The move to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic created many technology headaches for families and educators. But one company large and one small give a glimpse of how some tech products and services should ease the burden of online education and ultimately help them return to open schools.
As Seattle schools prepared to reopen earlier this spring, Qualtrics, the experience management software company with a large presence in the city, was behind the technology used to survey families about learning preferences.
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Meanwhile, Screencast-O-Matic, a small Seattle company that provides a screen capture and video editing platform, saw a surge in demand for its products as it offered an alternative to zoom calls for classes, presentations, and more.
The disruption to education caused by the pandemic proved particularly lucrative for educational technology companies in 2020, according to EdSurge.
When Seattle Public Schools sent an Intent to Return to In-Person survey to families in April, the technology was endorsed by Qualtrics. SPS searched for information about student enrollment plans for the remainder of the school year and wanted to find out why some families were choosing 100% distance learning or hybrid (part-time face-to-face and part-time distance learning) learning. The intention was to help plan resources on the ground across the district.
Founded in 2002 in Provo, Utah, Qualtrics was acquired by SAP in 2018 and spun off as a public company earlier this year, raising $ 1.55 billion in an initial public offering. The company is headquartered in Seattle, where it employs approximately 800 of its 3,300 people and had sales of $ 763 million in 2020.
Companies use Qualtrics’ platform to collect data on how customers, employees, and others experience their products and services, and take action based on the results.
Qualtrics conducted surveys for schools during the pandemic, such as for symptom review and contact tracing. (Qualtrics image)
Working with educators is an important part of the $ 16 billion company. It now works with over 600 school districts in North America and more than 25 in Washington state.
“Our mission on the Qualtrics education team is to help school and district leaders deliver the best experiences for students, families, faculty and staff,” Omar Garriott, Qualtrics’ global education leader, told GeekWire.
This was particularly relevant during the pandemic for things like symptom testing, contact tracing, and student / staff / resident wellbeing. Qualtrics has created a Return to Learn Hub of resources to help administrators make data-driven decisions to create a safer learning environment.
“We have seen schools use these check-ins to quickly understand virtual learning issues and assess how they felt upon physical return to school,” said Garriott.
Outside Seattle, there are the following other districts in Washington that use Qualtrics:
- Vancouver Public Schools: To manage budget cuts and parent feedback during the pandemic.
- Bellingham Public Schools: for high school graduates and alumni engagement, as well as digitizing and automating cross-departmental workflows as employees worked remotely during COVID.
- Mead School District: to prevent exposure and transmission through daily symptom control.
- Edmonds School District: To collect information and feedback from students and families going into the school year. In addition, Qualtrics’ translation capabilities have greatly enhanced the ability to interact with the non-English speaking families in the district.
Garriott said many schools learn about Qualtrics through word of mouth, often from neighboring schools or districts, or from certain executives who have used Qualtrics in previous roles. The company also reached out to schools when it launched the Return to Learn Hub.
Screencast-O-Matic’s mantra, founded in 2006, is that video simplifies communication and simplifies video creation.
The company has always had schools as a key customer so teachers and students can create videos and have a more productive learning experience. The pandemic has only accelerated usage across the educational ecosystem.
Screencast-O-Matic, which has fewer than 50 employees, saw traffic grow 825% at the height of the pandemic and has reached more than 11 million users in 190 countries.
“When the pandemic broke out, we saw a very sharp surge in demand around the world, starting with Italy and expanding rapidly,” said Founder and CEO Matt Champagne. “We’re a small business, and while we’re being used by millions of people around the world, we weren’t at all prepared for the kind of heavy-duty and emergency response required by teachers, schools, districts and universities.”
To accommodate this unique environment, Screencast-O-Matic has completely shifted its focus to operating and meeting market needs, including:
- Increased data center and partner API capacity
- Increased capacity of the support team
- Put unnecessary settings on hold in order to concentrate on the operation
- Put much of the product development roadmap on hold to focus on operations
- The support model has changed to provide more direct support and onboarding
- A free version of its products was already available and made paid plans available free of charge upon request during the crisis. Many schools were unable to obtain approval for new purchases during the emergency.
“It was an incredibly intense time for the team, but we also felt we needed to change our growth plans to help customers deal with the new remote environment with easy-to-use and easily accessible tools,” added Champagne.
Some of the schools that use Screencast-O-Matic technology are Seattle Public Schools, University of Washington Law School, UW iSchool, Washington State University, Bellingham Public Schools, Renton Technical College, and more.