Love a good origin story? Learn more about Edthena’s start and video-powered professional learning in this conversation between Rod Murray of The Pulse podcast and Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller.
Listen to the conversation above, or read the full transcript below.
And, try out Edthena’s video coaching professional learning for yourself.
Video-Powered Professional Learning
Rod Murray: Hi, this is Rod Murray. Welcome back to my podcast. That little teaser was from a song called If Every Day Were Christmas by Podsafe for Peace. A very unusual piece. It was a collaboration between 32 singers from nine different countries. I’ll play the full song at the end of my podcast.
Today’s podcast episode is sponsored by D2L. You may know their main product, the Brightspace Learning Management System. I, of course, would only accept sponsorship from companies and products that I’m very fond of. So please check out their website at d2l.com/pulsepodcast to learn more. I also invite you to follow me on Twitter. My handle is @rodspods. As always, I post links to the things we talk about on my show notes website at www.rodspulsepodcast.com.
In this episode, I interview Adam Geller, who’s the founder and CEO of Edthena. Edthena is, “The complete solution for teacher growth, leveraging classroom videos for reflection and best practices.” I haven’t covered K-12 educational technology very often, and this one really piqued my interest, as you’ll see. Pretty unique. We discuss their video powered professional learning. Of course, we hear about Adam’s background and how he founded Edthena. We talk about how the teachers using their product record themselves. It’s used in teaching methods and in field experiences. In practice, the professor would timestamp comments on the video created by the teacher candidate, and they could ask questions or have a suggestion, list a strength or a note.
It allows for professional standards video tagging. It’s also used in higher education centers for teaching excellence. Of course, it can be used in the classroom or online. In fact, using it for Zoom classes is very easy since you are probably already recording your Zoom video, but what they add to it, which is important, especially in supporting school district privacy and security requirements, they can mask individual students’ names or faces if required. So without further ado, here’s my interview with Adam Geller.
So Adam, thank you so much for speaking to my audience today. I’m really excited to learn more about you and Edthena.
Adam Geller: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
Rod Murray: So if I have this right, you’re the founder and CEO of Edthena. And before I get into asking you a bunch of questions about the application itself, I’d love to hear more about your background and I’d love to hear about the story of entrepreneurs and how you got started with all of this.
Adam Geller: Absolutely. Well, I mean, I think my story starts in a classroom. I was a classroom teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. I taught ninth grade and eighth grade science. And I remember in my first year of teaching, just as many teachers feel, I wanted to be the best teacher I could for my students. And unfortunately, there was no one with science expertise who was available to come in my room and give me feedback. I always make sure to give credit to my principal, who just didn’t have that background, but I don’t want to suggest it was my principal not coming in. She was supporting me in the way she could, but she didn’t have a science teaching background.
And so it is that experience firsthand from the classroom that I took with me as I continued in roles outside the classroom and started to really kind of see a pattern of constraint in the world of educators. It wasn’t just my one school or my one classroom in St. Louis, but it is all schools and all districts and all teacher education programs who struggle to provide the right amount of feedback to teachers throughout their professional journey. Because fundamentally, it’s really hard to have the right person in the right place at the right time to give teachers feedback and support.
Rod Murray: What made you decide you needed to solve this problem, and how’d you go about forming a company?
Adam Geller: Sure. Yeah. So at the time that the kind of lightning struck, I guess, I was on the national strategy team of an organization called Teach for America. And so in that role, I was looking across different contexts and thinking about technical solutions for some internal challenges that they were working on at the time. And this is way back. If you remember the days when our cell phones didn’t have any cameras or video cameras in them, and the hot thing on the market was flip video cameras. And so for those who have never seen that, this was a portable camera that had a, I don’t remember how much video it could record, but it had a USB connector built in and some software that made it very easy to get that video online.
And so it was the presence of that hardware, combined with seeing a music player tool called SoundCloud, which enables comments on audio, that made me think, huh, what if you built this timestamped commenting, but for videos, maybe you wouldn’t need to have that coach or that school leader or that university supervisor physically go into the classroom every single time in order to see the teaching that’s happening. You could really turn it around, give teachers the tools to record themselves easily, upload that video, and share it to somebody who could give them feedback. So that was, let’s see, summer of 2010. And in February of 2011, I was full time building the company into what it is now.
Rod Murray: Terrific. Yeah, that’s interesting. I haven’t heard of the flip phone for a while, but it was right around that time I started my second major career at a university, and yeah, flip phones were just getting started then. And so yeah, I know those days. So how did you get support? How did you get funding? Do you have venture capital funding? I’m just curious how from an entrepreneur standpoint, how you got this rolling.
