EdTech Digest | February 29, 2016

Is a single all-in-one ‘golden’ platform for education even possible? Sure, why not?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

megan-harneyMegan Harney has always enjoyed working on computers, and when she was a child, her parents (who both worked in the trades) often encouraged her to help them fix things, which made her think more mechanically—but she had never programmed before starting to build MIDAS, a cloud-based system for actionable education data. “I began learning to program because it was the means to building what I envisioned was necessary to improve education,” she says. “I subsequently minored in computer science at Harvard and worked at Microsoft for two years; however, I learned to program primarily by building MIDAS.” Megan is the founder and CEO of MIDAS Education. She holds a master’s degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education as well as a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in English and computer science from Harvard University. Megan has previously managed developers at Microsoft, taught students and teachers, consulted with district administrators to solve business problems, and conducted neurodegenerative research. Here, Megan discusses the essentials of her system and what it can do for school districts looking to advance education and personalize learning across the board.

Which systems you can replace?

Megan: We replace most systems a school district needs to operate, but we often have to explain to people that we cannot show them “our SIS.” Rather, we can show them a fully-integrated system that does all the things a traditional SIS does—and a whole lot more!

To date, MIDAS encompasses the functionality you would normally find in an SIS, LMS, and CMS, as well as systems that handle instructional management, assessment analytics, adaptive instruction and RtI, fee management, ePortfolios, educator growth and professional development, facilities management and IT ticketing, special education compliance, and transportation.

How and why was the platform developed?

Megan: I built the very first version of MIDAS in 2007 when I was teaching SAT and ACT prep courses. I’d written my own curriculum for a class that was quite challenging academically, and I expected a lot of my students. When they didn’t do their homework, I became frustrated and sought a better way to hold them accountable.

My solution was to build an online system for homework delivery and grading and item analysis so that I could tell what my students were struggling to understand and how I could best help them. From there, I tried to share my solution with my teacher friends, but they said that they were using too many different software solutions already and didn’t want to add another one. So instead of looking to integrate my software with other products, I decided to build an all-in-one system—and to build it myself.

Sounds pretty groundbreaking to me—how exactly is it so unique?

Megan: Most software vendors work in a small, defined space and do very little in the way of instruction, content, assessment, and analytics. MIDAS focuses on all of the aspects of instruction to enhance the learning experience, not just handle compliance and reporting. We automate the compliance piece, but it grows out of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment parts of teaching and learning. MIDAS also allows for the integration of behavior, SPED, RtI, and other pertinent information to provide teachers, parents, administrators, and the students themselves a well-rounded, holistic picture of each learner.

Can you tell us about implementations? How can districts prepare themselves for such an undertaking?

Megan: First of all, MIDAS is not perfect for every district! We look for innovative districts that are willing to try something different. Because our user interface is consistent, implementation and training are pretty simple. Once users are comfortable taking attendance and entering assignments and grades, it is pretty easy to get them started using any other piece of the system. We work very closely with each district to scope out the onboarding processes and select the proper schedule for their needs. Integrating with their current systems may play a role as well, so that becomes part of the conversation also.

Can you and will you integrate with other educational software packages and systems?

Megan: Yes, we recognize that districts may have embedded systems and long-term contracts in place, so we will work with a district’s current systems to facilitate data transfer to and from our system if needed. Of course, once they see how complete and easy our system is to use, it would make sense to save money and not pay for disparate systems when ours accomplishes what they need. Why pay more?

Where do you see your company in five years? How will you get there?

Megan: We see it as a game-changer. We do realize it is a pretty audacious comment and that many industry players much larger that we are have tried to accomplish the same goal. Our hope is to help lead the way in truly using data—all data—to guide individualized instruction. That can only be done if the system is simple to use, fully integrated, and secure. We get there by continuing to partner with the key players and innovators in K-12 education to further push the envelope for educational innovation. We’re also assembling a fantastic executive leadership team and an advisory board of K-12 edtech veterans.

Generally speaking, where do you see education technology in five years, and how can we get there?

Megan: Our hope and our goal are the same! We want technology to enhance the individualization of student learning. Our focus is on getting all of the data and resources to those who need it on time, online, accessible, and targeted to individual needs. So far, as an industry, we have been reactive in supplying data for compliance that follows legislative policy and mandates. We set out to automate the compliance piece while surrounding the educator and learner with the information and resources necessary to truly enhance and individualize the learning process.