GoSoapBox at Techweek 2012

If you were at Techweek 2012 in Chicago, you may have seen the GoSoapBox crew hanging around. We were exhibiting from Friday, June 22 through Monday, June 25, showing off our flagship product to the Windy City’s tech crowd.

Dave and John at Techweek 2012

(That’s John Pytel on the left and Dave Mulder on the right.)

Techweek was a great fit for us in part because it took place only a few floors away from our office at 1871, but also because it gave us a chance to show off our new GoSoapBox for Conferences offering.

Because this was our first time exhibiting GoSoapBox, we waited until the last minute to prepare our booth materials. Naturally, we had to scramble to get our poster ready as well as our handouts. Our setup wasn’t as glamorous as others (hey! we’re bootstrapping here), but we still had a great time meeting a lot of interesting people from Chicago and beyond.

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Performance improvements, bug fixes, and no-refresh-necessary buttons

Over the weekend, we pushed a few updates to GoSoapBox.

Integration with Amazon Elasticache

Amazon Elasticache is a distributed in-memory cache environment. We are using the service to reduce database load, which has been our primary bottleneck. There may be a few bugs yet to work out, but our initial testing indicates that everything is working the way it should be.

Bug Fixes

Two weeks ago, you may have noticed that the comment reply bubble disappeared from the Social Q&A feature. We had to temporarily disable the script that figures out how many replies a Question has received. But that’s all sorted out now and the bubble is back where it should be.

Social Q&A Quick Manage Buttons

Next to each audience-submitted question in Social Q&A are two “quick-manage” buttons.  We call them quick-manage because, prior to their existence, you had to click into a question and then find the “Remove This” link from that page. Quick-manage buttons were added to reduce the number of clicks, but it still meant a page reload, which can take a few seconds if you are on a slower data connection.

We’ve taken this a step further by making the Social Q&A buttons work without a page reload being necessary. The next you click one of those buttons, the question will gray-out and then disappear a moment later. It’s like magic!

The same kind of no-refresh-necessary behavior will be coming soon for quick-manage buttons on other features, so stay tuned.

Monday 5/28 Update: Instant Polling and HTTPS

Every few weeks, we make changes to GoSoapBox. Updates typically include new features, bug fixes, and code improvements for better performance and stability.

On Sunday, we rolled out our latest changes, which are summarized below.

New Feature: Instant Polling

We added a new Polling feature for GoSoapBox, called Instant Polling. Instant Polling acts similarly to some other polling products in that you can take a pre-existing set of questions (perhaps in a PowerPoint presentation) and give your audience a generic set of responses (A, B, C, D, E, etc).

Instant Polling’s graph updates in real time. You can easily change the number of options, or clear the data for a new question.

A Slightly Different URL

The next time you join a GoSoapBox Event, you may notice that the URL is slightly differently. Instead of pointing to app.gosoapbox.com, you will be redirected to a.gosoapbox.com.

Everything will work the same, and we may switch back to app.gosoapbox.com at some point in the future. But for now the application will live on a.gosoapbox.com.

Introduction of HTTPS

In addition to a new URL (a.gosoapbox.com), you will also notice that all our application URLs are using HTTPS, and that they have a nifty lock icon next to them.

HTTPS stands for HTTP Secure, and it is a protocol for encrypting transmissions between your computer and our servers. HTTPS is on its way to becoming a standard for all web applications. You will notice it as a default on other websites like you use, like Google and Facebook.

A New Application Host

Over the last month we have been migrating our application to a new web host, PHP Fog, and this rollout completes that migration. The change was necessary because we want GoSoapBox to be in an environment that can scale to meet the growing demands of our users. With this migration complete, we will be pushing product updates more frequently.

Different Labels on Application Homepage

We have had a lot of people from outside education using GoSoapBox and asking for a version that is not specific to teachers and students. As a first step toward this, we changed the labels on the application to homepage from “Students: Join an Event” and “Teachers: Sign In” to “Join a GoSoapBox Event” and “Sign In”.

Happy Teachers Appreciation Week!

Through our friends at Toodalu.com (another Chicago based startup), we have the opportunity to donate a percentage of our business expenses directly to a charity of our choice and we thought, what better way to show our appreciation for teachers than donating money to an education based charity of their choice? So that’s what we’re doing.

