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!

Global university admission guidance: review of #edtech platforms

Update (28th June 2018): You can see my review of MaiaLearning here. I will be chatting with Cialfo next week and hope to have a review coming out sometime towards the end of July.

Update (21st June 2018): Since publishing the reviews of BridgeU and Unifrog I have also had the chance to get acquainted with MaiaLearning and will be publishing my review next week.

Background

In recent months a hole has opened up in the marketplace for global university admissions platforms due to the announcement that the biggest kid on the block, Naviance, was retiring from supporting the work of global university admission guidance counsellors.

I don’t know about my colleagues, but personally, these platforms provide an invaluable resource for my work. If you were to focus purely on the intricacies and nuances of applying to a variety of different university systems and the requirements of those systems alone, you may begin to appreciate the task of trying to help families and students make sense of all the options. When you add in the sheer number of universities on the planet and the impossible task of knowing all of them, let alone knowing about them, then you begin to see the value that an online database and guidance tool brings to the work, if only to limit counselor bias, particularly the anchoring and halo effects.

In this first of three posts, I want to introduce the next two posts examining alternatives to Naviance: UniFrog & BridgeU. Both platforms are same-same but different, approaching guidance with different philosophies and outlooks.

I am not aiming to compare these platforms (except on two points – see below) but will instead aim to describe their functions openly and honestly, before outlining my opinion of what works and doesn’t on these platforms.

Reader beware that this is coloured by own use of the systems in my own context: a small, but very diverse international student body, delivering the three IB programmes from primary to the diploma. This was also my first guidance post and one where I set up the program. I am fully aware that my experience of this work will not be the same as other colleagues.

Any counsellors considering two these platforms should certainly have a go at trialling them both themselves. I have worked with BridgeU since 2016 and have blogged about my experience here and here. I have since worked with UniFrog since 2017.

There are only two comparison points that I will make: Firstly, the platforms are both great! They both solve the counsellor’s dilemma: how do I get more knowledge of the options available to best serve my students. They both democratise that knowledge and enable students to be much larger change agents for their future-selves.

The second comparison is about outlook: BridgeU attempt ultimately to use an algorithm to match student and institution. Thus be aware that there is a layer of filtering that goes on within the system, I make no comment about the pros and cons of this.

UniFrog does not believe in filtering the data for the student. Instead, they aim to provide all the information at once and present a range of filters for the student to play with. Again I make no comment about the pros and cons of this approach.

The different philosophies of each company in the management of the data they present lead to differences in their style of working.

Finally, I am learning that blog posts are best kept short and sweet and so each post will be limited to around 500 words. Each post will appear over the next two Thursdays. With the UniFrog 500 word review next Thursday and the BridgeU 500 word review the week after.

Keep a lookout for them!

 

Moving on, handing over: 2

This post continues from yesterday’s post.

Working with colleagues

For any guidance department to be successful it needs, like all good teachers and their departments, to not work in a silo.

Getting colleagues on side is hugely important. In a culturally diverse staff body, many colleagues bring very different sets of values which colour their view of guidance. It is essential that guidance counsellors work closely with teachers; by understanding the educational heritage and philosophy of colleagues we can best ensure that the team works together to support students supported by a common understanding and vision.

Specialist colleagues are involved either officially or unofficially with the administration of the guidance program and I make a point of sharing thanks for this support by highlighting the efforts of particular colleagues with the SLT.

The English teachers and teachers of other languages are well placed to offer support in writing techniques, although it is important that they understand the aim of the different types of writing that different university applications require.

Counsellors I have spoken with have sometimes said that they don’t like involving English teachers because they can give conflicting advice. I think that this is a mistake. The English teachers I know and have worked with in the past have much stronger skills than me when it comes to coaching students writing. With proper time for discussion, collaboration and planning any differences in opinion and outlook can be adjusted for and the team can work on the same page.

The development of writing skills is important but staff can be involved in helping to prep for interviews also. In actually delivering mock interviews I have relied on a variety of staff as I feel that the most beneficial effect is gained for students when they interview with someone that they don’t know. I have also used the drama teachers to coach students on body language.

The real challenge for the school here is getting these relationships formalised. This is a priority, as the teachers who give up their time to plan and deliver support to students need to recognised and compensated for this. It isn’t fair to simply expect them to take this on.

Another aspect of working with colleagues comes with getting them on-side to understand the procedures involved in making and supporting university applications.

All teachers support university applications by supplying written comments and predicted grades for the subjects they teach. The school needs a policy for making predicted grades which must be clearly articulated to and understood by teachers so that the team is predicting grades in the same way.  In the same way, teachers need to understand the timeline and process that their students are involved in. In an international school, students may be applying to many different university systems, each with their own nuances. It is helpful if teachers have some understanding of that. One of the most unhelpful things that a well-meaning teacher can do is to continually offer an extension to deadlines for students.

Teachers need to understand how their comments are used to help the counsellor construct a reference and to understand what makes these comments different to a report. Generally, they must be positive and evidence-based. It doesn’t escape my notice that teachers, often, could do with support from the English department in terms of structuring their writing (PEE/A; SEX; Claim, Warrant and Impact).

Finally, in some cases, teachers may be called upon to write full references. The processes for this and requirements for the writing need to be carefully explained and understood.

Finally working with colleagues, also includes organising the transcript production process and having some input into the production of the DP handbook and making sure that the information within it aligns with the guidance handbook.

Working with outside organisations

Ultimately the role of the guidance counsellor is about working with organisations outside of school: universities.

I once heard a Head tell a conference that that role of the guidance counsellor was 50% in school and 50% out of school.

Our work involves liaising with universities, of course, but this can take many forms.

Firstly university visits. These require planning within the school, to agree a suitable place and time that visits can be generally held. Currently, we try to avoid clashes with lessons and encourage universities to visit at lunch or after school.

If I had more time, I would love to allow these visits to include a tour, perhaps the observation of some teaching (this has gone down well in the past) as well as the delivery of the universities presentations. I feel that this goes a long way in building a relationship with that institution, and allows them to better understand our particular context.

I also make a point of reaching out to universities after I have met them at conferences after our students have applied to them, and after students receive an offer (or not). Again, this keeps the lines of communication open and helps to build more of a relationship with your partner on the other side of the desk at that institution.

In terms of non-university institutions, we are currently using BridgeU and UniFrog as platforms to help students do their research and plan their applications. I have been planning to write a comparison of the two all year, and I hope to get this published soon. It has been useful to get feedback from students regarding the two programs.

We also work with Inspiring Futures and use their Futurewise and Career Investigator programs to support our career guidance programs in grade 9 and 10.

To improve

What would improve this guidance program and help it meet the aims of formatively developing our students?

Well, a couple of things.

I think to start some of the skills, like CV writing, earlier, in grade 8 for example, would help students begin to think about what how they can maximise their final four years in school to really develop themselves. Once students are introduced to the concept of a CV and, perhaps, realise that they haven’t got that much on there, yet, they can start thinking about what they can do to get stuff on there. The caveat here is that is isn’t about getting stuff on the CV its training kids to think about what they learn, about themselves and the world, from the activities they do do.

I think also that relationship with colleagues who support the department; teachers who help with writing, for example, need to be formalised, recognised and given the space to commit their working time to this, otherwise, apart from the risk of overburdening already busy teachers, you are effectively running a program on good-will and favours which can’t last forever.