A look inside a company helping teachers around the corner to around the world.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Every day, hundreds of thousands of teachers still manage field trips entirely on paper. Students as young as six years old are carrying important forms and cash or checks back and forth from school in a backpack. “It’s antiquated and not secure. More to the point, it’s a frustrating and time-consuming process for teachers and for busy parents,” says Laura Wallendal (pictured, right), co-founder of EdTrips, a simple way to manage school trips. EdTrips is working to put the entire trip process online, from finding trip ideas to collecting forms and payments, so every teacher can easily give their students the experiences that change their lives. Along with CEO and co-founder Jakob Garrow (pictured, left), Laura answers basic questions about this nifty service and where it can bring a class.
Victor: What are some of the uses people are finding for the app? How is the audience using the way you expected, and in different ways?
Laura: As we hoped, teachers are very enthusiastic about using EdTrips to manage every detail of their field trips in one place. They are sharing details and forms with parents and collecting payments online.
Surprisingly, educators from different schools are using EdTrips to plan trips together and fill their groups with students from different schools as well. We thought our platform may be used to promote trips but we didn’t expect the level of inter-school cooperation we are seeing.
One of the most exciting parts of the whole process is seeing how educators are sharing their trip ideas and expertise with one another. We recently created a community page aimed exclusively at making this type of collaboration easier and we are very excited about the possibilities.
Victor: How did you come up with the idea for EdTrips?
Jake: We (co-founders, Jake and Laura) used to work for one of the largest educational travel companies on the planet before starting our own consultancy for small study abroad companies. It was through speaking with thousands of teachers that we got a first-hand account of just how difficult organizing these trips is for trip organizers. Extremely dedicated teachers were overwhelmed with managing the details and as a result, thousands of trips never took place. We knew there was a way to make this process easier, so we began working with teachers to build EdTrips.
Victor: You’ve gotten praise for your approach to solving a basic problem for educators-one that takes a lot of their time and no one else is trying to solve. Is that where you feel edtech is going? Solving the unaddressed fundamental problem?
Jake: Yes, absolutely. In the past, it was difficult to understand what issues teachers were facing unless you were a teacher yourself or worked closely with educators. Now, groups like EdTechRI in Providence and LearnLaunch in Boston are connecting teachers with entrepreneurs on a daily basis. These connections are driving the change and allow for more creative problem solving to address these fundamental problems. It’s a really exciting time to work in EdTech.
Victor: What are some interesting highlights that you’ve witnessed that have been a result of your service?
Laura: As mentioned before, what’s really impressing us is the innovation and the amount of cross-organizational cooperation.
Jake: A teacher we have worked with for the last two years leads an unbelievable field-study trip to China every year. It consists of a month-long stay in China and he has American and Chinese students collaborate. It’s a truly remarkable project. He has always wanted to open it up to other schools and students but found it difficult to promote and manage. This year he has been able to open it up to students across the country using EdTrips and he is working with schools from the Northeast to Florida and even California.
Victor: What are some of the issues and challenges you had to watch out for in development of the service, how did you handle them?
Laura: It’s always a struggle to develop a product to solve a real problem for our current users as well as look to the future of the product and the market. We have thrown out features that we thought would be useful, but realized through testing that they just weren’t working for our users.
Jake: By the same token, users have indicated that they needed certain things from the software that weren’t in the original product. For example, we learned that families with more than one child on a trip needed the ability to pay for everyone at the same time. We keep an open-door policy with our users, especially the ones who have supported us and given us feedback from the beginning. We always take their calls. Our goal is to grow and still stay close to our users. Our community is so important to us.
Victor: What is the real purpose or mission behind the service – do you have an anecdote or story about what prompted you to really go ahead and make it real?
Laura: We were still working as consultants when we had dinner with a teacher we met at a conference. We were showing her drawings of this new idea we had for a website, which later became EdTrips. We finished showing her the drawings and she looked us straight in the eyes and said, “I’m in.” She could tell we were bewildered, so she continued, “I think it’s a great idea and I would use it tomorrow. I am going to help you get some other teachers as well.” The next day, we had emails from five of her friends. We knew we were onto something.
Victor: Any message you’d like to give to educators or others working in and around education about EdTrips, or anything else for that matter?
Jake: EdTrips is our passion, but is really your application. We build based on teacher feedback, and we’re constantly doing user testing with educators, some of the country’s largest study-abroad programs, and the nation’s leading venues, such as museums, to make the application relevant to your needs. Whether you’re a teacher, a program manager, or a vendor, we are here to make it easier for you help your students learn.
Victor: Any general thoughts on education these days in a technology age?
Laura: This is the most exciting time to be involved in education, for teachers, students, and entrepreneurs. From adaptive MOOCs to applications like ours, to the whole range of schools, online and brick and mortar, it’s never been easier to get just the education you want, tailored to your needs. Learning has never been more individualized, learner-focused, or available. There are challenges, but this is also a real renaissance for education.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: [email protected]