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inBloom launches with Gates/Carnegie funds to unify e-learning services

Summary:Despite the recent explosion in ed tech applications and services, adoption and use of data remains a significant challenge. InBloom's new platform just may change that.

By Christopher Dawson for ZDNet Education | February 7, 2013 -- 15:32 GMT (07:32 PST)

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As recently as a couple years ago, the biggest problem schools faced with implementing technology tools for students and teachers was the lack of research-based, pedagogically sound, applications. There was plenty of software, some of it good, not much of it great, and very little of it really cranking out usable data for teachers and other stakeholders. The recent explosion of investment in ed tech has yielded some really valuable applications, though, and the challenges have shifted to adoption and ease of use of disparate software and services.

inBloom, which launched this week, is hoping to change that. I had the chance to talk with Iwan Streichenberger, CEO of inBloom, Inc., and couldn't help but be impressed with both the current platform and the future vision of the non-profit. inBloom offers a set of technologies and services, most notably robust APIs, that allow single sign-on and aggregation of data from many web-based educational tools and provide a basis for companies to develop new solutions for schools, teachers, parents, and students that are interoperable without needing to conform to arbitrary standards or conventions. As the company put it in their press release,

The inBloom data integration and content search services enrich learning applications by connecting them to systems and information that currently live in a variety of different places and formats, while helping to reduce costs for states and districts. This comprehensive view into each student’s history can help those involved in education...act quickly to help each student succeed. It also helps educators locate standards-aligned instructional resources from multiple providers and match them with their students’ needs...

Additionally, the inBloom framework enables technology providers to develop and deploy products without having to build custom connections to each state and district data source. This means more developers will have the opportunity to create new and powerful applications to benefit students, with lower implementation costs and faster time-to-market. 

For example, an SIS provider could build a custom dashboard with student data from any application connected to inBloom. 22 such providers have already signed on to connect their applications to inBloom and 9 states are involved in piloting the service. The real goal, though, goes back to the ed tech holy grail of " an IEP for everyone " (my words - inBloom calls it "[integration of] student data and learning applications to support sustainable, cost-effective personalized learning"). If teachers can't easily access data generated by learning applications and stored in SIS/LMS platforms and then quickly find and provide appropriate resources for students based on these data, then we aren't leveraging the tools in which we're investing. Kids are just taking tests on the web and playing computer games at that point and, with 30+ kids in a class, there's no real hope of differentiated instruction.

Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation have funded a wide range of educational initiatives, this one (which received initial philanthropic funding from the two organizations) strikes me as one of the most potentially transformative. Nobody benefits if the current unprecedented levels of investor interest in ed tech becomes a bubble that funded lots of applications from which teachers and students derive limited benefit. But if inBloom can harness these applications to develop a meaningful, well-rounded ecosystem, then the potential for ed tech to achieve much of what it has promised in the last 20 years (with only moderate success) increases significantly. It doesn't hurt that companies with great ideas and great products will be able to tap into a ready market, either, eager to adopt strong applications from a unified ecosystem.

There will be more announcements and demonstrations from inBloom at SxSWEdu at the beginning of March where we'll be able to see the system in action.

Topics: Government

About Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust Microsoft, coffeeshops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90's and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health a... Full Bio

