How One Ed-Tech Startup Is Responding to the Coronavirus

Opinion

One thing is certain when running a startup: There is a lot of uncertainty. As your company and team grows, the uncertainty changes and evolves. But the spread of the coronavirus is bringing a new level of uncertainty to startup life. 

Number one is how to run an ed-tech business in the middle of the sales season, with a virus that is rapidly spreading. This presents a lot of challenges. 

The virus could threaten the health of our employees, but it is also having a serious impact on our customers. Already as I write this, schools have been closed in all of Italy, parts of China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and in pockets in the United States. 

At Listenwise, we have been watching how the outbreak of the coronavirus has caused many schools to close temporarily and rely on remote learning.

Helping Schools With Remote Learning Options

As a company that features an online tool, I take solace in the fact that teachers and students can still use and learn from Listenwise. But not everyone on Listenwise subscribes to our paid premium product.

We have thousands of teachers who use the free collection of podcasts as in-class lessons. With a free account, teachers can play and share the audio in the current events collection and use the listening comprehension questions and the discussion questions.

But we want to do more. We are committed to helping students succeed, especially in challenging times.

We decided that if schools or districts are closed for preventive health-related reasons, they can request full access to Listenwise Premium at no cost. This will give teachers and students the ability to learn with Listenwise while their school is closed. 

The Centers for Disease Control’s interim guidelines for schools advise them to prepare for remote learning. The CDC says schools should be thinking about how to continue the learning by “converting face-to-face lessons into online lessons.”

This week I called my team together in the office for a coronavirus meeting. My message was first and foremost to use good hygiene methods to stay healthy. I have never washed my hands so much in my life! And I told them if they get sick, stay home. If the virus hits our shared workspace, we will work remotely.

Also, many experts are advising everyone to have an extra supply of food on hand in case of social isolation measures or quarantine, so I advised my team to follow those guidelines.

Measuring Impact of a Cancelled Conference Season

From a company perspective, spring is a big conference season where we meet a lot of teachers whose schools will become Listenwise Premium customers. We offer spring pilots to those schools to try the premium product in their classrooms as they make their decisions. 

I recently attended one conference in California during the time coronavirus appeared limited to China. Attendance was good and the event went as planned.

But the conferences we are exhibiting at this spring are small, state-based events so it’s not clear at this point whether or not they will proceed. We are planning to attend if the situation doesn’t worsen and the conferences are not cancelled. But it will be a final decision we make closer to the time of the conference. 

Larger ed-tech conferences such as ASU GSV, an investment-focused conference in April, were initially publicizing strong measures–like mandatory temperature screenings–to ensure the safety of attendees. But on March 10, organizers announced they were scrapping the event, after initially trying to keep it on track with protective measures. 

We are also thinking about the content we provide to our customers. As a news-based education site, we update our current events section every school day. So it’s important we select the appropriate public radio stories about the coronavirus to give educators and students the right information to stay informed and lead discussions about the situation.

Whether it’s a story about how to avoid coronavirus or how the virus spread from bats to humans, we think the best thing is to have structured conversations to help students understand the outbreak.

Education Week just wrote an article about how educators can talk to their students about the coronavirus. This NPR story features child development experts speaking directly to kids about the virus and has a helpful comic strip. And our friends at Colorin Colorado have compiled multilingual resources to help teachers.  

We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. That’s really the mantra of any startup CEO, but during this coronavirus outbreak it feels more true than ever. 

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