Skool Loop is the brainchild of Sharlene Barnes, previously a member of the advertising community who identified a need in the early noughties for parents and teachers to communicate with one another more easily. Unfortunately, the tech just wasn’t there. In 2012, however, her son put her onto the world of apps and she immediately identified an opportunity to bridge this gap within education. We asked her a few questions about what the tech industry was like for someone on the outside six years ago and where she sees EdTech going in the future.
Hi Sharlene, thanks for talking with us.
It seemed like you almost had to wait for the right technology to come along for Skool Loop to exist.
Do you think you could have done what you did before app development really took off?
I definitely had to wait for the right technology to become available for Skool Loop to become a fully realized tool for schools to functionally use. The idea that something had to be created to consolidate parent-teacher communication came to my mind back in the early 2000s when my children were in school. The technology available just didn’t quite support the functions I had envisioned for Skool Loop.
I looked into the tech available at the time — disks, websites, but nothing available back then really fit. When my son showed me smartphone apps around 2012, I knew fairly quickly that this was the technology I needed to support the functions of Skool Loop. The instant messaging was a big factor for me, and that wasn’t quite enabled by websites back in the 2000s in that it was mostly limited to desktops.
Do things seem more accessible for those outside of tech since you first launched Skool Loop, such as in the implementation of new ideas and tools within your app?
Things don’t seem more accessible per se — at least they weren’t for me. I came into tech from an advertising background, with limited to no knowledge of tech and how apps worked as tools. I learned about what apps could do and then I fleshed out my ideas and what functions I wanted to be enabled on Skool Loop. I then had to shop the idea around dozens of developers before somebody took on the job of building the app.
I found that it was difficult to get a developer to pick up the idea — they’re wary as an industry as there’s a lot of people out there who can seemingly waste developers time.
Rules, regulations, and laws are definitely increasing over time in regards to app development, which can pose a lot of challenges to people entering the tech industry from the outside. There’s a lot more that you have to be aware of these days.
Do you think it’s easier for those outside of tech to develop apps?
I think that in some regards the walls between programmers and outsiders are breaking down, but I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily becoming significantly easier for people to produce apps. So many people are coming forward with so many ideas, and finding that they have already been done, or that there’s a version already available in app stores. The increasing competition makes entering the app market a difficult task. There are also increasing regulations and rules to be aware of, as the governing bodies become more involved in what can and can’t be done in apps.
However, there are a lot more people working in the back-end, technical, and developmental side of things nowadays. Coding is being taught in schools, and the next generation will be the most tech-savvy yet, which will increase an outsider’s ability to find a programmer willing to work with them. The programming and coding side of things should be left to the technicians who are trained to do it. They have a clearer view of the laws and what ideas are already out there in the market.
I think that this barrier between programmers and outsiders is a necessary factor in regards to EdTech. The technicalities of the app development process are there to help ensure that the best products and ideas make it to market. When it comes to EdTech, this is a good thing as it helps to ensure that strong robust products are making it through and being offered to schools. When you factor in security and cyberlaws, it’s best to play it smart when it comes to the technology being used in the education sector.
What role does security play in your app’s development? Has it changed much?
Security was a key factor for us when we were in the development stages. We wanted to ensure that our app was as secure as possible for our schools, especially given that cyber-attacks are increasing globally. Recently, Facebook experienced it’s largest hack yet with 50 million users having their personal data accessed and breached, and it’s been reported that cyber-attacks are on the rise in schools. We wanted to counter this as best we could, so we worked closely with technicians in the development stage. To ensure that Skool Loop can’t be used to access personal parent and school data, we don’t request any to be loaded through the app. Skool Loop memorizes the IP address of the device being used to access the app but does not request any personal information. We have no access to school databases.
Internal security and regulations have also changed over time. General awareness of privacy and child protection laws has played a big role in procedures in schools, and this has increased over time. When my kids were in school it was commonplace to see photos of kids in the newsletters being sent home, participating in activities. Nowadays parent permission is sought for most of these kinds of things.
Do you see a role with Skool Loop in personalizing the education experience further?
Skool Loop aims to personalize the education experience by engaging parents more in their child’s education. The app doesn’t play a role in testing or learning mechanisms but rather aims to consolidate school administrative activities for both parents and teachers to enable more time for parents to parent, and teachers to teach. By opening a clear line of communication between parents and schools, parents have more visibility over their child’s education experience, and teachers are more able to connect with parents and keep them in the loop about their child’s performance in school.