Edmodo is a network platform enabling teachers and students to connect, collaborate and share content. Hot Topics caught up with two of the co-founders: CEO, Crystal Hutter and Chief Product Officer, Nic Borg.
Hot Topics: Given that edtech companies today are still faced with reluctance from institutions and schools, and you were doing this six years ago, how difficult was it to get your technology adopted in schools in the US?
Nic Borg: We were really surprised in some respects because what happened was the adoption of Edmodo started at the bottom with individual teachers bringing each other on. Typically, by the time 60-80% of the teachers at a school were using Edmodo, an administrator would find out and they would actually be incredibly supportive because one of the biggest challenges they had was getting people to use the digital tools in their classrooms. In early 2010, we built out a set of administrator features, initially just for a school district in Texas called Katy ISD, and allowed other school districts to adopt those administrator features again in a really grassroots kind of way. We’re now in over 60,000 schools in the US that have these administrator features turned on.
HT: You’ve got some amazing investors including Union Square ventures, Greylock and Benchmark. At what point did the investors really see the opportunity for Edmodo?
Crystal Hutter: One of the reasons we partnered with Union Square Ventures so early on was that about two years before they invested in Edmodo, they embarked upon an initiative to bring innovation to education and had been quite open about their interest in being able to invest in some innovative com- panies in this space. When we first met them in the fall of 2010, there was a lot of alignment with our mission and the desire to be able to create a platform that empowered teachers to actually connect with their students and make sure that each one of their students had the resources they need to achieve their potential. The type of growth and com- mitment from the user base that they saw in Edmodo is something that was very familiar to them.
HT: How have those investors proven to work with?
CH: They’re awesome. All of the investors that we work with are very much in the camp of the entrepreneur and of our end users. Every conversation that we have with them is focused around how can we make the right decision about our product to have the biggest impact for the most number of users. So those are the conversations we have every day with them and they all have really unique insights from products that they’ve built that contribute to our thinking.
HT: In terms of bringing on students to the platform, is it right that the teachers came first and they would evangelise the platform to their students? What was the process around that?
CH: From day one, Edmodo was a simple way for teachers to find a really safe way to connect with their students. That means teachers come to Edmodo, sign up and create groups, which are essentially these private access groups and they invite their students to join that group. Typically you’ll see a teacher bring all of their students into a computer lab or have a set of laptops brought in or maybe they’re in a one to one environment where every student has brought in their own device and the teacher will say – the first time – go to Edmodo.com. Once students join Edmodo, the teacher gives them a private access code. Once those students are in the group, they’re communicating with the group as a whole or with the teacher and the students can’t connect with each other without teacher oversight.
HT: So there can be interaction between student to student?
CH: The way that it is designed is very much like a classroom but bringing it online. Teachers can create small groups and put the students they want communicating with one another together, for example if two students are working on a project and the teacher doesn’t want their communication to disturb the whole class. In these small groups, teachers are still able to oversee all of the student communication.
HT: If we look at the edtech sector generally, which other trends are you most excited about going forwards?
CH: We’re always focused on how do we continue to get devices into students hands and sufficient bandwidth in the classrooms so that teachers can leverage even more and even better learning and discover the optimal learning experiences to help their students master subjects and em- brace learning in ways that we’ve never seen before.
NB: Personalisation allows the teacher to be more productive and spend more of their time actually teaching and being able to engage with their students in different ways and really get them to master a particular concept. That’s where the network can be so powerful because we have all these experiences going on across the globe where teachers are effectively trying to relate a finite set of topics to students. They can help each other figure out what’s working best and deliver those experi- ences, and that really results in a far faster degree of innovation around the world, whereas the experience in classrooms has been relatively stagnant for decades.
HT: Edmodo has more than 34 million teachers and students signed up to the platform right now, how big can the company become?
NB: If we can get Edmodo into every classroom and ultimately be the delivery mechanism of every learning experience, then we have completed our mission to connect learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential. That is growing every day and ultimately guides the direction of the product.
CH: We’re here until every single kid in the world, no matter where they’re at, can access Edmodo and instantly learn a concept that’s most important to them.