As disruptive as the global pandemic has been for many people and industries, schools have to rank near the top in overall impact.
What little online learning platforms existed for K-12 students across the U.S. suddenly became the only option. Parents and children were abruptly cast into a full-time home learning environment with virtually no notice. Until recently, most first and second grade students had never seen the inside of a physical classroom.
A multitude of online learning platforms saw a significant increase in usage across the board, and the importance of data to guide teachers, students and parents alike took on new meaning. This is what brought student engagement platform Seesaw Learning Inc. and the real-time analytics database provider Rockset Inc. together.
“The last 18 months have been hard for everyone, but teachers and schools have had it harder than anyone,” said Carl Sjogreen (pictured, right), co-founder and chief product officer of Seesaw. “Data around which kids were completing lessons and which kids weren’t was really critical to provide to our customers. A lot of our data infrastructure had to be built out to support answering those questions in this really crazy time for schools.”
Sjogreen spoke with Lisa Martin, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the AWS Startup Showcase: New Breakthroughs in DevOps, Analytics, and Cloud Management Tools event. He was joined in the interview by Venkat Venkataramani (pictured, left), co-founder and chief executive officer of Rockset, and they discussed Seesaw’s business need for data analytics, Rockset’s ability to provide a rapid solution, and the continued adjustments schools must make in the pandemic world. (* Disclosure below.)
Bringing organization to data
Started in 2013, Seesaw is a platform that brings educators, students and families together to create engaging learning experiences. The company has grown in popularity, used by over 10 million teachers and family members across 75% of U.S. schools and in 150 countries.
Along with rapid growth came the need to better understand the data that Seesaw controlled and how it could be used to drive the business.
“With that many users interacting with Seesaw, we have all sorts of information about how the product is being used, which schools, which districts and what that usage pattern looks like,” Sjogreen explained. “A lot of our data infrastructure was custom built and cobbled together over the years. We had a very disorganized data infrastructure that, as we’ve grown, was getting in the way of helping our sales and marketing and support and customer success teams service our customers in the way that we wanted to.”
The learning platform was a heavy user of DynamoDB as its main data store, which had been a major aid in scaling the business, according to Sjogreen. But what the company needed was a way to build a data infrastructure on top of it that would not require a tremendous amount of work using a traditional data warehouse or a cumbersome extract, transfer and load process.
“One of the key advantages of Rockset was that it was basically plug and play for our Dynamo instance,” Sjogreen said. “We were able, within hours, to start querying that data in ways that we hadn’t before.”
Real-time connectors to DynamoDB
The challenge confronting Rockset and Venkataramani was that Seesaw’s data was in a highly scalable NoSQL format, which made it easy to build applications but difficult to perform analytics. Rockset’s ability to rapidly convert NoSQL data into SQL provided Seesaw with the fast solution it sought.
“Rockset comes with all batteries included, including real-time data connectors with Amazon DynamoDB,” Venkataramani said. “You can just point Rockset at any of your Dynamo tables, even though it’s a NoSQL store, and Rockset will in real-time replicate the data and automatically convert it into fast SQL tables for you to do analytics on.”
Venkataramani had added motivation to help Sjogreen’s company succeed. His two elementary school children were customers of the student engagement platform.
“When I told them that Seesaw was considering using Rocket for analytics, they were thrilled, they were overjoyed because finally they understood what I do for a living,” Venkataramani recalled. “And for the first time I actually understood what kids do at school.”
Many schools across the U.S. have reopened with a return to in-classroom learning. However, the time teachers lost with students, coupled with continued uncertainty around COVID and its impact on children continue to make for another difficult year.
“Schools are navigating yet another transition now from a world of remote learning to a world of back to the classroom,” Sjogreen said. “The more we can understand how they are using Seesaw, where they are struggling with it as part of that transition, the more we can be a good partner to them and help them get the most value out of Seesaw in this new world that we’re living in. We are still not back to normal as far as schools are concerned.”
Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the AWS Startup Showcase: New Breakthroughs in DevOps, Analytics, and Cloud Management Tools event. (* Disclosure: Rockset Inc. sponsored this segment of theCUBE. Neither Rockset nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)