Panorama Offers Open Source Survey Tool to Schools

Boston-based Panorama Education has teamed with researchers from Harvard School of Education to create a survey that will help educators gain feedback from schools across the country.

Panorama, backed by Mark Zuckerberg and other young entrepreneurs, recently released a free, open-source survey tool for schools in the hopes of creating better questions for students pertaining to their school experience.

The surveys, which gauge student success and teacher efficiency, will help educators make better decisions pertaining to all areas of education. Basically, they take a student's own words to decipher where the problems in the education system truly are.

Currently, school districts can buy survey questions to use, but the questions don't always give the best results.

"If you want to pay a ton of money for a mediocre instrument you can do that," said Panorama CEO Aaron Feuer. The survey will be available on Panorama's website Tuesday.

Free access to surveys will mean that no matter how much money a school does (or does not) have, they will have the same access to high quality materials.

The survey questions available from Panorama range from how well the material is conveyed and if the teacher shows knowledge in the subject to asking if the student feels that their teacher truly cares about them.

The company has created the technology to allow for quick and inexpensive processing of paper surveys, as well as the technology to take away insights into the answers given.

The new technology will offer districts the ability to give better-crafted surveys to more people in less time. The system is currently being used by "a couple hundred" school districts, Feuer said, which he estimates to be about 5,000 schools in 31 states and 13 countries, including some of the largest school districts in the nation, such as Los Angeles Unified School District.

Harvard School of Education professor Hunter Gehlbach had been interested in creating a survey like this for quite some time, but when Panorama came to him and said they wanted to create a survey that offered "a wider array of outcomes than is typically prioritized," he knew they would work well together.

But how will the surveys help our current education system?

"First," Gehlbach said, "the feedback needs to capture students' actual opinions on important topics with precision."

"Second, the feedback needs to be presented to teachers and school leaders in ways that are explicitly designed to improve teachers' pedagogy."

Panorama currently has 21 employees working from its Downtown Crossings location in Boston. The company is backed by $4 million from Zuckerberg, Google Ventures, Ashton Kutcher's A-Grade Investments, SoftTech VC and Yale University.

"Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means," said Aaron Feuer, Panorama's co-founder and chief executive. "Five years ago we thought test scores were the answer to everything. We're offering a way to focus on the right metrics."

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