MaiaLearning: review

Last month I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I have had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning. I haven’t used the platform with students myself, but have spent some time playing around with the platform and being guided around it by the MaiaLearning team.

Update: 25th June 2018: MaiaLearning’s CEO informed me that a major European school system has already asked for the ability to collect various teacher comments to serve as the basis for a counselor’s recommendation (see my conclusion where I write about this). He has spec’d it out and the engineers are building it. MaiaLearning should have it as part of their production software within a month.

MaiaLearning intro

Maia is the Roman Goddess of growth and this explains MaiaLearning’s name. As they told me, the companies vision is to engage and empower students so that they become excited by their opportunities and drive the process of career and college discovery themselves.

The company is based in California has been founded and funded by private individuals with a lot of experience in the technology industry and startups. They have also been very involved in education as volunteers for a number of years. The idea for MaiaLearning grew out of dissatisfaction with other products on the market.

Founded originally in 2008, their first product, CollegeonTrack was launched in 2012. The product was subsequently completely rewritten and remarketed in 2015 as MaiaLearning, the program went under a major update in 2017 and recently won the state of California contract.

The student side

On the student landing page, users can access a variety of menus along the top and I will explain some of their functions here. Students can also access a list of tasks and activities by type – these tasks are set by the counsellor. In terms of menus, students can access an explore, search and plan menus. The explore menu gives assess to the following activity types:

  • Interest Profiler: based on John Holland’s Occupational Themes (RIASEC)
  • Personality Profiler: based on a Myers-Briggs type of assessment
  • Intelligence Profiler: based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • Learning & Productivity Profiler: a learning style assessment.

The first three of these activities will give students a report that feeds into the careers advice that the platform provides. The Learning & Productivity profiler aims to help students understand the way that they work and develop strategies to help them succeed. When completed students various profiles will be matched against particular career types. In this way, students are exposed to career options they may not have heard of or considered before.

Careers data on the platform comes from US Department of Labor’s O*NET. From the career information, students can click through to information on majors that lead to those careers and universities that cater to those majors.

The interest profiler can be taken an unlimited time by students with access to the platform while the other profilers are limited to being taken three times. Some of these can also be used with middle schoolers – the platform offers a complete careers program solution for secondary schools.

In addition, to explore, students have access to a search function for careers, colleges and scholarships. MaiaLearning have just added information on around 18,000 institutions from around the world using data from World Higher Education Database. College data is also supplied by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), produced by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics; and Wintergreen Orchard House, which surveys U.S. college admissions offices annually. Scholarship data is supplied by SuperCollege.

Based on the all the information given to and selected by the student, the plan menu allows students to begin to put the reflection into place. In this section, students can work out their roadmap for applying to college and getting into the careers they are interested in. This section houses the application support area.

The student side also allows kids to sign up to visits from colleges set up through MaiaVisits. This service also allows the counsellor to see an attendance list. In addition, students can also save documents to Document Lockers, where they can also see documents shared with them by the counsellor, and they can request recommendations.

Finally, the student side contains a portfolio. In the logbook here they can record experiences; everything that they have done and a resume builder which allows kids to input information into a resume and export it pre-formatted. Students can also add journals, goals and galleries of finished work to their portfolios.

The counsellor side

The counsellor’s side allows the counsellor access to all of the students’ accounts. Here counsellors can keep notes of meetings and set the level of visibility of these as necessary. There is a document locker where information and guides that students need can be stored so that students can view them. The counsellor side also has administrative functions for setting up student accounts, managing passwords and messaging including via text. Counsellors are also able to build lesson plans on the dashboard, which function as custom built pages where students can be given tasks to complete.

In terms of managing students, counsellors are able to assign tasks for students to complete (e.g. complete your interest profile) as well as manage the application process. MaiaLearning has document sending functionality, organised via Parchment. The team also claim that soon the platform will be able to integrate seamlessly with the CommonApp.

Currently, the platform does not allow the collection of predicted grades and actual scores but I was told that this functionality will be arriving soon. There also isn’t a way for a counsellor to acquire confidential comments in the building of a reference.

Conclusion

I was really impressed with how far the platform has come in such a short time. When compared to other products on the market who have been around for a similar length of time this platform really does pack a punch; the sheer volume of profiling possibilities and career data is really quite staggering. This, I guess, is a testament to the founding teams experience in tech. The team behind it have Silicon Valley experience in computer science and product design. It is evident that the developers can really get things done and this makes me confident that when they say they are adding features, the will be adding those features.