Adam Geller: Yeah. So at the very beginning, now we, by the way, again, it’s all about remembering the different context. So today I think there’s a kind of healthy and vibrant ecosystem for let’s call it EdTech as a general category. A decade ago, that wasn’t the case. And so initially, when I left my role at Teach for America, I was offered a fellowship through the Kauffman Foundation, which is the foundation for entrepreneurship and education. And so they were running a special fellowship program for education entrepreneurs that helped provide the money to pay the rent and pay the food bill, so to say, for a few months. So that’s what really was the initial seed money that enabled me to do that.
I think the critical thing in this, to be quite honest, though, is not the amount of money. The critical thing to getting it across the threshold, from doing a lot of investigation, researching, talking to university partners about the need and understanding what is possible in the research and all these things, ultimately what it was, was a conversation with an advisor in the education technology world, and talking through with him, like, okay, here’s what I’m hearing, here’s what I think it would take to actually get it done. That’s feeling like a lot of resources for me at the time, from a capital perspective. And ultimately, he just kind of mentally, I guess, kicked me in the butt and said, “Wait, that’s all it would take? You should get going.” Because I think when you’re starting an organization and you haven’t done it before, the kind of scale and scope of things is hard to understand.
And so for me, at the time, what felt like a crazy amount of money to spend on what was like a bet, I guess, because you didn’t really know, from his perspective, as someone who understood the real cost of building technology in the long term, he felt like I had come through with a way to build a prototype in a fashion that was very reasonable from a cost perspective. And I had to take the risk, and I think that’s what it’s ultimately about. You have to have that conviction. So I tell that story because I wouldn’t want somebody to hear this and feel like if there is a problem in the world that they feel like no one else is solving that the secret ingredient is not venture capital. The secret ingredient is having a real solution and people who tell you that they will buy that solution, because at the end of the day we all come with different resources and means, but it does take personal risk in order to make these things happen.
Rod Murray: Understood. Yes. Now, if I gather from what you said initially, this is a product now that the teacher has, sets up their own video in their classroom, they record this, and then they give it to their supervisor or their faculty instructor or whatever, to review and to comment and so on. Do I have that right? Do you want to expand a little bit more on the functionality and how it’s used?
Adam Geller: In terms of how it’s used, maybe that’s the first place to start. When we’re talking in higher education context, we’re talking most often about a teacher training context, but of course there are a variety of scenarios where university researchers and faculty are working with inservice teachers. But let’s talk for a second about those teachers who are in their training program.
I really think there are two big parts when we think about the training program, and this is certainly an oversimplification, but you have the kind of classroom style learning, a methods course. I’m learning the methods of how to teach math to elementary students. And then you have I think what many of us think about when we think about teachers practicing to be teachers, is the field experience, teachers going out into the field and doing a variety of different practice opportunities to teach with live students.
So we actually work and support both ends of that process, because you can imagine for a methods course, for example, if there is a particular way of facilitating, there’s one tactic called counting collections. So okay, I learned about counting collections from my supervisor, or sorry, my faculty member. Now I need to practice it. That’s where Edthena comes into play, because I think ultimately what Edthena is focused on is building a toolset that supports an evidence based approach to teacher reflection about how they’re doing as a teacher.
So it’s not about thinking about how to be a teacher. It’s about practicing how to be a teacher. And in fact, I mean that phrase, gathering the evidence of practice, it’s why we called our book Evidence of Practice, because fundamentally, what are you doing when you go and record video of yourself in the process of enacting something? You are gathering the evidence of your practice, whatever your practice is, whatever your craft may be.
Rod Murray: It occurred to me this would be a wonderful tool, then, to add to a portfolio, ePortfolio, for faculty. Has this been adopted then by educational institutions to add to any portfolio for their faculty and students?
Adam Geller: For the university faculty or for the teacher candidates?
Rod Murray: I guess I initially I was thinking teacher candidates. Yes.
Adam Geller: Yeah, absolutely. So we support kind of a portfolio based approach for gathering evidence, both in some very kind of flexible, loose ways. You might have the idea of assembling a portfolio to the highly structured ways of, you know, your portfolio has a certain exacting set of components that you need to have as a capstone kind of experience, to we also support teacher candidates gathering their evidence into a secure portfolio for sharing via secure URLs. Helpful when they’re applying for jobs. They can actually show their teaching. And we even support an integration with a high stakes portfolio assessment that is used by teachers. So that’s the very long answer of yes, we support portfolios in a wide variety of ways in our platform.
