Schoology Hopes to Bring the App Store Model to Educational Software

Schools have evolved to using a wide variety of software every day, including plenty that operates only in a sandbox isolated from other software, some that proves frustrating for end users (read: teachers) yet awesome for administration, and some that works the other way around. New York-based Schoology, however is looking to provide an experience that addresses all those pain points at once, and has the potential to go well beyond.

Schoology just introduced a new API and developer platform, in order to encourage more integration with its own software, which provides a cloud-based collaborative learning platform for K-12 and higher education classrooms. In the ed-tech market, which is becoming quite crowded, an open platform and a public API adds a lot of value for Schoology users, since it means developers can start integrating other products into it, making it much more suitable as a one-stop solution for both educators looking to build and share lesson plans, mark papers, track student progress, etc.; and for administrators, who are looking to measure performance, track curriculum success, and more.

“We’ve created a platform that really allows people, and any third-party developer to build completely integrated apps that really extend the Schoology functionality directly and seamlessly,” founder Jeremy Friedman said in an interview. “So, the same way you have a Facebook app or an iOS app, people can now build apps that are directly involved in Schoology.”

That will help provide a level of access to information for educational software developers that Friedman sees as very significant, on top of helping Schoology build out its platform offerings. “It’s not an app that helps you get virtual farmland; what this is giving you is access to really significant user information, granted they give you permission,” he said. “You can do things like see the time of day people are accessing a particular content item, or here’s where they’re going and here’s what they don’t understand.”

Of course, an API isn’t exactly all that worthwhile unless it’s being used. Which is why it’s crucial that Schoology also managed to bring on two marquee launch partners, including Blackboard with its Collaborate software, and Turnitin. The Blackboard integration is especially significant, since in general the two companies actually compete fairly directly. Friedman believes that everyone is realizing that it doesn’t serve educators and the industry at large to just create a plethora of different apps that are segregated, requiring more work on the part of the people they’re intended to help in terms of managing logins and data across platforms. Cross-product integration is the future of educational software, he believes, especially as money from investors continues to flow into the space.

Others are trying different approaches to the same problem of information disconnection. Clever, for instance, is creating an open API to help developers take data from a variety of student information systems and integrate it into their own apps. Clever doesn’t provide its own services to build on top of however, while Schoology is essentially a collaboration and reporting tool for educators in and of itself. Friedman says he’s excited by what the Clever team is doing, and in fact has reached out to discuss ways their goals might dovetail.

Schoology also recently debuted a new public content network, which allows educators to share their tests, materials, curricula and more. Friedman sees it as a huge time-saver for teachers, since they can go back to the well again and again to find content from each other, and from sources like Khan Academy, and spend less time on developing lesson plans and more time teaching. That’s bound to be a hit with teachers who are generally looking to identify best-in-class materials as it is, often through less efficient methods like passing around photocopies.

The launch API integrations show how potentially comprehensive Schoology could become with the help of third-party developers; teachers can now collect assignments via the platform, then instantly send them on to Turnitin, receive reports about potential plagiarism issues, grade assignments and send them back out to students all in one place. Getting schools to congregate around a single central platform, which encompasses the needs of teachers, administrators and students is a huge undertaking (some might say impossible), but Schoology now has one of the better recipes out there in terms of achieving true mass appeal.

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