In some ways it has features that mark it out from other products – the note keeper and document lockers would be some examples of this but also the MaiaVisits feature which could useful serve to take much administrative work out of the counsellor’s hands in terms of liaising and communicating with universities to arrange visits, as well as keeping data on attendance by students of those visits.

That said, it is clear that this product has been developed for the American market and for schools that service American universities. While the platform has added international universities to its database there are currently no features that allow a more UK (for example) model of application administration. For example, there is no space for the student to write their personal statements or even see scaffolded examples of what makes a good or a bad personal statement. There is also no way to build a UCAS reference – in my context, I rely on teachers to supply comments so that we can write a reference that covers all of the student’s academic strengths. This cannot be done through the platform.

That being said, I think MaiaLearning is going to be a platform to watch over the coming years, particularly if serving non-US focussed international schools becomes a priority for them. As it was put to me via email:

As technologists, we can make the software do just about anything. We need counselors to tell us what those things should be. We love our customers, listen to them, and heed their advice. Since we’re committed to Europe and Asia, we will add capabilities as needed to meet the special needs of those users.

BridgeU: review

This is the third and final post of three. You can see the first here and the second here.

BridgeU intro

BridgeU was set up with the international student in mind. Their founder noticed that there was a gap for supporting students from outside the US to apply to the US, and from the outset of working with them, it has been obvious to me that the platform has been set up with the student user experience in mind. In fact, BridgeU began selling its products directly to students before it moved on to targeting schools and this was probably due to the fact that their founder ran an educational consultancy focusing on supporting students in their university applications before founding BridgeU.

As well as supporting the application process, BridgeU’s philosophical approach has been to try to help match students to potential universities by using an algorithm that takes data that the student inputs and producing matched results based on that student entered data. This is the defining part of BridgeU. Note this is more than just a database, BridgeU’s algorithm will make recommendations to a user about the fit of a university for that user. With the international student in mind, BridgeU currently matches applications to US, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and we are promised that matching will be available to Australia soon. Recently BridgeU announced global shortlisting and users can now add any university from any country in the world, although they can’t match to all these universities. This free-form shortlisting is a new feature and adds a huge amount of flexibility to the platform.

The student side

Once set up and logged in, students input data into the profile builder; this ranges from personal preferences to the countries and locations that they want to study in, as well as the type of university experience that they would like to have and the courses that they wish to study.

When this is completed they can view university matches on the appropriate tab. These matches are presented nine at a time grouped into three categories, reach, match and safety. Each choice is presented as a card on which students can click to gain more information about the university as well as the matching scores.

In each category, to be able to see more choices, students have to either “shortlist” or “discard” each choice before more are shown. This feature has caused some issues with student users I have worked with, either thinking these nine options are all they have or not liking the feeling of commitment in “discarding” or “shortlisting”. To get around these issues, each of the categories now states how many options there are underneath the category label and students are able to find any courses that have been discarded again via a link on the top right of this page.

Once students have completed the matching they can view all of the options they have shortlisted under the shortlist tab. On the shortlist tab students can also directly add in any courses that they know about that they are considering, bypassing the matching tab. It is this feature that allows students to add any university on the planet – quite a powerful feature. After populating the shortlist tab, students then decide where they will apply by clicking on the “apply here” feature next to each shortlist.

When a student selects a university to apply to BridgeU will give them information about deadlines as well as the documentation that they need to submit as part of their application. The system will also alert the advisor to any required documentation that the school will need to submit. Another really nice feature, just released but still needing some development is application tracking. If you have used UCAS adviser track then you will get a sense of why this is such a good feature for a counsellor. Essentially this simple feature provides a space for students to mark when they have finished preparing and sending their application, as well as mark when they have received an offer and any decisions that they make. This means that the advisor is easily able to keep track of all the application statuses of all their students.

In addition to these research, matching and application tools, BridgeU also offers a “writing builder” to support students in writing a personal statement, or college essays for the US. These tools are still a little basic and I am not convinced that the functionality is any better than google docs, in fact, google docs may be a better place to write if students want to receive comments and input from teachers – I will be testing this out more in a couple of months. To support students in this process there are also annotated exemplars available for the students to view but these don’t provide the level of scaffolding that as a teacher I would like to see and the annotations are a little weak.

