After his own experience in working with large quantities of data in the private sector, Shawn Bay recognized the amount of data within education and an opportunity to apply analytics to improve education. That was the genesis for eScholar. Here, Shawn discusses education, technology, and using data to empower individuals to succeed in life.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Shawn: eScholar was started in 1997. This was a dynamic period within the technology world and I wanted eScholar and specifically the name and colors to convey the impact that we were going to have on the education market. If you go back to the mid to late ’90s, eCommerce was a term that turned the Internet from a messaging platform to a powerful means of conducting business. Therefore, the “e” represented our core business to influence education with electronic data, while “scholar” promotes our mission to improve and allow students to achieve success in their academic life.
Victor: What does eScholar do?
Shawn: Although always evolving, eScholar is focused on applying data to the practice of education to help students achieve their goals. Today, eScholar supports more than 18 million students and 4,800 districts throughout the United States. eScholar provides an entire suite of technology that collects, cleanses and presents billions of data points that are used for both analytic and accountability reporting. eScholar offers three core products:
- eScholar Complete Data Warehouse® is the platform to gather data from multiple data sources (including SIS, financial, etc.), organize, cleanse and make it available for multiple purposes.
- eScholar Uniq-ID identifies data and tracks it for individual staff and students.
- eScholar myTrack™ is built atop of the eScholar Complete Data Warehouse and represents the first solution to tap a complete data warehouse and put data directly into the education process at the level of individual students. This enables the entire education community to rally around the student to help them achieve their specific goals.
Victor: Who in education uses your technology?
Shawn: The pervasiveness of data and analytics continues to evolve. eScholar’s suite of solutions influences all levels of the education community, including administrators, parents, teachers, counselors and students.
Victor: How is it unique? Who are your competitors?
Shawn: eScholar is set apart from the market because of its mature and supported product offering. Having competed exclusively in the education market for the past 15 years, and building solutions first at the district level, has allowed eScholar’s products to incorporate years of experience. With each new implementation and unique application of data, eScholar’s products continue to grow. This is a significant advantage for both existing and new customers who benefit from eScholar’s experience in the community of customers. These economies of shared knowledge are big differentiators when compared to “do it yourself” data warehouse applications that generally have a shortened lifecycle because they require an ongoing commitment to product design, development, testing, scalability analysis, efficacy research and much more. Most individual educational agencies can’t afford the sustained investment of at a minimum dozens of highly skilled individuals. And if they can, the narrow focus on urgent issues in a single agency makes it difficult to “think outside the box.” Within the eScholar community, there is so much innovation occurring s that is “outside the box” that allows others think about solutions differently. Depending on the application, eScholar competes with a number of large vendors, including IBM, Oracle, SAS, etc.
Victor: When was it developed and what is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Shawn: Initially, eScholar was approached to build a data warehouse solution for a single district. The solution was to be used for basic reporting and analytic use. That district-level solution then become the basis for the eScholar Complete Data Warehouse. Because of my background in working with large quantities of data, we developed that first solution to be very scalable, which allowed us to fulfill the needs of a State Education Agency implementation without having to reengineer the entire product. Today, eScholar has the most state-level implementations in the market with 13 deployed. eScholar continues to work with both individual districts and state level implementations.
Victor: Where do you see the direction and use of eScholar in education?
Shawn: Personalization! eScholar’s offerings will continue to be used for reporting and accountability, however the education market is undergoing a period of renewal in which it is looking to improve education and its practice around the individual student. eScholar is set to play a significant role in this transformation as its technology will be the platform from which students, parents, teachers and administrators will be able to identify goals, build plans and significantly improve the education of each student using a comprehensive view of each child’s progress.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Shawn: As a result of our scale and the work already embedded within our highly evolved products, eScholar’s offers the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) in the industry. We have seen others provide a lower license fee and make it all up on customizations or another project that is imperative to the success of the entire implementation, but as for TCO, no-one even comes close. And as a result of the economics of software, we provide much more comprehensive capabilities than anyone else. Depending on the application and specific technology that is deployed, eScholar typically prices based on the number of students supported, not users of hardware. This does not create dis-incentives to the broad use of data to improve education. All of eScholar’s solutions are fully supported and provide upgrades, general maintenance, as well as professional services.
Victor: What are some examples of how eScholar is being used today?
Shawn: eScholar’s solutions run the gamut of uses and represent how the education market is turning to eScholar to improve all aspects of education. Today in Cumberland County North Carolina, eScholar myTrack provides an interactive tool used by teachers and administrators to implement personalized education plans. This solution is quickly being adopted and showing positive results by actively engaging students in identifying goals and working toward success through the eScholar myTrack application. Another example at the district level is with Santa Ana Unified School District in California. Santa Ana recently deployed an early alert solution geared to help identify those students falling behind and at risk of not graduating or students that are doing so well, that they risk becoming bored (and consequently falling behind later). Armed with this information, Santa Ana is now able to be proactive and implement intervention programs to allow students to succeed. Finally, from a sheer volume perspective, the recent adoption by the Texas Education Agency to deploy district facing warehouses to each of its 1,300 + districts and more than 4.8 million students speaks to a wide range of uses of eScholar’s solutions.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for?
Shawn: eScholar will continue to grow and its adoption will be used at every level of education. Historically, eScholar was used by those individuals that were responsible for accountability and analytical reporting. Today, the use of analytics and eScholar influences teachers, administrators, counselors and students.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Shawn: I believe that the education system within the United States is undergoing a transformation of renewal. With 10 years of No Child Left Behind under our belt, the education community is now set to shift its practices away from simply meeting accountability standards to using the data collected specifically to help individual students. I believe that analytics and the granular-level data that we collect will provide the necessary insights and become a catalyst for this renewal.
Victor: How does eScholar address some of your concerns about education?
Shawn: As both a parent and one that supports the education market, my concern is the individual student. Students should be offered the very best education possible and understand how academics today can help them achieve their goals of tomorrow. eScholar is addressing this with its recently introduced eScholar myTrack that is specifically geared to support personalized education.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Shawn: I am optimistic about education and believe that it will continue to utilize data (as long as it is presented in a meaningful manner) to improve education practices, measure success and drive change.
Victor: Any quirky stories that speak to your mission?
Shawn: One that pops into my mind and that I share with people is during the initial research of developing eScholar myTrack. With an established market, eScholar was looking to move the use of data into the classroom and to the individual students. As all small companies do, we looked internally and decided that we as a group would interview and conduct market research within our own network of students (kids, grandkids, neighborhood kids, etc.). During one such meeting, I sat down with a child known for good grades and what I thought was fondness for school. Starting off with a softball, I asked that he please share his thoughts about school. This resulted in an unexpected answer of him telling me that “he felt like an animal in a cage.” This set me back and made me realize that children often don’t see the correlation between what they are doing in school on a regular day and how it moves them closer to achieving their goals. This only fueled the fire to create and deliver eScholar myTrack to the market.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of eScholar?
Shawn: The value of eScholar is in the data and our ability to capture and present actionable information that can be used to improve and report on education practices. eScholar’s solution today incorporates feedback and ideas from thousands of administrators and teachers over the past 15 years. What separates us is our ability to now take the insights gained from the millions of students that we support and turn that data into valuable information to influence future decisions.
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. Innovative CEOs, founders and educators: enter the EdTech Digest Awards Program.