Life goes better with partners – Ayra Analytics

As Founder of Ayra Analytics Hansa Wijayasundara says, “Data analytics is not just another buzzword.”

ParentPaperwork is so aware of this fact that we’re constantly hammering home the value of data, including in our own recent article on data interoperability. We’re also putting our money where our mouths are by partnering with Hansa’s company to offer even more functionality and power to ParentPaperwork schools.

So what does Ayra Analytics specifically do? And how does this work in a school environment?

We put Hansa under the microscope to answer the questions you’re likely to ask, and to make some sense of this little thing called ‘data analytics’…

ParentPaperwork: Firstly, how did Ayra Analytics emerge as a business?

Hansa Wijayasundara: “We came about because we saw an opportunity for schools to collect, store and visualise data but it had to be in an easy-to-use format. As an example, schools can only currently analyse data in a single system. They don’t have the capability to analyse multiple sources of data such as that from student management systems, learning management systems and finance management systems with other external system data like NAPLAN, Allwell and Senses. We’re changing all that.”

“Ultimately, what Ayra Analytics does is help schools blend different data in a way that they can easily read, compare different data sets and come up with decisions.”

Can you explain the value of data analytics, and how it applies to schools, in a little more detail?

“Schools are in a great position to analyse the many, many sources of data they hold and collect but they just need the means to do it. This also includes data that schools have access to outside of their own environment, such as NAPLAN and the other external sources I’ve already mentioned.”

“Smart schools should be actively using their past and current data to come up with predictions. For example, they might predict the grades or marks a student will get in their exams based on their prior results. They can also use data analytics to improve administration tasks like budgeting and finance forecasting. In the admissions department, they might use data to find out where the students are coming from, as well as their family background, in order to understand their needs.”

“There are also trends in attendance that can be revealed through data analytics. ‘Do we see more absenteeism in a rainy day compared to a sunny day?’ or ‘Do we have more student absents on a particular day of the week.’ These are just some of the endless questions that can be answered. Schools have the power at their fingertips and we give them the tools to access that power.”

What are the pitfalls for a school when looking at data analytics? How can they be overcome?

“It’s a journey, it’s not a single project. Schools won’t be able to get all the outcomes they need on day one. If schools want to get all their data cleaned and ready before applying analytics, then it will never happen. Schools need to use analytics dashboards to visualise data first. This way, they can start to identify gaps in their data and the data cleaning process will then stem from that.”

“Data analytics is not just another buzzword, it’s the reality of both now and tomorrow. Schools need to commit a decent amount of time to get the outcomes they need but, once it’s all been put into action, they won’t look back. They really need to be data-savvy and have the staff in place that are ready to wrangle the data. So it’s about firstly creating a data analytics culture in the school and then moving forward with that in incremental and strategic steps.”

Where is the future of data analysis heading for schools?

“Predictive and prescriptive analytics. Schools should be able to predict student outcomes and intervene early, way before they get into trouble. Using both machine learning and AI, schools will be able to accurately prescribe solutions for teachers and students. Education will never be the same.”

How would you sum up Ayra Analytics service offering?

“Better data equals better insights. Better insights equal better decisions. Better decisions equal smarter education. And you can’t get better than that.”

www.ayraanalytics.com.au

Life goes better with partners – Digistorm

In March 2017, we announced that ParentPaperwork had become fully integrated with the Digistorm schoolAPP for Schoolbox, which is yet another example of ParentPaperwork’s commitment to furthering our data interoperability.

Now that ParentPaperwork and Digistorm schools are well and truly taking advantage of the increased functionality this partnership gives them, we thought it was timely to introduce Digistorm on a more intimate level to you.

We asked Digistorm’s Chris Lang some questions, and here’s what he had to say…

ParentPaperwork: Can you please tell us a bit about Digistorm and how it came about?

Chris Lang: “Sure, Digistorm was founded in 2011 and really came about when Tim Oswald, our MD, built and launched the first School App in Australia for King’s Christian College on the Gold Coast. After receiving a number of enquiries from other schools he decided to focus on building a mobile app system dedicated to education.”

“I came onboard following this and, since then, we’ve grown to 15-plus staff and now work with over 250 schools throughout Australia, NZ, Asia and the United States. We’ve also diversified our product offering to include websites, online enrolment portals and, more recently, a CRM designed specifically for K-12 schools.”

