The key to making technology useful to educators is identifying and meeting educators' unique needs. Previously, this could prove to be quite a challenge, because experts in technology and experts in education often didn't know how to get information across to each other. Data, however, is a universal language, and Junyo, profiled by GigaOM, is looking to harness data to allow publishers and other education software providers to understand the issues the school districts around the country are hoping to use technology to solve.
Lead by co-founder of Zynga Steve Schoettler, upon its founding two years ago, Junyo had a very different mission. Junyo wanted to use its expertise with data analysis to give teachers a more complete picture of the academic progress of each of their students. However, a number of recent personnel shakeups as well as other challenges have since led to a shift in focus. Now its customers would be companies that were trying to sell their education technology wares to the schools.
"We changed the product strategy but the mission is the same," said Schoettler. "For the first time, publishers can understand the schools they're selling to."
Called EdLights, the product is a departure from Junyo's initial vision, which involved using analytics to help schools understand and adapt to how students learn. But it's still a data play: it pulls together a wide range of datasets — including school performance data from each state, funding data and census data — to give publishers a way to understand the specific needs of the more than 103,000 schools in the country.
GigaOM gives an example of how a company attempting to sell English-learner software can use EdLights to only pitch schools or school districts that have a higher percentage of students from families where English is not the first language.
Among the types of customers that Junyo hopes to attract will be large publishing firms like Kaplan and Pearson and smaller tech companies marketing niche products. However, EdLights could prove useful even to those who aren't attempting to enter or expand their role in the education technology market.
For example, it could help schools benchmark themselves against schools in other areas with similar demographic and performance profiles or enable state departments of education to do A/B testing to determine the effectiveness of various education products or resources, the company said.
Big Data has been creating buzz in technology since last year – with many companies looking for ways to utilize data analysis to not only market products but also to solve problems. Junyo isn't the first out of the gate look at ways to use it in education.
In the past year or so, data has become a beloved buzzword in education as new startups — like Clever and Learnsprout – as well as big operations — like the Gates Foundation-backed InBloominitiative – have touted their plans for freeing up and sharing all kinds of student information.