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Google to roll out slate of over 50 updates for Classroom, Meet and other online education tools

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Google today introduced a suite of updates for its online education tools whose adoption and further development have been accelerated by the pandemic, including Google Classroom, Google Meet and the next generation of G Suite for Education, now rebranded as Google Workspace for Education. In total, Google is promising more than 50 new features across its education products, with a focus on meeting educators’ and admins’ needs, in particular, in addition to those of the students.

When Google first introduced Google Classroom, it didn’t set out to create a Learning Management System (LMS), the company says. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google found that many educators had begun to use Classroom as the “hub” for their online learning activities. Today, the service is used by over 150 million students, teachers and school admins, up from just 40 million last year.

As a result of the pandemic-prompted adoption and user feedback, Google is introducing a range of new features for Classroom this year, some of which will be made available sooner than others.

To better cater to those who are using Classroom as the hub for online learning, a new marketplace of Classroom “add-ons” will allow teachers later this year to select their favorite edtech tools and content and assign them directly to students, without requiring extra log-ins. Admins will also be able to install these add-ons for other teachers in their domains.

Also later this year, admins will be able to populate classes in advance with Student Information System (SIS) roster syncing and, for select SIS customers, students’ grades from Classroom will be able to be exported directly to the SIS. Additional logging, including Classroom audit logs (to see things like student removals or who archived a class), as well as Classroom activity logs (to check on adoption and engagement) will be available soon.

When students attend in-person school, teachers can easily notice when a student is falling behind. A new set of Classroom tools aims to do the same for virtual learning, as well. With the new student engagement tracking feature, teachers will be able to see relevant stats about how students are interacting with Classroom, like which students submitted assignments on a given day or commented on a post, for example.

Image Credits: Google

Other tools will tackle the realities of working from home, where internet connections aren’t always reliable, or — for some low-income students — not available at all. With an updated Classroom Android app, students will be able to start their work offline, review assignments, open Drive attachments and write in Google Docs without an internet connection. The work will sync when a connection is again available. And when students upload assignments by taking a photo, new tools will allow students to combine photos into a single document, crop and rotate images and adjust the lighting.

Classroom will also gain support for rich text formatting — like bold, italics, underline and adding bullets across web, iOS and Android.

Image Credits: Google

Originality reports, which help to detect plagiarism, will be available soon in 15 languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Finnish, German, Korean, Danish, Malaysian and Hindi.

And Google’s own free, introductory computer science curriculum, CS First, is immediately available in Classroom.

Beyond Classroom itself, Google Meet is also being updated with the needs of educators in mind.

One must-have new feature, rolling out over the next few weeks, is a “mute all” button to give control of the classroom back to teachers. In April, teachers will also be able to control when a student can unmute themselves, as well.

Image Credits: Google

Other moderation controls will roll out this year, too, including controls over who can join meetings, chat or share their screen from their iOS and Android devices. Policies over who can join video calls will be able to be set by admins in April, as well, enabling rules around student-to-student connections across districts, professional development opportunities for teachers, external speakers visiting a class and more. Students will also not be able to join Meets generated from Classroom until their teacher has arrived. Teachers, meanwhile, will be made meeting hosts so multiple teachers can share the load of managing classes.

Google Meet is adding engagement and inclusivity features for students, too. Students will be able to select emoji skin tones to represent them and react in class with emoji, which teachers will be able to control.

Image Credits: Google

Finally, Google’s “G Suite for Education,” which includes Classroom, Meet, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and more, will be rebranded as Google Workspace for Education. The tools themselves, now used by 170 million students and educators globally, won’t change. But the set will be available in four editions instead of just two to better accommodate a wider variety of needs.

The free version will be rebranded Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals, and will remain largely the same. The paid version, meanwhile, will become available in three tiers: Google Workspace for Education Standard and Google Workspace for Education Plus, as well as the Teaching and Learning Upgrade, which can be added on to Fundamentals or Standard to provide video communication in Google Meet, and other Classroom tools, like originality reports.

Standard has everything in Fundamentals, in addition to enhanced security through Security Center, audit logs and advanced mobile management. Plus has everything in the three other versions, as well as advanced security and analytics, teaching and learning capabilities, and more.

Fundamentals and Plus are available today and the others will go live April 14, 2021. Those who already have G Suite for Enterprise for Education will be upgraded to Education Plus.

Related to these changes, the storage model will be updated to a new, pooled storage option that aims to better allocate storage resources across educational institutions. The new model offers schools and universities a baseline of 100 TB of pooled storage shared by all users, which goes into effect for current customers in July 2022, and will be effective for new customers in 2022. Google says less than 1% of institutions will be impacted by the updated model, whose baseline supports over 100 million documents or 8 million presentations or 400,000 hours of video, to give an idea of size.

The company plans several updates for its Google Workspace for Education product line in the weeks to come, including saved drafts in Google Forms (in Fundamentals) Google Meet meeting transcripts (in the Teaching and Learning Upgrade) and more.

