When Amey Laud came to Vancouver, he noticed a big problem in modern classrooms – they hadn’t kept up with advancing technology.
That’s because a big change happened about three years ago, when computers became more ubiquitous in classrooms, the software developer said.
In the past, computers were typically relegated to computer labs, where students would go to use learning software programs on their own. But in modern classrooms, about 70 percent of students have their own computers or tablets with them all day long, and that’s opened the way for a much more customized and tailored learning experience, he said.
“The significant change in the past several years in classrooms is that technology has gotten inside every single classroom,” Laud said. “Now there are computers in every class, and usually with every student. But how do you attend to the needs of every single child? That’s called personalized learning. That was the drive for these things to enter the class in the first place.”
Much of the software students are using today was designed years ago for the era of computer labs, and it hasn’t changed significantly in decades. But with new technology, there’s a lot more data collected by schools from tests and other means that teachers can use to help students.
What Laud did was incorporate all of that information into a piece of learning software that can crunch the data. He worked with Battle Ground and Evergreen public schools, among others, to develop a software suite called ClassHero, which provides tailored math lessons and lets the teacher guide customized learning plans for each student.
“I wanted to help the teacher understand every child in the classroom,” Laud said. “The goal is to provide teachers a medium they can actually use to understand the needs of every child and to meet the needs of struggling kids.”
ClassHero integrates the curriculum and helps the teacher come up with learning strategies. It also crunches all the data schools collect on each student and translates it into a format that teachers can actually use, he said.
“Teachers shouldn’t have to make sense of all that data just to tweak the way they teach each child,” Laud said. “So, we pulled all that information into the tool so they can use it.”
Laud moved to Vancouver from Singapore, where he lived after India, five years ago, and has extensive experience in technology and creating startup companies in India and Singapore. He came to Vancouver because his wife got a job offer, but also because he likes the region.
“It was a business and professional decision,” he said of the move. “My wife had an opportunity here with another company. I had business between Singapore and San Francisco at the time, so it was a happy arrangement.”
His entrepreneurial experience also gave him a strong background to found ClassHero.
“I have been in very unrelated business domains before,” Laud said. “I’ve always run startups and created businesses to meet the needs of certain areas.”
Another trick in creating the software is finding ways to keep children engaged in the learning process, he said.
“If you’re not using the software enough, it’s kind of like a treadmill, you don’t get much if you don’t use it,” Laud said. “We’ve made a huge effort to gamify and create fun out of these lessons.”
Turning math lessons into games, keeps the students interested and helps them continue the learning process, he said.
Teachers get to view student progress through an online dashboard, which also lets them set up assignments and shows them where students are struggling.
“It’s like a teacher’s assistant that’s running the data and can give you information about every student in class,” Laud said. “And it allows the teacher to challenge everyone at the level that they’re at, by customizing the lessons.”
The company, also called ClassHero, was mostly self-funded for the first few years. Recently it’s gotten a few rounds of investment from local technology investors, whom Laud said would like to remain anonymous.
“We really incubated here in Vancouver,” Laud said. “We piloted in 21 schools a year ago here. We also had a study by the STEM Network that showed students on ClassHero outperformed students working with all other systems.”
This summer, the product launched in stores across the nation. And since then it’s been introduced in 4,500 schools across the United States, including several in Vancouver and Battle Ground.
“We’re in the top five or six nationally for software downloaded by teachers this year,” Laud said. “It’s one of the top math programs out there already.”
The company currently has 11 employees, an expansion from the five it had last year. And in the next few months, it also plans to hire more salespeople.
“We plan to grow and build here in Vancouver,” Laud said. “The Portland area is very conducive to education technology companies. We feel like there’s a great talent pool locally to hire from. The plan is to build out here and grow our sales force nationally.”
Eventually, the company will likely look to expand the suite beyond math to a host of other educational areas, although for now, ClassHero will focus on the math product, Laud said.
“We started with math, but the goal is to go beyond math and create a new pipeline of products,” Laud said.