You probably have heard about the multiple failures of the Normandy school district, how its board has been replaced by one run by the state Education Department, how all of its teachers have had to obtain new employment contracts, and how many students have fled the district. But what you probably haven’t heard is how one of ITEN’s startup companies has played a key role to get things back on track there.
The company is called Crazy For Education and is run by COO Ed Mass and founder Renato Cataldo. The two met at an ITEN-sponsored 1 Million Cups presentation that Cataldo gave last year and have been working together since then to tune and produce their offering.
The company is a Software-as-a-Service provider of video tutorials that are created by ordinary K-12 classroom teachers who post their lectures to facilitate “flip teaching.” The concept refers to the fact that the lectures are watched by students in the evenings, either at home or at computers that are provided by the schools. The classroom time is reserved for specific one-on-one help or working through problem sets or other materials to supplement the lectures. “By bringing the more in-depth problem solving into the classroom, the playing field becomes far more leveled between people who have academic support at home and those who don’t,” Mass said in a blog post in Techli earlier this month.
As mentioned in this week’s Post Dispatch article, Normandy is moving to the flip model in an attempt to try to bring up their level of instruction, along with other more drastic changes that the state plans on implementing.
What is interesting to ITEN followers is how the company is going about its business. They are deploying a complete cloud-based infrastructure so they can quickly scale up as demand increases and more students and teachers make use of their service. When the company began operations, the principals wanted to build their infrastructure incrementally, using a modular approach to build interchangeable parts that could easily connect. They understood that each part could be replaced if the provider went out of business or when they found something more appropriate or cost-effective. As they added new providers, they looked at what the incremental return on their investment would be for that particular tool. In some cases, they found they could build their own tool for less than the monthly cost for one of their providers. In other cases, such as CRM, they found that there were many solid alternatives and so they shouldn’t even attempt to build their own.
As another example, they needed a solid video-rendering engine since so much of their content was video-related. They looked at a number of providers but eventually ended up using the UK-based provider Vzaar.com, which was much less expensive than any American provider they could find.
The firm spends about $1500 a month on its infrastructure, and has purchased services from vendors around the world for its accounting, Web hosting, payment processing and databases. They have chosen more than a dozen different vendors (see the flow diagram here), some of them offering consumer apps and some that are geared towards businesses. They originally looked at Paypal for their payment processing (teachers are paid per each lesson viewed) but ended up with Stripe.cc because they had a better and more developed API that could be incorporated into their other programs.