Outside of software product updates, Google is launching over 40 new Chromebooks, including a set of “Always Connected” branded devices that have an LTE connectivity option built in. Chrome’s screen reader, ChromeVox, has also been improved with new tutorials, the ability to search ChromeVox menus and voice switching that automatically changes the screen reader’s voice based on the language of the text.

Parents, who are now participating in their child’s online learning in a number of ways, will be able to add their child’s Google Workspace for Education account to their child’s personal account with Family Link — Google’s parental control software. That means kids can still log into their school apps and accounts, while parents ensure they stay focused on learning by restricting other apps and overall device usage.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Gillmor Gang: Win Win

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Just finished a Twitter Spaces session. It is an engaging platform, somewhat clunky in feature set but easily a tie overall with Clubhouse. I don’t see this as a horse race, however, more as cooperating teams fleshing out a platform where both will be major players. Like notifications in iOS and Android, the feature set is a push and pull motion where Android delivers deep functionality and Apple alternately pulls ahead and consolidates gains. Though the details can vary, the combined energy of effectively 100 percent of the consumer base mandates best practices and opportunities for innovation.

Something similar is going on in Washington as the Democrats test out their majority of none on the pandemic stimulus bill. The headline in the Times says bipartisanship is dead, but the subheading is the real story. The battle for control of the Senate is closing in on the arcane gerrymandering of the filibuster, or what passes for it after Republican whittling of the original talk ’til you drop croaking of Jimmy Stewart as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The telltale giveaway is Senator Lindsay Graham, who complains bitterly that the Democrats are steamrolling the COVID Rescue Bill without Republican votes “because they can.” The actual bipartisanship is between the progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party, as the Senator from West Virginia moderates one aspect of the bill to gain the prize of something the President can sign. Not only does it establish Biden’s power to govern but it also provides a roadmap for justifying the necessity of altering the filibuster equation.

Notice how Biden changed the subject from bipartisan negotiations to the power play it turned into. He used the polls to squeeze the Republican moderates where they fear most, the primary battles for control of the House in the midterms. The wave of vaccines are making it almost impossible to put up a political firewall; the anti-mask mandates seem like clueless floundering as people begin to have hope of an exit from the gridlock of partisan obstructionism. It will be hard to run on a platform of denial and death as we reach the end of May.

Governing by success undercuts the argument that government doesn’t work. Breaking the back of the filibuster requires the framing of the issue as finding a way to let government keep working in a bipartisan way. That brings us back to changing the definition of bipartisan as evidenced in the technology arena. In the Apple/Android example, two viable entities bring different strengths to insuring the ability to survive long enough to govern. Google’s lock on the network effect in advertising and “free” services may be challenged by Apple’s focus on privacy and a hardware revenue base, but the net effect is to cancel each other’s vulnerabilities due to the market force of their positions. The bipartisan finesse is that each platform has the other as a dominant customer.

In the same vein, Twitter v. Clubhouse is really not the point. Certainly we can cherrypick the battle as startup v. incumbent: Clubhouse filled with unicorn celebrities and rockstar investors and a builtin tension with the media, Twitter protectively fast following with its natural social graph advantages and struggling with scalability and the fear they’ve sown of abandoning projects before they can thrive. The question begged: what is the nature of the bipartisan compromise that will ensure both end up winners?

The answer is how to make each player the best customer of the other. Twitter’s problem is focus, and harnessing the power of users to hack the system to both theirs and the company’s advantage. The @mention spawned the retweet, providing the analytics that drive Twitter’s indelible social graph. Instagram may be Facebook’s best attempt so far at challenging the fundamental strategic value that the former president used to dominate, but Clubhouse promises to go one big step better with its hybrid of mainstream media and a Warholesque factory engine that creates new stars and the media they generate. This in turn migrates through the entertainment disruption led by the streaming realignment. What exactly is this NFT thing really about?

So Clubhouse has to open up its ability to multitask with Twitter and other curated social graphs. Facebook as a source for Clubhouse notifications and suggested conversations is different than Twitter’s But patching into the sharing icon on iOS will offer substantial access to blunt Twitter’s native integration in Spaces. On the flip side, Twitter’s Revue newsletter tools present an opportunity to mine the burgeoning newsletter surge, using its drag and drop tools to bring not just default social network citations but the implicit social graph of curated editorial rockstars. Not only is the influencer audience rich in signal for advertisers, but these same brands will prove most attractive to Clubhouse listeners looking for value. Win win.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, March 5, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

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The iMac Pro is being discontinued

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Chalk this up to inevitability. The iMac Pro is soon to be no more. First noted by 9to5Mac, TechCrunch has since confirmed with Apple that the company will stop selling the all-in-one once the current stock is depleted.

One configuration of the desktop is still available through Apple’s site, listed as “While Supplies Last” and priced at $5,000. Some other versions can also still be found from third-party retailers, as well, if you’re so inclined.

The space gray version of the popular system was initially introduced in 2017, ahead of the company’s long-awaited revamp of the Mac Pro. Matthew called it a “love letter to developers” at the time, though that particular letter seems to have run its course.

