As Tucsonan Ravi Budhu sat in huge lecture halls with nearly 100 other students on his journey to get his MBA, he realized there was no way for his professors to know if he was understanding the material he was being taught.
“The teacher lectures, gives us homework assignment or exam, you go home and you do it, you come back again, she grades, and she gives you your grade back. That’s it,” Budhu said.
Ravi also spoke to his father Muniram Budhu, PhD., who recently retired from being a professor at the University of Arizona. Muniram said he had his lecture slides and would teach his classes, but had no way of knowing if his students comprehended the information he was teaching.
Within these moments, the idea for YourLabs was created and the father-son duo co-founded the LLC that now has 13 employees.
According to its website, YourLabs is a learning and analytic platform that combines in-depth student feedback and detailed analytics to support the goals of more effective and efficient learning.
“My goal was to use technology not to replace the teacher, but to augment their abilities to make them more efficient and effective in the classroom,” Ravi said.
Taking the concept that companies like Netflix and Amazon use where they amass user data to better serve their customers, YourLabs takes student information and their understanding of problems, currently in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and lets the teacher know where and how they can better teach their classes.
The program, which is currently free for a semester to use and is looking for pilot classes, schools and district to participate, has already been recognized for what it is offering.
Earlier this year, YourLabs was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research Grant, and the software is already being implemented in classrooms in four states.
When a teacher decides to use the program the process of creating an assignment, questions can be created within minutes, or for the more diverse and multiple-answer problems, it could take 30 minutes or more to create.
But once a question is created, it is saved within YourLabs’ database, so it can be used again and again, and the variables can be easily tweaked.
“We have an entire searchable library of content that they can go, ‘find me all of the questions about quadratic equations.’ They pop up and you can copy them,” Ravi said. “After they copy it, they can modify it without affecting anybody else.”
YourLabs currently has professors continually creating content for the site and Ravi said the company is currently negotiating with textbook publishers to have their content plugged into the system.
Once the assignment is created, a teacher or administrator can easily watch in real time how students are doing on a particular problem, assignment, or class. This data is expanded and easily searchable to see how a class, school, district, city, state or country is doing in any particular area.
Whether the student is outspoken and comfortable with the material or they are quiet and reserved, YourLabs gives them an unintimidating opportunity to give feedback to the teacher.
“Instead of re-teaching an entire lesson or something, they can focus in on just that particular concept, or just that particular step and just attack that. It really saves them time.”
From a school district’s point of view, Brett Kramer, who is the executive director of improvement initiatives for the Marana Unified School District, said there is a need for a better understanding of how to better teach students and prepare them for the real world.
Kramer, who is not affiliated with or has knowledge of YourLabs, said the district is always looking at ways to improve what they do. The district currently uses Assessment Technology Incorporated, which uses Galileo, for its assessments and evaluations.
“If we want to get to really what matters and whether students really understand something, we have to understand the work that they have produced,” Kramer said.
Ravi said other companies that offer assessments are multiple-choice and simply give a grade for the students rather than the specific feedback on a student-by-student basis and question-by-question basis.
YourLabs helps teachers identify at-risk students along with problematic areas of the curriculum.
“We are a firm believer that multiple choice is bad because it just creates an entire society of good test takers and good guessers,” Ravi said. “It really doesn’t promote critical thinking and conceptual understanding.
“We are trying to move away from that,” he added.