Two sisters discover an untaken niche in the world of students and social media.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Originally created as a way for students to announce their high school or college graduation online for free, and to then seamlessly receive gifts and congratulations, GoEnnounce was founded by sisters Melissa and Meghan Davis (pictured). When they first built it, students could create what they called a “Grad Page” — sharing everything they accomplished in school and what they were doing next. “Not only did students go crazy filling out these ‘Grad Pages’,” says Melissa (pictured, left), “but the recipients of their graduation announcement spent a significant amount of time
We believe too much time and emphasis in the school system is spent on the importance of test scores and GPAs for college readiness. Not enough is being done to help students individually find their strengths and learn to understand their own interests, and more importantly—how these can translate into professional goals.
learning about the student on the Grad Page and commenting with, ‘I didn’t know you did this…’ or, ‘I could have helped you with this…’.” Melissa and Meghan were quick to take notes, and learned that:
- Students had no place to digitalize their academic/extracurricular accomplishments
- The important people in their life had no clue what was going on, or more importantly, how they could help.
- By graduation, such help was too late. “Students were not using social media effectively to leverage their accomplishments and goals to increase their achievement,” says Melissa. They envisioned a year-round place for all students to leverage their accomplishments and goals to access what they need—staying on track for college and funding.
They’re thrilled GoEnnounce is now being embraced by schools and districts as a safe, social, e-portfolio solution that provides students with storage capabilities to house their academic and extracurricular accomplishments. “Our all-inclusive digital citizenship curriculum educates students, parents and teachers on how to prepare students with the skills to be successful in college and a globally competitive career market,” says Melissa.
What’s something interesting about its development history?
Melissa: Traditionally, we have gone straight to the consumer—the student—and that’s how we always envisioned our acquisition strategy would continue. Just uttering the word “social media” in classrooms used to have educators running for the hills. Needless to say, we never imagined that GoEnnounce would be so highly accepted in the education world as a learning tool. It’s been truly amazing for us to see the feedback and excitement that educators have shown while bringing GoEnnounce into the classroom as a tool to educate students on cultivating a positive digital footprint.
How was it working in the classroom, talking with the students, collaborating with specialists? Any lessons learned?
Melissa: Since our users are secondary students, we have always been concerned with creating a safe environment, providing a high level of security that is protective of student data. Going into schools, we made this an even higher priority. We really took the time to adhere to school policies and make GoEnnounce completely safe for students. Another thing that helped us tremendously is that, early on, we were very communicative with our first student adopters, understanding what they liked about GoEnnounce, and what they sometimes disliked. This helped us tweak the platform based on what students actually wanted from an educational social network. We remember days when we’d talk to 25 students per day for feedback!
Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?
Meghan: We grew up in with an extended family that lived all over the country which, obviously, makes day-to-day or even week-to-week conversations challenging. Being a close-knit family though, everyone always wanted to know how we were doing in school, so this was always the first question asked. When developing the concept for GoEnnounce, we couldn’t help but think how incredible it would have been to keep these people updated in a more meaningful and constant way. Students are getting the positive encouragement they deserve while improving communication and assessment skills as they share and track their individual accomplishments and goals. When so much of the focus tends to be on test scores and GPA’s, this is a platform where students begin to understand their unique strengths and goals as they share updates to get reassuring feedback and advice from their mentor network.
Would you call yourself a sort of LinkedIn junior edition? How are you different from them if they were to open it up like that? What’s your 60 second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, benefits?
Melissa: While LinkedIn is an amazing tool, we believe that it is too advanced to be a student’s first “professional” social network. On LinkedIn, professionals highlight current and prior work history, connect with other professionals, and utilize the platform to access higher career opportunities available. We do the same for students, but instead of providing tools geared towards a career, we focus on college readiness.
Meghan: On GoEnnounce, students leverage their accomplishments to get what they need—to stay on track for college and receive funding. Students create an ongoing digital resume in their own voice, tracking everything from volunteer hours, extracurricular activities, scholarships/awards, and academic projects. They share updates with mentors and relatives. They can crowdfund for anything from test prep to athletics, and we offer exclusive brand-sponsored scholarships.
