Schoology and Facebook’s “Groups for Schools”

Learning or class management systems integrate class materials and social networking for collaborative, online education, and they’ve been doing so for a while. Blackboard, founded in 1997, started offering a course management system in August of 2000. It’s now used in 2,700 higher education institutions and organizations in North America, 800 international organizations, and 4,800 U.S. K-12 schools and institutions. But emerging competitors trounce Blackboard’s foothold in educational networking.

Schoology, another leading educational platform, closed a $6 million round of financing through NYC-based venture capital firm FirstMark Capital. Schoology allows teachers to sign up easily and invite their students to the system, where they can share curriculum and lesson plans, schedule tests and quizzes, set up homework submission, and encourage peer collaboration all within the cloud-based service.

Schoology’s system integrates with existing platforms, and enables instructors to sync Google Docs, import existing lesson plans from competitors Blackboard and Moodle, and embed Khan Academy and other educational videos into Schoology courses. Since its commercial release in August 2009, Schoology has accrued one million users from 18,000 schools. The platform was designed by three alumni of Washington University in St. Louis, and they foresee the system extending beyond the classroom for continued learning in professional organizations.

A number of education management systems compete with Schoology: Blackboard, Moodle, EdmodoCoursekit, a five-person start-up based in New York, raised $5 million in January through a number of investors with a goal similar to Schoology. Its co-founder and chief executive, Joseph Cohen, said in a New York Times blog post, "If you look at education, there’s no wiring […] It’s not plugged in and there lies the opportunity."

But it’s an opportunity even Facebook is now vying for. "Groups for Schools," a feature Facebook announced last week, will allow users with a .edu e-mail address to create groups specifically for their college. Students can share files through these groups, like class assignments and lecture notes, much like a learning management system. The Chronicle for Higher Education noted that Facebook is returning to its campus roots — the popular social networking site was initially offered to those with .edu e-mail addresses only, but it’s uncertain whether academic organizations will accept "Groups for Schools" and Facebook into their infrastructure as comprehensively as other learning management systems. It’s the students that have accepted Facebook, not their educators, and while instructors and peers have used the social network to communicate course notes and assignments, few departments have used Facebook to integrate a substantial amount of their educational resources. The opportunity to become the dominant educational network still remains.

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