Zoli Honig, co-founder of Chalkable, which he started with CEO Michael Levy, has created an app store just for teachers, and an innovative new way to easily integrate apps into their classrooms. And as they say on their site, “Yup, we do purchase orders.”
Chalkable is the only app-centric distribution company I know of that can facilitate purchase orders in the hands of teachers (if I'm wrong, let me know in the comments). This app store for all the apps that are best for teaching is an attempt to reduce any pricing, distribution, and ordering friction that inhibit these tools from being a major part of the learning ecosystem. It may seem simple, but the time put into this and the thought that created it should be applauded. Chalkable has made a major first step in solving one of the biggest problems facing education entrepreneurs—getting things into the hands of teachers who want to use them.
In a demonstration during a recent NYC EdTech Entrepreneurs Meetup, it was clear that the entry point for a tool like Chalkable is making it very easy for the teacher to acquire other learning tools on the web, in the form of apps, without having to go through the tedious and sometimes confrontational process of acquiring classroom technologies.
If anything, I think the app store model is a giant foot in the door of a new model for making learning easier in classrooms. Rather than being at the mercy of a state or district budgeting process, a teacher can, for very little cost, streamline the use of web applications as learning tools in his or her classroom, much like how a person siting at home can download an entire CD of music through the iTunes interface. Here's what Honig had to say about the benefits of using Chalkable.
DOUGLAS CRETS: Where does your product remove friction from teacher's working tasks?
ZOLI HONIG: Chalkable focuses really hard on making user interfaces extremely easy to use.
Adoption is directly correlated to ease of use. With many new systems, teachers are inundated with professional development requirements. With Chalkable, a teacher can watch a video and get started sending out assignments, apps included, in less than 5 minutes. Simple is everything when it comes to "everyday tasks."
From the setup to the actual system, we eliminate redundant and complex work for the teacher by leveraging the backend SIS.
For example, the attendance page opens automatically if a teacher logs in within 5 minutes of their class's start time. If a student is falling behind, we let the teacher know with intelligent notifications.
There is no other system a teacher has to log into. We handle the gradebook, shared calendar, attendance, discipline, student records, final grading, messaging, intelligent notifactions, and more.
Chalkable takes care of the basics, so the teacher can focus on the learning.
How does the product facilitate learning?
There are amazing tools and content that are available on the web today that can transform learning. Schools are not using these tools. What we are trying to do at Chalkable is remove the barriers to entry for these amazing educational tools—web apps like Khan Academy, Biodigital Human, and Desmos Calculator. By taking care of the core functionality, apps can simply tie in with our APIs and be easily integrated into the classroom.
In addition to the basics like Calendar and Gradebook, Chalkable also handles Payment, and bridges the gap between schools, using purchase orders, and app developers requiring credit cards. By building an app budget into the product cost, teachers can get started with apps on day one. This allows teachers the flexibility to utilize the best apps for their classroom. Better apps mean better content, and better content facilitates better learning.
What is something you learned about education in working on the product that you didn't expect to find out while you were coming up with a solution for teachers?
Managing a school is really really hard. The unsung heroes are the tech directors charged with juggling as many as 23 systems. Spending time in a school back office reveals just how complex things can get—double data entry and overlapping systems seem to be the status quo.
On the product side, we found that many app developers were rebuilding the same set of tools over and over again, to make their product work for schools. For example, Aviary built an entire gradebook and teacher interface, just to make their amazing web app work for schools. And because of that, time and resources were diverted from their ultimate goal—delivering amazing digital content tools for the web. This also frustrates teachers, because it’s another gradebook to manage.
It seems like industries like advertising are pushing towards apps as content, apps as an interactive, long-term connection between brand and consumers. What's the equivalent for education? Would we see a day where people are more conversant with apps than they are with literature, even an e-book?
We believe that there is a shift taking place: Apps enable teachers to present students with better content in new ways that engage students on levels once reserved for field trips and labs. Look at a video like this of the animation of a cell, and you will get the idea.
The promise that apps make is to realize the holy grail of education reform: individualized education, adaptive learning, and common core standards, allowing each student’s education to perfectly meet their needs.
This post is part of a series of interviews with ed tech companies that present at the NYC EdTech Entrepreneurs Meetup, a startup series that blends educator insights with entrepreneur business presentations. These interviews focus on the philosophy behind the creations, and the reasons for developing them, rather than the straight-up business model. This series is a way to highlight the good of edtech startups, in line with the culture of education.
[Image: Flickr user Mike Oliveri]