Teach Thought named BetterLesson the top education startup of 2012. BetterLesson was created in 2011 by teachers as a digital space where they could connect and communicate with each other to share ideas and resources. Teach Thought notes that the company had already raised more than $1.6 million by the end of 2012 with more than 250 teachers signing up each day.
BetterLesson’s altruistic efforts to help teachers and improve the system is evident in the testimonials of its team. Founder and CEO Alex Grodd writes that he started Better Lesson to “address the challenges he faced in the classroom”; Director of Product Development Yevy Spivak hopes that his work “will help more kids realize the value of education”; even Director of Engineering Grejdi Gjura aims to “change the world one line of code at a time”.
BetterLesson is using technology not to just enhance instructional material, as we’ve seen with Pearson and Scholastic, but to enhance instruction itself. The website’s main page summarizes the services it offers teachers:
Since its inception, BetterLesson has already evolved from a site for teachers to share lessons to a more concentrated effort to improve the teaching system. BetterLesson recently partnered with the National Education Association (NEA) to develop a master teacher program, which selects educators who demonstrate exceptional and innovative teaching. The program collects their lessons and methods in order to share these best practices with teachers across the nation. Cofounder and VP of Operations Erin Osbourne explains,
“What we’re trying to do is frame a living breathing body of knowledge around effective teaching. We feel that’s been missing. When they get feedback that they’re not doing a great job — often they’re just told to read an article or go watch a video or take a webinar. We’re trying to give teachers access to the full richness of their instruction.”
NEA has dedicated $3.9 million to the program; these funds come in addition to the $3.5 million the start-up received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in late 2012 to develop a master teacher program that focuses on the new Common Core standards in 6-12 mathematics.
BettLesson’s efforts to share information among teachers so they can learn from one another is indicative of a recent push in schools for more group work and accountability. Teachers are encouraged to move away from operating as individuals and working toward becoming groups. For the past 10 years, for example, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has been working to create Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where educators work “collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve”.
When discussing innovative digital communication tools with The Wall Street Journal, Chief Executive of NewSchools Venture Fund Ted Mitchell notes BetterLesson’s use of videos and other tools to help educators “crowdsource” their teaching methods. This crowd comprises teachers across the nation and in creating this digital space for them to collaborative with each other, it encourages schools, districts, and even states to move away from operating on their own in an effort to create standardized, nationalized teaching practices, a huge push of the new Common Core standards.
Free social networking companies such as Lore and Better Lesson address the financial limitations many schools face when addressing instructional issues and incorporating technology into the classroom. But it’s these companies that demonstrate how low-budget schools can still benefit from digital publishing, even if it’s not with Scholastic’s interactive white boards.