Finally, BridgeU has recently developed a careers tool that students can view but unfortunately, teachers can’t at present. The careers tool is ambitious and adopts BridgeU’s global approach by aggregating data on careers from many different countries. The data is supplied by burning glass. The careers tool works a little like the matching program and allows students to view data from job groups and select jobs they are interested in, before viewing a career report that gives some data about earning power, monthly demands for the job and its sector.

The teacher side

BridgeU’s teacher side is still under development, it is obvious that the platform was originally designed with the student user in mind, and BridgeU has had to work hard to make the platform fit into the school ecosystem. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, we are all here to support the student applicant. I just believe that one of the best ways to do that is to support the work of teachers and schools.

BridgeU is aware of the issues from the teacher side and is working to address them. They have recently partnered with iSAMs and ManageBac which, to my mind at least, gives them the potential to hugely improve some of the issues that they have. Because of this integration, it is now very easy to add students and advisors to the platform if you use either of these systems. If you don’t, adding advisors and students is a little bit cumbersome, but no more or less than any of their competitors.

The reference writing tool is currently undergoing user testing in BridgeU’s beacon schools and allows advisors to easily assign report writers to an individual student. A little like the students writing builder; there are no exemplars of completed comments or references for teachers to view and the writing functionality itself is minimal in its current state.

BridgeU has worked hard recently to allow document sending as a function, giving schools the ability to send transcripts and other documents directly to US and Canadian universities. The document sending function is powered by Parchment and is built directly into the system. This is a much-needed function for many schools, particularly those with many applicants to North America. When a student selects to apply to the relevant country, the documents that need to be sent are added to the advisor’s task list. From here the advisor can upload the necessary documents and send with just a few clicks.

Finally, BridgeU has recently provided a reporting function for advisors under the analytics tab. From here advisors can easily see which universities are shortlisted and applied to most frequently by their student body. The analytics function will also provide reporting on student offers, rejections, predicted scores, final scores, document sending and an analysis of historical data.

Conclusion

The platform has come some way since I last wrote about them but not as far as I would have imagined in that time, indeed some of the functionality that they were keen to point out they were working on in their response to that article, is still not visible within the system. Added to that they have developed a slight reputation for aggressive marketing, particularly amongst the schools that I communicate with, which is a shame because they are a lovely team (I know, I’ve met them).

That said they have a powerful product that will be ideal for schools that manage a very diverse student body, whose students apply to many different HE systems each year. It’s matching algorithm, global or free-form shortlisting, document sending and its application tracking and reporting are it’s greatest assets currently, and ones that set it apart from competitors.

Areas for development on the platform include the careers tool which is still in their infancy. It is promising that this is being developed but I would like to see more from this section, perhaps even a CV builder or some form of personality assessment.

Personally, I still have some reservations about the platform, as I do about all platforms of its ilk. When working with a product that is being developed, you have to be prepared to work with it and understand that certain aspects may not be delivered in the timescales that are promised all the time. Having said this, this platform does the heavy lifting when it comes to helping students make sense of all university the data that is out there.

Unifrog: review

This is the second of three posts. See the first here and the third here.

Unifrog intro

Unifrog was set up in the UK by two individuals with experience of the education context, one of whom was a teacher; this is tacit throughout the system and is one of the systems real strengths in my opinion.

A quick scan of the website belies how UK focussed it has been in its history. All of the testimonials from schools are from UK schools, although the website does point to partner schools all over the world. Many of the tools presented within the system still suggest this UK-centric background – there is a sixth form/college search tool (the use of the word college here could be confusing for American colleagues); there is a UK apprenticeship search tool (international students need not apply); there is a separate Oxbridge tool and an equivalent for other leading unis (Ivy league for example) is conspicuous by its absence.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Unifrog is adding in more globally orientated features – they are currently developing a global applications shortlist, for example.  Some international schools, with very diverse student bodies, may currently be put off the platform as the current UK focus could well not be seen to fit with their family and student body.

The student side

When students log in they are presented with tools grouped into the following categories:

  • Exploring pathways
  • Recording what you have done
  • Searching for opportunities
  • Making applications

“Exploring pathways” contains tools to allow students to research careers (career library), university subjects (subject library), how to apply to different systems (know-how library) and MOOCs. The former three tools, while not yet complete, are very well developed and give students some very detailed information about these areas. The layout is well designed and engaging, allowing students to also favourite topics that they have seen to bring these to the home page for each tool for ease of reference. The MOOC tool allows students to search for MOOCs that they can take – a really cool feature.

The “Recording what you have done” area includes tools for students to record the activities that they have undertaken and the competencies that they have developed. There is also a section for recording interactions between students and teachers which is gold, particularly if you want your other teachers on your team to be able to see all the discussions that a student has had or if you are worried information being lost.

