Michael Chasen, the Blackboard founder, introduces a new learning platform for a post-pandemic world.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
“Without warning in March, the entire education system went virtual and the use of Zoom for education skyrocketed, “ says Michael Chasen, the former CEO and co-founder of Blackboard and currently the co-founder and CEO of Class Technologies Inc., the maker of Class, which he talks more about in this interview.
“As a result of this rapid and unexpected change, educators were left scrambling and looking for ways to deliver the in-person learning experience and connection, online,” says Michael. “Our plan was to make software that helped Zoom feel more like a real classroom so that teachers could do everyday things like take attendance, hand out assignments, give a quiz, grade work, or talk with students one-on-one, all on Zoom.”
‘For many of us, this company feels less like a job and more like a cause to help educators.’
Since their launch in September, they’ve heard from over 6,000 colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and corporate training programs in the U.S. and overseas, and over 100 of those institutions have asked to sign contracts immediately, “even though we’re not finished coding,” he says. They’ve also heard from corporate training departments facing similar problems with virtual training.
Michael is an entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to improving the way people live and learn. Here, Michael talks about fatherhood, remote learning, what exactly Class is and what direction it may be headed, as well as his message for educators during these times.
You’ve been prominently involved in edtech for a long time now, what prompted you to move forward with your latest venture in this area? As the father of three, I noticed my kid’s classes were reduced to meeting once or twice a week for only an hour at a time, and when they did, the classes were not very interactive and my kids struggled to pay attention and really engage. I knew if I was feeling this way, that many other parents, educators and students were too.
Do you foresee ‘Class’ as an opportunistic move or melding into something of an altered future for learning? Education has been changed forever. Students, thankfully, will return to school. However, hybrid learning, and remote learning for all sorts of circumstances and opportunities, is here to stay. The technology is going to get better, the instruction is going to get better, and education outcomes, access, and equity are going to get better and better.
What’s your short description of what ‘Class’ is and allows for? What’s an easy way to understand it? Class software is built on the Zoom Meetings platform to make it feel like a real classroom. It helps teachers take attendance, hand out assignments, give a quiz or test, grade work, proctor exams, or talk one-on-one with a student.
What lessons have possibly strengthened your current stance (e.g., zoombombing, other glitches over past months) in creating a robust platform? For many of us, this company feels less like a job and more like a cause to help educators. Education has changed forever, and we’re committed to providing solutions through impactful, innovative tools for teachers, students and the overall education industry as it continues to evolve.
How are you / Class Technologies Inc working with Zoom to ensure an effective and effortless platform for educators—including plans for Class in a post-covid world? We’re focused on building software that feels just like a classroom. Class software works intuitively the way teachers and students work together in real life.
20 years ago, you were involved with edtech — how does today compare? I used to have to spend a lot of time explaining to people how the internet works, and why you would actually want to do things like get your course materials and grades online. Thankfully, I don’t have to convince people that the internet is important to education anymore. What we have to convince people is that education can and should change because we’re not in a one-room school anymore. Where you’re sitting isn’t as important as what you’re learning.
‘I used to have to spend a lot of time explaining to people how the internet works, and why you would actually want to do things like get your course materials and grades online. Thankfully, I don’t have to convince people that the internet is important to education anymore.’
What message do you have for educators in these times? The past year has been challenging for educators around the world. Technology can help teachers in so many ways, and together we can make strides in access, equity, and outcomes. I salute the teachers who are figuring it out and doing great work.
Anything else you’d like to communicate regarding the role of good, practical edtech moving forward? Millions of students and educators around the world now have online skill sets they didn’t have before. Teachers will continue to get better at teaching online or in hybrid settings. The real silver lining is the progress we can make in access, equity, and outcomes.
Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning the future of learning, the future of education? I’ve seen more real change in the last year than the last twenty. The rate at which education is changing has never been this fast before, yet I think the pace of change will only accelerate. We now have an opportunity to use technology to make education work better for the world.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]