Announcing LearnSprout Dashboard and LearnSprout Messages
One of the common challenges my teammates and I face is finding good ways to explain the power and potential of LearnSprout to folks who are unfamiliar with APIs and what they’re capable of. Frank came up with a great characterization of this problem a while back when he said, “It’s like we’ve discovered the dilithium crystal, but no one’s figured out warp drive yet.”
The challenge is compounded by the fact LearnSprout is an unseen service with no front end. (This makes for some awkward demos.) We’ve tried describing LearnSprout as invisible pipes, or a sort of irrigation system that moves data like water “cultivating the edtech ecosystem” and we’ve made a great video, but all too often the reaction we get is somewhere between “neat” and “handy”. It’s like folks want to use the dilithium crystal to make a better watch.
So, a couple months ago, we decided to take matters into our own hands and started work on some ideas that could show off the potential of LearnSprout and today, we’re excited to announce two new products: LearnSprout Dashboard and LearnSprout Messages.
Messages began as fun side project to see what might happen if we combined our API with Twilio, the telephony API, but as we began to share it with school administrators it soon became clear that we were onto something. The benefit of a direct database integration with LearnSprout would ensure that the most up-to-the-minute attendance records and contact info would be used. Twilio made it possible to send a very high volume of calls or texts in a matter of seconds. Together they make up a robust school-to-home messaging system that takes just a few minutes to setup, requires no training and costs substantially less than most outbound phone messaging systems.
Cool, right? But here’s the coolest part and I really want to stress this point… Messages took us less than two weeks to build. Of course, I recognize that by saying this that I run the risk of cheapening it in the eyes of some, but it’s important to point out that this was a side project, not a pivot. We are not turning into a telephony company. Our focus is on the development of our API, expanding its reach into new SISs and deeper into additional datasets. But we wanted to show off LearnSprout and hopefully inspire other developers to build something crazy cool. In fact, we think it would be awesome if someone else built their own messaging system off of LearnSprout with even more bells and whistles. This is our mission and is what we mean by “Cultivating the edtech ecosystem.”
The inspiration for Dashboard was the result of simply listening to our customers. Time and again we’ve been urged to “build a dashboard” that would visualize all the data we were exposing from the SIS. What we’ve come to learn is that while SISs are really good at taking in a lot of data, they’re not so great at analyzing that data in useful ways beyond a limited number of basic and compulsory reports. By the sixth or seventh time we heard “build a dashboard” we decided to go for it.
But here’s the most exciting thing about Dashboard. Over time, as we connect to more and more schools, we’re going to be able to help administrators gauge the performance of their schools in the context of broader state and national trends. They’ll be able to view their school’s longitudinal attendance trends against state and national averages, or compare grade point averages by graduating class, or perhaps measure the correlation between attendance and immunizations and compare that to a national trend.
Here’s one quick example. We extrapolated anonymous attendance data that included more than 600,000 marked absences dating back to 2003. We then mapped those events to the lunch status of the corresponding students and found that students who were on free lunch were absent nearly 40% more than full-pay students. Now, the fact that free lunch students are absent more often might not come as a surprise, but the percentage shocked us. As Juan Enriquez points out in a recent article, this kind of data analysis helps move us from “I think I’m sure” to “I know and can prove it.”
Dashboard is in development and will launch in early 2013 with a basic attendance report, but we are cooking up a number of other ideas and will continue to add new reports throughout the year. Like Messages, Dashboard takes just a few minutes to set up and requires no training to use, but unlike Messages which has a per-student annual fee, Dashboard will be completely free. The reason for this is is long-winded and has to do with our business model, but the gist of it centers on the idea that if we can attract a large number of schools with a robust set of free dashboard reports, we can then attract more edtech developers to use our API and further grow the edtech ecosystem.
So stay tuned folks. There’s a lot of moving parts over here at LearnSprout HQ and we’re looking forward to sharing more in the coming weeks and months.
A LOT of News! (seriously)
Lately it’s been tough to keep up with all the amazing news that has been coming our way. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been invited to participate in some of the most important and exciting events surrounding educational technology:
- Invited to the White House to participate in the first-ever Education Datapalooza
- Invited as one of 8 companies to compete in the Reboot America National Challenges competition
- One of 12 companies to be selected to compete in the SiiA Ed Tech Innovation Incubator contest
- Invited to present at the GSV Advisors Education Innovation Summit
- Selected to lead a panel discussion at SXSWedu
In addition, we’ve also had the amazing opportunity to participate in a series of events hosted by Code for America, including:
- Code for America Summit
- Guest blog on the CfA website: "Why I Code for America"
- Code for America Demo Day
- Data Deathmatch - A Hackaton
The hackaton proved to be particularly awesome and validating. A room full of strangers who were generally unfamiliar with education, managed to create some very cool products over the course of 11 short hours. We were blown away and energized to see what could be done with the LearnSprout API.
Needless to say, the team has been extremely busy keeping up with the high demand, but this hasn’t slowed development in the least. When not responding to invitations, demoing and hosting hackathons, the LearnSprout development team managed to do something awesome: The LearnSprout Connect API now pulls live grades!
This opens the door to a world of new possibilities and we’re eager to see how our partner companies might take advantage of this new capability. Some of the ideas we imagined were inspired with questions like the following:
- What exactly, is the correlation between attendance and grades?
- What are the grading patterns by teacher, school, course, grade, etc?
- What would grades look like if grades were geolocated by home residence?
- What data can be combined with live grades to produce an “At Risk” indicator?
- What is the grading and attendance history of each teacher in the district?
The ideas could go on… we’re only limited by our imagination and the wheels are definitely turning.
