Friday, September 14, 2012

The future of education?

Startups & Venture Capital

Providing an Alleyoop for education


Premium content from Boston Business Journal by Taryn Plumb, Special to the Journal

Friday, September 14, 2012

Patrick Supanc, president of Alleyoop, said the U.S. faces significant challenges in preparing young learners for college.
W. Marc Bernsau

Imagine you’re virtually exploring the surface of Mars via the Curiosity rover.
As you move along, you can earn points, compare your progress with others through leaderboards, and stay connected with a wide network of users — all while learning about aerospace, physics and robotics.
This is the education for the 21st century, as envisioned by Boston-based Alleyoop. The seven-month-old startup aims to usher in a new era of learning — and better equip today’s students with math and science skills — through its intuitive, personalized, game-based website. Having already attracted tens of thousands of users and big-name content partners, it arrives on the scene as statistics continue to reflect a dire skills gap in the country in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
“There’s a massive challenge that we’re facing in this country with adequately preparing our students for college,” said Patrick Supanc, Alleyoop’s president and founder.
According to a report released in February by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the U.S. needs to grow its STEM professionals by 1 million over the next decade if it intends to retain its “historic preeminence” in science and technology. Achieving that would require a roughly 34 percent annual increase in the number of students who receive undergraduate STEM degrees, according to the report, which largely cites weak math skills and uninspiring introductory courses as dissuading many students from completing a STEM education.
“We’ve seen the U.S. drop over the years in its international ranking around math and science,” Supanc said.
One of the biggest deterrents he sees is the clinical way in which both disciplines have traditionally been taught — which doesn’t often match up with the seeing-it-in-the-real-world-context that is most engaging for students.
To that end, he was inspired to start Alleyoop, which launched in February and is backed by Pearson Education. The company has since partnered with NASA, National Geographic and the National Science Foundation, along with smaller enterprises such as Adaptive Curriculum and Brightstorm, which provide content for the site.
Geared toward students in grades 7-12, Alleyoop has attracted roughly 40,000 users so far; they’re “fairly evenly split” between boys and girls, according to Supanc, and 20 percent of them are actually post-high school.
As the school season ramps up this fall, he expects to see “massive growth” in that user base. Most notably, a new partnership with Cincinnati-headquartered education services company Hobsons will enable Alleyoop to reach another 5 million students in 5,500 schools around the world through Hobsons’ “Naviance” platform.
How Alleyoop works: Once users create an account, the system starts asking them introductory questions, such as what they’re studying and how they prefer to learn. Fairly quickly, through its “super brain” recommendation technology, it begins suggesting activities best suited to the user, ranging from videos and NASA eClips, to flashcards, quizzes or simulations.
“With every step, it’s adapting itself to you,” Supanc said.
Along the way, users earn points for starting and finishing activities, as well as “yoops,” or virtual currency; they “level up” and go on “missions” just like in video games; and they get and give constant feedback through questions, surveys and polls. They can also take advantage of live tutors and virtual counseling services.
Alleyoop is a “freemium” service: The average user can earn enough yoops to use the system for free, but more advanced content can be accessed through subscriptions that start at $12 a month — the method by which Alleyoop eventually hopes to become profitable, Supanc said.
“Alleyoop understands that students sometimes need to be motivated to do additional work,” said Jim Bowler, CEO of Arizona-based Adaptive Curriculum, which provides science content for the site. The principles of gamification “make it more engaging for the student.”
The company also recently introduced Alleyoop mobile, and hopes to ultimately become a one-stop shop for college readiness. “To be college-ready really requires a broad range of skills, including areas beyond math and science,” said Supanc, pointing to literacy and critical thinking skills in particular.

Original story link here.

No comments:

Post a Comment