Interview | John Stippick: Online Learning in ‘Room 21’

Ideas, ideas! From where do they come? And how do we act on them to effectuate real change? After reading, “The Global Achievement Gap” by Dr. Tony Wagner (he leads the Harvard School of Education) and learning about the Partnership for 21st Skills (the DC think-tank that provides some of the most relevant research for 21st-century learning), John Stippick knew that he could pull the best team together to build an application to support this style of learning. “I understood this would be a daunting task, but after visiting so many inner-city schools from LAUSD to NYC to Hawaii, I knew this project had to be done,” he says (John is pictured here in front of his company’s booth at the Computer Using Educators conference 2011). “I’ve seen students get excited about online learning. I’ve seen students get excited about online communication and access to video. I’ve even seen students become self-directed learners.” After seeing all of this, making what he calls “Room 21” became a “personal, moral imperative” for John. Room 21 is an online learning management system designed to address the challenges of using 21st-century learning strategies and technologies for student achievement. Students take online classes created by teachers; they use the 4 C’s (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity for higher-level thinking skills in their responses), and their parents are notified of their progress. “I also had the privilege of meeting Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford while I was new to this 21st-century learning thing,” says John. “I don’t think that she remembers me, but her words back to me after I described my idea of Room 21 were, ‘Hurry!'” At the 2011 Computer Using Educators conference, out of over 600 attendees, ABC news chose to feature John and Room 21, another encouraging sign.

Victor: What does the name mean?

John: Room 21 is the place for 21st Century Learning. The original design was of a website of a 3-D room that could be shared by multiple users. So, a student could invite other students to their “room” and they could collaborate on projects. Then, Facebook came out and we saw web 2.0 tools that were perfect for communication and collaboration. We knew if we just added opportunities for synthesis (students building and creating things) and evaluation, then we’d have a robust learning opportunity.

Victor: What is it? John: In the most simple, non-techie terms, Room 21 is a website for online learning. In a more formal sense, Room 21 is a Social Learning Platform where all stakeholders in the learning process (Parents, Teachers, Students, Principals, etc..) can collaborate online for providing the student a fully supported, curriculum driven, performance based learning adventure. Room 21 is in fact the nation’s first online social learning community, designed for educators to meet the challenge of Common Core State Standards.

Victor: Who created it?

John: Room 21 has been created by our internal team of developers based on thousands of conversations with educators, students, and researchers. The key to our success has been the input of the educators across the country.

Room 21 is a product of the Super Star Learning Company,, the leading provider of 21st Century Skills for students.  Super Star Learning Company offers a comprehensive suite of tools designed for students to succeed in the digital age.

Victor: What does it do?

John: Room 21 provides a website where students can collaborate and evaluate each others work. Students use the platform to submit their work, create portfolios with previous assignments, and all the while receiving and creating engaging learning experiences.

Room 21, is designed to equip students with the collaborative problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking skills necessary to succeed in the digital age. In addition, Room 21 provides districts and administrators with the tools necessary to meet the challenges of aligning to Common Core State Standards.

Room 21’s online learning community is comprised of 3 secure portals, available only to school stakeholders, through a safe, closed learning environment. Through each portal, stakeholders will create personalized online learning communities:

· Student Portal –Students have the ability to create study groups, collaborative teams and share digital content with peers

· Teacher Portal –Teachers have the ability to collaborate on lesson plans, share their plans and to mentor fellow teachers.

· Parent Portal – Parents have the ability to form a stronger connection with their child’s teachers and school as well as set up groups, such as a PTA, sports teams, bands, or theatre groups.

Victor: What are the benefits? John: The real benefit is that students, parents, and teachers are participating in learning in a relevant meaningful way. For example, a great of  business and learning communication is actually done online. But, remember not all of it is done online. So, Room 21 is the place where students get to learn and even socialize just as they do on campus. The benefit is that the application is available 24×7 for extended learning and review of key concepts.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services?

John: Room  21 is similar to some other LMS products in that the application delivers classes and assignments. However, the difference is that instead of just providing so called “cool” 2.0 web tools for the sake of technology, all of the interactions and structure of the application was specifically designed to support performance based learning.

Victor: What companies do you see as in the same market?  John: We see Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and Moodle. These are great products and can get the job done. We are just have a focus that is exclusive to fulfilling the work of the Partnership and complementing the research laid out by Dr. Wagner.

Victor: When was it developed? John: The first version of Room 21 was originally developed in 2010 with Version 2 released in February 2011.

Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history? John: I started consulting with a Social Media company that was led by seven 20-year olds. These young entrepreneurs had been learning how to do business, how to communicate, and actually formed their business online. It was an interesting experience and I saw that their behaviour was the end result of 21st Century online learning. I realized that Room 21 could be a support tool for all students to become have the same learning experiences as this group.

Victor: Where did it originate? John: The idea for Room 21 started like all great tech ideas- on a napkin. I had a conversation with Keith Hayashi, one of the former Superintendents in Hawaii. As we were discussing the implications of Dr. Wagner’s work, we began to jot down ideas of what the site would look like. The first version of Room 21 was going to be a 3-D website, but as time passed Facebook came out and we saw that platform as being a solution that teachers and students were already using for communication and collaboration. We knew that if we offered opportunities for synthesis and evaluation, then we’d be right on track. So, we began to study common web tools and then came up with our own design.

Victor: Where can you get it now? John: Room 21 is available online at We are currently offering grants for the subscriptions so that any school or district can instantly have access to Room 21.

Victor: How much does it cost? John: The current cost is a flat fee of $8 per student.

Victor: What are the options? John: The options for Room 21 are too use Room 21 standard, Room 21 with, or

In addition, Super Star Learning Company provides on site, on demand / real-time professional development. We believe very strongly in, and insist, on quality PD in all of our sites. I have seen during my career, software programs tossed into classrooms, and that is of no service to teachers or to students and is destined to fail. We engage the teachers, live on site, from implementation, and make sure they are ready to use our software to maximum benefit on day one of use  with students. We also provide live customer support and training 24/7.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action? John: A typical use of the application is when a teacher has a student work on a project such as reading a book and then do a Powerpoint on the novel or create a reading log using a blog to broadcast what you are learning as you read the book.

Room 21 is currently in use by more than 30,000 students throughout Southern California and Hawaii and plans a rapid expansion with key learning partners in 2011.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? John: Grade 4-Higher Ed, Public Schools, John: Private Schools, Schools of Faith, schools ready to embrace Common Core and performance-based learning

Victor: Who is it not for? John: Lower grades PreK-3 and students that cannot use a computer.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days? John: I’ve waited for 20 years to see this perfect storm of events for education- 1) The Internet is accessible almost everywhere 2) most schools have at least one computer lab with computers connected to the Internet 3) Computer programs are now easy to use and don’t require complex coding to use. The confluence of these three points allows for students to become connected not only to each other but also to information itself. This direct connection to information and education leads to the opportunities for innovation to spontaneously occur.

Just as many industries must periodically retrain their workforce for updated task, we must also realize that the educators of today also need the time and resources to be re-trained to integrate the technology and the new strategies of teaching that are incorporated in this new learning/instructional pedagogy. This is no small task! How much training have doctors had to have to use new technology? Just as the practice of medicine has experience its own revolution, we have to support the practice of education as it experiences its revolution.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Room 21? John: My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pinson, had a teletype computer installed in her classroom. This thing was a behemoth and was one of the first computers to access the internet. We actually used a rotary phone to dial into the network! The amazing part of the process is that she would regularly ask our class what could we do with a computer that could talk to the world? Our minds were sparked with ideas galore to communicate with NASA, communicate with other schools, and make games!

Victor: How does Room 21 address some of your concerns about education? John: The adoption of Room 21 shows that education is also entering its own period of innovation. Educators realize that they can no longer approach their practice with a “business as usual” approach. Educators that are using Room 21 see that students want to learn in this Social Learning Environment.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education? John: While many are disappointed with public education, I actually see a great deal of hope. The part of education that were operating “under the radar” are being revealed so that the system of education can deal with itself. A few years ago, I got to hear Tim Wagner, then with the United States Department of Education,  speak at the Los Angeles County Symposium for 21st Century Learning. This was in 2008 and he was speaking about “Learning 2.0” where the all members of the community (parents, mentors, students, teachers, local business, government) became active participants of the learning process. I’ve been inspired by that speech as I see that as wifi becomes free and we are all gradually becoming connected to the web, the ability to share information actually becomes easy and a normal part of life.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Room 21? John: Many schools, districts, and states are trying to fulfill on the goals of the 21st Century Learning Framework. We are the only company that has been designed for that singular purpose.

Room 21, with its multiple patents pending, is the only application that delivers.

The students have been and are waiting for the teachers to get on Room 21.

Victor: What makes you say that? John: We’ve conducted interviews with students of the early adopters of Room 21. Student have said over and over again: “I wish all of my teachers were using Room 21.”


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to:

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