ONLINE INTRIGUE: Last fall Pennsylvania State University’s World Campus launched a small, free skills-focused certificate program meant to help 30 graduate students develop online teaching abilities—but 350 actually showed up, and now the university plans to shake up its professional development to reflect the surge of interest. Laurence Boggess, director of faculty development for the World Campus, told Inside Higher Ed he believes this reflects a larger shift: “These graduate students who are about to go off and be the professors of the future, they get it. They understand that they’re going to be teaching online at some point, and they understand that online education—for better or worse—is not going anywhere.”
The World Campus already offers a more comprehensive, five-course certificate program called the Certificate for Online Teaching. That five-course program covers a broad array of topics such as accessibility, learning management systems and community building. The new smaller program, the Graduate Student Online Teaching Certificate, is designed more tightly around what instructors can expect to encounter in a virtual classroom. Participants might have to show they can effectively record videos, write welcome letters or settle arguments between students on a discussion forum, for example. Boggess says the new, focused program will likely replace the broader one by becoming a core class, with electives built around it.
FULL MEASURE EDUCATION has raised $6 million in a Series B round from Safeguard Scientifics, a publicly traded funder of healthcare and tech companies. The fresh funding comes a year after the D.C.-based company raised $5.5 million. Founded in 2013, Full Measure Education aims to help vocational and community college students plan their studies, finances, counseling services and ultimately chart a path to graduation. There’s also an early-warning system that alerts school officials about students who are at risk of dropping out. Ten schools are currently using its services, reports DCInno, and the company plans to expand to 30 customers by the end of the year.
LTS EDUCATION SYSTEM: Acquired by K12 Inc. for approximately $20 million in cash, as reported by the company during its fiscal Q3 2016 earnings report. Founded in 2001, LTS offers an online, gamified instructional service, Stride Academy, for PreK to high school students and is used in 1,500 schools across 37 states. The company also offers online programs to teach sportsmanship and anti-cyberbullying. K12 CEO Stuart Udell added on the earnings call that LTS currently generates $8 million in revenues and will complement K12 Inc’s own online curriculum program, FuelEd. (Hat tip to EdWeek for the catch.)
BRINGING THE INTERNET OF THINGS TO CLASSROOMS: SAM Labs, a London-based developer of science kits for STEM activities, has raised £3.2 million (approximately US $4.5 million) from investors led by Imperial Ventures and joined by angels who specializes in edtech companies. The funding will help the company to grow internationally, reports TechCrunch.
Founded in 2014, SAM Labs offers electronic kits that integrate with mobile software so that students can control the hardware through an app. It does not require coding or wires—everything happens via bluetooth. Watch the video below to see how it works.
Among the possible exercises available are building a remote controlled camera, mastering Morse code and composing electronic songs. Users may share their creations in an online community.
SAM Labs previously raised over $180,000 from 817 backers in a Kickstarter campaign in October 2014. Now, the company claims that more than 1,000 schools are using the kits. Prices vary from $99 for an individual kit to $779 for bulk purchases in schools and workshops.
CHOSEN BY THE SHARKS: Brightwheel, developer of a communication tool that connects parents and teachers about their toddler’s school days, nabbed $600,000 from celebrity-investors Mark Cuban and Chris Sacca on a recent Shark Tank episode, aired on April 29. This is the second time fundraise for the San Francisco-based startup, which closed a $2.2 million seed round last June.
Founded in 2014, Brightwheel helps teachers capture classroom photos, send daily reports and notifications to parents, and share notes about students with other teachers. The platform also offers automated electronic billings and payment services
Brightwheel CEO Dave Vasen says that the new investment will help the company to improve its offerings. “We’ve obsessed about the user experience from day 1: how to improve speed, functionality, and ease of use. The investment helps to do even more of that.”
The platform is currently being used in all 50 U.S. states and abroad. For now, all features are free, but Vasen plans to create a freemium version with some paid features, such as customized dashboards, live 24x7 support and more detailed reports and analytics. “Today we remain focused on the core Brightwheel experience, which will always be free. We will eventually launch a premium version of Brightwheel that will be completely optional for schools, daycares, and after-school programs,” Vasen says.
ACT, INC., deliverer of the ACT college readiness assessment, has acquired Los Gatos, CA-based OpenEd, a free search and recommendation engine for open education resources. OpenEd will join Pacific Metrics, another ACT subsidiary, in the newly formed ACT Assessment Technologies group, based in California. The group will be led by chief executive officer, Rich Patz, who was previously chief measurement officer for ACT. Founded in 2012 by Adam Blum, OpenEd announced a $2 million seed round at a $10 million valuation back in 2014.
DATA WILL SET YOU FREE: “It is no longer merely a campaign tag line that data should be used to improve student achievement, writes Aimee Rogstad Guidera, President and CEO of Data Quality Campaign (DCQ). Her organization’s latest report explores how U.S. states are using learning data effectively—and responsibly—through student dropout early warning systems, teacher training programs and other data-informed tools.
Written for state education officials, the report offers examples and recommendations for how policymakers can achieve DCQ’s “Four Policy Priorities”: measure what matters; make data use possible; be transparent and earn trust; guarantee access and protect privacy. Highlighted examples include Ohio’s “School Report Cards” website where anyone can dig into any school’s achievement and financial data, and Tennessee’s “Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs.”
TRUE TO ITS NAME: GotIt!, a Menlo Park, CA-based startup behind an on-demand knowledge marketplace, recently got $9 million from its Series A (led by Capricorn Investment Group and eBay co-founder Jeff Kroll) and seed round (led by Fosun Group). A graduate of the Intel Education Accelerator’s first cohort, GotIt! instantly connects learners with experts for 10-minute chat sessions. Company CEO Peter Relan wrote in a blog post that the company currently targets high school and college students, and insists it will “fire experts for life if they just provide answers, or provide wrong explanations, or exchange personal information.”