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.