How do you recall the Digistorm and ParentPaperwork relationship beginning? Who courted who and when did romance blossom?

“It was quite organic really! As with most of our integration partners, it was driven by mutual clients who saw the tremendous value that this could bring to their school. David Eedle (CTO at Parent Paperwork) and I worked with our respective development teams to develop a proof of concept and roll it to a number of schools for their feedback.”

What does ParentPaperwork add to Digistorm that particularly appeals to you?

“The ability for our school communities to receive targeted instant notifications when their children have a permission note or slip outstanding is so convenient. Being able to then quickly approve or decline it in just a few taps, while still ensuring full compliance, seems so powerful to me. Best of all, there is no extra work required to push it to our eduAPP system.”

“I’ve had so many schools ask me for this exact workflow over the years so to be able to offer it with a best-of-breed solution like Parent Paperwork is exciting.”

How has the interoperability between Digistorm and ParentPaperwork played out so far? Have there been any pleasant surprises? Customer comments?

“Due to the way that it was developed by both parties, it really is a plug & play solution for our schools so the implementation is quite seamless. The feedback has been nothing short of amazing and, recently, a leading independent girls school in South Australia commented to me that it was one of the best things that they had done.”

Where are you hoping the ParentPaperwork and Digistorm relationship will lead?

“We’d love to open this up to many more of our partner schools over the next 12 months and also to continue to develop the two platforms to be even more integrated. I hope that valuable feedback from our schools will drive the functionality in both systems.”

“We’ve got some exciting marketing initiatives in the works as well, and can see both companies going from strength to strength over the coming years.”

Your office looks like a cool place to be… What are the defining qualities of a ‘Digistormer’?

“Must own striped shirt, or be willing to improvise. Must like fancy cheese and not-so-fancy beer. Must be able to source and share a meme relevant to every situation in a matter of minutes…”

“…I’m only kidding! The great thing about this office is that everyone can be exactly who they want to be. We believe in a zero-politics environment with lots of laughs and even more hard work. If you have a skill, we’ll foster it – that’s why we have such a passionate, hard-working team. That’s the essence of a Digistormer.”

Do you have any closing comments?

“A shameless plug I know but I would encourage anyone who is interested in seeing the integration in action to contact Digistorm on 07 5508 2929 as we’d love to show it off.”

www.digistorm.com.au

How does ParentPaperwork import data?

ParentPaperwork manages a significant amount of data from schools. This post is a summary of how the data is imported and the various options and features. It is designed to be read by school ICT staff and database administrators to gain an overview understanding of our import modules and processes. For further information or assistance please contact support@parentpaperwork.com.

What Student Information Systems (SIS) does ParentPapework work with?

ParentPaperwork has ingested data from student information systems including:

  • CoolSIS
  • Denbigh
  • KAMAR
  • MAZE
  • PC School
  • SAS
  • SchoolPro
  • SEEMiS
  • SIMS
  • Skyward
  • Synergetic
  • TASS
  • Tyler

How does ParentPaperwork Acquire Data?

Data is obtained by ParentPaperwork in a variety of ways:

  1. Direct SQL database connection
  2. Pulled from remote API
  3. FTP pushed to ParentPaperwork
  4. Files pushed to ParentPaperwork’s Files API

We really don’t mind how the data is acquired and we are happy to work with a school or a provider to find the best and most efficient method. No matter how the data is acquired it is brought into our import system in a common format and centrally processed by a set of modules that handle various aspects of the data.

How frequently do we update imported data?

Almost always we update data from imported sources on a daily basis. We have the engineering capability and capacity for a higher frequency, but we figure a second-by-second update in real time is not necessary, schools are comfortable that if they make a change in their SIS one day it will be in ParentPaperwork the next day.

What data do we import?

At a minimum we import the data necessary for ParentPaperwork to operate:

Students

  • studentId (the unique identifier from your system for the student)
  • firstName
  • lastName
  • className (this will be the Student List they are allocated to initially)

Parents

  • parentId (the unique identifier from your system for the parent)
  • studentId (so we can link parent -> student)
  • firstName
  • lastName
  • email
  • mobile phone (only if you are using our optional Two Factor Authentication system or want SMS notifications enabled)

Additionally we can import further data:

Student Attributes

Student Attributes are user-defined fields in the ParentPaperwork Student record, a school can have an unlimited number of Attributes defined, and we can import data to these fields. Student Attributes are able to be used as fields on ParentPaperwork forms; when the parent opens their form the fields will be pre-populated with the values we are holding. When the parent submits the form the Attributes in the Student record will be updated. We also offer a range of exports including one we nickname ‘just the things that changed’, a list of Students, their Attributes and only the values that were updated as part of the form submission. This makes Student Attributes ideal for tasks such as annual student record updates.