Rod Murray: Now this is obviously not a software demonstration here, but I did go on your website and watch one of your videos. So can you just spend a minute on what this looks like for the supervisor and faculty looking at their students? How does that work?
Adam Geller: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, I think the heart and soul of what we do is really told through the story of the timestamped comments. So as a faculty member who is looking at a teacher candidate, that teacher candidate’s shared a video with you. Now, you go in and you’re watching that video. And imagine the kind of, just like on any video player on any website, you’d see the play head is tracking along on the bottom, but instead of it just being a little line, there’s a little plus sign. And so at two minutes and 12 seconds, when the teacher candidate does something really strong or maybe misses an opportunity, you hit that plus sign and everything pauses, and you have four options on the comment. Type question, suggestion, strength, and note.
So you can categorize your comment, maybe leave more wait time or something like that, after a question. And then really important, as well, you can tag that comment to the professional standards that your program is using to talk about good teaching. So if your professional framework called that checks for understanding, you could tag that comment to checks for understanding. And then you hit submit, and a marker pops up on the timeline so that when the teacher comes in to watch the video, they can see right there in the video at that moment, there is a comment, a lot of people call this in real time, right? It’s in real time with the video.
So it’s valuable because not only are you able to leave that very freeform comment, but it is tied exactly in the moment to the underlying evidence that is leading you to leave that comment for a teacher candidate. And it’s that linking between the ability to see the evidence, as well as with the feedback, that’s a process supported quite heavily through academic research as driving improvements in teacher practice.
Rod Murray: Interesting. Yeah, I can certainly visualize that, what you’re talking about. It occurs to me, if I was designing something like this, maybe I’d also have a tech sort of summary. Can you just list all these comments or categorize them and use some analytics to come up with some scoring or solutions?
Adam Geller: Absolutely. Yeah. So on the single video, you have the entire list of comments that you can not only scroll through, but you can reply back to them in a conversational, collaborative manner in between people. So this is not a one way platform. This is meant as a back and forth tool. But just as you’re suggesting as well, and we do have dashboards that help you both at the group level for a group of candidates and also across your entire organization, ask questions like how often are we leaving comments related to checks for understanding, and be able to very quickly answer that in a variety of different ways.
And if you are that university supervisor, more in the chair of the direct feedback, you have additional tools to help you dial into specific videos that have specific types of comments or specific frequencies of certain things. So absolutely we think that it’s actually fundamentally important to the way that we’ve approached building our tools, that it is not just meant as a toolset for an unstructured process, but in fact is a platform that helps you understand improvements in teacher practice backed by data.
Rod Murray: Excellent. Yeah, that sounds like a very, very useful tool. Now, as you might know, my background, my academic career has always been in professional schools, so medical school and then pharmacy school. And so I’m not as familiar with education, colleges of education, and how teachers are trained. I was wondering if you have any clients that use this product outside of teacher education.
Adam Geller: You know, we don’t have a ton of usage outside of teacher education. I think there are certainly opportunities there, but I think you are right to highlight some of the kind of echos of the ways that, let’s just take doctors, for example, are trained with standardized patients in a practice setting, to practice diagnosing and practice giving care. That idea is not only a parallel to what we do, but in fact, we’ve implemented an idea like that for teacher education.
So inside of our platform, one of the toolsets we have for faculty is to design, let’s call them a learning cycle, or they might call it an assignment or whatever, for a course, but they have the ability to upload an example video, upload once, share to everyone individually for individual analysis. So that’s exactly like the standardized patient approach, because if all 27 of my candidates all look at the same video, I can very quickly go in and find out that candidate number one left the comments at approximately the correct moments, at four minutes and seven minutes, and candidate two and three and four, they’re all looking good, and wow, candidates five, six, seven, and eight, and nine really may need some extra support from me because they thought the key moments in this standardized video, this example video, was minute two and 22.
So that same kind of approach of using practice to drive an understanding of a professional’s readiness to go operate in the field on their own that’s used in medical education and other parts of the health careers is something that is not just a good parallel, but I think we have acted on as a way to bring it to bear for teacher candidates.
Rod Murray: Very good. You know, your product reminds me a lot of, in a different realm, a product that came out, when it first came out, in fact, it came out of Philadelphia and Drexel University, their law school, something called a [inaudible]. And it was a video platform that allowed law students to react to case studies. And it was a way to gauge the students’ response as if they were in a courtroom, let’s say, and each give their video responses and have the faculty go over them and mark them, and a very similar way, have timestamped comments. That company was then acquired by Canvas, and now I think their name changed to Practice, practice.xyz was their URL.
