Facebook, Dropbox make strides in education with new projects, leadership

Facebook and Dropbox aren't alone in striving to strengthen their presence in schools.


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As teachers and students prepare to go back to school, a number of tech giants have been unveiling new projects and initiatives aiming to serve (and improve) the education sector.

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Following up ambitious plans to connect the world through Internet.org, Facebook's next project is to revamp the traditional classroom experience.

The Facebook engineering team revealed on Thursday its collaboration with Summit Public Schools, a non-profit charter organization based in Silicon Valley with a handful of K-12 schools operating in California and Washington state.

Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox elaborated in a blog post about how a small team of Facebook engineers rebuilt Summit's Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) software for setting long-term goals as well as the visualization tools and steps taken to achieve those goals.

Cox wrote:

As we looked into why this was so effective, we saw that a lot of this was the culture of the teachers and school, but also that a lot of the magic was in the technology. First, the technology itself has the power to bring to life the daily work by putting it in context. And second, the technology frees up classroom time for teachers to do what they do best--mentor students directly--and for students to spend time collaborating with, and in some cases, teaching each other.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg concurred in a separate post, championing the platform as an example of "personalized learning."

"This partnership is an example of how educators and engineers can team up to unlock more potential than we could have otherwise," Zuckerberg wrote.

Perhaps defending the initiative from being seen as an attempt to gain even more users -- especially at young ages -- Cox noted PLP access doesn't require a Facebook account, and the system is "subject to strict privacy controls that help protect student data."

More than 2,000 students and 100 teachers already used the Facebook-upgraded version of PLP in 2014. Looking forward to the next school year, the social network is working with Summit to expand access to more public schools through a small pilot program.

Separate from the Facebook development but also looking to strengthen its digital school supplies, Dropbox announced a new head of education, Jason Katcher.

Based out of Dropbox's New York City offices, Katcher is joining the cloud storage provider after a decade at Google, where he led Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks in the Americas.

Katcher already has a new client in tow as Dropbox also boasted a new contract with Arizona State University. ASU joins a roster of colleges already deploying Dropbox for file sharing, including MIT, California State University-Fullerton, and the University of Oklahoma.

Facebook and Dropbox aren't alone in striving to strengthen their presence in schools.

Earlier this week, the Google for Education team unveiled a bevy of new features and upgrades for its Google Apps suite -- namely Docs, Sheets, Forms and Slides -- which could be enjoyed by anyone (education or corporate users) using the cloud-based platform for collaboration.

But seeking to help to teachers and students, some of the new functions include voice recognition-based typing as well as the infusion of Google's powerful search engine into Docs for looking up facts and quotes without having to leave the app.

Screenshot via Facebook