There's a lot of talk about technology and education, but most of the time, the conversation is about individual schools implementing technology. In the case of The School Collective
, a social entrepreneurship startup based in Philadelphia, technology becomes a way to link and improve all schools at once.
Sebastian Stoddart, one of the co-founders, says "We originally came up with the idea at Oxford University. Alyson Goodner and I were both studying for our MBA. The education problem is bigger than just one issue. We identified an element of the education world where we can actually make a difference."
The School Collective joins teachers across schools through a website where educators can share best practices through lesson plans, materials, and instant communication. Currently there are over 1,700 members sharing nearly 21,000 documents and over 36 thousand lesson plans.
Stoddart, who remains in the UK but visits town 3 to 4 times a year, says it was Goodner's enthusiasm and energy that drew him into the project. "She's incredibly passionate. It's her one focus and one mission. From my standpoint, it's a real chance to use innovation to improve education. It's an opportunity to reshape an existing model that isn't working."
Coming from one of the most venerated learning institutions in the world doesn't hurt. "One thing you get from Oxford is a hands on teaching style," says Stoddard. "You work directly with a tutor, and there are 2 to 3 other people in the room. The difference of that model to Philadelphia education is huge. Oxford is an incredible education, and it gives you a massive desire to give that education as well."
Goodner adds, "I am not British. I was born here in Philly, and ended up at Oxford, a place where people gather to talk about global change. Here in Philadelphia we get a fairly bad rap. People say, education reform here in Philly? Good luck with that. But there has been movement. There are amazing people doing reform work in Philly."
The School Collective, says Goodner, gathers revenue via a freemium model. Teachers sign up for free or pay $5 per month to access the full functionality of the site. Organizations can also subscribe to the site using a tiered model.
"The School Collective is built to give benefit to every user on the site," says Stoddard, who compares traditional teaching tools that are brought in by the principal, but offer no benefit to the teacher, "From the beginning we wanted this to be something teachers would want to be on."
An essential key to The School Collective's success is Goodner and Stoddart's professional development package, their hands on approach to teaching teachers. During a 10-hour workshop, The School Collective shows educators take the time to visit schools in person and explain exactly how to use the tools, resulting in a 98% acceptance rate.
With this level of success, expansion is on the agenda, although it would be difficult to replicate an Oxford-educated team. "We are looking to bring on a person full time similar to what I am doing, and a full time developer on Sebastian's side to build a team in Philadelphia," says Goodner, who plans on tapping into former Teach For America participants to find the right fit.
Currently, The School Collective serves a diverse roster of Philadelphia schools, including The William Penn Charter School, Stepping Stones, and The School District of Philadelphia. The plan is to expand to include parents and students, and to extend The School Collective's reach to neighboring states.
Source: Alyson Goodner, Sebastian Stoddart, The School Collective
Writer: Sue Spolan