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How eduCanon Facilitates Flipped Classrooms—One Video at a Time

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As a Teach For America corps member, Benjamin Levy had a problem: With both limited funding and classroom time, it was difficult to teach effectively and give students individual attention.

“I had about 30 students per class, and I wasn’t able to differentiate to all of their respective needs,” Levy recalls. “They had a range of learning styles, and there wasn’t a lot of funding or support to have students’ needs recorded individually.”

But he also saw the rise of technology in schools and homes as a helper—not a distraction or threat—in education. And so, in 2012, eduCanon was born.

Simply speaking, eduCanon is an online learning platform whereby teachers personally pick videos and customize them with questions with which students engage as the video progresses. The platform, in turn, records students’ interactions with the video and turns it into data for the teacher to shape the next day’s lesson planning.

“I built eduCanon as a way to help me manage instruction for each individual student, personalize it so that each student could be most effectively engaged in what they are learning,” Levy said. “I would be able to understand how to make my class more effective.”

Levy’s students are not the only ones who have benefitted from eduCanon: The platform is now being used in more than 12,000 schools around the world—and the company is only growing from here.

When Levy introduced the platform to Sue Germer, a TFA colleague and eduCanon cofounder, she found that it worked wonders both for herself as a teacher and for her students.

“It was completely transformative in my classroom,” Germer noted. “Not only did my kids learn the content better [by watching the videos], but they were more satisfied with their interactions with me [in the classroom]. I could actually focus on teaching rather than grading and giving feedback. My students started learning how to learn, and I started learning how to teach in a more 21st century way.”

“Video is such a powerful medium that isn’t being exploited for learning or capitalized upon in the way that learning can and needs to be—and eduCanon powers that,” Levy says.

The idea behind eduCanon is the “flipped classroom” structure, a concept based on long-standing scientific research that passive learning in the classroom is ineffective. In traditional classrooms, students listen to lectures and take tests in class, and work on problem sets at home. In the flipped classroom, students learn lessons at home and spend class time applying their knowledge in class activities.

“[eduCanon] enables the teacher to be more effective in a teacher’s scarce commodity—time,” said Eileen Rudden, partner and cofounder of edtech startup accelerator LearnLaunch. “It is a great example of how technology is actually helping educators realize the things they’ve been trying to accomplish.”

EduCanon has gained traction in the education industry because it is built by teachers, for teachers. Two out of three of its cofounders, Levy and Germer, were TFA corps members, after all. The wealth of teaching experience behind eduCanon has “influenced not just our design, but the functionality we choose to incorporate,” Levy said. “It’s been driven by the teachers’ needs more than anything else, and because of that we have a really strong product/market fit.”

EduCanon’s emphasis on user experience and convenience is evident in its ongoing investments and strategic partnerships.

“They’ve made it simpler to pull in all kinds of videos from many different channels [e.g. YouTube, TedX],” Rudden says. “They’ve also made investments [such as integrating with various Learning Tools Interoperability and Learning Management Systems] so that it’s easier for teachers and students to use within existing schools and networks. They’ve continued to improve the product.”

As a result, eduCanon has grown from Levy’s personalized teaching tool to an indispensable instrument across the education industry. Since 2012, eduCanon’s userbase has grown to 500,000 teachers and students worldwide—organically.

“We have a huge number of teachers who have come on board all through word of mouth,” said Levy. “There’s been a $0 marketing budget. If a teacher likes it [eduCanon], feels empowered by it and that it does exactly what they need it to do, they end up sharing it with other teachers. We’ve grown through referrals.”

Beyond its users and product, eduCanon has also achieved huge successes as a startup as well. In June 2013, eduCanon joined the LearnLaunch accelerator program, and the firm continues to mentor eduCanon’s work today. In May 2014, eduCanon won the 1776 Challenge Festival in education as well as the McGraw-Hill Education Prize for Open Educational Resources in the Milken-Penn Graduation School of Education Business Competition. Earlier this year, Levy was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Educators List. This summer, the eduCanon team will also be competing in the final round of the Teach for America Social Innovation Award.

Now based at 1776’s Washington, D.C. campus, Levy and his team have built strong relationships with other startups and mentors within the incubator, which have accelerated eduCanon’s growth and expertise rapidly. As a Challenge Cup winner, eduCanon also received a seed investment from 1776, becoming one of 1776’s initial portfolio companies.

As for the future of eduCanon, Levy believes that so long as video continues to be an important platform of instruction, eduCanon will continue to serve the education industry, streamline teaching methods, and revolutionize teachers’ role in the classroom.

“If we can [facilitate] direct instruction through video and one-to-one instruction, that means the teacher’s role isn’t displaced but evolved into a guide on the side, instead of a sage on the stage,” Levy said. “The platform is a tiny type of revolution.”

This article also appears in Venture Capitol, Georgetown University’s first student-run entrepreneurship publication.

Alexandra Ma

Alexandra Ma is a senior at Georgetown University, and writes about startups, politics, and foreign affairs. You can view her work on her website.