/ Education

edPulse Hopes to Improve Education Through Data and Analytics

We want to show that by helping teachers and principals get the information they need to make good decisions, their instruction will improve and their students will achieve at a higher rate.

After earning a Master’s degree in Theoretical Ecology and Statistics from BYU’s Biology Department, edPulse founder David Gonzalez thought he was going to spend the rest of his life in academics. However, during an interview for the academic position he coveted most, Gonzalez received what turned out to be sage advice.

“The individual told me, he’s like, look, I’ll happily take you, but you’re not a good fit for academics,” said Gonzalez.

A cursory glance at Gonzalez’s academic résumé suggests otherwise (Theoretical Ecology and Statistics? What does that even mean?), but spend any amount of time with him and you’ll quickly learn Gonzalez has all the traits that make up a great entrepreneur.

“He just said you’re impatient, you’re impulsive, you work too hard, and you get bored quickly,” said Gonzalez. “He said these are all terrible traits in an academic. He’s like, you can’t work very hard. You have to stay focused and you just kind of chip away at things. You don’t do these horrendous sprints; it’s just like, just slowly chip away at a problem and make it stretch out for an entire career and you’ll be just fine.”

The man interviewing Gonzalez turned out to be right. Six months after graduate school, Gonzalez founded a bank in St. George with his father. The bank is still around today, but Gonzalez’s passion lies within data, analytics, and figuring out how to make sense of complex information.

BoomStartup founder Robb Kunz knew of Gonzalez’s appreciation for data and approached him about helping to kickstart the edPulse project.

“Robb had been interfacing with Utah State University and working to spin out a technology through their commercialization operation. We met a couple of times, and over the course of, I don’t know, the first six months of 2013, just kind of interfaced, went back and forth, back and forth, until Robb kind of asked me, he said, this project’s kind of struggling a little bit and I think you would have a lot of fun heading it up,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was hesitant at first because he wasn’t sure about the direction of the project. At the time, edPulse was partnering with local school districts to conduct surveys once a year.

“We were able to inherit a lot of interesting clientele, some local districts and schools. But we wanted to be something bigger than just doing surveys once a year. And so, we took that survey, which was called the Indicators of School Quality, ISQ, and created ISQ the company, which some days it stands for improving school quality, on more ambitious days it’s improving society quantitatively. It kind of just depends on how ambitious we’re feeling,” said Gonzalez.

edPulse has created a product that digitizes the survey and reporting that was already happening before Gonzalez took over.

“We make it a little more dynamic and help people to get greater insights from the same legacy data set,” said Gonzalez. “We’re introducing a lot of really cool data sets into the classrooms, into the schools, and working to help create a very, very strong structure for continuous improvement around instruction.

“We can help the principals get the data they need to help support their teachers. We’re going to help the teachers get the data that they need to zero in on specific skills that they can improve, and then watch them improve and see how that backs out as academic achievement.”

Gonzalez has been having a lot fun doing customer validation with different schools and districts, trying to come up with the best way to present the data edPulse has managed to gather through its surveys to make the biggest impact.

“We’re now able to marry kind of the big data, the predictive analytics, and all that kind of fun stuff to this interesting space of education that seems to need a lot of help in terms of visibility, in terms of data, and meaningful information. The one thing that education doesn’t lack for is good will.

“And that’s kind of interesting, right? You come from business where trying to create that culture where everybody wants to go in the same direction is really hard, but in education everybody is aligned around wanting to improve student learning. They may be divided about how to accomplish that, but I haven’t met a single person, I haven’t watched a single activity that wasn’t trying to get to that end. So that’s cool.”

Gonzalez says he knew wanted to take edPulse through the BoomStartup program.

“For me, there wasn’t an option. It was BoomStartup or go start something else,” said Gonzalez.

It was through the BoomStartup network that Gonzalez met his co-founder Dallin West.

“Being able to find Dallin was huge,” said Gonzalez. “He is the reason why we’re successful because he keeps holding me accountable to all these things that I don’t know how to do. Like don’t just build shit, David. Go find out if somebody wants to use it.”

If BoomStartup had only helped him find West, Gonzalez believes it still would have been worth it.

“If nothing else that was huge,” said Gonzalez. “The mentorship that we received probably wasn’t as much as we would have liked in some areas. In other areas it was really strong. Like it was great to have some guidance and have, you know, just be in front of some of these really excellent people. Some of the marketing and sales strategy folks that they brought in were good. And then really just kind of holding us accountable to this exercise of customer-driven business development, which was really, really sound. I’ve always just kind of built something that I thought would be neat and then tried to find as many people as possible to use it.”

Improving school quality is an ambitious objective for a small startup to undertake, but edPulse believes it’s building something that can actually improve the lives of students, teachers, and administrators.

“The end goal here is, along the way we would really, really like to see our product be able to point to the data that it collects and to the teachers that its touched,” said Gonzalez.

“We want to show that by helping teachers and principals get the information they need to make good decisions, their instruction will improve and their students will achieve at a higher rate.”

Published 3/21/2014