SM: How was the transition from ProductFactory to HotChalk?
EF: My experience at an enterprise software company like ProductFactory coupled with my consumer focused educational software experiences at The Learning Company set me up for HotChalk. Through these experiences I realized the tremendous potential of web-based educational technology resources. I was inspired by my own experience as a parent and the frustration that parent teacher conferences always seemed filled with surprises.
SM: What was the market landscape when you founded the company? Who was your competition and what was their positioning?
EF: Online education resources like Blackboard and Moodle were doing quite well then, although none of the other companies had a collaborative community element. On HotChalk, teachers contribute their own content, use resources uploaded by other teachers, create tests and rate materials. This enables teachers to find things that work in the classroom, aggregating the best information from resources worldwide when creating lesson plans. This is one of our key differentiators in the marketplace.
Teachers can send notes, assignments and grades to students electronically. Today all students are accustomed to communicating via email or text messages so it is essential to incorporate this aspect into their education. Not to mention the added convenience this gives teachers.
Another differentiator between HotChalk and the rest of the field is our unique partnership with NBC News that brings news video into the classroom. On-demand access to NBC News’ 70 years of television coverage, pre-television film footage and radio broadcasts provides a historical background for lessons, adds relevance and improves learning outcomes for all students. Students can use HotChalk’s resources at their own pace giving the many US students who do not speak English as their first language the ability to comprehend more readily. This content is updated continuously so educators can teach current events right up to the minute.
SM: What is it that truly makes HotChalk unique?
EF: HotChalk is the first free online community application to connect preK-12 teachers, students and parents. It’s the true essence of Web 2.0 since each teacher’s individual experience and overall community experience become richer and more dynamic with each user’s contribution. HotChalk is content agnostic! We work with education providers from every niche including textbooks, supplements and assessment publishers. Our range of content is continuing to expand; we are in discussions with many key learning and publishing institutions.
We know teachers intimately. We speak with them daily through surveys, feedback forms and phone/email dialogues. These open lines of communication with teachers enable us to offer resources on their sites known to provide value to educators. Teachers are often presented with technology products by administrators that they actually don’t adopt for a variety of reasons. This has led to a gross misuse of funds by school systems. We have found that administrations in some areas has been known to purchase programs costing more than $1,000,000 yet have under a 5% adoption rate by teachers. Schools cannot afford to waste funding on products that do not benefit their teachers, yet it happens all the time.
We have a revolutionary offering. Others have noticed, and it’s exciting. In our first year alone hundreds of teachers joined the service. In 2008, membership has climbed to more than 375,000 teachers. More than 7.1 million monthly unique visitors from 188 countries are using our site. The value HotChalk provides for its members has created an organic marketing phenomenon that continues to multiply our user base.