A Silicon Valley education start-up is getting a big vote of confidence from two venture capitalists who have veritable PhDs in social networking.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and Matt Cohler, an early employee at Facebook, are joining the board of Edmodo. Their respective venture capital firms, Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital, are leading a new $15-million funding round.
"Edmodo has emerged as the engine in the classroom for content sharing, collaboration and assignments," said Cohler, a general partner with Benchmark Capital. "Edmodo works and students get that, teachers get that."
And that has helped the Facebook-like service catch on in the classroom. More than 5 million teachers and students in 60,000 schools around the globe use Edmodo. The site's usership has doubled in the last three months.
Hoffman, a managing partner with Greylock, said Edmodo is emerging as a key network. Just as Facebook is the social graph and LinkedIn the professional graph, he said, "Edmodo is the educational graph."
Even as technologies in Silicon Valley have radically transformed our lives and industries, they've been slower to make a major dent in the 21st century classroom. Surveys show that most students still use technology more outside the classroom than in it. And while 73% of teachers say digital content is essential, only 11% of districts are using it, according to a survey of IT professionals.
In their last meeting before he died, Steve Jobs spoke with Bill Gates about the future of digital technology in the classroom given how little headway it had made. They agreed that "computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools -- far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law," according to Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.
Rob Hutter, chairman of Edmodo and a managing partner with Learn Capital, contends that 2011 marks the tipping point with high-speed Internet in 95% of schools and the proliferation of mobile devices, which are more affordable and have longer battery life and the ability to create feature-rich, sophisticated educational initiatives in the cloud.
Edmodo is the brainchild of Nic Borg and Jeff O'Hara, IT professionals from a Chicago-area school district who wanted to bring the connected way people live their lives into the classroom. Most school districts block social networks, but Borg and O'Hara banked on the idea that a safe, secure social network that allowed teachers to network with one another and with students could fly.
How it works: K-12 teachers sign up for free, then add their students to create classroom communities that work on every type of personal computer and mobile device, Hutter said. Teachers can then send messages about assignments, post materials such as photos and videos related to the assignments, conduct quizzes and discuss topics covered in class. Teachers can also share educational content and best practices with each other. Edmodo has even offered interactive lessons on polar bears.
"This is going to be a really big, important network," Cohler said. "The more people join, the better the service gets for everybody."
-- Jessica Guynn
Images: Student profile on Edmodo (top), teacher profile (bottom). Credit: Edmodo