A Technology Backbone to Better Manage Curriculum

September 14, 2020 by Zach Silverzweig

There is a sense of urgency in every startup. Funding is scarce, time is short, and the team is small. There is a ton of work to do and constant questions as to the best path forward you can take to balance building a long-term foundation with gaining short-term success.

So when you come across a tool that solves an immediate problem, is affordable, and lays the foundation for a bright future, it's worth talking about. That's just how we felt when we came across Contentful.com, the Content Management System we use to organize and update our Curriculum.

What is a Content Management System (CMS) and Why Did We Need One?

If you have heard the term CMS before, you probably are thinking about Wordpress or Shopify, or some type of Blog platform where you can add articles, but "CMS" is a very broad term that does exactly what it says: 

A CMS is a system that allows you to gracefully manage your content, whatever that may be.

Jason Singh, Developer at TinyIvy

In our case, the "content" is the very curriculum itself. Our curriculum is being organized into three different "Packs", each representing a full semester of study. Packs are broken down into Units (three to a Pack) and then into Sections (five to a Unit). Each Unit has 10-15 worksheets, 5 lesson plans with activities and exercises, and at least 2 books. We also include summary guides and supporting worksheets and quick reference material. In total, there are over 1,250 pages of documents.

Now, let's say you had 1,250 pages of content, spread across 500 files. When you have a Word document, if you want changes to be made, you might make those in redline. But how do you manage feedback from 20 Founding Educators on thousands of pages of documents? How do you distribute the correct version at the right time?

For established companies and those teaching with old methods, it doesn't really matter. But for us, working with an innovative new system, we're expecting a lot of change. We want the input of teachers and parents, so  having great answers to these questions is critical.

Why We Chose Contentful

While it was important to think about all the content we would have and the feedback we might get, our primary objective was focused on getting MVP off the ground. We wanted to launch curriculum and share it with parents to get their feedback.

So we planned out the features we wanted to include:

  • Upload documents to the web
  • Link those documents to a library so users could download them
  • Allow users to rate content so we could identify what worked best

Having done this before, we knew that while those things seem pretty trivial, if you do them from scratch you are looking at a week or two of work to get to an MVP. We also know that some companies spend millions of dollars a year on teams of developers that perfect these features alone. So we decided to take a look at a few of them: Forestry.io and Contentful.com in particular.

That was when we saw something amazing. Four little letters that go right to the heart of a cash-strapped entrepreneur: FREE.

Contentful, for startups, is free. 

So we poked around a little. We added a framework for our Curriculum in about 15 minutes. That was easy. Then we installed the module in our teacher portal in about 30 minutes, also a cinch. And then we linked the API response to our data table. And... that was it. Another day or two of polishing the UI, and we were set to go for launch.

And now, once a teacher has finished a lesson, we gain immediate feedback on the quality of the content and can route them to the next item in the sequence.

Contentful’s asset references are really fluid, strong, and robust. They have worked really well for the content sequences we needed for our MVP.

Why We Will Stick With Contentful For The Future

So, out of the gate we were able to gain a robust system to manage mission-critical infrastructure for us. But even more important is that this framework is feature rich and has perfect potential to scale, including translation support as we contemplate releasing iterations of our curriculum in Spanish and Mandarin.

With Contentful, it’s easy for us to make changes to assets and be sure each change is made wherever the asset exists. This consistency is important for learners as they progress through their lessons. It’s also important because we expect to continually refine and improve the curriculum from customer feedback.

All of this is important to any startup, but for us it's about a lot more than just making it to the next financing round: our goal is nothing short of closing the literacy gap in the US. That's why it's we wanted to give Contentful a quick shout out and thank them for helping us take a huge step along that journey.

Tags: Building an EdTech Company

Zach Silverzweig

Written by Zach Silverzweig

Founder and CEO of TinyIvy and inventor of the TinyIvy Phonics System.