No mom or dad will dispute the claim that helping a child who is struggling in school is one of parenthood’s greatest challenges. Given that today’s educators must teach to an entire class or set of classes, rather than to individuals, the option of having that student’s teacher provide steady individual attention is often unrealistic. Parental help can be unrealistic too, especially if mom and dad are several years removed from the education experience. Tutoring services are expensive. Help via the Internet could be an option, but how does a parent, or student, vouch for the accuracy and quality of online lessons?
St. Louis entrepreneur Dr. Renato Cataldo believes his startup company can help parents, and students, who are at wit’s end in solving the problem. Cataldo has launched CrazyforEducation.com, a company that collects instructional videos from teachers, and offers them to K-12 students and parents for a $59.88 annual subscription fee. Teachers who create the video lessons share in the revenue.
Cataldo’s experience in education, technology and online markets shaped his vision of creating a web-based system to help students learn. As a professor at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, he created HELIX (Health Education Learning Information eXchange), one of the first online educational systems that went international. Using CompuServe’s international network and a grant from Glaxo, Cataldo’s team was able to provide cutting-edge online education, access to information, and much needed resources to healthcare providers on a global basis.
For teachers, Cataldo says his latest startup, CrazyforEducation.com creates a vehicle to provide some much appreciated funding for themselves or their classrooms. Under the CrazyforEducation.com system, teachers may upload video lessons on a variety of subjects. Each time a teacher-provided lesson is viewed by a paid subscriber, the teacher earns a point. Subscribers who are particularly fond of a video can assign it a “star”, which also helps the content provider – the teacher – earn points. A portion of the revenue derived from subscribers is divided among the teachers, based on the points they’ve earned each month. “The teacher or school system can decide where the revenue is directed. Many teachers spend hundreds of dollars a year out-of-pocket for their classrooms. This is a way for teachers to wipe that out and supplement classroom resources,” explains Cataldo.
Cataldo says the initiative also provides teachers with some much-deserved recognition. “I find it fascinating,” says Cataldo, “that there are so many great teachers in the United States, but no one outside of their 30 or so students ever gets to see them each semester. I thought if I could build something that crowd sources education, much like iTunes crowd sources music, it would benefit everyone.”
The difference between CrazyforEducation.com, and online video services such as YouTube, says Cataldo is what his system doesn’t provide. “Teachers and students are very concerned about distractions and inappropriate content. With our system there is no advertising, and no adjacent links that would drive someone away from the lesson that’s on the screen, unlike YouTube,” says Cataldo. “The teacher is in 100 percent control of what the student sees.” Once a teacher uploads a video, Cataldo’s reviewers – two so far but several more are expected to be hired as the program grows – are notified immediately. Those reviewers look for clarity of content and appropriate behavior by the educator. His reviewers also help coach educators who may lack compelling presentation or technical skills.
Right now Cataldo says about 450 students and 140 or so teachers are using the system, which contains a rapidly growing database of about 1700 lessons – mostly in the easy-to-consume five-to-eight minute range. So far, Cataldo hasn’t done much marketing of CrazyforEducation.com. That soon will change with the hiring of a marketing team, and after that, plans are big: his next goal is to partner with entire school districts. Plans toward that end are already underway with one local district – the Grandview district in Jefferson County.
Home-schooling parents represent another potential big market for the service. Recently, Cataldo attended a youth soccer game in Kentucky. As he stood on the sidelines talking about his new company, eager home-schooling parents overheard, and before the afternoon was through, he says he had handed out about twenty business cards.
Mid-range goals, says Cataldo, are for CrazyforEducation.com to go global and expand into the College and pre-school markets. Cataldo is already extending the service to his native Brazil, and he says there is the potential to craft deals with the education systems of entire countries. “There are 250 million kids who have Internet access that’s good enough to take part in this program, and English has become the business language of many major countries,” he says. “Education delivery is changing rapidly and there are some very interesting possibilities that can serve students and teachers anywhere.”