One image that has been forever imprinted in my mind is that of my mother, sitting at the kitchen table, amidst a mass of papers. Stacks of folders, neatly organized into piles, stood towering around her. Despite the volume, she was focused and there was an obvious system – evidence that this scene had unfolded dozens of times before.
My mother was an elementary school teacher, and it was report card season in the 1980s.
It struck me years later, as I began to get report cards for my own kids, that despite nearly three decades having passed since the scenes at my childhood kitchen table and the explosion of technology, not a lot had changed. Schools were employing relatively similar tactics to communicate, assess and report student learning as it had when I was going through the system.
Some of the most tech-savvy and connected people I’ve met are teachers, yet the software they use in their professional lives is borderline archaic. Why the gap? Why are teachers and administrators still stuck under those piles of paper, struggling with poorly designed systems that have added even more work?
I’d probably still be stewing about this had I not come across a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that made it all connect. The article was talking about the Medical Records Industry, and how the technology available to physicians is served through a small group of established large-scale providers and an abundance of technology start-ups. In the article, the American Medical Society blamed the poor product on “requiring EMR (electronic medical record) systems to serve too many functions and forcing the fledgeling EMR industry to develop too quickly to respond to users’ concerns.”
Interesting. End users are demanding better, but the tech industry is failing them. Not because of a lack of tech resources, rather because of a lack of focus and consideration on the part of the traditional companies. Sounds all too familiar.
In the education technology space, we struggle with the same phenomenon. The monster SIS and LMS companies, such as PowerSchool and Follet, claim to do it all, which they do, but not well. The result? Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
What’s challenging for us as a smaller, focused EdTech company, is that when we meet with districts that are tied into these behemoth systems, they are all waiting with bated breath for the solution to come from the giant platform with which they are so intertwined. This leaves those of us that have the solution, waiting together with these districts. Everyone loses, especially the teachers.
The education system deserves the best the tech industry is capable of. Unfortunately, the “one-stop shop” approach to EdTech software is leaving educators, and our kids, on the losing end. The solution, in my opinion, is to focus.
At FreshGrade, our focus is connecting parents, teachers and students through the capturing, assessing and sharing of artifacts of a student’s learning. Our focus is parent engagement, and the hope that with continuous parent collaboration, the need for one or two fixed “report card seasons” will eventually disappear. We are accomplishing this by working with educators to rethink how teachers and parents have engaged historically and to bring some modern collaboration tools into the classroom. The engagement of our users is our measurement of success and we are nimble enough to make constant improvements to that experience.
FreshGrade is not the only new EdTech company that is making impactful software because of this commitment to focus. There are dozens of great innovative companies out there working to change the reputation of the traditional educational software landscape, but few are breaking through these old-fashioned barriers.
I truly believe we must shift the thinking away from this idea that one old and established platform can do it all and, instead, allow some of these new, innovative technologies into the classroom. If we don’t, I’m afraid that report card season in another thirty years will look largely the same as it does today.
Lane Merrifield has a passion for the convergence of creativity and technology, which has fueled his life-long journey of entrepreneurship. Currently, Lane is a co-founder and CEO of FreshGrade, a learning collaboration and portfolio tool focused on the challenges facing teachers, parents, and students in the 21st century classroom. FreshGrade is Lane’s second startup to focus on his children, with his first being Club Penguin; the largest online virtual world for kids, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2007 for $350M. Lane served as Executive Vice President at Disney for five years before returning to his entrepreneurial roots.
In 2013 Lane founded Wheelhouse, an organization that supports early stage technology companies and entrepreneurs through mentorship, access to early-stage investment capital, and connections to global business networks and executive expertise.
His teams have won dozens of awards including a BAFTA Award and a Webby Award. Lane has received an Honorary Fellows Award, several leadership awards, and was listed as one of The Hollywood Reporters Top 35 Executives under 35. Lane has served on several technology boards and most recently was appointed to the University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors.