Making K12 EdTech Frictionless and Safe with Dan Carroll

Summary

Mike welcomes Dan Carroll, the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Clever, which helps K-12 school districts, educators, and students navigate some of the complexities of the digital world. They begin by discussing Dan’s early career teaching for Teach for America, and then his move into educational technology administration. Frustrated by the speed he could launch new initiatives, with some friends he founded Clever to help teachers and students gain access to edtech easily and scalably.  

Dan and Mike discuss Clever’s early days, and the “chicken and egg” problem of getting both schools and edtech companies initially to sign up. By charging only the vendors, they grew fast and now have nearly half of all American K-12 students signing on through Clever. They explore Clever’s dedication to security and privacy and following laws like COPPA and FERPA

They then discuss how Clever can help with the digital divide, including a compelling case of helping the Oakland school district provide its students with educational access during COVID-19. Dan tells Mike more about initiatives to help teachers during the pandemic, and how the Clever “Library” gives teachers and students access to a myriad of free resources, including the most popular, GoNoodle.

Dan and Mike finish up discussing the importance of curiosity for learning, and their hopes that schools hold onto the best of the innovation that happened under COVID.  

Find Dan at clever.com and on twitter @clever and @bytingtheapple. Find Mike at @TrendingInEd and at mike@palmer.media.

If you like what you’re hearing, follow us at TrendinginEducation.com and wherever you get your podcasts!

Transcript

Mike Palmer: Welcome to Trending in Education. Mike Palmer here. Very happy to be joined today by Dan Carroll, who is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of a company called Clever. It’s well-named in that they do some interesting work helping K-12 school districts and educators navigate some of the complexities of the digital world we’re living in. We’re going to get into all that with Dan shortly, but before we do that, Dan welcome to Trending in Education.

Dan Carroll: Great to be here, Michael,  

Mike Palmer: It’s fantastic to have you. We always love to begin by getting our guest’s origin story. So what got you, you started on this path as someone in the learning space?

Dan Carroll: If you really want me to go back to what got me started my mom would probably tell the story about how I attended fourth grade when I was in the womb. She was a fourth grade teacher and I developed before being born, learning in fourth grade. Maybe that got me into this education space.

But more practically, out of college I became a science teacher. I taught middle school science in Denver, Colorado. I did the Teach for America program–that got me into the classroom.  In many ways, I loved it. I loved my students, my school, my fellow teachers. And I got really excited about using technology creatively in my classroom.

But I also saw that I wasn’t the best classroom teacher. I was never going to be the kind of legendary educator that my mom was. And so after a couple of years in the classroom, I had started to get really frustrated with some of the technology systems at my school. Things like email servers going down all the time. And, as a frequent user of the laptop carts– but the laptops weren’t always fixed and ready to go. 

Somehow my complaining about technology not working the way I was hoped for turned into a new job, a promotion. I became the director of technology and data for the network of schools where I’ve taught. I was really excited about the role because this was back in 2010, 2011 and edtech was going through this explosion.

There were a few trends that had come together: better internet at schools, cloud services, cheaper laptops and devices. As a result, there were just more innovators coming into edtech and developing more programs to solve teachers’ needs.  Having come right out of the classroom, I knew about those teachers’ needs.

I knew that we had so many things that teachers were spending their precious hours on that  could have been left to a great computer program. I’d seen in my classroom that using technology really helped me personalize education. My students had such a range of interests and ability levels  and levels of knowledge. And with technology, I could really personalize their learning so what they were doing was just right for them.

Mike Palmer: Yeah. And you were teaching science, right?

Dan Carroll: I was, yeah. So my favorite things to do were virtual labs and those really great science videos, things like that. I was excited to step into the role of technology director because I had this list of 20 problems that I thought technology could really help.

Naively, I thought, okay my first year as tech director, I’ll probably get through 10 to 15 of these problems.  I’ll tackle the problem, interview some teachers, go find solutions that might meet the need, run some pilots, buy a solution, implement it. And then onto the next point.  I figured I could do one of those a month or so.

