As recently as a couple years ago, the biggest problem schools faced with implementing technology tools for students and teachers was the lack of research-based, pedagogically sound, applications. There was plenty of software, some of it good, not much of it great, and very little of it really cranking out usable data for teachers and other stakeholders. The recent explosion of investment in ed tech has yielded some really valuable applications, though, and the challenges have shifted to adoption and ease of use of disparate software and services.
inBloom, which launched this week, is hoping to change that. I had the chance to talk with Iwan Streichenberger, CEO of inBloom, Inc., and couldn't help but be impressed with both the current platform and the future vision of the non-profit. inBloom offers a set of technologies and services, most notably robust APIs, that allow single sign-on and aggregation of data from many web-based educational tools and provide a basis for companies to develop new solutions for schools, teachers, parents, and students that are interoperable without needing to conform to arbitrary standards or conventions. As the company put it in their press release,
The inBloom data integration and content search services enrich learning applications by connecting them to systems and information that currently live in a variety of different places and formats, while helping to reduce costs for states and districts. This comprehensive view into each student’s history can help those involved in education...act quickly to help each student succeed. It also helps educators locate standards-aligned instructional resources from multiple providers and match them with their students’ needs...
Additionally, the inBloom framework enables technology providers to develop and deploy products without having to build custom connections to each state and district data source. This means more developers will have the opportunity to create new and powerful applications to benefit students, with lower implementation costs and faster time-to-market.
For example, an SIS provider could build a custom dashboard with student data from any application connected to inBloom. 22 such providers have already signed on to connect their applications to inBloom and 9 states are involved in piloting the service. The real goal, though, goes back to the ed tech holy grail of "an IEP for everyone" (my words - inBloom calls it "[integration of] student data and learning applications to support sustainable, cost-effective personalized learning"). If teachers can't easily access data generated by learning applications and stored in SIS/LMS platforms and then quickly find and provide appropriate resources for students based on these data, then we aren't leveraging the tools in which we're investing. Kids are just taking tests on the web and playing computer games at that point and, with 30+ kids in a class, there's no real hope of differentiated instruction.
Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation have funded a wide range of educational initiatives, this one (which received initial philanthropic funding from the two organizations) strikes me as one of the most potentially transformative. Nobody benefits if the current unprecedented levels of investor interest in ed tech becomes a bubble that funded lots of applications from which teachers and students derive limited benefit. But if inBloom can harness these applications to develop a meaningful, well-rounded ecosystem, then the potential for ed tech to achieve much of what it has promised in the last 20 years (with only moderate success) increases significantly. It doesn't hurt that companies with great ideas and great products will be able to tap into a ready market, either, eager to adopt strong applications from a unified ecosystem.
There will be more announcements and demonstrations from inBloom at SxSWEdu at the beginning of March where we'll be able to see the system in action.