So I’m wondering if your product might not have a wider use in teachers, even in secondary schools, using it in the classroom for students, as much as the way it was being used during their training. Is that a possibility? Is that something you see happening?
Adam Geller: It’s not, actually, for a couple of reasons. One, our platform is focused on having adult learners. There’s some important usage considerations from a legal perspective that you need to take into account. So I want to be very clear that our platform is marketed toward adults and adult learners. But the reason for that decision originally is that what we heard from teachers is that while each of them works through how to convey to their students that they are themselves learners, a professional learner, that they wanted a separate space to be doing that learning, that there was kind of an underlying question of like, well, if I upload my video to a platform, I wouldn’t want to accidentally put my teaching video in the student review group. Because the idea of reflecting on one’s practices is very personal. It takes a lot of vulnerability.
And so it really is under this kind of bigger category of decisions that we orient ourselves around, is how do you help a teacher feel safe and secure to initiate that reflection process? And I think what we heard is when you introduce the K-12 student into the same environment, it kind of disrupts that this is my safe island type feeling for the teachers.
Rod Murray: Understood. Yes, I can fully understand that. Being in higher ed and knowing that most faculty in higher ed don’t have a teaching degree, at least in professional schools that I’ve been involved with, I can certainly see how they would benefit by having this product. So do you see this as an expanded market for you to promote it more in other institutions and not just schools of education?
Adam Geller: Absolutely. We have worked with, they carry different names, but centers for faculty excellence and things like that, the organizations on campuses that are supporting high quality teaching. I think that unlike in the world of teacher, a K-12 teacher professional learning and professional development, there are no requirements from a standards and certification perspective for university faculty and college faculty. So it really depends on the right culture to be in place. Certainly one of the things that we’ve had discussions about in the past with folks is the kind of intersection of a large number of non-tenure line faculty on teaching staff and needing to make sure that those faculty feel like they have a reason to stay.
So from a kind of recruitment retention perspective, having a tool to invest in those adjuncts’ teaching ability to help them feel like their partnership with university A versus college B is the decision they want to make, that it has a certain value and benefit, especially in that particular scenario.
Rod Murray: Absolutely. Very interesting. You know, with the pandemic, a lot of our faculty, most institutions have moved to what we call emergency teaching using Zoom. So I assume that’s happening obviously in teacher education. Does your product work equally as well with online learning?
Adam Geller: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think what you need is a video of teaching and/or learning. And so, a good moment to remind us both that the videos are not just of a teacher at the front of the classroom, but it could be videos of students in a classroom doing a variety of different things or teachers interacting with students. So whether you are physically in a classroom or virtually in a classroom, I think the requirement is to have a video record of that learning episode.
And so in some senses, when you have folks facilitating learning for their students via online platforms like Zoom, you’ve reduced one of the kind of friction points, which is you didn’t have to go look for the camera. You didn’t have to go look for the record button. You just hit it because it’s already there in the software. And so whether you’re Zoom or Google Meet or anything else in between, they all spit out a file that’s a video file. And we take those video files, and you’re off to the races and running for video analysis. And many of the things that define quote good teaching can be analyzed and thought through in an online teaching context, similarly to how you would do it in an in-person context.
Rod Murray: Sure. I guess that is kind of obvious, right? You just make sure you hit the record button in Zoom and then you just upload it to your system. Sounds great.
Adam Geller: Yeah. The one thing that was a new pain point during the pandemic with the use of platforms like Zoom is that you had student names printed onto the screen of the grid of videos, right? Because all of the videos we have are protected and secure, but there’s a different level of sensitivity between an image of a student in a classroom compared to the image of the student right above their name. And there’s some context where you can’t have the name, but you may have permission to have the likeness of the student.
And so as a result, since the pandemic started, so a while ago now, we released a tool to add blurring into our videos so that teachers could mask certain areas of their videos. So in a classroom, that might be a whole portion of an area of the classroom, but in an online context, they’re just drawing little boxes to blur out all the names. And in good news, this sounds like a simple idea, but the funny part was is that this came to us from one of our university partners, saying that suddenly this was a huge pain point for them, with having videos of teaching compared to in-classroom videos. And so there just really aren’t tools on the market that let you add those click, click, click type masking over top of the names. And so that’s something that we built in response to more of these videos coming in.
