Have you ever felt a disconnect between what you were learning in school and the “real world”? Students rejoice; teachers have felt it, too. The downside, however, is that most teachers don’t know how to fix it. Teachers, especially at the middle school and high school level, are consistently evaluated on how well their students perform on tests designed for a set curriculum. In other words, teachers don’t have much incentive to distract their students from that set curriculum by spending class time each week discussing news and other world events.
While educators have struggled with this problem, a group of students from Cornell has found the solution: Vispio. Vispio curates news articles and integrates them into school curriculums through interactive content like games and quizzes. Shaan Franchi (’18), Stuart Wang (’18), and Chris Colen (’18) built Vispio hoping to boost global awareness among middle school and high school students and save teachers time. Their team has already enjoyed a lot of success in pursuing those goals, and with admittance into eLab, looks poised for even more success.
For more on Vispio and what drives the team, CEO Shaan Franchi and COO Stuart Wang offer their thoughts below:
How would you explain Vispio?
Shaan: Vispio is a global education platform that automates games, quizzes, and activities based on news articles to integrate current events into a school’s curriculum. We bring a lot to the table in terms of Common Core alignment, meaning we match up with what teachers are already teaching. We save 50% of a teacher’s time in creating content and tests.
Stuart: We allow teachers to automate one-click games and quizzes. We also help them generate discussions in under two minutes. We develop a pulse of what’s important, and then we show that in a context that’s appropriate for the class.
What made you come up with the idea?
Shaan: Last year I started a volunteer program with the Cornell International Affairs Society where we taught 200 kids across 60 different schools in New York City about Model UN, and people were always asking how come they couldn’t do it on a daily basis. I realized we had to have a tech solution for this so all teachers felt empowered to do it in their classrooms.
Stuart: Shaan had the idea, but the reason it was so interesting to me was that up until college, I wasn’t informed about what was going on in the world. We can get a good grade on a math test, but when it came to understanding global issues and forming opinions on them, I realized that our education system doesn’t really prepare us for that. We reviewed the different options students have, but we wanted to integrate it into the curriculum so that students would have the incentive to do it.
Shaan: We want it to relate to things students are already studying in class that they enjoy. We don’t want to create more work for students. There’s a huge disconnect because teachers are torn between spending a day teaching current events and preparing for state tests that they’re actually evaluated on. We want to shift the incentives so that the current events can line up with the course content.
How do you curate the content?
Shaan: First, it’s partnerships. We’ve partnered with seven out of the top ten think tanks in the world. We have partnerships with news sources like Reuters, and they give us content to host on our platform. We have templates so that teachers can customize their own activities and make quizzes so we can focus on adapted learning.
How do you plan on developing Vispio?
Stuart: We found a research mentor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She’s making Vispio the focus of her studies all year. She’s looking at our user statistics and helping us figure out how to make it as useful as possible for teachers.
How important do you think that research will be to your success?
Stuart: Research is important. On a deeper level, it’s about how it helps teachers and saves them time. We want to boost educational outcomes, but it’s also about teachers as the users of our platform. We really test our effectiveness on teacher empowerment and getting them to use the tools.
How have you built such a strong network to help you grow Vispio?
Shaan: I’d say leverage your background. With Model UN, I’ve used content from think tanks, so I understand that world. It’s learning as much as you can, and contacting as many people as you can whom you think can help you. It’s a lot of cold calls and emails, and a lot of our partners didn’t expect us to reach out, but they’ve realized it’s a goal of theirs as well to teach secondary school students. If it’s an idea that you think will help people, then you can convince other people.
Did you ever see yourselves becoming entrepreneurs?
Shaan: We never envisioned ourselves in education tech. A lot of people think startup and think, “Create an app.” What makes us different is that we have that social mission of ensuring that every student will be able to use this in some way.
Are you ever concerned that a larger player in education could edge you out?
Shaan: We use the negative of being a small company as a positive. We can move very quickly, and it makes us more connected to the teachers we’re talking to. We can implement their feedback right away, but at a larger company, they have to move through the chain of command. In the foreseeable future, we also think we can keep innovating. If we see something similar, we have a full range of tools we haven’t even implemented yet.
What makes schools excited about the platform?
Shaan: We’ve found after talking with 130 teachers in 49 high schools and six middle schools across California there’s that passion for teaching current events. There’s been a heavy focus coming from the top in schools to make global citizenship a priority. There’s an agent problem, however, because teachers don’t get paid more for integrating current events into the curriculum. Around 80% of teachers that we surveyed said that they want to use education tech to integrate current events.
What gets you excited about Vispio?
Shaan: I wish I had this in high school. That’s why we’re excited to put in the difficult hours, not get any pay, and not have an internship. It’s an important social problem and a business problem. We’re not in this to make money, but we believe our solution will help education.
Stuart: We’re in it because we’ve been working on it all summer, and being able to share it right now is awesome. One of the perceptions of Silicon Valley is that its products are being created to fit niche needs. A lot of the solutions you see aren’t as wide-reaching as what you need to see. I think we’ll change society to be better, and that’s exciting.
For more on Vispio, visit the website.