If you have a seven-year-old who can’t engage with a talking head on a screen for more than seven minutes at a time or a teenager who should be learning the Pythagorean theorem but can’t ignore the lure of TikTok dance videos, you feel the pain of what it’s like to learn at a distance. Now imagine you’re the teacher — struggling to connect, teach and inspire 30 checked-out students who appear to you only as digitally-rendered faces or empty black squares on your laptop.
Education’s rush to digital transformation
Of all the digital transformations the world undertook this past year, the one faced by the education industry might have been one of the more challenging. Much of that is due to the fact that the switch from in-person to distance learning came about both rapidly and unexpectedly. In short order, teachers, school administrators, parents, and companies were forced to cobble together whatever they could find. And because the education and technology industries had no time to develop solutions around this specific use case, most of the products teachers ended up using were not meant for learning. Privately and publicly, teachers and students around the world have been crying out for learning tools that are designed around their specific needs.
Such overwhelming demand is what led us to invest in Class Technologies, which provides much-needed solutions for teachers and students in virtual and hybrid classrooms. Salesforce Ventures’ investment is an extension to the Series A investment from Insight and Owl, which the company announced in January.
Remote and hybrid are here to stay
While many were excited and relieved to see the wide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and a way out of forced virtual learning, others see the beginning of a permanent, long-term trend. The vaccines, after all, have not yet been approved for use in children under 16. Moreover, many people who moved during lockdown don’t plan to return. As a result, many employers and schools plan to continue to offer some form of hybrid and/or distance work and learning.
After the pandemic is over, Pedro Martinez, Superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, told Edweek he expects 70% of his district’s students to return to physical school; the remaining 30% will study remotely. All this is driving an ongoing need for asynchronous and synchronous online tools to facilitate the modern classroom.
Prior to founding Class, Michael Chasen, its CEO, was Co-founder and CEO of Blackboard Inc., a learning management software company that serves more than 20,000 institutions and 20 million teachers and learners in 70 countries. His years of experience selling to K-12 and higher-ed schools and managing their long, often bureaucratic, sales cycles gives Class a massive advantage over the competition.
Custom Zoom for classrooms? An easy “Yes!”
Chasen had an important insight that led to Class: 2020 was a watershed for Zoom, the best-in-class video conferencing solution. Whether they were teams of far-flung designers collaborating on a project, or grandparents catching up with their extended family, it seemed the whole world was using Zoom as a way to connect when they couldn’t be together in person. Chasen recognized that educators were already comfortable with Zoom but that they had specific requirements for which Zoom had not originally been designed, so he built Class on Zoom’s technology platform.
Class Technologies’ software, which is currently in beta, was intentionally designed to enhance the student experience and increase engagement. It helps teachers by automatically running attendance and ID verification; assists with participation-tracking, co-teaching and private breakout rooms; and even manages assignments and proctors exams. Expecting that more classrooms will go “hybrid” in the future, Class made it possible for students at home and in the classroom to see each other and learn at the same time.
While Class was built to empower teachers and students in the virtual classroom, the technology could have broad applicability across other sectors. Enterprises face pressure to provide high-quality training in order to retain, develop and prepare a workforce for a technologically- advancing world. Accelerated digitization and the new, likely permanent, shift to remote and hybrid work is driving the further need for online employee upskilling and reskilling. Companies could also use the application to improve digital sales and customer support calls.
Salesforce and Salesforce Ventures are big believers in the future of education and lifelong learning. The past year has clearly accelerated the need for next-gen education platforms and we expect demand to continue to grow.