 

How It Works…

Any time we use our credit card at a Toodalu partnered establishment, 5% of the expense will be directly donated to a charity of our choice.

  • We have also linked our personal credit cards to Toodalu, and will donate those returns to the same charity.

How Do You Get Involved?

We’ve created a GoSoapBox event and have listed a few education based charities to get the ball rolling.

  • Vote for one of the charities already listed, or add in your own!
  • We have the opportunity to donate to any charity we choose. Feel free to add any education based charity around the world… just make sure to include enough info.
  • At the end of next week we will link our credit cards to the charity that has the most votes.

Teachers play one of the most important, and perhaps under appreciated roles in our world and we’re excited about this opportunity to give a little back. We don’t want to limit the voting to GoSoapBox users, so feel free to share the information with any other teachers in your life.

Thanks for all you do,

John & Dave

 

GoSoapBox Behind The Scenes

Our users play a huge roll in building our product, and we like to think of you as ‘Part of the team’, so we want to give you guys a little more visibility into the company behind the product.

GoSoapBox is based out of Chicago, IL. While the epicenter of technological innovation has long been linked to Silicon Valley, over the past few years Chicago has quietly made it’s way onto the entrepreneurial scene. With an increasing number of resources for entrepreneurs to access, we are really excited to be part of this growing ecosystem of innovation.

Downtown Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday marked the official opening of one of Chicago’s newest and most exciting initiatives towards promoting this entrepreneurial community. A brand new, 50,000 sq foot, co-working and incubation space called 1871. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1871 is the new headquarters of GoSoapBox….let us show you around!

The collaborative workspace at 1871

1871 is the new home of 65 of Chicago's fastest growing tech start-ups

 

143 foot-long glass white board at 1871

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home to three local universities: Northwestern, University of Illinois, University of Chicago and IIT

In-house Coffee Shop

28 private conference rooms & impressive wall to wall murals

They holds daily entrepreneurship classes with topics ranging from Law to Sales to Design & Development.

Monday 4/23 Update

Over the weekend we rolled out a truckload of updates which we think you’ll enjoy. As always, we’re going to continue rolling out new updates, so continue sending us your feedback!

 

  • Everything on the Event Page now refreshes in real-time.
  • New styling for buttons.
  • Students can now review and change their Quiz responses before submitting their final answers.

  • Discussions can now be locked/unlocked on demand.
  • “Quick Manage” lock / unlock  buttons have been added for convenience (you no longer have to click into a poll or quiz to lock / unlock it).

  • Images can be optionally added to Polls and Quizzes.

  • Histogram display format option added for Polls

  • High-resolution icons added for the benefit of teachers and students using retina display iPads.

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The Omari Effect

How a twelve year old and his bicycle deepened my appreciation for learning.

My name is Blair Kessler and I am a junior at Northwestern University, studying Economics and Entrepreneurship. This Spring I will be interning with GoSoapBox .

I spent this past summer working in the education branch of Outreach Zanzibar; a start-up Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Zanzibar, Tanzania.  Situated off the coast of mainland Tanzania and north of Madagascar, this archipelago lies approximately 8,500 miles away from sweet home Chicago.

It was my responsibility to implement an English based curriculum into Unguja Ukuu primary school, located in a remote village on the Eastern coast of the Island.  The village primarily served as the home to “fish-mongers,” supplying five star resorts across the island with fresh seafood.  It was the ultimate goal of many of the students I would work with over the next three months to be successful “fish-mongers.” It was my goal to challenge this intuition, by providing a platform in the classroom to best prepare them to continue their education, or at the very least become aware of what other opportunities are out there.

The Unguja Ukuu complex is split in half by the main road that runs into the center of commerce on the island, Stone Town.  On the right hand side of the road is the primary school and on the left is the secondary school.  Each school is spread across five tin-roofed, open-air classrooms, filled with hand crafted benches and desks facing the teachers’ podium and large black slate, that serves as the blackboard. I spent some time in my youth installing artificial grass in Denver specifically for soccer fields. Seeing the field the use everyday was such a shock. Behind the secondary school lies an open field that serves as grounds for the village’s cattle during the evenings and school’s soccer pitch during the day.  Playing soccer was a very rich and humbling experience. Students without shoes would run circles around me, across the field strewn with cow manure and “prickers,” not phased in the least. Their enthusiasm and interest in soccer was the main reason why I bought them Football cleats so that they could practice better. During the gameplay, I even thought them a few basic rules which they quite never knew existed such as Chip pass and Clear.

