Coming up on the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, we know now that few realms of public life have been rocked as much as education.
With schools stuck in a loop of closures, virtual learning, moves to in-person and then back online, it’s a sector that’s had to continually adapt — and fast.
What that’s meant for the tech industry is a huge boost in the education technology, aka edtech, space. And in DC, the longtime home to online learning software darling Blackboard, it’s meant a banner year for some of the city’s homegrown edtech companies. Of those players, one of the most notable is Class Technologies. founded by 15-year Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen, Class developed software to add capabilities to Zoom such as attendance, one-on-one learning and proctoring exams for remote learning.
The startup, which was founded in 2020 but zoomed up to an $800 million-plus valuation courtesy of a SoftBank-backed investment, has had a front seat to the edtech boom in DC. Now, coupled with his Blackboard background, Chasen has plenty of thoughts on how the sector has been impacted by the past two years.
Namely this: The pandemic let edtech loose on a scale that was unthinkable until now, and it’s an impact that will last forever.
“COVID caused every single student and teacher in the world to go online with their education,” Chasen told Technical.ly. “And you can’t train hundreds of thousands of teachers and put millions of students through online education and not expect there to be a dramatic change.”
In 2022, Chasen predicts hybrid will be the model here to stay, with schools wanting to get students learning in person while also needing to accommodate potential surges. He also thinks it’s going to be more synchronous, with students all working at the same pace, instead of individual assignments and tests when it works for them. While many thought the way to do edtech at scale was asynchronous learning, he believes the past two years have shown that it’s possible for teachers to have an interactive class even if it’s virtual and with a large number of students, similar to an IRL class.
“They’re looking at using our technology because we are able to help teachers really replicate that physical classroom experience online and bring all the tools they had in their classroom to the online Zoom environment,” Chasen said.
Edtech has flourished not just because of the number of students needing virtual learning, but because that has invited huge amounts of capital to be injected into the industry. This meant more edtech companies being created, he noted, and new and improved innovation at existing ones. The rise of open-source information and technology has also boosted the number of systems and made it easier for schools to host and use multiple edtech platforms simultaneously on their systems.
At Class, Chasen said the company is closing in on 300 schools on its system, compared to what he estimated to be about 10 in his first year at Blackboard.
“Education is forever changed because of this,” the CEO said. “Online education, which used to be considered, I’d say, almost a secondary class of education, now, people can go get a high school diploma, get a college degree, get a graduate degree online and it’ll be widely accepted at the same level as in-person education. I think all of that is because of this one thing.”
The sheer scale of use has also let schools and tech companies test drive education models to figure out what really works, and what still needs to be done to make online learning work for everyone. Into 2022 and 2023, Chasen said he’d like to see more community engagement in online education, figure out how to reach more students and parents and get even more feedback from existing users. Overall, he also hopes that this edtech movement can also result in lower education costs at both the K-12 and higher education levels, although he thinks that might still need some time.
“Once we’re through this next wave [of COVID-19 cases] and the schools calm down and we figure out what the pattern that we’re going to get in is, how we’re going handle continuing education,” Chasen said, “I think people are going to take a look at all this technology that’s not been developed and figure ways to reach more kids, get more students online, get more students trained in a more equitable way at lower costs.”
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