Both of these sections combined with the CV writer are ideal for getting younger years to think through what they need to do over the final few years of schools to formatively develop themselves in reality and on paper. One of the jobs of the counsellor and the team has got to be about catalysing thinking in the younger students so they don’t end up in their last two years with no experience to reflect on.

The final two sections host tools most useful for the final two years of school. “Searching for opportunities” includes tools to research and shortlist UK universities, UK apprenticeships, College and sixth form, Oxbridge, US universities and European universities. The “making applications” tools include UK personal statement, references, post-18 intentions, UK top 5, CV/Resume writer and common application.

The CV writer and personal statement builders all include good guidance and annotated worked examples to support students in their writing. These are easy to view and real thought has been put into the user experience of these tools.

Note here that research and applications are limited to the UK, US and Europe, but Canada will be being added shortly, and a global applications shortlist feature is in the pipeline.

The teacher side

On using the teacher side it was obvious to me when I first started using the platform that this site had been designed by a teacher, certainly someone who had worked in a school and understood how they worked. In fact, I think that the teacher side is one of the strongest points that the platform has going in its favour and that’s saying something because their careers tools are excellent if UK leaning.

As well as being able to view the student side, teachers have access to two view levels, basic and advanced. The basic view enables teachers to write references, enter predicted grades and view personal statements. The advanced view allows teachers to manage and track students across the whole range of tools that they use. Using this function teachers can comment on what students have done and add interactions to log meeting minutes with them.

The strength of this layout is that I can, say, have a representative from the English department work with the kids on their personal statements and that person is just as easily able to view the students work as me. Of course, if I don’t want anyone else involved I can just train my teachers to only use the basic mode. There is flexibility built in.

One drawback is that teachers have to be added to the system manually, this means someone in the school filling out a spreadsheet and sending it back to Unifrog to add the teachers in. There is no link up with other school MISs.

Once set up though, each teacher can easily provide comments for references for each of their students with one single sign in. There are also exemplars for the teachers showing them how to write references. Everything has been thought of.

Conclusion

Unifrog has a lot of strengths – great layout, intuitive design, ease of use. They have developed excellent career tools, and you can add as many kids, years and grades to the platform as you want at no additional cost, allowing you to get other teachers involved – form/homeroom teachers, for example. The teacher side is also fantastic – simple to onboard teachers and a well thought out system that distinguishes between “basic” and “advanced” utilities, bringing flexibility for those counsellors who want a program that pulls in colleagues or not. Their reference writing areas and cv writing areas are truly excellent, structuring the process for teachers and students as well as providing a clean interface for collecting teacher input and predicted grades for students.

Personally, I have some reservations about the platform. They are currently relatively limited in scope covering Europe and US. Although they will be adding Canada shortly, and a global applications shortlist is the pipeline, there is currently no flexibility here to add other universities.

I also feel that presenting all the data to students in one list may well be a little overwhelming to many students and actually hinder their progress in finding future options – no counsellor or student has time to go through all the university options available, although being able to set your own filters is a nice feature.

All in all, l think that for the right school this is an excellent platform, particularly currently for UK based or out looking schools. You will get great customer service and a very friendly team to work with along with some very developed career advisory tools and systems to reduce the counsellors time on admin and increase their time with students.

Well that’s was over 500 words!

Team culture: teachers and counsellors

“I am applying to Bangor” the student said. “Oh, great! I applied there too!” says I, “It is an excellent school for Biological Sciences”.

As the school’s university counsellor I probably should have had a bit more of an idea that this student had decided to apply to this particular university, particularly considering this was rather late in the year – around April or May of Y13.

Follow up conversations made me aware that this student’s homeroom teacher had initially made the suggestion that this student applied to Bangor.

Let me get out in front of this. I am not trying to suggest in this post that teachers should not speak to their students about their university applications. I am not suggesting that teachers should not even offer advice to students and help them make sense of what can be a very confusing time of life, but teachers do need to think before they speak.

I have heard of schools where the guidance counsellor takes an aggressive, defensive approach in working with teachers. If you so much as whisper the word “university” to a student without their knowledge they may have words with you.

I have heard of teachers being reprimanded by the school counsellor for sharing a book list of subject specific reading with the Y12 and 13s and writing to them in an email that reading would be an excellent way to improve their university applications.

