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From surveys to video creation, how two Seattle companies used tech to help schools in pandemic

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(BigStock Photo)

The shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic caused plenty of technological headaches for families and educators. But one large company and one small one provide a glimpse into how some tech products and services were intended to ease the burden of online education and ultimately help with the return to open schools.

As schools in Seattle prepared to reopen earlier this spring, Qualtrics, the experience management software company with a large presence in the city, was behind tech used to survey families about learning preferences.

RELATED: Lessons from the pandemic: Top STEM educators offer their insights on the future of learning

Meanwhile, Screencast-O-Matic, a small Seattle company that offers a screen capture and video editing platform, saw demand for its products skyrocket as it offered an alternative to Zoom calls for lessons, presentations and more.

The pandemic’s education disruption proved to be particularly lucrative for education technology companies in 2020, according to EdSurge.

When Seattle Public Schools sent an “Intent to Return to In-Person” survey to families in April, the tech was powered by Qualtrics. SPS was seeking information about student enrollment plans for the remainder of the school year and sought to learn why some families chose 100% remote or hybrid (part-time in person and part-time remote) instruction. The intent was to help plan for onsite resources across the district.

Founded in 2002 in Provo, Utah, Qualtrics was acquired by SAP in 2018 and then spun out as a public company earlier this year, raising $1.55 billion in an initial public offering. The company is co-headquartered in Seattle, where it has about 800 of its 3,300 employees, and had revenue of $763 million in 2020.

Businesses use Qualtrics’ platform to collect data on how customers, employees and others experience their products and services, taking action based on the results.

Qualtrics has powered surveys for schools during the pandemic, for such things as symptom checking and contact tracing. (Qualtrics Image)

Working with educators is an important part of the $16 billion company’s business. It now works with over 600 school districts in North America and more than 25 in Washington state.

“Our mission on the Qualtrics education team is to help school and district leaders deliver the best experiences for students, families, faculty, and staff,” Omar Garriott, global industry leader for education at Qualtrics, told GeekWire.

That’s been especially relevant during the pandemic for such things as symptom checking, contact tracing, and student/staff/resident well-being. Qualtrics created a “Return to Learn Hub” with resources to help administrators make data-driven decisions to create a safer learning environment.

“We saw schools use these check-ins to quickly understand issues with virtual learning, in addition to gauging how they felt about physically returning to school,” Garriott said.

Beyond Seattle, other Washington districts using Qualtrics include:

  • Vancouver Public Schools: to help navigate budget cuts and feedback from parents during the pandemic.
  • Bellingham Public Schools: for high school seniors and alumni engagement, and also digitizing and automating workflows across departments as employees worked remotely during COVID.
  • Mead School District: to prevent exposure and transmission using daily symptom check assessment.
  • Edmonds School District: to gather information and feedback from students and families going into the school year. Additionally, Qualtrics’ translation capabilities have significantly improved the ability to engage with the non-English-speaking families in the district.

Garriott said many schools hear about Qualtrics through word of mouth, often from neighboring schools or districts, or specific leaders have used Qualtrics in previous roles. The company also reached out to schools when it launched the Return to Learn Hub.

(Screencast-O-Matic Image)

Founded in 2006, Screencast-O-Matic’s mantra is that video simplifies communication, and it simplifies how videos get created.

The company has always counted schools among its primary customers, so teachers and students could create videos and have a more productive learning experience. The pandemic just accelerated usage across the entire education ecosystem.

Screencast-O-Matic, which employs fewer than 50 people, saw an 825% growth in traffic at the height of the pandemic and has reached more than 11 million users in 190 countries.

“When the pandemic hit, we experienced a very large increase in demand globally, starting with Italy and spreading rapidly,” founder and CEO Matt Champagne said. “We are a small company and, although used by millions globally, we were not at all prepared for the type of increased usage and emergency deployments needed by teachers, schools, districts, and universities.”

To address this unique environment, Screencast-O-Matic completely shifted its focus to operations and serving the market need, including:

  • Increased data center and partner api capacity
  • Increased support team capacity
  • Put non-essential hiring on hold to focus on operations
  • Put much of its product development roadmap on hold to focus on operations
  • Changed its support model to offer more direct support and onboarding
  • A free version of its products was already available, and during the crisis, when requested, provided paid plans for free. Many schools were not able to get approval for new purchases during the emergency.

“It was an incredibly intense time for the team, but we also felt like we needed to shift our growth plans to help customers deal with the new remote environment with easy-to-use and easy-to-access tools,” Champagne added.

Some of the schools using Screencast-O-Matic tech include Seattle Public Schools, University of Washington Law School, UW iSchool, Washington State University, Bellingham Public Schools, Renton Technical College and more.

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