UClass Gets $1M to Give Districts a Dropbox for Digital Resources

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San Francisco, CA-based UClass has raised $1 million in a seed and bridge round from investors that include Golden Angel Investors, Social+Capital Partnership, Ezra Callahan (one of the earliest Facebook employees) and others angels.

Founded in 2012, the company offers schools and districts a cloud storage and content management environment for digital learning resources. The platform comes pre-loaded with 17 million content items (spanning videos, lesson plans, assessments and games). Administrators and teachers can also upload their own materials, tag them by keywords or Common Core standards, and make them available to other schools in the district.

Zak Ringelstein, co-founder and CEO, says UClass has a “presence” in over 5,000 schools, including entire districts in Marin County and San Mateo County in California, along with charter school networks like Aspire Public Schools and Green Dot Public Schools. Ringelstein, who taught for Teach for America after graduating college, is also growing partnerships with schools around the world through his former organization, along with Teach For All. (Wendy Kopp, who co-founded both Teach for America and Teach For All, is an early UClass supporter.)

UClass’s traction is driven by the mentality that the customer is always right--but only if it’s the right customer. Ringelstein says that when UClass launched in November 2012, his approach has been to “create an image of exclusivity by creating a competitive way of getting our product.” He boasts: “We had over 100 applications from schools for our first rollout. We only picked 10.”

“We don’t believe when people say it’s impossible to sell to districts,” says Ringelstein. “We choose a teacher champion at each school. We are actively creating ambassadors who end up being our sellers.”

UClass wants to help districts organize the scattered collections of digital materials collected in piecemeal fashion by educators. It’s a problem that many schools--not just the tech-savvy private and charter--will be facing in the coming years, notes Ringelstein. For instance, the Florida board of education stipulates that beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, 50% of the funding allocated to schools for purchasing instructional materials must go to resources in a digital or electronic format.

To help schools manage these resources, UClass is deploying analytics features that will let administrators see which teachers are the most active uploaders of content, the subjects and file types most frequently shared by teachers, and what materials are used to teach different standards.

Teachers will also be able to see how students perform on assessments after using a particular resource. But don’t infer too much during the early stages, advises Ringelstein, who says these analytics offer more of a correlative--not causal--look at the effectiveness of content. Student performance on tests, he reminds, depends on a variety of other factors other than what instructional resource was used.

It’s worth noting that UClass has changed up its founding mission, which was to connect teachers and students around the world. The platform does not allow for learning materials to be shared across different districts. While this “walled garden” strategy may seem counterintuitive in an age of openness and sharing, Ringelstein believes this approach serves his customers best.

“We have come to learn that localization of content is still very important in our increasingly global education world,” he tells EdSurge. “School systems and districts each have unique cultures, economies and philosophies. Thus, sharing within these local contexts serves teachers and students for the realities of their community and future.”

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