Consider the humble high school report card, inarguable metric of a student's progress and the source of much anxiety for just about every teenager in American history. But think of this: You only get it once a term, and by the time you find out, it's already too late to do anything about it. It may be a staple of the educational system, but looked at from the perspective of modern business intelligence, it's just awful.
That's the problem that DEMO Enterprise 2014 winner Learnmetrics, a Chicago-based startup founded by a former Connecticut high school teacher, wants to solve. By ingesting existing educational data, Learnmetrics can give teachers real-time insight into student performance and take action before it's too late.
Basically, Learnmetrics wants to help teachers in the school districts it sells to get full insight into the data they already collect, says Learnmetrics founder and CEO Julian Miller.
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By aggregating student data, teachers can do things like detect problem students and intervene before it's too late, identify parts of a curriculum that students are struggling with and correct the course, or spot trends in standardized test scores, all in real-time.
Learnmetrics itself isn't really a platform for collecting that data -- the cloud platform has API hooks into common educational platforms like Blackboard, but it also supports importing Excel spreadsheets or even bringing information from good old fashioned pen-and-paper grading books into the platform by hand.
The Learnmetrics solution dates back to Miller's teaching days, when he designed the first version of what would become the platform as an Excel spreadsheet. It worked to expose the insights into student trends he was looking for and spot outliers, but it was messy.
"It was all by hand, and not all scalable," Miller says.
Some contract work with an educational consulting firm led Miller to reconsider his business model, which in turn led to working to refine those spreadsheets into a product and found a real, honest-to-goodness startup. Miller says the Learnmetrics team is small and primarily technical -- he prefers to let the product speak for itself rather than spending a lot on marketing at this point. The product is billed annually at a per-student rate
The major challenge with Learnmetrics, says Miller, is that teachers are incredibly wary. Like other nonprofit organizations, schools have been burned by Silicon Valley companies coming in, promising the world, and under-delivering.
"[In Silicon Valley,] There's a bias towards thinking of the learner as an individual," says Miller.
Which is to say that Silicon Valley companies that promote digital textbooks and interactive learning experiences or what-have-you assume an engaged group of entrepreneurial young minds who are willing to take their education into their own hands. That may describe the engineers who built those products, but that's not really consistent with Miller's classroom experience, he says.
Instead, Learnmetrics is an intelligence platform designed to bolster the teacher-student relationship. After all, actionable insights into student behavior still require someone to act on it.
Learnmetrics doesn't really present a foreign concept to those who use data to drive better customer service, but it's definitely a new curriculum for the educational system.