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Edmodo Turns to Its Roots for a New CEO

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In March 2013, Edmodo made its first--and, to date, only--acquisition: Root-1, a small, unassuming startup founded a couple years earlier that built adaptive learning apps.

What Root-1 lacked in a flashy product or large customer base, it made up for in talent--including Edmodo’s next CEO. Today, Edmodo will announce that Vibhu Mittal, co-founder and CEO of Root-1, will be its next chief executive.

Edmodo’s co-founder, Crystal Hutter, who has served as CEO since February 2013, will “focus on strategic partnerships” under a new title, President. The company is keeping mum on details about her work.

A computer scientist by training, Mittal has held key positions at illustrious research, academia and technology organizations like Xerox PARC, Carnegie Mellon University and Google, where he helped the search giant refine its machine learning and natural language processing engine. Mittal has been Chief Technology Officer and head of engineering at Edmodo since the acquisition.

The other Root-1 co-founders, Manish Kothari and Ketan Kothari, remain in their current positions as General Manager of Platform and VP of Marketing, respectively, at Edmodo. Prior to Root-1, the brothers co-founded AlphaSmart, which developed portable word processors for schools. The company went public in 2004 and was acquired by Renaissance Learning for $57 million in 2005.

The San Mateo, CA-based company hopes to leverage that experience to convert its impressive user numbers to drive revenue. Edmodo has always boasted impressive adoption stats: More than 45 million teachers, parents, administrators and students across nearly 200 countries are using its free platform--a mix of social networking and learning management system that has the look and feel of Facebook. Forty percent of its users hail from outside the U.S.

But looming in the horizon are big questions and expectations around its business, especially as the company has raised $87.5 million in venture capital and grown to nearly 100 full-time employees.

Key to Edmodo’s success, says its new CEO, will be a focus on measuring student learning. “We’ve always been a platform that helps teachers communicate with students and there are millions of resources that they’ve shared,” Mittal tells EdSurge. “But we don’t know how these resources help students or impact learning outcomes.”

With its large user base, the company says it can identify broad insights and trends about how teachers and students use the millions of different online resources, such as YouTube videos, that are frequently shared on the platform--and whether they’re working.

“Longitudinal attempts to try to understand efficacy are possible because we can now do experiments at scale,” says Mittal. He’d like to help teachers observe student performance throughout the school year and identify when performance shifts occur. “I want to ask, ‘Can I correlate certain behaviors to certain outcomes?’ If so, I’d like to encourage these behaviors.”

Edmodo’s first crack at offering data on student learning is Snapshot, a free tool that lets teachers create short quizzes aligned to Common Core math and English language arts standards for grades 3-12. Teachers can see basic, classroom-level reports on their students’ progress. Schools with more than 500 students can purchase a license for $2,000 per year that come with administrator dashboards that provide more detailed data on student learning.

Another revenue stream comes from Edmodo’s professional development services, which range from one-day, in-person training for $2,500 to a six-week online course, called “Edmodo in Action,” for $7,500 (for a group of 25 teachers).

While the company is not disclosing how many have paid for these services, a third revenue channel--the Edmodo app store--hasn’t yet lived up to expectations. Launched two years ago, the store currently offers over 600 apps spanning standard classroom subjects, along with coding, professional development, and productivity tools. Mittal admits “we could be doing better on app sales, and we probably will when we make the apps more integrated in the classroom.” Currently Edmodo offers an API to track and display app activity onto a dashboard that teachers and students can see, but few developers have used it.

Figuring out how to best connect the millions of online teachers and students with the seemingly infinite learning resources now available will be critical not just for Edmodo, but for the industry as a whole. “The really interesting challenge for this decade will be the effective integration the multitude of resources available to us online,” says Mittal.

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