Unguja Ukuu Students On The Soccer Pitch

For lunch students would pay 100 Tanzanian schillings (equivalent of $0.05) for a cup of pink bean porridge.  Curious of who this “mzungu” (white-person) was at their school, students flocked at the opportunity to eat and even share their porridge with me in hopes of learning a new word of English or teaching me a few words of their native tongue, Swahili.

Each student was responsible for supplying a notebook for each subject, comparable to a Blue Book, which was to last them the length of the academic year.  The students of Ungujua Ukuu never had their own textbook and were accustomed to being taught lessons by under-qualified teachers who showed up late and unprepared; a stark contrast to their peers in first world countries.

Despite limited tools, resources and technology, the Unguja Ukuu students were more engaged and eager to learn than any other group of students I’ve shared a classroom with before. I can only imagine how excited Unguja Ukuu kids would be to use an application like GoSoapBox!

One student in particular, named Omari, stood head and shoulders above his peers in terms of drive and curiosity.  Each morning and afternoon, Omari would meet me on the road into school on his bike and offer me a ride to beat the hot Zanzibar sun on the three-mile stretch, in exchange for sharing the English word of objects that we would come across on the ride, or that had occurred that day.  Personally, I don’t know many seventh graders anxious to tug a former defensive lineman on the back of their bike, just to soak up a few more bits of knowledge.  Omari taught me far more than I thought any seventh grader ever would, and it is his story and love for learning that has brought me to join an education based start-up.

Omari and I

Never in the last 20 years of my formal education have I seen an appreciation run so deep through a group of students, or such genuine interest and curiousity in learning as I did in Zanzibar.

As I reflect back upon the strong academic foundation that I have built, and the opportunities that presented themselves throughout my academic career, I have a new found appreciation for the people and institutions that allowed me to get to where I am today.  Driven by the conversations over porridge at lunch, Omari’s ride to and from school, and the genuine enthusiasm for learning that I witnessed in Zanzibar, my appreciation for the educational opportunities that lie ahead of me has never been stronger.

I hope that my story will inspire you to feel the same thirst for knowledge as Omari, who was eager to lug a 220 pound lineman for three miles on the back of his bike in order to learn a few new words of English each day. With today’s technology, we have access to a world of knowledge within a few clicks of a mouse. The next time you find yourself watching reality TV, or browsing Facebook, I challenge you to think of Omari and his friends sitting patiently on their wood bench, waiting for their teacher to show up to class. Do right by Omari and take advantage of the resources that are available to us. Be eager to learn something new, or better yet, teach a friend something new. There’s a group of kids 8,500 miles away who I know would appreciate it.

Unguja Ukuu Students Waiting For Class To Start

Unguja Ukuu Students Waiting For Class To Start

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  Please feel free to reach out to me with questions or feedback at: blair@gosoapbox.com

New Features On GoSoapBox

We’ve been rolling out some new features and improvements to GoSoapBox over the past few days, and we want to keep everyone updated. We will continue making development additions, so keep the feedback coming!

New Homepage Design

We’ve revamped our homepage (gosoapbox.com) with some additional company and product information. We think the design looks a bit cleaner as well.

Check it out and let us know what you think: gosoapbox.com

Spreadsheet Export Improvements

The exportable spreadsheet now contains each student’s grade on any quiz. Each quiz tab now has a column displaying the % grade for each student’s responses to multiple choice questions within the quiz.

We’ve also added a tab to the spreadsheet containing any ‘open’ questions from your event. The spreadsheet will show you what question was asked, who asked it, and how many votes it received among the class.

 Improved ‘Email Me Questions’ Feature

You have the ability to have GoSoapBox send you an email with a list of all of the ‘open’ and ‘answered’ questions from your event.

We’ve updated this email to now include any replies to those questions. This can be a really simple way of sharing a FAQ or study guide from your event.

Discussion Reply Names Now Visible

Teachers (or event managers) are now able to see the name of the author of each discussion reply. All replies still remain anonymous among students or audience members.

