After just a few seconds you’ll feel it—the wow factor. Some products are like that, and Nearpod is one of those. As a highly-seasoned entrepreneur, Felipe Sommer (pictured, left) co-founded Nearpod, a U.S.-based company focused on developing original mobile applications for iOS and Android devices. The company later merged to form Panarea Digital. As co-CEO, Felipe oversees all client and product development. Prior to founding Nearpod, he was responsible for launching SIA Interactive in the United States and leading its operations for over 7 years. SIA interactive is a leading provider of custom experiential marketing solutions for Fortune 500 companies. Felipe holds an MBA from the University of California, and a BA in Economics from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. With mobile technologies all around us, Felipe talks about their implications for education, the value of passionate teachers—and the value of a useful collaboration platform.
Victor: Why did you create Nearpod?
Felipe: First and foremost, we are a group of entrepreneurs convinced that education is at the verge of a huge change. Students and educators will lead that transformation, but technology should play a key role in that process.
We’ve been creating interactive learning content for many years, and we felt that there was a clear need for a digital solution that allows teachers to engage their class in a “synchronized” experience. There are many software tools that promote self-paced (asynchronous) solutions for learning, but we could not find any solution that would offer teachers the ability to use tablets or smartphones during class in a collaborative way. Now, there is Nearpod.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Felipe: The name Nearpod represents the need for “close” interactions. We think that collaborating with your peers, sharing multimedia content, researching in groups and exchanging ideas in the class are excellent ways to learn. Moreover, active participation of the teacher is key to facilitating that process. Nearpod means all of that.
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Felipe: Nearpod’s parent company is Panarea Digital. I co-founded the company with my long-time friend, UC Berkeley classmate and fellow entrepreneur, Guido Kovalskys. We are supported by a strong team of developers, designers, educators and business people with extensive experience in education and interactive learning content. Before creating Nearpod, Panarea Digital worked with many leading companies in the industry, such as Barnes & Noble, Leap Frog, Nickelodeon, Disney and Grupo Santillana, Spain’s largest educational publisher.
Victor: What does Nearpod do? What are the benefits?
Felipe: Nearpod is an innovative solution for the synchronous use of mobile devices in education. Our solution combines presentation, collaboration and assessment tools into one integrated platform that runs on all iOS devices. An Android version will be released shortly.
By using Nearpod, teachers can:
- Easily create interactive lessons.
- Engage students during class by exchanging multimedia content in real time with students’ mobile devices that are running the Nearpod Student app. Interactive content includes slides, videos, audio, activities, questions, drawings and more.
- Monitor student activity in real time via the Nearpod Teacher app, quickly assessing their progress to identify areas that may need further exploration.
- Check attendance and identify students who log out from Nearpod.
- Obtain detailed post-session reports showing individual and class results.
Early feedback from the teaching community has been very encouraging, and we’re working on many more features for the coming months.
Victor: How is Nearpod unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Felipe: Nearpod is unique because it has all of the components mentioned above in one integrated platform: presentation, collaboration and assessment tools. Also, Nearpod has been designed from scratch as a native solution for tablets and smartphones, so the platform takes full advantage of the UI and UX benefits that are inherent to mobile.
There are many other solutions to create digital content, to deploy presentations and to manage student response systems. But we still haven’t seen another solution that combines all of the above for mobile devices, which are the ones being massively adopted by schools around the world.
Victor: When was it developed?
Felipe: Our first experiments with the platform started two years ago.
Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Felipe: As with many innovative technologies, Nearpod started by trying to solve another business problem: We were experimenting with ways to synchronize iOS devices for marketing purposes. But after seeing the early prototypes, the potential of this technology for education became obvious. We then decided to do a quick small pilot with a few schools, and the response from those teachers was unanimously positive.
Our early users encouraged us to keep developing features and completing the solution, and there was a defining moment when one of our early adopters told us: “I was wondering how all of these mobile devices were going to be used in the classroom, and now that I see Nearpod, I totally get it… With the fast growth of 1:1 programs, every teacher will use a solution like this one in the future.”
That was about a year ago, and since then, we have put all of our efforts behind the platform. We’ve done hundreds of pilots in schools to gather feedback from real users and finalize development. At the same time, the 1:1 and BYOD models have been gaining a lot of momentum, so we are very excited about the future.
