Technology Research

Five EdTech Companies to Watch in 2016

Last week, Eduventures predicted the changes and challenges ahead for higher education in 2016 and encouraged institutions to unite their stakeholders around a set of common-sense solutions. In support of your New Year’s resolutions, we also want to take time to highlight edtech companies that offer innovative products and services to help you reach your goals this year. Below, we highlight a few of the companies that shared their product roadmaps and strategies with us at the end of 2015. Most of the vendors we chose to profile are in the early phases of their forays into higher education. Some have already demonstrated success in other industries but have not yet been widely embraced in higher education. Others represent the cutting edge of metacognition science in education and are just starting to make an impact through pilot programs. One vendor, Tutor.com, has been very active in higher education and is now differentiating its offering with data analytics. We think all of these providers are attempting to solve real problems in innovative ways and look forward to following their progress in 2016.

Social Media Listening

Most institutions have centralized the management of their social media presence, and many are thinking strategically about how to expand their enrollment marketing efforts to engage students on Facebook and Twitter. Very few, however, are listening to what students are saying on social media or other websites and incorporating the data into their admissions, retention, and advancement efforts. While many companies offer similar solutions, the two vendors below stand out for their off-the-shelf features that directly align with the needs of higher education and for their unique datasets that would integrate well with existing CRM systems.
1. Crimson Hexagon
Crimson Hexagon’s platform allows institutions to track the performance of their social media accounts and identify which messages drive meaningful engagement with constituents. From it, institutions can quickly understand the content and context of emerging social media conversations. Then, they can plan whether and how to react and if a response would be better received online or offline. At first, institutions may find the sheer power of the Crimson Hexagon platform overwhelming. While the customization the platform requires to address higher education use cases is a daunting task, our imaginations run wild with possibilities. For example, institutions can use Crimson Hexagon tools to analyze the language in posts by alumni and identify who is most influential and who is promoting the institution effectively. Alternatively, their tools can be used to manage crises, which is particularly important for colleges and universities in situations involving sexual assault, racism, and threats of violence that require timely, thoughtful responses.
2. GroundSignal
Knowing where your students, parents, faculty, and alumni are posting from can be nearly as important as knowing what they are saying. GroundSignal enables users to identify the physical location of social media posts. They provide user-friendly tools to draw an area on a map (i.e., the perimeter of a college campus) and immediately generate reports to understand what people within that area are saying. This could have enormous value, for example, for admissions offices that want to monitor feedback from prospective students and their parents as they participate in campus visits. Alternatively, gift officers can set alerts to notify them when alumni are on campus based on their Instagram posts of sporting events. To truly maximize the potential of GroundSignal’s geolocation features, institutions must have strong ties between admissions or advancement and the social media management team, whether it is a dedicated university relations function or distributed among various departments.

Moving Beyond Adaptive Learning

Much of the attention to advances in adaptive learning has been on delivering resources to students based on their demonstrated mastery and comprehension of prior content. Beyond simple metrics, such as time spent reading specific content, measuring student engagement has been challenging for instructional designers. When students do not succeed, it has little to do with ability or content comprehension and more to do with their ability to overcome a negative academic mindset or the availability of one-on-one academic support. The following innovative companies identify the students who are in need of additional support, prescribe the types of support would be most helpful based on each student’s learning style, and deliver content or services to them in the format they prefer.
3. Emotuit
One of the aspects of face-to-face learning that is hardest to replicate online is reading students’ facial expressions to assess how well they comprehend the material. Emotuit’s technology captures students’ facial expressions and emotional responses through their computers’ cameras. It then applies an expression recognition algorithm to gauge their reactions to content. Since its product is integrated with the learning management system, it can match its analysis of students’ emotional responses with their individual academic performance. The biggest challenge in adopting this solution will likely have less to do with the technology’s accuracy and more to do with student misconceptions about how their images are being used. Other technology segments, such as online proctoring, have been criticized for their potential abuse of facial recognition technology through the creation of a central database of faces. This is not a problem with Emotuit. Its technology only keeps students’ images long enough to assess their emotional responses and then discards them. Institutions that use Emotuit most successfully will invest the time to map their existing repository of content to the learning styles and emotional responses that Emotuit observed during the students’ learning experiences. Perhaps the strongest endorsement for this approach to measuring student engagement is the news that Apple recently acquired a similar facial expression and emotion detection technology from the similarly named Emotient. Finding creative ways to measure user engagement through facial recognition is going to be very hot in 2016.
4. GetSet Learning
According to Karan Goel, CEO of GetSet Learning, 88% of students who drop out do so for non-academic reasons. Just having a positive academic mindset is closely tied to student success, allowing motivated students to overcome obstacles both inside and outside the classroom. GetSet Learning aims to improve students’ mindsets through an approach that includes writing therapy and modeling positive peer behaviors. Its platform enables students to learn directly from peers who have shared stories about overcoming their own challenges. Institutions can integrate this approach into orientation activities, first year experience programs, and academic advising. Its unique program depends on current students taking a more active role in advising and intervention efforts for other students. To get the most from this technology, it would be best for institutions to coordinate with student advocacy groups or student government to develop a pilot program. This would help get the word out about the technology’s potential and identify the largest group of students to seed the system with their own techniques for overcoming academic challenges.
5. Tutor.com
Students thrive when they can avail themselves of every possible support resource, both inside and outside the classroom. Many academic institutions, particularly those with wholly online programs, don’t have the in-house resources to provide one-on-one tutoring services. Many companies provide outsourced, wholly online tutors, including SmarthinkingNetTutor, and BrainFuseTutor.com stands out for its use of integrated diagnostics in every tutoring session it delivers. It also provides personalized help on more than 40 college-level subject offerings, mostly entry-level courses with large class sizes. Within these courses, real-time notifications on the results of tutoring sessions can feed back into early alert systems to make intervention efforts more timely and efficient and augment other institutional academic advising services.  
Eduventures believes that these technology solutions each represent a promising, albeit largely unproven, potential impact on enrollment, retention, and/or development efforts. To implement them, institutions will need to embrace alternative ways of interacting with students and alumni, to build trust in non-traditional sources of data about the student experience, and to consider factors that impact student success that go beyond mastering content. They will also have to embrace being a first mover, helping to define what these solutions’ impact can be. These five vendors represent just a handful of the more than 100 companies we met with in 2015. Eduventures will profile many more products and services throughout 2016. If you are evaluating or implementing a technology solution that has the potential to impact the higher education student lifecycle, please contact us at info@eduventures.com.  

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