Student Lists

Obviously students don’t just fall into one group at school, there are home rooms, tutor groups, subject classes, sports teams. We can import these to ParentPaperwork to Student Lists so these groups are available. Some larger schools consequently have several hundred Student Lists.

Staff Users

We can keep the Users in ParentPaperwork updated with changes in the school SIS. Generally we are not able to access passwords from the SIS, which means this is only useful in a couple of scenarios:

  1. The school needs the Users in ParentPaperwork to be able to send the staff notifications about forms, for example to cc a read only copy of a Parent Slip. The staff member is not required to log into ParentPaperwork.
  2. The school is using single sign on (SSO) to ParentPaperwork, either Google or Office 365, and does not want automatic user creation enabled in ParentPaperwork (where we allow anyone who is authorised via the SSO to access ParentPaperwork. By syncing in a list of Staff we can restrict access to ParentPaperwork to just the list of Staff the school provides via the import.

What is the import logic?

Our foundation view is that the source of truth for a school’s data is its SIS, so ParentPaperwork needs to as closely mirror that as possible. We are also very conscious that there can be some complicated family situations that are liable to change from time to time, so keeping ParentPaperwork in sync with those is important.

The following describes the import logic we use for each type of data.

Students

  • Check if there are any student records in the import that are different to those in ParentPaperwork
  • If the records are new Students, add them to ParentPaperwork
  • If the records are existing Students, update the changes to ParentPaperwork
  • Clear Students from any Student List named in the import that already exists in ParentPaperwork
  • Update Students from the import to the Student Lists named in the import
  • Optionally – clear students from any Student List created via import at any time, this deals with schools that don’t wish to maintain legacy Student Lists, it’s also useful for rollover at the beginning of a school year when we need to reset all Lists previously imported
  • Optionally – mark any Students currently in ParentPaperwork as inactive that are not contained in the import – marking them inactive removes Students from default views and lists and means they and their parents cannot be sent forms. Very useful for preserving data to comply with document retention policies whilst ensuring the Students are not visible day to day unless specifically searched for

Student Attributes

  • Check for Student Attribute names in the import that are different to those in ParentPaperwork, and create new Student Attributes on the school account
  • Update the Students with the values for those Attributes
  • Check if there are any Attribute values in the import that are different to those in ParentPaperwork and update the Student records
  • Note we log these changes as having come from an import, so we can differentiate with changes made via a User in ParentPaperwork, or a Parent submitting a form, so we can still generate exports of user/parent updates

Parent Contacts

  • Check if there are any Parent Contacts records in the import that are different to those in ParentPaperwork
  • If the records are new Contacts, add them to ParentPaperwork and link them to the relevant Students
  • If the records are existing Contacts, update the changes to ParentPaperwork, examine the existing links to Students already in ParentPaperwork, and if different to the import, update
  • Optionally – mark any Parent Contacts currently in ParentPaperwork as inactive that are not contained in the import – marking them inactive removes Contacts from default views and lists and means they cannot be sent forms. Very useful for preserving data to comply with document retention policies whilst ensuring the Contacts are not visible day to day unless specifically searched for

Student Lists

  • Check the import for any new Student List names, create these Lists in ParentPaperwork and assign the relevant Students
  • Check the import for any Student List names that already exist in ParentPaperwork, clear the Students already assigned to the List and update with the Students from the import
  • If there are Student Lists which were previously created via import, but which are not in the current import, mark them as inactive.

How are imported records are displayed in ParentPaperwork?

Records that have been created via import are shown in ParentPaperwork with an icon and the text ‘Imported Record’.

Optionally, if a school chooses, we can enable a feature that warns a User attempting to edit a record with a popup message to let them know any changes they make might be overwritten by a subsequent import.

Can you prevent imported records being edited by Users?