My first year as a tech director, I completed one round of pilots for one problem.  The reason I wasn’t able to move as quickly as I wanted it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough funding. It wasn’t that teachers weren’t willing to try something new. It wasn’t that there weren’t great   programs out there that were solving the problem. The barriers were things that were much simpler and frustrating than those kinds of maybe obvious problems. It took forever to get accounts created for students and teachers.

So we’d find a vendor. We want to do a pilot. It might take two to three months for us to actually get accounts created for our classes. We’d be emailing Excel files back and forth. Which wasn’t a great thing for security, let alone for being able to innovate and move quickly. 

And then once something was created, it was truly a big hassle for teachers to try something new. They had to teach students how to go to a new website.  You’d help them login with a new username and password. The kinds of workarounds we did there were just incredibly kludgy, like having note cards with usernames and passwords. Students would stick one notecard  for each site into a baseball card holder, just to keep track of all the logins.

Throughout that first year, I was struggling just to get one pilot off the ground. My dreams felt dashed. I had this big, innovative vision, but I wasn’t able to get any traction with it not the way that I’d hoped. And so I started to take a step back and look around to other schools to say, I must be missing something. There must be some platform or tool that I can use that’ll just take care of all this. And I’ll be able to focus on solving the problem, supporting teachers and students, and not spending my nights and weekends, emailing data files back and forth just to get accounts created.

And what I found back then, this is now 2010, ‘11, 2012, was that I talked to more of my peers going to bigger institutions, even traveling across the country a couple of times. The solution just didn’t exist. I found a lot of peers had the same problem as me. I felt like I wasn’t this crazy person on an island.  Instead, I was actually seeing something that a lot of folks agreed was maybe  the next need for education in ed tech. 

To be really honest, I felt great once I was validated. I was like, at least I’m doing my job well, and I’ll keep plugging away at my school. And I know that probably in a few years, someone will come around and solve this problem. 

But I’m really lucky that one of my best friends from college heard about this problem. I was actually sleeping on his couch when I was visiting some schools out in the Bay area. And he didn’t have to take the same approach. He’s said, there’s no way I’m letting you go home and wait around and be frustrated until someone else fixes this problem. We’ve got to work together. We’ve got a third friend, who’d be perfect for this, and we’ve got to solve this problem.  

That was back in 2012, just about nine years ago. Three of us, Tyler, Rafa, and I said, maybe with our different skill sets–I had the education background; Tyler worked at startups; Rafa  was a phenomenal engineer–we might have the right skills needed to go solve this. And the rest is kind of history.

Mike Palmer: And then the history was a good one. The fact that a startup is still around 9 years later is a feat in and of itself, but then a startup that grew and became a leader in this space that you identified.  I’d love to hear maybe those intervening years. Can you catch us up on what the first, say, 8 or so years of the run was like?

Dan Carroll: Maybe the place to start: what’s Clever’s mission? What’s the thing we’re trying to do in the world? For an edtech company, our job is pretty unique. We’re not trying to teach students math, or reading, or science, or any of those things. Instead, what we’re trying to do is support the programs  that create all those great learning opportunities. 

Our mission it’s to make it so that schools can easily and seamlessly use the best ed tech software with no friction, no students who’ve forgotten their passwords, getting distracted from learning. And  also our mission is dual-sided. We also want to support great edtech companies and help them grow and scale in an easy way so they never have to worry about sending data files back and forth with folks like me in my previous role. That’s what we set out to do back in 2012.

One of the challenges of that mission is that  getting started was very tough. Imagine if you’re the first application we talked to, “Hey, we’ve got this great solution. We’re going to help you integrate with all of the schools that you work with. And it’ll be really easy.” And they’re like, “How many schools do you work with?”

And I’m like, maybe the 4 that I used to be tech director for. And if you’re a school, we’re gonna say, “Hey, we’re gonna do this amazing thing. That’ll all be integrated. This amazing platform, you’ll be able to use software so seamlessly.” And they’d ask, “How many applications are on your platform?” And we’re like, “None yet, but maybe sometime down the road.” 

So we had this really tough chicken and the egg problem getting started. One of the ways that we solved it is with a creative business model. We actually said we’re going to make Clever free for schools. They won’t have to pay us a dime. And Instead we’re going to do is we’re going to charge a fee to the applications that schools use. It’s going to be a modest fee, just to a small fraction of the amount that they might charge schools. 

