Jul 272012
 

His software is revolutionizing the classroom and the way kids can learn

Eric Simons made a name for himself by squatting in AOL’s headquarters to save money while he worked on ClassConnect. Now that it’s in the wild, he can afford a place of his own: His software is revolutionizing the classroom and the way kids can learn.

Eric Simons didn’t like high school. Despite his obvious intelligence–Simons says he taught himself computer programming at age 13, and worked as a software consultant throughout his teens to earn extra money–he struggled to stay engaged in class. During junior year, his chemistry teacher finally pulled him aside and asked, “What would make you interested in learning what I’m teaching?”

The answer, says Simons, had to do with using the technological tools available now, rather than the tools of a bygone age. “Learning is a process of discovering and exploring,” he says. “When you grow up in the Internet age, kids look at an iPad, they play with it with their fingers,” Simons explains. “And then there’s a kid who looks at a magazine and says, ‘When I touch the magazine, why doesn’t the stuff move around?’ With technology, we can create a whole other world that students can explore. Whereas if you’re looking at a page, you’re just kind of sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t understand this.’” He built software to take the class online, where they could share videos, games, and widgets. By the end of the year, Simons’ chemistry class was one of the highest-performing sections in school. “It was pretty shocking to find out that it wasn’t that I didn’t like school,” Simons says, “I just didn’t like the way they were delivering content. It was boring.”

Now Simons intends to save the entire iPad generation from boredom: This March, he launched the beta version of ClassConnect, a website designed for teachers to share and collaborate on lesson plans via a combination of Dropbox and Pinterest-type interfaces. Teachers post lesson plans publicly, which can then be “snapped” into another user’s binder for future use; there’s also private storage for more sensitive materials (files that might include student info, for example). Simons says he’s surprised at what kind of content is showing up. “Originally we thought it would be lesson plans or Powerpoints… but the number of files on the site is ridiculously small compared to the number of interactive videos and games. We’re seeing a transition from this static classroom, where you have a worksheet and a textbook, to really engaging materials that are catered for each student.”

Simons took ClassConnect back into beta this summer to redesign the user interface and change the architecture, but between its initial launch in March and closing for renovations in June, the site’s membership had doubled, from 8,000 teachers and 50,000 parents and students to 16,000 and more than 100,000, respectively. “The initial reason it got out there is I did my homework on the marketing of the thing, so I really penetrated the education technology circles on Twitter, and a lot of tech bloggers as well,” says Simon. He also credits some of the growth to ClassConnect’s Dropbox-style notion of giving teachers more storage if they invite their friends to join. (The profit model will similarly involve paying for additional private storage; open-source materials can be uploaded for free.)

Read more . . .

via FastCoExist – Whitney Pastorek

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