We have a feature that can be enabled which prevents any adding or editing of Students, Student Lists and Parent Contacts by Users logged into ParentPaperwork. This was developed for schools who do not want any changes to records to be made in ParentPaperwork, rather only in the SIS and thence imported into ParentPaperwork.

Can I check if my imports are running?

When logged into ParentPaperwork click your User Name at the top right and select Integration Log. This will display a list of imports with date, source (for example your SIS) and the number of records processed.

 

Interning as a Data Scientist at ParentPaperwork

LinkedIn Photo
Juan Daza

University of Melbourne, Masters of Information Technology student Juan Daza shares his experience interning as a Data Scientist at ParentPaperwork across the Australian summer.

The University of Melbourne currently runs the Tin Alley internship program where students have the opportunity to apply to great companies in Victoria. Tin Alley has been named Australia’s best internship program and I was honored to be a part of this summer’s intake. One of the companies who gave students the opportunity to get hands on experience was ParentPaperwork and I have been working with the team in the role of Data Scientist.

In this blog post, I want to take you through part of my journey and ParentPaperwork’s goal to empower hundreds of schools with tools to make better informed decisions and more importantly, reach a 100% response rate from parents to slips.

I believe that the first step to make informed decisions is to have the facts and information at hand, which is why one of my main tasks was to assist in the development of the real-time analytical dashboard with key metrics for schools to understand their patterns of use and behaviours.

Data visualisation is a powerful tool in any Data Scientist’s tool box, so I set out to explore the data using Python and SQL and through multiple iterations develop simple yet powerful and self-explanatory visualisations.

I found key metrics that would allow schools to understand their current situation and trigger their curiosity. In conjunction with the team at ParentPaperwork I defined the following metrics.

    • Average response rate (AVR): This is defined as the number of parents who respond to the slips sent to them.
    • Average response time (AVT): The average time it takes parents to respond the slips received.
    • Slips returned by due date: The percentage of slips that are returned before the due date.
    • Timely parents: The number of parents that respond before the slip’s due date.
    • Total Number of forms and broadcast sent.I was mindful of the importance of having the right data displayed at the right time which is why I made sure that my data cleansing process was thorough.

In many cases, slips are sent to both parents and only one parent responds which means that if I calculated the response rate based on the available data, then the number would be biased because I would always have one responded slip and one unanswered slip. I had to develop some cleansing techniques to deal with this fact and get a clean and unique dataset from which I could query freely. I tested some powerful Python functions to wrangle ParentPaperwork’s large dataset and to find the correct dataset to achieve what I wanted to do.

I had to take additional considerations whilst analysing other metrics. As an example, while analysing the average response time from our parents I found an interesting fact. My calculations of the arithmetical average response time were of roughly 80 hours. This meant that on average, a parent responded to a slip every 80 hours or around 3 days. This is an amazing turnaround since paper based forms have a turnaround of around two weeks or more.

However, once I drilled down to the data I found some interesting insights. To look further into this, I set out to understand parents behaviour and I analyzed the response rate progression in the first 30 hours. I thought that the best way to do this was to visualise the behavior of this metric within the first hours of having sent it.

Reverse Burndown Chart

Figure 1. Completion Percentage per Time to Complete

We can clearly see how responses behave. At first, there are very timely parents that respond within a couple of hours and as time passes by, slips get more and more responses making the average response rate higher. Eventually it would reach the Global Average Response Rate which is around 75%

After this, I wanted to understand how many responses are received once the slips are sent. I developed a histogram to get an answer to this question.

Histogram

Figure 2. Response Frequency per Time to Respond

As it can be seen from the graph, parent responses have a very long tail, however most responses received occur in the first 30 hours of sending the slips. At the time of writing this article, around 60% of the responses were received during the initial 30 hours.

Taking this into account, I decided to calculate the weighted average based on the amount of responses received in each time slot. Using this method, I found an average of approximately 9 hours which is a very impressive number. Additional considerations such as night hours might be taken into account to adjust the average response time but in this instance, I will not go further into it.

Answers to many more questions were developed by following a thorough process where I drilled down in the data to find useful hints. I created groups of parents and found those who consistently respond late (or don’t respond) and determined based on the time of day what are the response times and response rates overall. All of these features will be rolling out gradually to help schools make better decisions. This comes to show how at ParentPaperwork various techniques are deployed to work towards making it a data driven organisation.

Stay tuned because over the coming months more news about the upcoming Data Analysis module will be released. The new Analytics Dashboard is now available to all ParentPaperwork schools.