Students can increase their achievement by using our discover activities tool and our safe, social network also allows students to see what other students around the country are sharing and accomplishing. We have just launched a way for students to earn micro-credentials via a partnership with PD Learning Network (PDLN.com). Just as adults use Linkedin, micro-credentialing and e-portfolios can be a very powerful tool that improve students’chances with admissions, scholarships and employers.
Do you consider that you have any direct or indirect competition?
Melissa: Companies like Pathbrite and Navience offer students e-portfolio and resume building tools for college. RaiseMe rewards students’ achievements with hypothetical micro-scholarships from universities. Companies such as Piggybacker and GoFundMe offer users a one-time crowdfunding tool for education. While these are all wonderful tools for students, GoEnnounce puts all these features in one place, and targets the lifelong learner as a repeat customer.
We’ve created a more cohesive, real-time, e-portfolio, year after year, around the accomplishments students share, in his or her own voice. Achievements students receive or demonstrate on learning management systems, learning applications, RaiseMe or e-portfolio tools can be shared into a student’s GoEnnounce Student Page. GoEnnounce becomes the place that houses all student achievement, it’s not a one time resume or e-portoflio tool, and the information the student shares on GoEnnoune stays with the student, not the teacher, district or LMS system.
A student’s GoEnnounce Student Page URL creates a positive digital footprint around academic and extracurricular achievements and becomes something colleges, scholarships, and employers want to see. The social element of students’ sharing updates, empower them to reach their goals. Students receive limitless encouragement and actual rewards from their followers and corporate sponsorship. Other platforms, such as RaiseMe, offer hypothetical rewards that students achieve only by attending a specific university.
Finances are a huge barrier to increased student achievement. To tackle this, we’ve given students a tool to raise funds at anytime during their academic career. Our crowdfunding tool is a long-term solution, specific to education and students. We are dedicated to students creating a continued dialogue about their ongoing goals and needs. By sharing updates, students build relationships with the network that will consistently help them. GoEnnounce allows them to fundraise with this group time and time again, if needed.
Any highlights about test marketing it, starting out; any interesting feedback or reaction to your platform?
Meghan: Interestingly enough, we spent our first year live-targeting college students. It seemed like the perfect fit—they are away from home and always in need of funding. The problem was, they had already spent their entire life not talking about school online, so why start now. That’s when we moved to high school and younger and found this age demographic to be excited to finally have a place to showcase their educational life. We learned that teens compartmentalize their social media, using Snap Chat for one thing, Instagram for another. GoEnnounce is where they talk about school.
What else can you say about its value and benefit?
Melissa: GoEnnounce gives every learner a voice about their education as students build their unique digital pathway. We are a cloud-based solution that provides students with storage capabilities to house their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, safely in a social space. While the social aspect, is meant to make tracking accomplishments fun for students it was also designed to help students develop, grow and understand the value of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). By connecting their network to their education, and talking about their goals students this increases student achievement.
Let’s talk about Digital Citizenship and curriculum in this area. Why and what do you have? What has been some of the direction of discussion here? Plans?
Melissa: We offer a comprehensive Digital Citizenship curriculum package that includes lesson plans for the class with group activities, digital lessons for the student to access directly that issue certified micro-credentials, online teacher PD and parent videos. Instead of preaching about social media negativity or banning and scaring students away from social media use, students, parents & teachers see how social media can be empowering. Our curriculum (lesson plans to be taught by the teacher and digital lessons for the student to navigate on their own) teaches students how to use GoEnnounce safely as an outcome-based social media tool. We illustrate the effects of how one misstep on alternate social media channels can affect their future. Active use of the GoEnnounce social e-portfolio software, throughout school in subsequent years, as encouraged by teachers, produces positive habits of lifelong learning by promoting student reflection on their continued achievements and progress.