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Disclosure

Christopher Dawson is the owner and principle consultant for tekedu.net, formerly 6geeks.net, formerly 2D Business Services. Obviously this little company has evolved over the years, first as a side job consulting for local biotechs and ultimately becoming an umbrella for consulting and writing work related to educational technology. He spent 2 years as Vice President of Business Development for WizIQ, Inc., heading up US operations for the Indian company; he still consults for them. He has worked for his local school district as a teacher and technology director, for the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, and for Biogen, Inc. (now Biogen-IDEC, Inc.). He has also consulted with STATNet and Cytyc Corporation and retains close ties with X2 Development Corporation (now part of Follett Software, the supplier of the student information system he administered for several years), including occasional activities that involve some sort of honorarium. However, he promises that if he writes about anything interesting they do, it's because it's interesting and not because they tossed him a few hundred bucks a while back. He regularly purchases and/or recommends Dell hardware. This is because Dell makes good hardware and has truly committed itself to education in innovative ways, particularly with their "Connected Classroom" initiative. It isn't because he has had dealings with the company through his role at WizIQ (which he has) or because they have provided him with long-term loans of a variety of equipment for in-depth testing (which they have). HP gets nods from him, too; they have similarly provided him with equipment on long-term loan and their workstations rock out loud, so they deserve the coverage. He actually buys Apple equipment because they don't send him free stuff and he has a nasty Apple habit that he can't help feeding occasionally. Intel (reference designer for the Classmate PCs he has implemented in his local schools) has provided him with long-term loans of Classmate PCs for testing, as as has Lenovo with its educational offerings. Intel paid all expenses for his attendance at the 2009 Intel Classmate PC Ecosystem Summit which he attended as the sole representative of the technology press. He was invited to attend in 2010 but his wife would have killed him if he spent 3 days in Vegas geeking out and left her home alone with a new baby. And Google? Well, he has more than one Chromebook provided as preview units and runs his consulting business with Google Apps (in fact, he has 5 different domains tied to Google Apps, one of which he actually pays for to use Google Apps for Business). Acer provided him with a 50% discount on an Aspire One netbook in early 2009 after he tested it for 30 days through their educational seed program. He liked the netbook at the time but it has since broken and sits unused in his office. Canonical sent him Ubuntu lanyards, t-shirts, and mousepads for his kids. He stole one of the lanyards and proudly hangs his keys from it and occasionally features his 8-year old wearing an oversized Ubuntu t-shirt on his Facebook profile. Gunnar Optiks sent him a pair of computer glasses to evaluate for a holiday gift guide. He is wearing them now as he types this because they never asked for them back and they rock out loud, too. Seriously - they work brilliantly and make it much easier to spend 20 hours a day staring at an LCD. If they ever asked for them back, he would fork over the $99 and buy a pair.He even convinced his mom to buy him a pair of their sunglasses for his birthday. Microsoft gave him 2 free copies of Office 2010 professional, a desktop clock, and a useless book on Office 2010 when he attended the launch of Office/Sharepoint 2010. He occasionally uses the SharePoint lanyard they gave him instead of the Ubuntu lanyard for his keys, but feels dirty afterwards. Blackboard paid him to be a keynote speaker at their 2012 Developers Conference but then went and bought a bunch of open source companies, bumped him from the program so they could explain why they would do such a thing, and he got to keep the cash, all for covering the event for a day. It was bloody hot and humid in New Orleans, so he earned every cent. Adobe has given him lots of software and more than a couple free lunches at various conferences. Like the Gunnars, he would actually buy a Creative Cloud subscription if his free licenses on CS6/Creative Cloud run out because he couldn't do his job without them and CS6 (yes, I'm going to say it again) rocks out loud. Seriously. $50/month for Creative Cloud is a third of what he'd be willing to pay for it. Which is saying something, because he's actually pretty cheap. Any other companies wishing to send him cool things to evaluate, wear, or otherwise adorn his kids are more than welcome to; he promises to disclose it here if he keeps any of the stuff. And speaking of free stuff, Tuf-Luv has sent him enough free stuff to cover just about every tablet, phone, and laptop he's ever owned. That said, when his dog destroyed one of the cases and the Motorola Xoom inside it survived without a slobber mark, he went out and actually bought a new one. Same goes for an iPad he gave away as part of a contest he ran with WizIQ - he (meaning his corporate Amex) actually bought a Tuff-Luv case because (you guessed it) they rock out loud. He may report on any of these companies as his experiences with them have direct bearing on educational technology, Google, cloud services, etc; positive reports are not necessarily an endorsement and he receives no direct financial compensation from these companies or any others. He's pretty sure that's it. If he thinks of anything else, he'll be sure to tell you all about it here. By the way, he also writes for lots of other publications, but pretty much just about SMB stuff, so it doesn't really much matter. The writing and broadcasting he does for Edukwest (not surprisingly, ed tech-related) usually gets cross-posted to ZDNet, so that's all good too.

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