A pioneer in the technology industry (co-inventor of the world’s first, patented dual-deck VCR back in 1983 and co-founder of Go-Video, as well as inventor of a video and audio delivery solution creating the foundation for today’s video-on-demand systems), Richard Lang is the co-founder of Burst.com, a company that transformed into what is now Democrasoft, a leading provider of social collaboration and voting platforms for building online communities. His passion for using technology to empower people runs deep, and in his spare time he is a prolific composer and musician. Under the Democrasoft product and service line up and relevant to EdTech Digest readers, Collaborize Classroom™ allows teachers to extend their classroom discussions to a structured and private online community, to get 100 percent student participation, to save on monthly printing costs and it helps reduce grading time up to two hours per week. Designed to complement classroom instruction and engage students in online activities, assignments and discussions that allow for deeper participation inside and outside the classroom, the platform is another way Richard has helped to empower others, and this time—in education. In this fascinating, in-depth interview, Richard shares why he did it, and the little things along the way that have kept him going.
Victor: Why did you create Collaborize Classroom?
Richard: Actually, Collaborize Classroom was really created by teachers who adapted our original Collaborize platform for their own use. When we saw how perfectly the platform could be adapted for Education, we focused our attention on it and customized it for teachers, based on their valuable input.
Richard: Collaborize is a term we coined. We think of it as a combination of the term “Collaborate” and any one of the following (or more) terms: “Realize”, “Energize”, “Materialize”, “Improvise”
Victor: What is it?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom is a free, online learning technology. It can also be thought of as a learning platform to supplement in-class education. Who created it? It was created, interestingly enough, as a collaboration between our company and teachers who saw the benefits it could provide in their own teaching environments.
Richard: Collaborize Classroom allows teachers to extend their classroom discussions to a structured and private online community. It is designed to complement classroom instruction and engage students in online activities, assignments and discussions that allow for deeper participation inside and outside the classroom. They can even upload videos, documents and images into these discussions.
Victor: What are the benefits?
Richard: The benefits are numerous. They include giving every student a voice and encouraging participation from students who normally don’t participate in class; allowing students to participate on their own time and encouraging thoughtful and respectful commentary on various subjects; it saves teachers from 1-3 hours per week of time that would otherwise be spent grading papers, and it saves from $60-90 per month, per teacher in printing and copying costs. Perhaps best of all, participation is super-easy and super-fun. Students like it because it speaks their language of social networking and teachers like it because it is private, secure and encourages student participation and a deeper level of engagement than they are used to seeing.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom is unique in that it combines a meaningful depth of experience with an incredibly simple user interface that both students and teachers love.
Victor: What companies do you see as in the same market?
Richard: There are other companies in the market. The largest is probably Blackboard. But unlike Blackboard, Collaborize Classroom is web-based, so there’s no software to install. And while it is private and secure, it doesn’t require an IT staff to implement and maintain it. Teachers are usually up and running with their new Collaborize Classroom sites in less than 5 minutes. Also, unlike other companies in this space, Collaborize Classroom doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It really focuses on extending the classroom conversation into the online environment, where discussions can take place, conclusions can be reached and results can be posted for all students to see.
Victor: When was it developed?
Richard: Our platform was developed over an 18 month period that began about 2 years ago. It included a fair amount of beta testing and user feedback, which is what accounts for its ease of use.
Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Richard: As I mentioned earlier, what is interesting about its development history is that teachers and students themselves have had a large part in its design. Instead of telling teachers what they should have, we let them play with the original platform and paid attention to what they did with it and what additional features and capabilities they said they needed. We have already incorporated new features, a simpler set-up process and free teaching resources, as well as free lesson plans, as a direct result of input from real teachers who have been using our product. This is an ongoing process that will continue.
Victor: Where did it originate?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom originated from our company’s mission statement: “Social Networking With Purpose.” Improving education in our country and beyond is the first “purpose” that we have been focusing on. We have also developed other versions of our product for non-profits, business and civic engagement.
Victor: Where can you get it now?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom is available free of charge to teachers, from a variety of sources. It can be accessed on our website: www.CollaborizeClassroom.com, or from any one of our Educational coalition partners, including Teachers Without Borders, Gifts-In-Kind International and Kids in Need, among others. We are also introducing Collaborize Classroom around the country in conjunction with State and District level Superintendents of Schools. Also, it has been officially endorsed by CASCD – the California Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Victor: How much does it cost?
