Amy Lin, Gabriel Cebrian and Harrison Gordon met while working at Microsoft in Redmond. They were drawn together by their desire to do something in education. Lin played an active role in Seattle-based Meetups on edtech. She even captured top marks at a Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle around the idea of creating a product to help teachers communicate with their students.
Bolstered by that success, Lin, Cebrian and Gordon pitched their idea to the Imagine K12 founders--and it fell flat. The accelerator had just launched a similar product--Remind 101--and wasn't eager to create a second version. But the team members seemed so promising that Imagine K12 offered them a spot--provided they'd come up with a new idea.
Lin and her colleagues poured themselves into research. By Lin's count they interviewed or talked with 200 teachers over about three weeks, probing the problems and frustrations that they experience every day. Their conclusion: Teachers were eager to have an easy place where they could collect, annotate and organize digital materials.
How it works: anyone who signs up for a subscription account can create a "canvas" and pull in other materials--from videos to URLs to plain old text. They can annotate the pieces, then share their collection with either students or teachers. Anyone can see sample "canvases" on the Blendspace home page; registered users can see collections of canvases created by others and organized according to disciplines. Teachers can register their students by inviting them onto Blendspace via email.
The company has seen teachers use Blendspace in 4 ways:
- Presentations: Add online multimedia like YouTube videos, documents and websites simply by drag-and-dropping
- Flipping the class: Create self-paced lessons and share with just one link
- Project-Based learning: Students can research, learn and showcase their projects
- Differentiated instruction: Personalize student learning with different online materials
Who's using it: As of August 2013, Lin says Blendspace has been used by over 100,000 teachers.
Business model: The company has a free version available for teachers and also a premium version for teachers that has rich collaboration features. A entire school and district can onboard the premium version with volume discounts + SIS integration.
Competition: Blendspace organizes the materials in its portfolio in a "Pinterest"-kind of way that has also been adopted recently by Grockit's Learn.ist, But while Learn.ist has a big social element, it wasn't designed to help classroom teachers share a lessons with their classes. Edmodo lets teachers "collect" materials --but that's only one element of a larger effort. Similarly Pathbrite lets students create digital portfolios--but it's not as directly tuned to the needs of teachers.
Check this out: We liked the review of parts of speech, using Schoolhouse Rock. (Alright "Conjunction Junction"!) It will be fantastic to see students starting to put together their own collections of materials.
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