They’re going  to be happy to pay it. Because we’ll make their implementations and the integration so much easier. They’ll have fewer support tickets, more usage and engagement. It’ll be a pretty good deal for them. And for schools it’s free, it’s magical. They’re going to be so excited. With that creative business model, we’re able to get  our first few hundred schools and our first few applications, and make some progress from there.

There’s a lot of twists and turns over the first 8 years taking us up to 2020, but I think the through line through those 8 years was just tremendous growth.  I remember the first a hundred schools, then a thousand schools, then 10,000 schools. Now we’re at something like 75,000 schools across the country using Clever.

Last year we had 50% of all us students logged into the Clever portal to access their different learning programs. So we sum that up: I think that’s something like billions of minutes of classroom time saved that would otherwise have been spent typing in passwords or dealing with forgotten login information.

Mike Palmer: Yeah, that’s impressive. And as Peter Parker, or someone related to Spider-Man once said, with great power comes great responsibility.  It does sound like you’ve taken on  this responsibility and now have, in some sense, an obligation to the community to continue to protect them and take care of them through some of these challenges that we’ve been facing.

One of them was the pandemic which I definitely want to hear more about. And then the other is just the real threats that are out there around cybersecurity and managing data is something that I think we’ve all become much, much more conscious of over the past eight years. So I think many of us got away with  more lax security measures in the early two thousands tens.

And now I think a lot of the schools that maybe aren’t on Clever yet could be in a bit of a bind there as well. So can you talk a bit about how you’re managing the challenges of this modern day and age either, on the pandemic side or just on the sense of the cyber security revolution that we’re in the middle of.

Dan Carroll: There’s so many things I want to talk about here,  The first thing I wanted to share is, you mentioned, “Well Clever’s become critical infrastructure.” That’s exactly how many schools and applications refer to us. They’re like the two things that we depend on that we can’t live without are oftentimes like Amazon for their web services and Clever.

And if you’re gonna go down, it’s not going to be a good day. Students probably aren’t going to be able to learn. That’s something that we take incredibly seriously. We have full engineering teams just devoted to getting ourselves as close as possible to a 100% uptime and even just a momentary blip that takes Clever out for a minute is something that we fully investigate, understand all the root causes of, and apply multiple measures to make sure something like that will never happen again. It’s definitely something that keeps me up at night, but also being that critical is something we take very seriously and really invest in.

Second thing I want to talk about is beyond just Clever being stable, that we need to be secure. We need to be private, need to be trusted. We need to be compliant. This is something that we’ve thought about since the earliest days. I remember, the first few months of Clever, I would talk to one of my peers and I’d say. “Hey, remember how we were talking just a few months ago about how we wished that there was a platform to control, which edtech applications that have their integrated? Guess what I’m building? Can you get connected? Can you share your student records with early Clever so that you can manage them there and control which applications we’re using.”

These tech directors who were so excited about the idea, as soon as they realized, “Oh, we’re going to have to share some data with this new company,”  they got really nervous and they started asking us really good questions.  “What are your security policies? How do you comply with federal and state laws? How do you think about privacy?  How can I tell  the parents of the families in my school community that Clever’s a trustworthy company?” 

And so we made investments early on I don’t think many, if any startups make in those areas. We went out and hired a security engineering team. We worked with the best tech education privacy lawyers to build a privacy policy that actually, believe it or not, got  an EdSurge award. We got a privacy policy award work, the best privacy policy in education, which was something we were incredibly proud of. I think it’s probably the we won that I’m personally most proud of.

And we also got involved in a really quickly changing policy landscape There were some basic federal protections–COPPA and FERPA which we’ve always complied with. But states realized that those protections were a little bit out of date. And as schools started to use more and more Edtech software, they needed more protections.

We’ve been really involved in understanding and digesting and even helping shape many of the state bills. And of course, making sure that Clever’s fully compliant with all the protections the state’s putting out. So that’s been a huge area of focus. 