Our 10-lesson curriculum was created via a partnership with ESSDACK for grades 7-12, with a pre- and post-test. It educates students on digital security, copyright, digital literacy, digital communication, and digital footprint. The ten lessons can be arranged topically or by grade level. Instructional strategies are all research based and lessons include opportunities for students to critically read texts, respond to texts, and participate in group activities and discussions.
During the pilot in fall 2015 with 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th graders, we saw amazing results. Students scored an average of 50 percent on the pre-test and an average of 90 percent on the post-test, illustrating how students are creating accounts online and not knowing anything about their digital footprint and the information they are putting out there online. Students also participated in a privacy survey. 72 percent of students admitted to already having 1-6 social media accounts and 40 percent of students said they freely share identifiable information such as their address, birthday, social security number, photographs, and medical information online.
Via our partnership with PDLN, students can earn micro-credentialed badges via PD Learning Network (PDLN) digital courses that are offered exclusively on GoEnnounce. The online course for students is broken down into 6 digital lessons, (Digital Footprint & Safe Social Media Use, Health Safety & Wellness, Digital Etiquette, Digital Literacy & Communication, Digital Commerce, Bullying). Students have to submit assessments to be evaluated by PDLN’s s credentialed educators. Upon completion a micro-credentialed badge lives on the GoEnnounce Student Page.
With 35 percent of college admission officers already visiting applicant’s social media pages as of 2014 according to Kaplan, and this is predicted to rise to over 50 percent by 2017 according to Social Assurity, Digital Citizenship education needs to be key for college readiness. If a fundamental objective for secondary education is to prepare students for college and employment, educators can no longer ignore addressing responsible online behavior at school.
Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, series, or angles?
Melissa: We plan to expand the online micro-credentialing courses we offer to schools for students, to include additional online classes that certify lessons learned. We are also working with schools to incorporate their own badging systems onto the GoEnnounce Student Page that displays the meta data associated with what the student learned.
We are also in the process of expanding the amount of exclusive scholarship initiatives we offer students using GoEnnounce. These will be structured to target students based on their individual passions/accomplishments. For example, a student athlete can opt into our monthly athletic scholarship and they are selected based on how well they are utilizing their Student Page to portray this. Students react positively to being recognized for their accomplishments, and our exclusive scholarship opportunities do just that.
Your thoughts on education in general these days?
Melissa: We believe too much time and emphasis in the school system is spent on the importance of test scores and GPAs for college readiness. Not enough is being done to help students individually find their strengths and learn to understand their own interests, and more importantly—how these can translate into professional goals. We are huge fans of personalized and project-based learning and wish it was more widespread to encourage and highlight a student’s unique, personal achievements.
Your thoughts on technology’s role in education?
Melissa: Technology offers amazing capabilities to increase achievement and make learning more accessible to individual students. Specifically, learning platforms that highlight where a specific student may be falling behind or another student may be excelling, allow the teacher to individually instruct those students instead of teaching a mass lesson to the entire class and risk a student getting lost because of confusion or boredom.
However, technology can’t replace the importance of one-on-one interaction between the teacher and the student. Technology should be thought of as tools to increase learning achievements but not replace all real-world interaction.
Also, while the increase of edtech products is awesome and at an all time high, it can be overwhelming for educators to keep up with all the new tools and apps available. Educators can get bogged down trying to keep up. Smaller edtech startups that offer amazing new tools can’t always keep up with the big edtech companies to get the word about their product out there. There needs to be better marketplaces for teachers and district leaders to search by curriculum and interest for products that range from smaller startup companies to more well-known brands. These need to include reviews from actual users of the products and all products should have equal opportunity to be found and viewed.
Any guidance or advice to educators these days?
Meghan: Seek out other educators passionate about a similar subject that you want to learn more about. Don’t be afraid to contact them for ideas on resources to use or even just to chat. They are passionate about this topic for a reason, so will love to provide you with guidance. Twitter is a great way to connect!
Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?
Melissa: We love communicating with educators for feedback to help make GoEnnounce even better for students! Feel free to contact us for a demo of the platform or to learn more about bringing GoEnnounce into your school at [email protected].
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]