google calendar.  We realized that most people have four or five accounts for something that should be one.  In our interviews with customers we kept hearing, “why do I need an account at a lesson plan website, a different account at Google, and a different account at my school?”  Think about how many people have Gmail and use the Google calendar.  Teachers use Google calendar more than they use whatever is provided at their school.  That’s why we saw the value of having Google calendar integration.  We needed to let teachers use the calendar functions in Google calendar with our software.  With the current software teachers can subscribe to their calendar.  They can import events, but not export.  Not yet…

As far as other features… For example, lesson planning.  We noticed that teachers create really interesting lesson plans.  Why shouldn’t you be able to share them with people?  Why don’t we let teachers collaborate?  There are free lesson plan sharing websites and paid lesson plan sharing websites, but I don’t think a lesson-planning company is fulfilling a great need.  It’s just a feature, not a real product.  Lesson-planning software is not that difficult to do for a team of technologists.  So we did the work for it and added a lesson-planning feature.

One thing that drives us is understanding the history of business.  Think about Quicken: it came out late to the market and it seemed that all the functions were being done.  But Quicken only has core features – core features with a great price.  That’s the model.  So, we talked to teachers and administrators, and we took a tour of their system to see what they really need.  They kept telling us, “I don’t use that and I don’t need that.”  We got a TON of feedback.  And although we can’t do everything that everyone suggests, we do read everything and I think we interpret the feedback well.  We will get a pretty good idea from one teacher and then another from an administrator, and then there is synthesis from the ideas.  We want LearnBoost to provide only what teachers will actually use.

NG: Will certain features stay free once you launch the premium account?  Ning has become something of a dirty word ever since they cut their free accounts.

RC: We learned from our interviews and research that a lot of schools were disappointed by what was available for school-administration software.  So, we realized that we could break the monopoly by bringing the freemium model to education (i.e., making certain tools available for free.)  The gradebook in current iteration will always be free.

It’s interesting that you mention ning.  When we saw that we said those guys shot themselves in the foot.  They lost the trust of all these educators.  It’s not easy to gain their trust.  We know that we need to be very careful when we say that things will stay free.  Having a free account gets teachers and admin comfortable with LearnBoost.  We want people to get out there and use our software.  As we continue to develop the full system for schools, I think a lot of schools will say, “My teachers already use this, let’s switch over to LearnBoost for a premium account.”

NG: Can you explain some of the innovative technologies that power LearnBoost?  How do you see LearnBoost positioned with the open-education movement?

RC: We’re committed to open-source software and we want to bring innovation and openness to education. A lot of our development team does open-source work on their own, so it’s near and dear to our hearts.  There’s a certain idealism that pervades LearnBoost.  (Laughs.)  But it’s also because by open-sourcing projects, we can move a lot faster.  What we lose by not being proprietary (i.e., a competitor could use our technology), we make up for in speed of development.

We are getting contributions left and right from programmers, which extends our resources for the technologies that power LearnBoost.  Instead of just having a handful of people, we have a development team, a community of programmers, and a huge number of open-source fans.  I haven’t looked recently, but the last time I checked we had 1000 developers following our work.  That’s a big part of the engine that powers LearnBoost.  One of the places we are going is to allow real-time collaboration…  It’s coming soon.  That project alone has 700 followers.  So right now, we are laying the ground for new features.

A lot of developers are attracted to working for us/with us.  I think most other education companies don’t have that benefit.  There are a lot of technologists who have an interest in education, but very few companies are doing things on technology side.  We are really being seen as an innovative company.

LearnBoost Gradebook

LearnBoost Gradebook

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