Edward Keller is the co-founder of SmartScience Lab, a California-based EdTech startup that provides students and teachers with the opportunity to learn STEM through virtual labs. Due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, SmartScience Lab experienced a surge in demand from teachers and schools.
We asked Edward to share with us what the potential long-term effects could be on how schools and teachers interact with EdTech.
How has this crisis affected the number of users for SmartScience Lab?
Since the start of COVID-19, we noticed a significant increase in demand for our solution. The number of individual teachers or entire schools reaching out to us increased dramatically. We used to receive around 20 requests per month from teachers and schools to try out our solution. Now we have received 1500 requests from the middle of March until the beginning of June, around 500 per month.
We are using this opportunity to build goodwill with teachers, students, and schools from around the country. We are offering our solution for free until the end of the academic year and throughout the summer.
What behavioral changes have you noticed from schools and teachers?
The first change we noticed was around willingness to explore. Teachers and schools are looking for good, curated content that makes the remote teaching experience as smooth as possible. They are open to EdTech solutions that do not require complicated onboarding processes so that they can quickly move teaching forward.
In the past, onboarding a school could take up to six months. Nowadays, the onboarding process can happen within three days, which includes teacher training time. In other words, previous obstacles around procurement have almost disappeared. For example, there is a school in New York that we tried to onboard for the past six years with no success, but the crisis provided us with an opportunity to explore this partnership again and within a short amount of time they decided to join us.
If the COVID-19 situation continues for much longer, we may notice a permanent shift in the culture around how schools procure EdTech solutions. What is also very interesting is that usually, it was only the tech-savvy teachers that reach out to us or volunteer to try our solution. Nowadays, using EdTech has become mainstream, even a necessity.
As George Tsepetis from Bronx High School of Law and Community Service explains, “When we begin school again in the fall, virtual labs which were once considered a last resort for most chemistry teachers are now going to be required to cover all of our lab topics properly.”
How do you ensure that teachers use your solution effectively?
We provide two types of teacher support. The first is video tutorials and explanatory documents that teachers can use as guidelines. Although our solution is quite intuitive to use, those guidelines still help us inform teachers about how to incorporate an EdTech solution in their lesson planning.
The second type of support is the training sessions that we organize remotely. We apply the train the teacher model to move fast and at scale. We have noticed a dramatic change in training attendance. Before this pandemic, attendance to training sessions were mostly at 50 percent. Now we see close to 100 percent attendance! There is a real interest from teachers and school coordinators to engage their students in new and interesting ways.
Do you think the increase in demand from schools and teachers will translate into increased revenue for EdTech startups?
An obstacle that many EdTech startups previously faced was gaining access to schools. Also, the sales cycle was often very long, and it was hard to get schools to try new products. Now, due to the willingness of schools to try EdTech solutions, startups that offer good content or provide meaningful support to student learning, will likely experience an increase in revenue.
Moreover, we must remember that this pandemic struck in the middle of the academic year. This means that schools had already finalized their budgets last year. We expect that schools will start allocating more resources to EdTech solutions in their next budget planning cycle, which should take place at the beginning of the summer.