Important information about pricing changes for ParentPaperwork

ParentPaperwork CEO and Co-Founder Fiona Boyd reflects on the past two years and outlines changes to ParentPaperwork’s subscription pricing model.

Who would believe it’s been nearly two years since ParentPaperwork started in all earnestness after winning the first Startup Victoria Pitch Competition at the end of August 2014.

We had an early stage platform in beta from late May that year and a couple of trial customers helping us identify how to go about creating the most universal platform we could to replace paper forms in schools, but we really came out of the gate with some gusto after the pitch win.

What I loved most about this business from the beginning was that before one line of code was even written we were talking to our children’s teachers, principals and other school leadership about what issues most mattered to them in terms of compliance paperwork and all the issues of liability around that.

ParentPaperwork as a concept was born in a humble but practical way. Neither of the two co-founders, myself or David Eedle, loved the constant stream of excursion, incursion, rsvp, subject selection, music selection, etc forms that were coming home to us for signing for our three children. In a fit of pique after just one too many forms and a growing belief that schools just wanted to keep Mums busy signing things, I told David to take the form signing job on.

He did. And being an analytical, data driven kind of guy, within a few months he’d collected a stash of forms he’d signed, copied them, and then one Friday pizza night lined them up along the kitchen counter and said ‘I think we need to do this differently.’

David and I have a long history creating businesses together and our most successful venture to date, has been the online community Arts Hub, that we started in 2000 and sold to private investors in 2006. Arts Hub is going to celebrate its 16th birthday in October this year, something we’re very proud of.

Part of what made Arts Hub successful was that the systems David created really made sense to the people using them. The content management system was straight forward and easy-to-use and didn’t require special training. After checking out the limited CMS’s available at the time, most of them costing $2m a year or more to license, we realised we wouldn’t get Arts Hub away unless we built our own technology and in a way that was super easy for our writing team to use. Arts Hub is a jobs and news service for the arts industry worldwide and it was key to its success that content could be created, edited, displayed and published quickly and in a fuss free way.

So my point to David was, go talk to educators and find out what the forms issue is like from the schools side of the equation. We think as parents it’s cumbersome and annoying and easy to lose track of, but is it such a problem from the teacher or school administrator point-of-view? And please don’t develop a technology that is whizzy and cool but doesn’t really make lives easier for the people using it. After many meetings at our children’s schools and others who were willing to give us their insight, David sat down and created the ParentPaperwork platform.

With our first few sales we weren’t really clear what pricing model would work, so we deliberately pitched low and took a stab at pricing around student number tiers. As time moves on and the product has grown in sophistication, functional power and the uses by schools now numbers in the many hundreds, we realise that in order to grow the business and keep adding the new powerful functionality our current customers request from us, we need a better pricing model.

So, from 1 September 2016 we’ll be changing our pricing structure.

The current model is tiered to the number of students in a school and can be quite inequitable if you’re at the wrong end of the tier. Prices can range from $1.45 per student up to $5.00 per student within the current model.

With the new model we’ll be charging a flat per student price of $3.60 per year per module – so $3.60 per student for Parent Slips and $3.60 per student for School Forms.

After testing the new price with current customers and potential new schools we think the price is really attractive and the new model is much fairer.

But some of our current customers are probably thinking, ‘hey, we were at the good end of the pricing tier under the current model and the price works for us.’ Because we’ve had great input from our first few hundred schools that has helped us develop and grow ParentPaperwork in ways that really matter in schools, the team here has decided to grandfather the price of all schools signed before 1 September 2016 and that their price will only ever increase by CPI in the future.

For many of our schools that will mean that as long as you remain a subscriber to ParentPaperwork the price to your school can be as much as one third of the cost of a new school subscription post 1 September 2016.

If there are any schools in your network that you believe have been thinking about signing up to ParentPaperwork but have been sitting on the fence, please consider encouraging them to sign up before 1 September. We’re sure they’ll thank you for not only the cost and labour savings that flow naturally once ParentPaperwork is deployed but also the benefit of getting the best price possible.

I’m happy to take your referrals directly so please don’t hesitate to direct your colleagues to fiona@parentpaperwork.com.

Calculate how much ParentPaperwork can save your school

Paper forms are a major resource and labour expense in schools, and recently we embarked on a quest to create some rough estimates of just how much the cost would be – both cash and to the environment.