Richard: Our online learning platform is absolutely free of charge to teachers and students anywhere.
Victor: What are the options?
Richard: We have tried to include all of the key functionality that teachers and students have asked for and are adding more each day. At this time, there are no additional components required or available.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Richard: One key example is a program called Alaska Student Voices. The Director of the Alaska Department of Education is using Collaborize Classroom as the vehicle to pilot a student focus group online forum, where Alaska’s customers (their students), are asked to provide weekly input to educational issues. Using Collaborize Classroom in Alaskan schools will provide teachers with a tool to help their students feel connected and be part of decisions made. The online forums help prepare students for the workforce, by giving them communication, technological, and collaboration skills that will benefit them throughout their careers. The other main example of Collaborize Classroom in action is the 1,000 or so teachers who have successfully launched Collaborize Classroom sites in the last 90 days or so (our “official” launch was on January 11th, and as of the end of January, more than 1,500 teachers have registered to launch a site). There are now thousands of students whose educational experience is being significantly enhanced thanks to Collaborize Classroom, and we expect this number to keep climbing.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom is tailored for teachers who want to get up and running quickly and who want to see the number of engaged students in each classroom go up meaningfully. It is designed for teachers who want to connect with students in a way that keeps the process “fun” while significantly increasing the amount of learning that is going on in any given week.
Victor: Who is it not for?
Richard: It is not for techno-geeks who want to dive deep into computer code in order to customize every iota of web-page display. In many ways, it is like the iTunes of online Educational platforms. We’ve made it simple to use, fun and an effective way of improving both the teacher and student experience of education outside of the traditional classroom.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Richard: Education is probably the single most important priority a society can have, because its very future is dependent upon the abilities and sensibilities of its students, who will one day be in charge and need to know what they’re doing and why. A proper education prepares our future leaders with the skills that are essential for them and for our society in general. Unfortunately, funding for Education has suffered greatly in past years and is presently in a state of crisis. Ultimately, it’s a matter of making effective education a real priority and providing the tools and resources required to provide the best education possible, while recognizing the need to support teachers, who, for the most part having been carrying the ball without enough support. The good news is that there seems to be a new wave of interest in elevating Education to a new priority level. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Collaborize Classroom?
Richard: Back when I was in school there were no personal computers and no Internet. But a couple of times, at key junctures in my schooling, I felt personally recognized and acknowledged by my teachers. This gave me an incredible sense of confidence and encouragement and gave a real, measurable boost to my academic achievements. Years later, what caught my attention about the potential that is inherent in Collaborize Classroom was that teachers could now have a way of noticing individual participation and contributions from every single student, thanks to both the reports that our platform generates for teachers and also thanks to the fact that in the “non-pressure” environment of their own homes, even students who are normally shy in class are able to speak up, on their own terms, and be heard by both the teacher and their fellow students. This is an amazing way to recognize and acknowledge every student.
Victor: How does Collaborize Classroom address some of your concerns about education?
Richard: First off, just at the basic financial level, Collaborize Classroom saves an average of $60 – $90 per month, per teacher, in printing and copying costs. It also saves each teacher between 1-3 hours of time each week in grading and paper-handling time. Those are meaningful numbers that help teachers right away in terms of time and money. But beyond that, it energizes both teachers and students: teachers because they are excited to see student participation and engagement take off, and students because they already love social networking, thanks to Facebook, so with our platform, the social networking experience gets to have a real purpose – to make learning fun by extending it to the web.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Richard: Well, I certainly believe that technology like ours has the potential to make an enormous, positive difference. And I am encouraged to see our President and also a number of companies in the private sector talking about the importance of improving education in our country. There are also many non-profits that are devoted to making a difference in this area. So, my fingers are crossed. I think the tools are there and the awareness of those tools is growing every day. So overall, I would say I am cautiously optimistic.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Collaborize Classroom?
Richard: Collaborize Classroom is bigger than just our company. We’re part of a growing coalition of companies, non-profits and educators at local, regional and statewide levels that are committed to stepping up to the plate and delivering the kind of educational experience that teachers and students want and deserve, using the Collaborize Classroom platform as the vehicle for that experience.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Richard: The proof is in both the adoption numbers (we’re adding significant numbers of teachers and students every day to our Collaborize Classroom network) and in the amazing number of unsolicited, and glowing reports we are receiving from educators and students around the country. You can see for yourself. Just check out our website, which we update regularly: www.CollaborizeClassroom.com
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com