And so… Yes. It’s been extremely busy. There is an incredible amount of excitement surrounding LearnSprout and the company is being pushed and pulled in a number of promising directions. However, we remain focused on building on our core strength: Improving the biggest, broadest and most robust API for K-12 SISs in existence.
Much more to come gang. Stay tuned!
Announcing Live Attendance!
At LearnSprout, we’re committed to cultivating a vibrant ecosystem of education applications. Opening up new datasets that were previously locked away deep inside student information systems (SISs) is core to our mission. That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’re making current and historical attendance data available to our developers!
Historically, most of the information passed between SISs and other applications was limited to current roster data. The utility in that data is limited as doesn’t go beyond account provisioning and basic demographic analysis. The vast majority of the most valuable student data is still locked away inside the SISs. We believe the rich data stored inside an SIS could be better leveraged in new and useful ways. What if a school wants to transfer richer data sets to power other applications? Sadly it simply doesn’t happen because the deployment friction is too high. In an age where we can plug our social data from sources like Facebook to power third-party applications, it’s a shame the same can’t be done with education data!
“Your son has been absent nine times…”
Even when a school works up the courage to bridge the gap, they are forced to resort to either manual data re-entries or transferring CSVs across e-mail or FTP. This leads to transcription errors, security vulnerabilities, and stale data. It’s a very time consuming and labor intensive process.
Now, developers have the ability to pull live attendance data directly from the source! Data by itself is useless, but if we had a way to analyze and compare it against other related data, we could begin to tackle some long-standing questions that have previously been very difficult to answer:
- Can at-risk students be identified by using live attendance data?
- Does the distance from a school affect attendance rates?
- Does socioeconomic status affect attendance rates?
- What days are students most likely to skip school?
- Which students have missed the most school days?
- Do attendance rates vary significantly by teacher or by school?
- Does attendance affect grades?
The possibilities for analytics get even more interesting when coupled with other applications:
- Do badges and achievements awarded in a behavior management system affect attendance?
- Can classroom attendance rates be correlated to teacher evaluations that are tracked in performance management platforms and other professional development (PD) tools?
- Does software that manages individual learning plans (ILPs) have any effect on attendance?
- Can attendance and grades from 3rd party grade books that are not part of an SIS be analyzed to see if they’re correlated?
The possibilities are endless. You can check out the documentation and try out the new methods on our interactive console. If you have some cool ideas on how to integrate LearnSprout with your software, or if you’ve got a killer idea for the next big thing in edtech that can harness the power of live data, let us know!
So, what exactly is LearnSprout you ask? Check out our new video to find out!
LearnSprout is Growing!
Big News! Today we announce our latest new hire, Paul Smith!
Paul joins us from Pearson after a 12-year run championing the PowerSchool student information system. A former 4th grade teacher, Paul will help us navigate the tumultuous and often mysterious waters of the K-12 edtech scene, heading up our marketing initiatives. Join us in welcoming Paul to the LearnSprout family!
Now Hiring: Mission-Driven Engineers to Improve Education
You, driven by zeal to apply your coding skills to something more worthy than virtual farming, will help define how the next generation of educational software will be built and deployed.
Supported by ImagineK12, Code for America, Andreessen Horowitz, Formation|8, and an awesome network of angel investors.
Location: San Francisco, CA (in the heart of SoMa)
Our tech stack:
- MongoDB, all SQL variants
- Linux, multi-cloud infrastructure
- LearnSprout Connect – our developer API service for school information
- LearnSprout HallPass – our identity service for students and teachers
- LearnSprout Provisioning – our developer service to provide easy app distribution
What we want:
- Passion for education (industry experience is a plus)
- Familiar with or desire to learn a variety of programming languages and databases
- Willingness to roll your sleeves up and tackle customer issues
- Flexible with task prioritization and thrives in a fast-paced startup environment
What we need:
- BS or MS in Computer Science or equivalent work experience
- Strong verbal & written communication skills
- Excellent troubleshooting skills
What you get:
- Highly competitive compensation package
- Generous tech hardware budget to get you comfortable
- Medical, dental and vision insurance
Still interested? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d like to see your resume, GitHub profile and a bit about why you’d like to work for LearnSprout.
New Products & Services
Our team has been hard at work creating new features. We’re excited to announce our first suite of products and services designed by demand. Our customers have been very vocal about how we can help them with data integration and these are a few of our most requested services. If these sound interesting to you, sign up on our website to learn more or get started!
Connect: Connect provides simple access to data locked away in student information systems. With our flexible integration technologies, LearnSprout is able to tap into any SIS and serve you with the most up to date data. Build once to the LearnSprout API and pull data from your partner schools or any other school in the LearnSprout network.
Provision: Provision makes it painless to bring new technology into the classroom. With the student and staff information available from LearnSprout Connect, we’ll create all the necessary accounts so students and staff will be ready to go start when adopting new technology.
Hallpass: Avoid the headaches of provisioning and account management with LearnSprout Hallpass. Have your Connect enabled schools automatically provisioned with Hallpasses which are unique to each student or staffer. Built with the intelligence of the LearnSprout network, it is the smart and easy way to manage accounts.
Verify: As data specialists, we detect data integrity and quality issues when you Connect your SIS to the LearnSprout network. If you need data quality data from missing fields to mismatching IDs, LearnSprout has it.
Come and get your Libraries!
To all of you developers out there who gave us a ton of feedback around our APIs, thank you so much. We’re happy to say we just released a couple of helper libraries to our developer community. This should bootstrap you onto the LearnSprout APIs much faster. The libraries can be found here:
If you have any questions, feel free to email us at support [at] learnsprout.com.
Also, special props to one of our developer members who built our Ruby Library, Kabuko.