Rod Murray: How about that. Yeah, I was going to ask you how the pandemic changed your business. So here’s a perfect example. You actually were able to tweak your application to fix that particular issue. You know, of course, I’m a techy by nature. How, how does this work with the LMS, just like any other video? Is there anything special you want to say about integration with the LMS?
Adam Geller: The way that we run our security model is that you can take permanent URLs from our platform and put them into the LMS as permanent pointers. The reason why we have this approach, if you think about the exact service that we provide to teacher training program is, yes, facilitating the collection of videos that they’re going to look at in the context of some coursework. But that teacher education program is also using our tools in coordination with and with the permission of a local district. And one of the things they need to do when they go to the district and say, “Hey, we’re going to use video as part of our teacher training process, because it’s the right thing for candidates, because many candidates are digital natives and they expect this type of learning,” all those things, but they also need to explain to that district how they’re going to keep videos of their students in their district safe and secure.
And so by basically creating a walled garden for all of those videos, we can promise to our users, and by way of our users and our partner organizations, to their district partners, that we will keep those videos locked down. Only the people who are supposed to ever see those videos will see those videos because we can enforce very tight security controls around being logged in, being in the right group, actually actively loading the page. Even if you are technical in nature and you try and strip out the URLs to those videos, they expire automatically. And by the way, a security model that is robust enough, that is the type of security model that I can describe to you. So security is one of the top line things that we think about when we’re thinking about videos of K-12 students.
And so for that reason, we don’t have anything beyond those kind of URL pointers. But in terms of jumping between the two, everybody puts a little button inside of their LMS that says log into Edthena, and it’s all kind of integrated from there. And we keep people logged in, just like you stay logged into your Gmail, and use some techniques for making sure you’re the right person. So it doesn’t end up being a barrier, but I don’t want to promise anyone that’s listening to this any sort of object embedding inside of their LMS assignment, just because as I think everyone will agree that once you start doing that, you can no longer enforce the promise of I will only let the people who are explicitly supposed to see this video to see this video.
Rod Murray: Understood. So the button that they click, is there LTI integration for the faculty to get in, or it’s not, so they have to log in again to your system?
Adam Geller: Yeah. It’s a login, typically what happens is you log in during an account creation process. If you are on an organization that’s using an SSO provider like Google, then you can use your Google authentication. And then once you are authenticated, the usage pattern is basically periods of highly active usage. And then if you go away, you may not come back again for another six months, another course or something like that. So during that time of frequent usage, we’re using techniques to essentially recognize you as a user and tokenizing your identity and keeping you logged in.
Rod Murray: Got it, got it. So just, I think the audience would like to find out a little bit about how your business works. Is this something that a school district would have to make arrangements? It’s something that’s done at the teacher level? How does that work?
Adam Geller: Yeah, so we partner with the organizations who support teachers. So that is a school, a school district, a teacher education program, and even professional development service providers, as well. So we work with those organizations who then enter into an agreement with us to provide the software to their teachers. So it is, from the teacher’s perspective, a kind of streamlined process, and they’re not involved in the idea of deciding if this is the right tool for them.
Rod Murray: Got it. I also like to ask, we’re getting near the end, I want to be respectful of my audience time. And I want to give you an opportunity to let us know if there’s anything new coming down the pike, any new features or any news you want to break here?
Adam Geller: No. I’m laughing because there may or may not be some big news in 2022. I cannot confirm or deny that, but stay tuned for those announcements that may or may not be coming, but not confirmed here.
Rod Murray: Okay. No problems. Well, this has been very interesting. I have to admit, I was a little bit concerned that this might not be as useful for, my audience is higher ed. And I tend to ignore the fact that there’s a whole other realm out there that they’re not professional schools. There’s a lot of teacher education that goes on. So I’m really happy that we made this connection. And I wish you the best of luck with this product. It sounds like a wonderful thing. And anyway, thank you so much for talking with me today.
Adam Geller: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on.
Rod Murray: So that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I learned a lot about what goes into teaching teacher candidates and think this would be a great product for use in professional education in other topics, not just teacher education. Importantly, I also have a link to the book written by Adam Geller, called Evidence of Practice: Playbook for Video-Powered Professional Learning. So check it out on my show notes.
Stay tuned for the full song, If Every Day Were Christmas, by Podsafe for Peace. Until next time, have a great week. In fact, have a great holiday. I’ll see you again in January.
Read more Edthena blog posts about video-powered professional learning.