Thinking Inside the Box
The Ohana Foundation’s software is at the forefront of integrating technology into the classroom.
Nearly three years after its incorporation, the Ohana Foundation is ready at last to mass market its new educational technology to schools across the nation. The non-profit organization was founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Annie Chan to provide affordable educational resources using technology.
Hawaii was chosen as the testing ground for Ohana’s educational software, which was donated to 400 schools statewide beginning last fall. An “e-Whiz” DVD player serves as the platform for Ohana’s software – interactive digital video discs with Internet access.
Easy to use, the software is quite nifty. Pop in the disc and use the wireless keyboard to navigate your way through lesson plans, educational videos, links to relevant Web sites and much more.
“It’s state-of-the-art, but for the education market, it’s very friendly technology,” says Ohana Foundation Vice President of Marketing Frank Haas. “Teachers want real-world solutions, not some whiz-bank smarter-than-you-are technology.” And he would know. Haas and his staff have spent the past year getting inside the classrooms and talking to teachers about what works and what doesn’t.
While several hundred Hawaii schools were fortunate enough to receive donated software through Ohana’s pilot program, Hawaii First, the rest of the nation’s schools will have to incur costs. According to Patrick Shon, director of research for Ohana Foundation, national funding for educational spending last fiscal year was $44 billion. Hawaii’s budget during the same time period was $1.19 billion. Haas says Ohana’s rates are concurrent with its mission to provide affordable technology in the classroom.Kerry Koide, educational specialist in telecommunications advanced technology research for the Department of Education, says local teachers have been responding well to the software. Ohana has purchased 1,000 e-Whiz boxes from the company that manufactures the technology, ViAlta, and hopes to sell roughly 250 boxes by fall this year. The product retails for $300, with discs costing $135. An e-Whiz box bundled with 10 discs is available for $1,350 – it’s like getting the box free. Ohana’s library of DVDs includes roughly 250 titles covering most school subjects for kindergarten through 12th grade educators. By the end of the year, Ohana expects to have nearly 1,000 DVD titles and related Web sites.
In conjunction with the marketing push being made stateside, Ohana is also involved in a similar project with China. Ohana has agreed to develop audio-visual materials to supplement textbooks for the People’s Education Press – the country’s largest textbook publisher. “We think there’s a huge market in the U.S. for educational materials because the funding is billions of dollars. In China, of course the budgets are smaller for schools, but there’s 1.2 billion people, so it’s an immense market,” says Haas, although he’s hesitant to disclose any specific projections.
Growth for Ohana, however, also means shedding some layers. In April, Ohana laid off about eight of its 120 employees as an “adjustment to being a startup,” Haas says. The foundation also contracts approximately 127 Hawaii teachers for curriculum development.
This is key, according to Koide. “Yes, there’s other ways to access curriculum, but the superintendent has set the challenge for all schools to have standards in education,” he says. “These teachers ensure that the standards are met.” Koide says Ohana’s software is at the forefront of integrating technology into the classroom, and is a sure sign of things to come. “By using DVDs that are interactive with the Internet they’ve become the leading edge in this market.”