We envision a day where students and teachers in every classroom will have access to mobile devices and will be using Nearpod as a core part of their learning process. And that day is not that far away.
Also, publishers who have seen the platform are very excited and eager to publish their content within the Nearpod marketplace. In the future, teachers will also be able to publish their mobile lessons with Nearpod.
Content models in education are changing at an incredible pace, and we are very excited with the opportunities that these new trends may bring for our innovative platform.
Victor: Where can you get it now?
Felipe: A free version of Nearpod is available on the App Store, and an Android version is coming shortly. We encourage all teachers to try it with their classes and send us their feedback. Schools or districts interested in exploring “site licenses” should contact us directly by visiting our site at www.nearpod.com.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Felipe: The basic version of Nearpod is free to use, so any teacher with access to a few iOS devices can go to the App Store and download our apps for free right now.
We are committed to keeping this basic version for free. In the future, we will charge for additional features and for site licenses with access to administrative features, as well as content offered by third-party publishers, who are currently developing Nearpod-ready versions of their digital and/or print content.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Felipe: Nearpod has been in “private beta” until recently, with over 200 educators in approximately 50 educational institutions taking part in the pilot program. Feedback from those beta users has been very positive. You can find some great videos highlighting those cases online:
- Overall Nearpod Video
- Pace University in New York, using McGraw-Hill content
- Jacobson Sinai (Pre-K) and Pinecrest (Elementary)
- Mountain View High School
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Felipe: Nearpod is particularly tailored for teachers, schools and universities in 1:1 or BYOD programs using mobile devices.
As our library of digital content grows (aligned to Common Core State Standards), parents can also use Nearpod to review curricular material with their kids in an engaging and fun way. To run Nearpod, they just need to have an iPad and any other iOS device, which is very common these days. Nearpod can be used from a remote location, so parents can help their kids review school material even when they’re not at home.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Felipe: Education is facing unprecedented change. The sector has been mostly immune to the impact that other industries have seen from technology. We are convinced that mobile technology is about to change that reality, due to all the benefits associated to it (cost, ease of use, connectivity, UI, etc.)
The biggest trends that we see in the sector are:
- The growth of 1:1 or BYOD programs, mostly around mobile
- New content models (subscription-based, digital content, OERs, new delivery platforms, etc.)
- “Blended learning” models that combine online and offline methods
- The “gamification” of education
- Personalized learning
Victor: How does Nearpod address some of your concerns about education?
Felipe: There are several challenges ahead for ed-tech companies trying to change education. The key challenges that we see are a highly regulated market, budget cuts and poor Internet infrastructure in schools. However, the biggest challenge for technology companies entering this space is having the support of the teaching community.
The quality of the teachers is still the key variable in education. Passionate teachers are still responsible for stimulating classroom discussions, offering tutoring, leading debates and coaching students’ projects. If, as entrepreneurs, we don’t get the teachers to adopt our solutions, change will not happen. That’s why we’ve spent the last year working very closely with teachers to be sure that our product meets their needs, instead of trying to impose magic self-adaptive software or an engaging set of videos that are primarily intended to replace the role of the teacher.
Victor: Any cool anecdotes?
Felipe: The anecdote that I like the most comes from a school where we went to observe a math class using Nearpod to see how the platform was working. After the class ended, the teacher approached us and told us that he had been teaching for 35 years and was ready to retire. However, after using Nearpod, he wanted to continue teaching again. This is the kind of feedback that confirms that we are on the right track.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Nearpod?
Felipe: We just want to encourage all teachers and parents to download our apps, sign up for Nearpod and give our platform a try. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we get the “WOW effect” within the first minute after people try Nearpod.
Teachers should know that the mobile tsunami will not stop and they need to start thinking about strategies to incorporate mobile devices into their classrooms. Nearpod intends to serve that need and answer the question: “How do we use mobile devices in the classroom in a meaningful way?”
Every day, Apple sells iPhones at a greater rate than newborns enter the planet and over 1 million Android devices are activated. iPad has been on the market for two years and has already sold 70 million units. These are very powerful trends that cannot be ignored.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Felipe: Small personal computers now live in our pockets and backpacks and are on all the time, affecting all areas of our lives. Education is not an exception. Teachers must explore new solutions to incorporate mobile devices as part of their teaching strategies.
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: [email protected]