If we look across all ParentPaperwork’s customers in 7 countries, on average schools are sending home 30 forms per student per year- so in a school of 1,000 students that’s 30,000 paper forms being managed between school and parents annually, let alone all the paper forms used internally by staff.

In dollar terms the forms sent home to parents for 1,000 students are probably costing you north of $16,000 a year. ParentPaperwork is very significantly cheaper than that.

ParentPaperwork will also obvious substantially reduce paper usage, resulting in strong environmental outcomes.

We’ve created a handy online calculator allowing you to see just how much you could save by using ParentPaperwork’s online forms platform to improve your school’s management processes.

Check out the new calculator!

ParentPaperwork makes an impression at BETT

The BETT Show, held in London each year, is one of the largest education technology tradeshows in the world. It’s big and it’s exhausting.

Originally known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show, BETT has been running for more than 30 years, and attracts more than 35,000 visitors and hundreds of exhibitors. It’s held in the Excel, a vast exhibition hall on the banks of the Thames in the east end of London.

Nothing can completely prepare you for the sheer size of the event – walking from one end of the exhibition floor to the other takes 15 minutes, or longer, as you squeeze past hundreds of people packed along the aisles or hanging around exhibitor stands. Education and technology are rapidly colliding and sparking.

Anyone who is anyone in the EdTech universe is there, including Microsoft, Apple and Google, who each have large elaborate stands carefully designed to reflect their corporate image and brand.

Microsoft is all right angles, pale timber and slick video screens. Google is less formal and incorporates their ‘Google’ colours even into the benches. Apple has dozens of bright young things roaming around in trademark T-Shirts, jeans and runners.

Parent Paperwork at BETT

We spent the four days of BETT working with our UK partner Groupcall and meeting some terrific EdTech firms from all over the world.

Some countries, including Singapore and Israel, had stands showcasing groups of local EdTech firms. The United Arab Emirates had a stand devoted to recruiting British teachers to move to the UAE.

Special credit to Melbourne business Caremonkey who also made the trip. It was lovely to catch up with their founder Troy Westley and I’m hoping he found BETT as productive as ParentPaperwork did.

bett2
The Groupcall stand at BETT was spectacular

Groupcall’s stand was fantastic, one of the largest at BETT, and definitely with the largest video screen, a 9m LED video wall across the back (and yes we played the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer a few times late one afternoon!).

The set up was perfect, with multiple seating areas with large computers where you could sit down with a group of school representatives and demonstrate products, as well as free standing touch screens also running the demos.

We even had a visit from Sir Bob Geldof. You may know him as a musician, but he’s also an original investor in Groupcall, and regularly attends to BETT to spend time connecting with Groupcall users and edutech innovators at large.

It was fun watching visitors walk past the stand and do a double take when they saw Sir Bob! (And of course immediately pull out their phone for a selfie).

_87836677_dscf6859
Sir Bob dropped by and was mobbed.

For us, it was our first major opportunity to showcase ParentPaperwork’s new integration with Groupcall’s Messenger school/parent communication platform.

We’re proud of this partnership – we’ve baked ParentPaperwork’s Parent Slips module deeply into Messenger, giving schools a seamless experience and all the benefits of replacing the paper forms they exchange with their parents.

I should also mention a fellow partner in Messenger, PEBS (Parent Evening Booking System).

Like us they have deeply integrated their parent teacher interview booking platform into Messenger, and their founder Will Mackenzie came down from Scotland to share time with us. He’s a fabulous guy, and already has hundreds of UK schools using PEBS.

bett3
BETT is a remarkable experience.

I must confess, by the end of the last day my voice was almost gone, and my feet were killing me – I laughed I needed a foot spa to recover!

But this was a brilliant opportunity to talk to hundreds of people about ParentPaperwork, gauge their reaction, and solicit their feedback. We left BETT with a long list of interested school staffers.

Not one that I spoke with (and that was a great many) didn’t see the value of ParentPaperwork.

Once they had their ‘light bulb’ moment and connected in their mind the paper form problem with our solution, their enthusiasm was palpable. We can’t wait to see what happens next!

ParentPaperwork has moved house to St Kilda

We’re moving today into our new office, on Wellington Street in St Kilda, Melbourne, opposite Albert Park (great for walks at lunchtime). There’s plenty of natural light, heaps of space to expand, and all new fitout – in fact they haven’t installed the kitchen yet, but we’ll rough it for now!