Since then, Apple has revamped the standard iMac, focusing the 27-inch model at those same users. The company notes that the model is currently the most popular iMac among professional users. The system has essentially made the Pro mostly redundant, prefiguring its sunsetting. Of course, there’s also the new Mac Pro at the high end of Apple’s offerings.

And let us not forget that the Apple silicon-powered iMacs should be on the way, as well. Thus far the company has revamped the MacBook, MacBook Air and Mac Mini with its proprietary chips. New versions of the 21.5-inch and 27-inch desktop are rumored for arrival later this year, sporting a long-awaited redesign to boot.

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Investors still love software more than life

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Despite some recent market volatility, the valuations that software companies have generally been able to command in recent quarters have been impressive. On Friday, we took a look into why that was the case, and where the valuations could be a bit more bubbly than others. Per a report written by few Battery Ventures investors, it stands to reason that the middle of the SaaS market could be where valuation inflation is at its peak.

Something to keep in mind if your startup’s growth rate is ticking lower. But today, instead of being an enormous bummer and making you worry, I have come with some historically notable data to show you how good modern software startups and their larger brethren have it today.

In case you are not 100% infatuated with tables, let me save you some time. In the upper right we can see that SaaS companies today that are growing at less than 10% yearly are trading for an average of 6.9x their next 12 months’ revenue.

Back in 2011, SaaS companies that were growing at 40% or more were trading at 6.0x their next 12 month’s revenue. Climate change, but for software valuations.

One more note from my chat with Battery. Its investor Brandon Gleklen riffed with The Exchange on the definition of ARR and its nuances in the modern market. As more SaaS companies swap traditional software-as-a-service pricing for its consumption-based equivalent, he declined to quibble on definitions of ARR, instead arguing that all that matters in software revenues is whether they are being retained and growing over the long term. This brings us to our next topic.

Consumption v. SaaS pricing

I’ve taken a number of earnings calls in the last few weeks with public software companies. One theme that’s come up time and again has been consumption pricing versus more traditional SaaS pricing. There is some data showing that consumption-priced software companies are trading at higher multiples than traditionally priced software companies, thanks to better-than-average retention numbers.

But there is more to the story than just that. Chatting with Fastly CEO Joshua Bixby after his company’s earnings report, we picked up an interesting and important market distinction between where consumption may be more attractive and where it may not be. Per Bixby, Fastly is seeing larger customers prefer consumption-based pricing because they can afford variability and prefer to have their bills tied more closely to revenue. Smaller customers, however, Bixby said, prefer SaaS billing because it has rock-solid predictability.

I brought the argument to Open View Partners Kyle Poyar, a venture denizen who has been writing on this topic for TechCrunch in recent weeks. He noted that in some cases the opposite can be true, that variably priced offerings can appeal to smaller companies because their developers can often test the product without making a large commitment.

So, perhaps we’re seeing the software market favoring SaaS pricing among smaller customers when they are certain of their need, and choosing consumption pricing when they want to experiment first. And larger companies, when their spend is tied to equivalent revenue changes, bias toward consumption pricing as well.

Evolution in SaaS pricing will be slow, and never complete. But folks really are thinking about it. Appian CEO Matt Calkins has a general pricing thesis that price should “hover” under value delivered. Asked about the consumption-versus-SaaS topic, he was a bit coy, but did note that he was not “entirely happy” with how pricing is executed today. He wants pricing that is a “better proxy for customer value,” though he declined to share much more.

If you aren’t thinking about this conversation and you run a startup, what’s up with that? More to come on this topic, including notes from an interview with the CEO of BigCommerce, who is betting on SaaS over the more consumption-driven Shopify.

Next Insurance, and its changing market

Next Insurance bought another company this week. This time it was AP Intego, which will bring integration into various payroll providers for the digital-first SMB insurance provider. Next Insurance should be familiar because TechCrunch has written about its growth a few times. The company doubled its premium run rate to $200 million in 2020, for example.

The AP Intego deal brings $185.1 million of active premium to Next Insurance, which means that the neo-insurance provider has grown sharply thus far in 2021, even without counting its organic expansion. But while the Next Insurance deal and the impending Hippo SPAC are neat notes from a hot private sector, insurtech has shed some of its public-market heat.

Stocks of public neo-insurance companies like Root, Lemonade and MetroMile have lost quite a lot of value in recent weeks. So, the exit landscape for companies like Next and Hippo — yet-private insurtech startups with lots of capital backing their rapid premium growth — is changing for the worse.

Hippo decided it will debut via a SPAC. But I doubt that Next Insurance will pursue a rapid ramp to the public markets until things smooth out. Not that it needs to go public quickly; it raised a quarter billion back in September of last year.

Various and Sundry

What else? Sisense, a $100 million ARR club member, hired a new CFO. So we expect them to go public inside the next four or five quarters.

And the following chart, which is via Deena Shakir of Lux Capital, via Nasdaq, via SPAC Alpha:

Alex

 

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