Lockdown Drives Big Increase in Online Education Software Use

Since mid-March, San Diego-based company CourseKey hit 30% of its annual customer acquisition due to the coronavirus lockdown, its founder said


As COVID-19 continues to force universities and other education institutions across the country to go virtual, CourseKey, a San Diego-based live online attendance and engagement software that works with video conferencing tools, has become the application of choice for many.

Synchronous Online Classes

Founded in 2015 and with roughly 25 employees, CourseKey makes switching to synchronous online classes over web-conferencing effective, fast and easy, said Luke Sophinos, its 25-year-old founder and CEO.

Now, the privately held company has hundreds of customers including San Diego State University, University of California San Diego, University of California Los Angeles, University of Hawaii, Washington State University and Boston University, he said. And, since mid-March, Sophinos said CourseKey hit 30% of its annual customer acquisition due to the coronavirus lockdown.

“We offer solutions for live online classes and traditional classrooms, but the live online product is the one that is surging right now,” said Sophinos, who launched the company while attending SDSU, from which he received a degree in communications. “It makes any remote training and online course feel like it is being conducted in-person. We sit on top of a web conferencing solution and have the ability to push interactive content to the learner in this synchronous classroom environment. It has social capabilities for students to interact among each other. We have compliances around time and attendance. We even have face ID recognition for more accurate attendance taking.”

Handles Most Classroom Needs

The software solution handles most if not all on-ground classroom needs, said Sophinos, and includes features like social capability, auto grading (taking pressure off educators during the pandemic) and attendance tracking through a student video ID identification system as well as the ability for instructors to push polls, quizzes and/or tests in real time during the cyber classes.

Because demand for the application is so high right now, Sophinos said CourseKey is setting up online classes for universities, high schools and vocational schools in as quickly as two days. He said the cost varies based on the desired features and that CourseKey is currently selling the program at-cost, meaning the company isn’t making any money off of it at the moment given the crisis.

How It Works

Sophinos gives an example of how CourseKey works:

The instructor and his 50 students get on a Zoom Video Communications call. The professor conducts a quick attendance through face identification to verify each student.

He/she then kicks off the class with a cool activity, maybe a game of Jeopardy, which he/she pushes out right on the screen to the students in real-time, said Sophinos, from which results come back to him/her live on his/her screen. This gives the teacher the ability to have an instant discussion about it with the students, said Sophinos.

Students can also push questions via a chat feature, he said, which the professor will receive immediately on his end and can address at the moment. He/she can drag and drop a pop quiz and can finish the lesson by pushing out an exam, he said, from which he/she will see results in real time.

Once they are done with the session, the auto-grading function kicks in with results sent to the faculty, said Sophinos. This allows the teaching body to instantaneously see which student needs a bit more help and may be at risk of dropping out based on participation and attendance, also serving as a retention strategy, said Sophinos.

“The school can see all the engagement, attendance and social aspects and leverage that for compliance reporting, like with creditors or auditors,” he said, adding that CourseKey currently helps educate over 10,000 students around the world. “Today, a lot of schools are doing their online work by just going to Zoom but losing the ability to effectively instruct kids by asking them to do things like write answers down on a piece of paper and then have them hold that up to the camera. We are a solution that works on top of a video conferencing tool and makes it just like a classroom environment.”

$10 Million In Venture Capital

CourseKey, which was launched with $10 million in venture capital funding, came to be when Sophinos, a student at the time, had the idea to use electronic devises as learning tools that instructors could leverage for teaching.

Sophinos dropped out of school and was later chosen to participate in a fellowship program by Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, for two years, where he was able to access Thiel’s network to excel his company. He later returned to SDSU to finish his program.

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