Our new street address is:

Level 1
3 Wellington Street
St Kilda VIC 3182

Feel free to come and say hello!

 

ParentPaperwork’s mission to change the world

When we founded ParentPaperwork a little over year ago we had one simple idea, to tackle the problem of paper permission forms sent home by schools to parents. Every parent of a school-age child understands this problem, we live with it every day of term. Of course we understand the reason for the forms, but the practical reality is each piece of paper emerging from our kids’ school bags is just another task to be dealt with.

Our goal with ParentPaperwork was to significantly improve this process both for schools and parents. The heart of the idea was straightforward, create an online tool that automated the paper-based process, and through the use of online forms and a database make life easier for all concerned.

Over the past year we have spoken with literally hundreds of schools in Australia and around the world. We’ve never passed up an opportunity to have a conversation with a school wherever in the world they might be located. Last Friday I had a 2am call with a US school, then another at 6.30am – the joys of time difference notwithstanding, and putting aside any need for me to sleep, both calls, which involved demonstrating our software, yielded nuggets of information we could add to our understanding of customer needs.

Our sales team calls probably 20 or 30 schools every day and we receive a stream of enquiries via email, phone and Twitter, and each and every contact also adds to that understanding.

Our objective of addressing a relatively straightforward problem has evolved into an increasingly sophisticated comprehension of school operations, needs and problems, and we have adjusted our goal and mission accordingly.

Schools are traditionally conservative environments from a business management perspective. The innovation that often occurs in their academic operations is not usually mirrored in the school office. In this aspect schools are not alone – a significant proportion of businesses large and small adhere to traditional management approaches.

The winners in business are the ones who can break away from legacy concepts. Often they are referred to as ‘disruptors’, they attack a market from a completely different direction from the incumbents – think SalesForce in customer relationship tools; Uber in taxi cabs; Xero in accounting software; AirBnB in accommodation bookings. These companies have become what’s known as ‘unicorns’, new businesses that have attained $1b valuations in relatively short periods of time. The key reason for that growth and success is the way they have upended traditional thinking and processes in markets with long term deeply embedded incumbents.

There is now a raft of companies tackling disruption of traditional methodologies in teaching and learning, and this is reflected in a significant growth in the quantity of venture capital flowing to the companies in this space. The realisation we have come to is that there is a dearth of businesses targeting the administrative side of a school.

What most people ignore is that schools are businesses, by which I mean, if you forget for a moment that they are educating our children, schools have all the attributes of a business, albeit generally a not-for-profit. They provide a service, they have staff, they have expenses, manage assets and generate revenue. A government-funded school might receive a significant part of its revenue via a subsidy or payment, but there is still a profit and loss statement, and money coming in and going out. There are still staff and all the accompanying human resource management issues. Yet schools for the most part lag behind commercial enterprise in adopting new methods and processes in their administration.

We believe our company and its technology can disrupt a part of that school administration function in way that will have a profound impact on not just the school’s day to day operations, but in the education of our children, and the preservation of our planet.

ParentPaperwork’s Mission

All of our learning accumulated over the past year, combined with our deep diving on the operations of schools around the world has led us to codify conclusions about our mission and goals as a business. They are simply expressed:

ParentPaperwork’s mission is to
replace paper forms in schools around the world.
 

ParentPaperwork’s goal is to
save schools a billion pieces of paper a year.

We’re going to achieve this by providing an online solution that enables schools to capture, manage and report data from across their enterprise to improve productivity and efficiency, and deliver a better experience for parents and staff.

The outcomes from this are tangible. If we achieve our goal:

  1. We’ll save a dramatic amount of staff time, and staff time saved is time that can be redirected to teaching students. By replacing paper systems we improve education outcomes for children.
  1. We’ll save significant costs from the school budget in areas including printing and copying, paper consumption, and insurances – money that can be redirected also to improving the education of our children.
  1. We’ll be making a valuable contribution to creating a sustainable environment for our children, and their children.

Where now for ParentPaperwork?

We’re excited and enthused by the mission we have set ourselves. It has taken time and money to reach what at first glance might seem face-palmingly obvious, but it underlines the importance of taking time to properly consider the true needs of a market, especially one that offers a truly global opportunity like school education. Not matter where in the world the schools we have spoken to are located, they all share a common problem – antiquated paper-based processes that take up time, take up staff resource, and inhibit the modernisation of their administrative operations.