This wasn’t covert. The teacher wasn’t trying to go behind the counsellors back. They cc’ed the counsellor in, thinking they would be pleased that the teacher was trying to engage students to do things beyond what was merely required.

In my world then this is perfectly acceptable, as reading widely is an educationally excellent thing to encourage young people to do.

The teacher was called to the counselling office and made to apologise for that action.

This same colleague still gives me a cool reception when our paths do cross.

As a teacher, before I became a counsellor I wanted to encourage interested students to read my subject at university. I think this is natural. As someone who taught DP and A level and interacted with 17-18-year-olds pastorally, I was naturally curious as to where the students I met were applying, and what for.

It is frustrating when this information is never shared. When Teachers are never told when students have applied, or have interviews or get offers of admission. “Why do they need to know?” Is usually the question posed when this is raised.

Teachers do need to get with the school’s program and get behind the counselling team. Speak to the counselling department if they have ideas about individual students or groups of students and feel that you have the expertise to share. Global university admissions is an ever-changing landscape and teachers are not always up to speed. Also, teachers may not take into account other cultural factors like international diversity, when recommending institutions, which may hugely impact a students future happiness.

I would also submit, from experience, that teachers are not natural counsellors. I have written about this tension between teaching and counselling elsewhere and won’t bring it in here again. But teachers don’t necessarily know how to pose questions to draw out students thinking on such subjective matters about a students future, and they also may not have the full picture, painted by the families worldview.

Just like the teacher that ignores a school’s behaviour policy and does their own thing in their classroom, undermining their colleague who sticks to the behaviour policy, to the detriment of the whole team and school culture, the teacher that doesn’t engage with the counseling team to communicate ideas and discussion points about students, just serves to undermine the counseling department. This can lead to damaged reputations and undermining of the school’s reputation.

But it works both ways. Counsellors need to make teachers feel included. They need to seek students consent first to share the information (internally) about where students are applying and where they have been successful. This information serves to catalyse the team on the celebration and helps to build ongoing fruitful relationships between students and the staff that work with them. Why do teachers need to know? Because teachers care, becuase teachers invest their time, more than anyone, to work on behalf of students, because teachers know just when to put in the right word of encouragement, just when a student might need it.

It allows a whole team celebration of the students achievement and contributes to building a strong team culture amongst the staff. So counsellors and teachers: work together!

The future-you festival

In my first year at my current school I was one of the grade 10 homeroom teachers. At the time, the grade 10’s were the eldest grade, the school having only opened the previous year with all grades up to grade nine.

That year our Head of School organised for some parents to come in on an afternoon to speak to our grade nine and ten students about their various professions.

The session lasted a couple of hours while different parents rotated in front of our small cohort of 18 students to tell them they needed a passion.

The next morning the feedback in homeroom was less than excellent. The major theme that came across was that the kids would have liked some choice about what they saw and who they listened to.

Later that year I was given the chance to set up the university counselling program and part of that required me to organise careers day.

In the first year I was responsible for it (my second year at the school) my main aim was to introduce choice for students.

That year we held it in May and the event ran from after lunch until 7pm. From 2pm until 4pm we had a series of career focussed workshops. These were bookended by a keynote and plenary session. The latter were compulsory for all students, but, during the time in-between, students rotated through workshops that they had previously signed up for.

After the plenary from 4pm to 5pm we held a short university fair, hosting universities from Switzerland plus a few others.

Following this we hosted an author who spoke about her book and work that supports international students making transitions to study at international universities.

In my second year, the academic year just finished, we moved the date back to March. Unfortunately, with the extra classroom hours I was working, I simply didn’t have the time to organise a university fair – the amount of time that goes into simply emailing contacts is extraordinary. However, we did run an evening event again this year. This was organised by my colleague in the schools marketing department and took the form of two guest speakers, with dinner and wine for attendees. Next year we have decided to call this part of the evening “future-you conversations”.

This year I am hoping to expand what we do slightly with morning skills based workshops on top of the afternoon career focussed workshops. These will be run in conjunction with inspiring futures who offer two days of their advisor time to members. We bought membership for next academic year.

Grade 12 will have a session on interview skills to support students who will have interviews as part of their university applications but also as many of them will be interviewing for jobs in the next 12 months.

Grade 11 will have a session on persuasive writing for their personal statement. This will hopefully provide them with some raw material with which to begin their personal statement drafts later in the year.

Grade 10 will have a session on cv writing as they will be looking for work experience this year as they have a work experience week in June.

Grade 9 will use the inspiring futures career investigator.