When I look at what Clever does today, a system  where data is encrypted in transit, data is encrypted at rest, and there’s full transparency and visibility and controls around what happens to all student data. Making sure that  only the right piece of data to go to the right folks who were supposed to have access to it. And if I compare that to what I was doing as a tech director, emailing files around, it’s just night and day difference in terms of the kind of benefits we can build

And then the last part you asked about was, what happened when schools went remote? And so many of the systems that we depended on in person, everything  from passing up page paper for homework, those systems disappeared and schools had to figure out new ways of learning.

One thing that’s kind of  interesting–I talked about myself as a tech director and how I wanted to run a pilot every month. I assumed that everyone in edtech  had that same appetite for change. And what I’ve found is that most folks, most of the time are not looking to try to roll out a new program in their district every single month.

Most people, “Maybe every summer I’ll try out one or two things,” right? That’s the norm in terms of how much change most schools and districts want. When the pandemic hit, all of a sudden folks were hungry for so much more change in innovation. Large districts, some of the largest in the country, would say things like we need to get 30 or 40 new digital learning resources spun up for our students.

And we need it in days, not weeks, not months. Without Clever, I don’t have any idea how those districts would have been able to get that done because the norm without Clever. These things take months. But because many of these districts had Clever set up and others rushed onto our platform, we were able to help them get up and running with e-learning software with three clicks in three minutes. As a result, students were able to get access to new ways of learning at home. And in many cases, not even skipping a beat. 

Of course, I don’t want to minimize how challenging that transition was for families, for teachers and for school leaders. I don’t think there’s been a more challenging moment across the country that I’ve seen in my life inside schools. But I’m really proud of the way that we were able to help technology move at this pace that schools needed to adapt and grow.

Mike Palmer: Dan, you’re in the security space–cybersecurity identity management. What kind of innovation  is clever looking at around that rapidly evolving landscape?

Dan Carroll: One of the things that schools worry about a lot is unauthorized parties getting access to their core systems. There’s a lot of ways that they think about that. They set great password policies, they defend their networks and all that. But one of the things that is a vulnerability that’s really common is allowing old accounts for students or teachers or administrators to sit there. Maybe the person has left the district, or they’re  no longer working or attending school there. But their account might still be there.

If you leave  a stale account long enough, eventually someone might find a password that works and get access to that. At Clever, we’ve always been a part of helping with this problem because we make integrations automated. So when a student leaves the district, then they get deprovisioned from whatever learning apps that they’re connected to via Clever.

But one area we haven’t worked on in this regard is around some of the core identity systems that school districts use. The two that are most common are Google and their Google workspace product, and the other is Microsoft and their Active Directory product. Because those systems haven’t connected to Clever, they haven’t had that kind of built-in identity, lifecycle security.

When a user leaves the district to deprovision and not just lock the door, but board it up so that no one could possibly come in that way. We’ve heard that request from school districts, and just recently, we came out with this incredible partnership with the company identity automation and we’ve built a product together called Clever IBM enterprise by Rapid Identity.

And what that does is it provides enterprise level identity management for K-12 schools. But it does it at a low cost, and in a really easy to implement way. It can be implemented in days rather than the months or even years that other products might need, I think it’s going to be a really great way through this partnership that schools will be able to batten down the hatches and make sure that they’re fully secure, even in this challenging cybersecurity landscape.

Mike Palmer: Yeah, absolutely. You gotta keep those barn doors closed! 

As we look ahead, another topic that comes up a lot is access and the digital divide. I would imagine Clever can really help there in terms of removing friction.  They always talk about the last mile, which is challenging, obviously to get people access to the wifi. That’s not always something that a company like Clever would necessarily play a role in. 

But I would think from the time someone is trying to get in, the more seamless and secure and connected that experience is,  the better. But I’d love to hear  your perspective on the access challenges that have surfaced over the past year as well around the digital divide.

Dan Carroll: The digital divide is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s something that impacted my students when I was teaching. I used a lot of technology and really wanted them to be able to use technology at home, and they told me loud and clear that the school I was teaching at was made up of mostly students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch. That many of them didn’t have broadband internet,didn’t necessarily have a laptop or desktop computer. 