Take the example of a large independent school here in Melbourne. Some of their internal paper forms have a distribution list of ten people – when the paper form is completed, ten photocopies are made and dropped to the in-trays on the desks of ten people in the management team. It’s a crazy system, especially when we’re told it’s because “they like to all have a copy ‘just in case’”.

Shortly we’ll be officially announcing the availability of our new School Forms module. This substantially expands our platform’s functionality across a whole range of paper form scenarios in schools, and has come about as a direct result of working with our existing customers and many prospective users.

Indeed, our original idea for the School Forms module was kicked off by an email from an existing customer asking “would it be possible for staff to fill out an online form as well as a parent”. We gestated on that for a while, and then a few months ago other schools started to pose similar questions to us about various processes and functions in their school – registrations of interest for a place completed by prospective parents; incident reports filled out by school nurses; professional development requests submitted by teachers. Three months ago we sat down and seriously scoped out a response, and the resulting Schools Forms modules caters for all these use cases and more.

The new module is not a perfect response. We know it will generally answer many of the demands made by schools to us, but it will be a work in progress, like the entirety of our product platform. I know our learning will simply begin all over again as we roll out the new module to schools in Australia and overseas. However, I also know the feedback, ideas, criticisms and (hopefully) praise will only serve to further deepen our understanding so we can continue to innovate and disrupt traditional mindsets and methods in schools, and thus fulfil our mission and achieve our goal.

David Eedle
Co-Founder and CTO

A student’s perspective on technology in her school and classroom

Clea Boyd-Eedle is in her final year of high school, and offers her perspective on technology in her school and classroom.

The way that students are taught today in schools has been completely revolutionised compared to 20 years ago, with the constant development and implementation of new and groundbreaking technology aimed to further education.

As a Year 12 student, I have plenty of experience with a wide range of tools that teachers use to aid their teaching. With a younger brother in Year 9 also, I am able to see the difference in the technology that my classmates and I use and the future year levels.

For example, iPads and tablets are being used to teach primary and kindergarten students. iPads have shown to be a fun and exciting way for children to learn, and has proved important in the way of aid for children with disabilities, and offers an array of apps and softwares for those in need of extra support.

Since year 4, much of my education has involved or incorporated technology in some sort of way. In year 5, trolleys of laptops were wheeled to each classroom where we would use websites and games to learn math and how to use applications like word, excel or powerpoint presentations.

I fondly remember playing a game in math called Bloxorz, where the player would manoeuvre a block around an obstacle course. It was a little more complicated than that but was very perplexing yet enjoyable. Language subjects used online quizzes and games which tested your vocabulary and ability to conjugate words, the best kind of game was when we were timed.

The fact that I even remember these methods of learning show that they are somewhat effective. I believe that I, and most students, learn best when the task is enjoyable, and by mixing entertainment with education; endless possibilities present themselves by way of teaching through technology.

Being in my final year, I have never been more grateful for technology and my ability to have my laptop in class. There are very few students in any of my classes who opt to handwrite their notes, although it is somewhat important, it is just much more quicker and easier to type. This is especially important when having lectures, and as much information must be written down as possible in short time frames. By having my laptop in class, I am able to search for virtually any piece of information I need.

Some may say that our generation is lazy and is becoming less intelligent, but in my opinion it is completely the opposite. We have literally anything we need to know at our fingertips.

Technology in education is so much more than just learning through educational games, as more schools are beginning to shift much of their curriculum and organisational tools online, we are now seeing the classroom being brought home.

My current school has its own platform where we access all our emails, lesson plans, content and timetables. Year levels below me also use an online diary to keep record of their homework and upcoming events, although we still use bound books. By storing all of this information online, not only an unthinkable amount of paper is saved, but being organised is much achievable for students.

What’s even better is that many of students textbooks are available for download onto their device, which not only saves money but means less weight to carry in the schoolbag home.

It is exciting to see the leaps and bounds that educational has made in the past few decades, and how dramatically it has developed. What is even more exciting are the possibilities that the future of technology in education presents, especially with the rapid rate of growth in the development of applications and software tools designed to aid teachers in the classroom.

Image: US Department of Education