Pivoting and scaling with AWS: Three EdTechs share their journey to support education
The impact of COVID-19 has K12 and higher education institutions working hard to prepare for students to return to learning that will be anything but typical. The 2020-2021 academic year will include various teaching and learning modalities—virtual, hybrid, and face-to-face—and most expect a shift from one to another throughout the year. Globally, education technology companies (EdTechs) are working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to accelerate features and solutions to better support students and educators in teaching and learning, physical and mental wellness, and health and safety.
Delivering active teaching and learning regardless of the distance
Echo360 is a global education technology company serving more than 1,200 higher education institutions and over two million students worldwide with active learning and video education solutions. In 2014, Echo360 rearchitected their solutions in the cloud using AWS, which allowed them to quickly adjust when COVID-19 caused colleges and universities to shut down globally.
“Because Echo360 is architected to run on AWS, our platform was able to seamlessly scale to meet increased demand in the spring of 2020. Instructors around the world recorded 41 percent more videos this spring with a 600 percent increase in professors recording from home. The platform scaled both media processing and live streaming services to hundreds of concurrent Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to meet this large increase in demand. Student usage increased 27 percent and by leveraging services such as Amazon CloudFront, Amazon DynamoDB On-Demand, and Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling, students were able to consume over 1,643 years worth of content without interruption,” said Tony Abate, chief operating officer, Echo360.
Echo360 supports all modalities of teaching and learning. But in response to COVID-19, it re-prioritized and accelerated features that make online and hybrid teaching and learning easier and more effective. Such recently launched features include personal video live streaming, embedded polling, enhanced integration with Zoom, and a transcript editor to improve accessibility for remote learning. “We are incredibly well positioned. Echo360 protects student privacy and supports active learning and accessibility for asynchronous and synchronous learning. Meaning if the location of learning changes during the semester there is no disruption to students. Knowing our solutions are running on AWS gives us added confidence to meet the customers wherever they are,” said Richard Caccavale, vice president of marketing, Echo360.
Supporting physical wellness and mindfulness wherever school happens
In K12, companies who traditionally supported face-to-face learning saw a massive shift in the way their offerings supported students and families due to COVID-19. GoNoodle, a media and technology company with a suite of active engagement products for kids and adults, engages 14 million kids every month with movement and mindfulness videos created by social emotional learning experts.
In the spring, GoNoodle saw usage shift from the classroom to the home, with educators using the tool to engage students in online sessions. There was an even bigger increase in parental use. “Working with the AWS team has been key to our company managing the drastic uptick in usage in the spring, when we saw a 380 percent increase in active users, a 378 percent increase in new users, and a 306 percent increase in activity minutes played,” said Ann Howard, head of product, GoNoodle.
GoNoodle’s lean team of engineers—none of whom are designated for DevOps but instead share that responsibility—was able to confidently handle an almost overnight doubling of traffic with little to no increase in latency due to the power of AWS. “As we continue to innovate around products and content to help educators and families our work with AWS ensures that our technology is optimized for scaling and cost,” Howard continued. GoNoodle uses a number of AWS services, including Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Amazon CloudSearch, Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon CloudFront, and AWS Lambda, to ensure excellent user experience across the thousands of GoNoodle videos.
When it comes to addressing the needs of educators, schools, and districts as they build back to school learning plans, Alexandra Badalamenti, head of business development and legal affairs at GoNoodle said, “We are working with our K12 customers everyday to understand their needs in this difficult time. We are proud that GoNoodle is beloved by students, teachers and now parents, and take our role in mental and physical wellness very seriously. Being able to listen to customers and rapidly develop new content that helps model healthy behavior is more important than ever. We count on AWS as a partner to deliver on that mission.”
Leveraging compute and machine learning to help support health and safety on campus
Since day one, Degree Analytics has been focused on helping colleges and universities utilize actionable data to inform and improve teaching and learning practices. A growing EdTech company now supporting 250,000 students in the US and abroad, their solutions have traditionally focused on class attendance and facility utilization to support student success, retention, and graduation. Built on AWS, Degree Analytics uses a robust set of services to transform campus network data into behavioral insights, then providing it to college and university stakeholders via API gateways to display within the apps, websites, and tools these stakeholders already use. Using machine learning (ML), Degree Analytics focuses on early identification of leading indicators that drive student success and overall satisfaction for each unique college and university environment.
When COVID-19 began to impact campuses, the team extended its solutions to help colleges and universities use data-driven models to better ensure safety and security and reduce the degree of risk associated with reopening. Using existing network data from the campus wireless infrastructure, Degree Analytics now provides administrators with visibility into student presence on campus daily, social density mapping to support physical distancing protocols, and contact or contamination tracing to identify spaces exposed to COVID-19. All of these measures aid university operational models providing appropriate safety and security alerts and aligned health guidance.
“From day one, we were able to provide university administration and student support services with information on who, when, and where individuals interacted with their campus. Now, we are utilizing these same data elements to support safety and security of those present on campus. Our goal is to empower students, faculty and staff to make data-informed decisions for their health and safety while maintaining student privacy and confidentiality. A smart campus concept provides a real time view of where people are on campus, who they are in close physical contact with, and what behaviors they are engaging in,” said Aaron Benz, founder and chief executive officer, Degree Analytics.
How does AWS support this work? Aaron continues, “Working on AWS has given us the speed we need to analyze large datasets and the ability to scale our platform to better meet the needs of colleges and universities in these unprecedented times. AWS’s pace of innovation gives us the tools to continue to deliver actionable data for today’s need and tomorrow’s opportunities.”
Learn how AWS is working with education technology companies to support K12 and higher education with remote learning and digital transformation.