As a part of an ongoing series we are starting called “Lab Work”, we will be interviewing a handful of the amazing clients that we are blessed to have the opportunity to support through our experience in Mobile/Cloud Applications and Data Science. This month, we will be talking with Angie Eilers from UR TURN. A technology solution that provides insight and experience drawn from years of research that students, parents, and counselors can use to keep students on track for high school graduation and beyond. Please contact us if you have similar needs and would like to learn more about how at Lab 651 we use Data Science to change the world.
Q: What was the impetus behind starting UR TURN?
A: I have a been a researcher in schools for nearly 25 years; and while simultaneously raising a set of twins, I landed on an observation that struck me like a lightening bolt when my twins were in the middle school years: it became very clear to me that I had a distinct advantage as a researcher about knowing what milestones my kids needed to hit that were correlated with success at the next level. It was almost like I had night vision goggles on where other parents and students were sort of fumbling along the education stepping stones in the dark. My “eureka” moment was that I thought: we need to shine a flashlight on the mile markers or stepping stones throughout the middle school and high school years to make it much clearer to students and parents about where students are and where they are going in relation to only their own data but in relation to goals they have for the future. Like any good planner, it is really important to set your sights on where you are going and then map backward from there about what it takes to get to the end point. That’s why I refer to UR Turn as the “Google maps for education planning.”
Q: Being a teacher at the graduate college level myself, by the time I’m working with students they are well into their career and have good studying and learning habits. In what way does UR TURN help students early on in the learning career?
A: It is good know that you are seeing graduate students who have good habits in place. I would wager to guess that if they did not have good study and learning habits, they might not have made it to graduate school. Some students are naturally endowed with an “organizational” gene, if you will, or they learned good organizational and planning skills along the way. This generally comes from a family background where the home environment is well organized and there is a sense of “task management” that is taught or picked up by the children. For those students who are not so lucky, the number of “tasks” and the list of “to dos” is long and complicated. There are a lot of decision-making forks in the road during the middle school and high school years. It requires a fair amount of attention–and that is just for one kid! You can imagine a household of two, three or more children. It gets overwhelming very quickly. What UR TURN provides is a sort of road map, but like Google maps, we push out alerts and messaging…almost like “recalculating, recalculating” if a student gets off track of their end goal. We monitor students’ GPA and attendance; we push out research-based advice not only on subject matter material but on social-emotional learning, which can include good organization and study habits.
Q: It seems like UR TURN would work extremely well to complement other solutions in the field. What educational systems, partners or integrators are you currently or planning to work with?
A: You’re right; this product is complementary to both existing products on the market, but also complementary to some nonprofit groups that provide student support. Regarding existing products on the market, UR TURN is a complement to existing student information systems, which are now in place in all U.S. school districts. These information systems (referred to as SIS) are basically like electronic grade books, but we think of them as a small data warehouse. UR TURN plugs into these otherwise static figures such as GPA and number of days absent or tardy and our module visually transforms these data into meaningful insights providing “data interpretation” for students and parents. We are definitely interested in partnering with these existing products, and we see that we could provide an opportunity for these products to differentiate themselves in the market while providing UR TURN a channel to reach millions of students. On the nonprofit side, complementary nonprofit organizations such as AVID and Check and Connect teaches students good organizational skills such as how to allocate their time and prepare for homework and assignment deadlines. Other nonprofits such as College Possible help low-income or first generation college-going high school students to set their sights on applying to two-year and four-year colleges. These programs are excellent and I endorse them. However, these are “high touch” efforts that require mentors to work with only a handful of students at a time. There simply are not enough volunteers or interested parties to scale these efforts up to reach millions of students who are likely to wander off path. In that case, UR TURN provides a digital response to these efforts– we offer both a web and mobile-enabled dashboard for students and parents to use as a navigational tool. Our push out alerts and messaging is what we think of as a “nag app” not unlike what a parent, mentor or counselor would do one-on-one—if only we had enough humans to go around to each and every student.
Q: What do you see as future steps for UR TURN to continue based on prior success?
A: UR TURN has its own end-goal in mind. We hope to partner with SIS companies as well as curricular and social-emotional learning intervention companies as channel partners; in this way, we can reach millions of students in a more personalized way, powered by the precision of using the student’s own data. To do this, we need to keep proving the concept and collect meaningful analytics about the user experiences, but we also need to measure the extent to which we have moved the needle. An initial measure is to monitor student and parent engagement. Historically, engagement has been a huge challenge for schools. What we are trying to take advantage of are the new behaviors and habits we have all learned by using smart devices. How many of us have our smart device on and near us nearly at all times? And how many of us respond to that little red bubble that indicates we have a message? At the same time, how many of us are wearing devices or use devices that count our steps or even monitor how many miles we drive? In other words, we are all getting accustomed to the “quantified self.” UR TURN absolutely taps into these new behaviors and ways of operating. We are doing for student pathways what FitBit does for weight loss or what Mint.com does for college and retirement savings. The social psychology is very similar to these popular applications.
Q: At Lab 651 we enjoy working with companies that improve the quality of life for their customers using data science. UR TURN is a prime example of this. What is it that energizes you and your team at UR TURN?
I can’t even express to you how highly motivated and inspired I am at this point in my career. I have been a part of lots of public and non-profit organizations that have had very good intentions to serve students, but which have not quite yet landed on many scaleable, research-based and data-informed solutions. Granted, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to educating young students–but in this information, research and data rich society lack of insight and information should not be one of these challenges. We are sitting on a lot of helpful research, information and data. UR TURN is simply trying to wrap it up nicely with algorithms and software to push it out meaningfully and cleanly to every day users to increase engagement in their own education. There are no longer any good reasons to fumbling along the education pathway in the dark. Now is an excellent time to be in my chosen business!
Q: Final Closing Comments from Lab 651?
Thank you Angie for taking the time to share the story of UR TURN! Our Mobile/Cloud Application and Data Science team are thrilled to be working with you at such an exciting time of the company. We are committed to supporting you as a technology and development advisory partner and excited to help you build this next wave of technology. Additionally, as data is becoming the next currency, we welcome any company who is need of Data Science professionals and Software Application Engineers with deep experience to contact us today.