In what is the most-watched TED Talk to date, Sir Ken Robinson makes a convincing case for why the educational system in the U.S. needs to be torn down and rebuilt: It stifles creativity. Robinson is not alone in his belief that the current system revolves around inflexible curricula and churning out standardized test-taking drones, rather than free-thinking individuals. It’s for this reason that personalized learning has become one of the hottest topics in education and is often cited as the key to re-humanizing education.
Many believe that building personalized learning into education (and what role technology should play) starts with data. Always Prepped, a new education startup that recently launched in beta, is on a mission to help create this new era of data-driven classrooms and help improve student performance. The company has raised a $650K round of seed funding led by True Ventures and supported by participation from angel investors like AddThis Founder and Chairman Hooman Radfar and former Blackboard EVP Todd Gibby.
Founder and CEO Fahad Hassan designed Always Prepped with 200 active and former teachers after learning that some of the biggest problems facing educators today involve fragmentation and the lack of portability in educational data.
Across the board, teachers reported using anywhere from three to 10 systems in the classroom, like an LMS, two or three math apps, video learning tools, reading apps, and so on. Naturally, each app, device and solution contains valuable teacher and student data, but generally speaking, there’s no easy way for teachers to access that data and have it inform other systems. So, Hassan decided to focus on making data consumable and actionable for teachers across all their platforms.
The founder says that he wants Always Prepped to do for education what Mint.com did for money management — that is to say, in the same way that Mint aggregates your financial data through a sexy, easy-to-consume front-end, Hassan wants to bring that kind of software and all-in-one management tool to educators. The funding will allow Hassan to continue to build out the team and continue to focus on product and user experience.
After all, teachers are currently using assessment tools, behavior tracking apps, attendance systems and other tools to monitor student progress, but that data is everywhere and doesn’t yet speak to the rest of the group. By creating a centralized dashboard to collect those data silos, Hassan believes Always Prepped can begin to fill a huge void in the space.
And unlike many edtech entrepreneurs, the space — and the needs of educators — is actually familiar to the founder. His first company, Daylert, a higer-ed-focused startup, was bought by Intelliworks in 2008. Hassan stayed on at the company as VP of Business Development and stayed there until early 2011, when he left to start Always Prepped.
As to where the startup is today (besides being $650K richer): The founder tells us that the team has spent the last eight or so months working on the basic product but have already integrated with the likes of Khan Academy and Engrade, using their APIs to dynamically pull teacher data. Going forward, the startup will be looking to focus on integrations and plan to have between five and seven systems done by the end of the year. Always Prepped already has a small group of teachers beta testing, and they have collectively uploaded over 20K assessments. This is part of the reason that the startup is now seeing its dataset double in size each week — all of which is organic.
While these early integrations, growing data set and seed funding all add up to some nice early validation, there’s still the question of how Always Prepped will monetize — an ever-nagging question among edtech startups. Obviously, the backing from True and others gives the startup some rope, and the founder says that the team is in no rush to decide on its business model, though he does know that they won’t be focusing on selling to districts or teachers anytime soon.
All in all, Always Prepped has a lot going for it. And you have to love that the team has (at least nominally) built and designed the service in conjunction with teachers. It sounds simple, but it is difficult to overstate the importance of this approach for early-stage startups. Many founders and engineers tend to believe that they can build products that they’d like to see in the classroom, focusing on beautiful software and code rather than building something that teachers use every day, even if it doesn’t look like Path right off the bat.
When we talk about the factors that can help improve student outcomes and personalize the learning environment, it’s not just data, APIs and App Store distribution that will be responsible for flipping education. Teachers are often overlooked in this equation, but they remain the most important interface between students and parents and students and content. The more (intelligent) data we can put in their hands (and the more we can grease the wheels by shifting away from standardized assessment), the more they can own and personalize the learning experience for their students.
The integrated, all-in-one dashboard approach sounds like an exciting place to start. And even though Always Prepped may not have any direct, one-to-one competition in this regard, companies like LearnSprout and Clever are using APIs to open up Student Information Systems — where most student data currently lives.
Blended learning platforms like Education Elements, Engrade and Edmodo also touch on this use case as do many learning management systems, but most integrate with systems or software that are being used on the district level. And that’s where Always Prepped can differentiate: By being a consumer- and front-end-facing data visualization tool for a potentially huge audience.
Although, it does make one stop and ask, if this is such a big problem for teachers, why hasn’t this been nailed yet?
Always Prepped is still in private beta for now, though the startup will be lifting the veil pretty soon. For more, find the startup at home here.
Always Prepped provides online tools that help to manage student and classroom data. Teachers choose from any supported online site, application, or partner and import their data into a single stream for powerful analysis on all of their students or classes. Teachers can also easily send parents real-time report cards with a single click on all student activity across all digital platforms being used. Always Prepped is in beta as of November 2012.