A software developer with more than 35 years of experience, John Sorenson, CEO of Jenison, Michigan-based Student Achievement Systems LLC
, forayed into online education applications years before the words “COVID-19” and “global pandemic” became a part of everyday language. In 2017, the company launched its Pulse
virtual education software with Berrien Springs Public Schools
. The software helps teachers working virtually to monitor their students’ progress more closely. Since introducing Pulse, Berrien Springs Public Schools off-campus virtual learning program has seen graduation rates rise by 15%.
“Picture a classroom, the kids at their desks, and the teachers walking up and down the aisles. Those teachers can see who is engaged, who is not, who has their head on the desk, who is not at their desk, and understand how their classroom is doing,” Sorensen says. “Suddenly, those students are all learning from home. How in the world do you keep track of those students?”
When the pandemic hit, Sorenson was privy to insider information. His daughter, an elementary teacher, told him bluntly, “It’s a mess.” For her, trying to track students’ progress and behavior had become a spreadsheet nightmare that left her little time to actually interact with them.
“Faces [on] the camera are only half an answer,” Sorensen says. “Pulse tracks virtual behavior, how the student is progressing through activities, how their behavior is as far as logging in, grades, progress, communication, how engaged the parent and rest of family is. It gathers all sorts of data to create a virtual picture of this student.”
Instead of poring over mind-boggling spreadsheets for each student, teachers simply click on a dashboard that tells them exactly how the student is doing. The time saved can be used for more effective personal communication with the student.
“We do all that heavy lifting for the teacher, dig into the computer system with software and present the teachers with the information they need,” Sorenson says. “When the pandemic hit, all the teachers out there were told to figure out a way to keep educating their students. Pulse is a good way to do that.”
Locally, Kenowa Hills Public Schools and Success Virtual Learning Centers of Michigan’s Wyoming campus are now using the Pulse software. Other districts in the state using the software include Calumet Public Schools, schools in Iosco and Algoma counties, and other Success Virtual Learning Centers of Michigan locations. Pulse currently monitors more than 6,000 students and teachers in the state. Sorenson expects that number to swell to 11,000 by the end of 2021.
“Virtual learning has been on the increase for seven years now and was exacerbated by the pandemic. In a world of software and automation, anything that can be automated will be automated, fortunately or unfortunately,” Sorensen concludes. “Virtual learning will continue to grow. What we have to do, as a society, is to do a better job of it.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Student Achievement Systems, LLC