I did adapt my lesson plans to challenging reality there, but it really bothered me. I knew how much of a benefit I received from having access to those kinds of devices and internet as I was growing up. It really shaped my learning in a huge way. And I wanted all my students and all the students across the country to have the same access to resources that I had and that  all students should have.

At Clever, we’ve thought about this in a few different ways, especially just in the past year. Because two years ago, at-home digital learning for most schools was a nice to have, not necessary. And of course, a little over a year ago in March of 2020, it became a must have, the only way that students could learn in many contexts.

The first thing and the biggest one–and we just heard from so many parents about this–is that Clever has made the act of learning from home so much easier and simpler. We talked about those note cards and baseball card holders will have usernames and passwords on them. Those usernames and password cards–there’s no time to send those home if they existed when schools went remote. 

If you remember back to that time, people were thinking, Oh, maybe it would be a week or two, and then we’ll be back in school.  What we did is we sprung into action and built some features for family members (we call it the family portal) that allows schools to empower parents, to help their kids get online and get into all the different learning programs.  

Parents could set up an account and they could create a badge, a kind of a physical login token that their young student could use, or they could just use their account to log their students in. And once our students get to Clever, they can access everything, all the different learning resources that they need to do their learning; everything from Zoom to, their math textbook.  There’s so many tweets of parents saying “I don’t think I would’ve survived remote learning without Clever. Thank you Clever for just making it easy for my kid to go where they need to go. ” 

So that’s been a huge piece. We’re proud of that work, but we’ve said that’s not enough. We know there’s so many students that no matter what features we build for parents and guardians, it’s not going to help the student because they don’t have a device. They don’t have an internet connection. They’re struggling without them, without that they’ll never be able to get into Clever. 

And so we’ve done some experiments with a few districts that have been really incredible and we’re excited to do a lot more. And the one I wanted to talk about is with Oakland. Oakland was in a  place last year where they had the funding to make a commitment to say, every student in Oakland is going to get  broadband and a learning device. But even with the funding, they still face this big challenge of, well, which students have a device and which don’t and who has the internet and who doesn’t?

They ran a survey, and they tried to get as many families as possible to fill out that survey.  Many did, but they were really worried because they didn’t get 100% survey completion and they assumed, and it turned out to be true, that the families  least likely to fill out the survey were probably the ones without internet access. Because they’re harder to reach and maybe migrant or maybe even homeless. 

And so they came to us and they said, “Clever, is there anything you could do to help us figure out  who may have access?”  What we did was we worked with the district and gave them some lenses into their data on Clever to see which students had logged into Clever and who hadn’t. And that kind of helped filter down who might need a device. 

They also did an analysis that was really creative. They said, we want to look at students who are accessing Clever from a mobile phone, because that shows that they probably don’t have a laptop at home, but they’re really excited to learn. Oakland knew– and this is I think a pretty universal case–that if you just have a mobile phone, you’re not going to be able to engage fully in learning. Just think about Zoom: You can only see one person and if they’re sharing their screen, the text is going to be so small. And that’s even probably the best case scenario for many other educational apps, there’s just no support  for phones. 

So they say. “Clever, can you give us a log of students who have logged into Clever more than once on their phone, and we’re going to go knock on their door. And we’re going to ask them if they would need a laptop.”  They were able to look at the logs and see that data and go deliver the devices.

That just had such a profound and immediate effect on so many students in Oakland. Now they have some incredible statistics: something like 99 or 99.5% of Oakland students have the device and the internet connection needed to learn. So we’re really passionate about that. And I think our data can be really useful for a lot of districts and helping them fully close the digital divide and make sure every student’s able to learn, no matter what the context might be.

Mike Palmer: So you’re talking about using the data. Are there any other examples or perspectives you have on the power of data visualization, data analysis? Because I imagine when you’re hitting a scale that Clever is at, you can start to glean some perspective, some insights that might be harder to find at an individual level.   

Dan Carroll: I’m talking about three interesting data topics, mostly focused on COVID. The first one is a tool that we built.  We’ve built a lot of different reports and analytics features into Clever, but one audience we’ve never built reports or analytics for is  teachers. And the reason is because teachers don’t ever ask us for it. Prior to COVID, they would say, I know what my students are getting into because I can walk out in the classroom and I can  see what they’re using on their device.

