My name is Henry Mann, and I'm the Director of Product at Screencastify. In this post, I'd like to share the principles that guide how and why we build the products we do. Every educator who uses Screencastify deserves to know what we believe in. Before I do, however, it's worth taking a brief trip down memory lane and sharing how we got here.
Today, Screencastify is an education technology company. But we didn’t start out that way.
In January 2014, the first version of Screencastify was released. It was the first Chrome extension that was able to record your screen and it was designed to be useful to just about anyone who needed to make a screencast.
Our journey to becoming an edtech company was not driven by a strong vision of how teaching and learning should look - instead it was shaped by how teachers of all kinds were using the product to achieve their own visions for teaching and learning.
This is a subtle difference but an important one. At our core, we believe that educators know their students and what they need infinitely better than any tech company ever could.
Our job is to listen to those needs and build the best products that we can to support the work that teachers are doing every day. I’ll get to our actual mission and how it supports that idea shortly but first I want to share three of our beliefs that have gone into shaping it.
1. Teachers are superheroes.
Before joining the Screencastify team, I was lucky enough to be able to collaborate with and visit the classrooms of hundreds of teachers around the country. Every teacher I worked with, no matter where their school was located or what type of students they worked with, was doing more and cared more for their students than I could’ve imagined.
Many others have written and spoken about this more eloquently than I can but let me just say that the world is lucky that there are people who get up every morning determined to help improve the lives of the next generation. This is easy to say but when you see it first hand it really does leave you floored - it certainly did for me.
2. The system limits super-heroic work.
It's becoming pretty clear that the traditional systems for teaching and learning just aren’t working in the ways that best suit today's students.
Of course, some students have managed to be successful but the reality is that for many young people, by default, school isn’t always a place to get excited about learning or to build the kind of skills that they’ll need in their future lives and work. To be clear, this isn’t a teacher problem-it’s a system problem.
The structures and incentives of our education system have historically limited the ability of schools to really innovate and become places that better serve all of their students.
3. Technology alone isn’t the solution.
Tools, apps, and devices won’t solve this problem on their own - teachers will be the ones who ultimately succeed in making learning more equitable. Luckily there are a number of growing movements such as differentiated instruction and flipped learning that are all about shifting practices in the classroom to solve this problem.
However, there are real obstacles to the spread and success of these movements.
Teachers are being asked to connect with and teach students in new ways that often aren’t easy with traditional forms of classroom communication.
In addition, teachers are being asked to do all of this with no additional time to do it in.
Now, if you’re following along you’re probably getting the sense that this is where Screencastify comes in - and you’d be right.
We believe that technology, especially video-based technology, can help to address these problems and reduce the barriers to the spread of these movements. Our product’s mission is to provide the technology that will help educators make learning available to everyone - and to do it at a vast scale.
What’s exciting is that we’ve already got a pretty decent start. For one we’ve got a user base of millions of teachers already using our products to differentiate, personalize, and innovate how they teach.
And with the recent launches of Submit and video quizzes we’re transforming Screencastify from a simple video creation widget into a full video-learning solution inspired by the movements I mentioned above. Of course, this is just the start.
A mission alone isn’t enough to chart a clear path for our products. That’s why I’m also excited to share a couple of guiding principles that support our work.
Classroom teachers above all: As a tool with millions of active users and countless different use cases, we’ll always face pressure to build solutions for niche elements of our user base or to solve problems for a non-EDU customer.
However, if we are to achieve our mission we cannot try to be a generalist tool that works for everyone. Instead we must focus our efforts on understanding and solving the problems that everyday classroom teachers are facing currently and may face in the future.
Doing this requires us to have a deep and up-to-date understanding of teachers’ day-to-day realities and the trends shaping K-12 education.
"Simple" is better than "more": Teachers are short on time and support when it comes to learning new tools. It is critical that our tools are as simple and easy to use as possible and do not require hours of professional development or “clicking around” to master.
In addition, teachers need to feel that they are supported and respected by Screencastify and that our company is there to help them in any way that we can.
When there's a conflict, it's more important that a new user can learn to get essential things done easily than an experienced user being able to do more. Enabling daily use of our products is more important than focusing on usefulness for special-cases.
Don’t lock teachers out: When there's a conflict between more people using our products and more people paying for our products, we are biased towards usage. Teachers are notoriously under-supported when it comes to purchasing for their own classrooms and workflows. This has led teachers to often seek out the cheapest (and free-est!) solutions that allow them to accomplish their goals.
If we want our tools to be widely adopted it is critical that we always provide a robust free plan that makes our functionality and services as available as possible to as many educators as possible.
Of course, we also need to make money in order to keep building solutions that work for teachers. But we don’t believe it should come out of their pockets. Instead, we sell to schools and districts so that we can partner with entire communities to move education forward.
When you put all of this together it’s clear that we’re on a pretty exciting journey to becoming much more than our original Chrome extension.
Our goal is to become the best platform out there for teaching and learning with video and to help educators everywhere in their work to improve the lives of their students.
We’re not going to judge our success on revenue alone. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when most teachers name Screencastify as the technology most transformative for learning.