But as soon as COVID hit, and  schooling went remote, teachers were frantically sending in a feature request, “I have no idea. Did my student, log in today, Where did they go? Have they gone to that application that I’m asking them to work on for homework? ” 

And so what we built was this pretty straightforward teacher report that let them see in real time where their students logged into Clever and what applications they have logged into. We gave them a week-by-week view, too. If a student hadn’t logged into Clever, one of the things that we did is we put their parents’ contact information or their family’s contact information right there. 

And teachers told us that it just made this task that was so challenging prior to that feature release–digging into reports and then finding the right contact info and putting it all together–was made into something that they could do every day, and it would just take them 5 minutes. And, as a result, students who had run into different challenges, tech support, or family issues, or, just maybe confusion about expectations and were able to get into such closer contact with their teachers.

Along that note, we also built messaging so that teachers have the ability to message students that stay in touch and also message family members. Which has been really exciting and making sure everyone’s on the same page and every student’s getting the support that they need 

Another thing  that’s really interesting is that we’ve built this thing that we call the Clever library. It’s an app store for teachers, right? All the software in it is free. So it’s pretty amazing if you’re a teacher and you’re like, I could use a new and engaging way of practicing vocabulary, Clever’s library will have 5 or 10 different programs. You can click right there and pull it to your students, and your kids will be practicing vocabulary in a new way within a minute. It’s just pretty revolutionary, nothing like it ever before. The library was just a tremendous hit during COVID because teachers had all these new needs and they were able to go to the Clever library, try them out themselves.

I bring this up in the context of data because the data coming out of the library during COVID was really fascinating to look at. We had some discussions within Clever, “Who’s going to be the big winner in terms of the most popular application to use during COVID.” Some people thought it was going to be a math practice application. Others thought it was  going to be a reading one, others thought it might be eBooks. The number one thing totally surprised us. It was this application called go noodle. 

Michael, have you heard of that? No? GoNoodle. It’s not math. It’s not reading. It’s not social studies. It’s not science. GoNoolde is physical activities: yoga, dances, things that you can do as a student to get you out of your chair and moving around. And that was the number one thing that teachers were looking for their students during the pandemic. And it totally makes sense. I need to GoNoodle  right now–sitting in front of my desk all day talking into a Zoom. And that was a huge hit. 

And then the last data point is one that’s a little bit more somber, definitely a lot more serious than go noodle. And that’s one of the things we’ve looked at last spring, and have continued to monitor, is how has Clever usage changed from before and how has that varied by the type of school? And one of the things we noticed is that schools that were Title One schools that serve mostly low income families had big drop-offs in usage compared to schools that weren’t Title One, that’s more affluent families.

And, we obviously knew the digital divide existed or something we’d read about it in the newspaper, but something about seeing it in our own data, that poverty and access to devices and the internet was really getting in the way of students learning. It really hit me personally, and a lot of our team. And it was one of the things that helped motivate those efforts to support Oakland and their activities were planning around the digital divide.

Mike Palmer: Dan, the other thought I had was as someone who’s built a career in the digital space as a head of product and someone who evolved from a strict education role into maybe a broader understanding of what you can do as somebody who’s passionate about education, do you have any perspective on the types of skills that are emerging or the types of competencies that you’ve seen successful in your career? That you’re looking for at Clever or  anything you’ve seen as you’ve worked with many different educators and school districts across the country? Are there any skills or competencies that are  popping out these days that you think are relevant?

Dan Carroll: Yeah. Michael, I imagine some people are going to answer a question like that with very specific things like, the world needs more Java developers ,or we need more TikTok social media experts or something like that.

I don’t know if those specific examples are true, but there probably are real skills gaps like that. But if I think about myself and just think about my own background, I studied biology in college and taught science and now I’m working on helping build computer software.

Based on my experience, I think the through line isn’t one specific skill or one specific focus. Instead, it’s more about broader skills. So things like, for me, I think curiosity has been the thing that’s carried my career. I’ve always, and this is something that my parents supported from the earliest age and so many of my teachers and professors supported, Iwas always encouraged to ask why and  given time and space to go figure out the answers to the questions  that really hooked me.

I think that the curiosity is what led me from a teacher to being a tech director, asking, “Why isn’t our email working? Could we find a better solution? ” I “curioused” my way right into a promotion. And then curiosity led me right into the startup.

So I think that’s something that’s critical and it’s something that I know not every student is in an educational experience today that really fosters curiosity. Sometimes the pressures of things like testing or just rigorous schedules can lead very well intentioned schools to say  “sorry, we don’t have time for that right now, we’ve gotta stay focused.” And that’s something I tried to do in my classroom–maybe to a fault–was still allow curiosity and questions. I think it’s a really important value that is just becoming more and more important as the world changes

Mike Palmer: So Dan, if folks want to learn more about Clever, if they’re intrigued by this conversation, where should they go?

Dan Carroll: We’ve  a great website, clever.com. You can sign up if you’re a school district or you can learn more if you’re a potential application that wants to be on our platform, wants to be in the library, or wants us to help with integration.

We also do a lot of blogging: blog.clever.com is where we put our official  communications. Clever is active on Twitter @clever. I’m active on Twitter as well @bytingtheapple.

Mike Palmer:  That’s fantastic. And before we let you go, Dan, we always love to ask our guests, what else out there in the world around us is capturing your imagination, capturing your attention.  Anything else we haven’t talked about so far that is capturing your attention these days?

Dan Carroll: The thing that I’m thinking about the most right now is as we get vaccinated, and as students continue to go back to school in person,are we going to snap back to the way things were before? Or are we going to hold on to some of the pieces of innovation and development that happened during COVID that we really do want to keep moving forward? 

I think about a couple of things specifically within that area. First, I think about equity and access. I hope the federal government’s made some good progress in this direction, that thanks to COVID we see internet access, access to a learning device as a human right within America. 

Not as something that  you only get access to if you’re privileged or if you’re wealthy. But something that every student should have at home, at school, because access to a great learning device is critical. And inequity there really is absolutely unjust and damaging our future workforce. You can think of it from that angle.

Second thing I think about is how schools think about edtech. Edtech, for many schools prior to COVID was an optional, it was a nice to have. It was great if teachers wanted to try it, but if teachers didn’t, that was okay too. With COVID, every teacher’s given edtech a try, and what I’ve heard from teachers–including many teachers for whom there was never an open laptop in their classroom prior to COVID–it’s that there were a few things that they really liked. That this tool is something I want to make part of my regular practice also an openness to consider more tech moving forward.

I don’t think that we need to keep every single tool and every single practice when it comes to ed tech that we had from remote schooling. I hope we can do a little bit less Zooming in our classrooms and a little bit more face-to-face talking. But I do hope that schools hold onto the things that teachers really loved and encouraged that kind of spirit of innovation and change moving forward.

Mike Palmer: Any final thoughts Dan, as we’re wrapping up here

Dan Carroll: Yeah, Michael, It’s been just such an honor and privilege to be on the show.  It’s been great to be able to tell Clever’s story, how  the company came from a personal frustration that was driving me crazy to something that’s now used by over half of the students in America.

If there’s one thing that I want listeners to hold on to it’s what is that thing from pandemic life that we want to keep?  That will make our lives better moving forward? I think for me it’s that idea of innovation in schools. How can we keep schools as places that are dynamic, that are innovative, that are trying things new all the time? Obviously we don’t want to be forced into innovation like we were a little over a year ago. That was painful. We don’t want to do that again. 

But I want us to continue to make space and choose innovation. Because when we’re trying new things, listening to teachers and students about how they’re going, investing, doubling down in the things that are working well and letting go of the things that aren’t serving our students’ needs, we’re making progress. We’re coming up with better creative learning environments and that’s the kind of spirit from COVID that I hope we can  keep, long after we’re all vaccinated and get to put our masks in the drawer.

Mike Palmer: Really insightful perspectives from Dan Carroll, the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Clever. Dan, thanks for joining.

Dan Carroll: Thank you, Michael. 

Mike Palmer: And for our listeners, hopefully you enjoyed the conversation. If you liked it, write us a review. Subscribe, tell your friends, we’ll be back again soon. This is Trending in Education.