Pause, Archive, or Remove Events

You now have the ability to Pause, Archive, or Remove an event that you created. To do this, go to “Manage this GoSoapBox event” and scroll to the section titled ‘Status Settings’.

Pause an Event: This will essentially put a lock down on your event momentarily. Your students (or audience) will still be able to access the event but will not be able to interact with any of the features.

Archive an Event: This will pause your event, and move it to an ‘Archived’ events section on your account dashboard. This allows you to keep an event for an extended period of time, without cluttering up your account dashboard. You can ‘Un-Archive’ an event at any time.

Remove an Event: This will permanently delete your event completely.

Thursday 3/1 update: Copy Quizzes, Quiz grades, and a faster Confusion Barometer

We pushed some changes to app.gosoapbox.com last night.

Copy Quizzes

You can now copy Quizzes from one Event to another. This is very handy if you have multiple classes and multiple Events that need to use the same Quizzes. To copy a Quiz, go to the target Event, click/tap “Add a new Quiz”, and then select the Quiz you would like to copy from one of your existing Events.

Note that this only applies to active Quizzes. Once a Quiz has been removed, it falls off the list of copy-able Quizzes.

Copy Polls and Copy Discussions are coming soon.

Faster Confusion Barometer

The Confusion Barometer used to run more slowly than other features, but we have made some performance tweaks that will allow it to refresh more frequently. There also used to be some oddities where Confusion presses would not show up immediately — those should be resolved in this update.

Quizzes show grades to students

GoSoapBox Quizzes allow for two kinds of questions: Multiple Choice and Short Answer. Multiple Choice questions give teachers the option of selecting an answer that is correct, and when students answer questions we track whether or not they got it right. When teachers later export the Quiz data, they can easily see who got what right or wrong (this is not yet available for Short Answer questions).

We have modified GoSoapBox Quizzes such that when possible, we show students what their grade was on the Quiz.

More noticeable links in header

You will probably file this one under “Who cares?!” but for reference, you will eventually notice that the Account Dashboard and Student Name links in the header of an Event are more noticeable.

We also increased the limit on Student Names lengths from to 45 characters (from 30 characters). This change was made because someone left feedback asking us to increase the limit. Hopefully a 50% increase is enough for now.

 

Why We Launched

Last week, GoSoapBox opened its digital doors to the public. We were featured on Mashable, tweeted on Twitter, and discussed on numerous blogs. Many praised our innovative product, others scoffed. As thrilled as we are to be growing, we are pausing today to address a few concerns and questions.

Our public launch included moving to a for-pay service. We have heard from a few teachers that our asking price is too steep. Others were disappointed that the product costs anything.  Frankly — we do not like charging for GoSoapBox and wish we could keep it free forever. Budgets are tight in schools, and any new expense is difficult to justify.

So why are we charging?

  1. We want to build a great product.
  2. We want to be accountable to our users, not investors.

Revenue allows us to reinvest in GoSoapBox and continue our track record of rapid improvement. It supports us while we work almost nonstop to build and support our product. And unlike most educational startups, especially ones offering free products, we have not taken any outside investment. Our only stakeholders are our users, and we want to keep it that way as long as possible.

A few other questions we would like to address…

“$90 / year is too expensive. Do you expect teachers to pay for this out of their own pocket?”

We developed our price point after conducting numerous interviews with our beta users. We know that we’ll never be able to satisfy everyone at any price, but after speaking with our users we felt that $90 was a reasonable amount to ask for an entire year of use.

Through our beta user interviews we also discovered that many teachers would plan to use funds from a school budget in order to pay for the subscription, or get reimbursed for the cost. Our current payments system only accepts credit cards but we are open to accepting other payment formats. Email john@gosoapbox.com and tell us what format works best for you.

“Are school-wide or university-wide versions of GoSoapBox available?”

Though we are not ready to launch an enterprise edition of GoSoapBox, it will be available shortly (along with pricing information). Anyone interested in this should email john@gosoapbox.com.

“There are other products out there that do this. What makes it different?”

While we have never come across a product that accomplishes exactly what GoSoapBox does, there may be other products that we have yet to discover.

What differentiates GoSoapBox from the competitive products that we have discovered is the custom level of engagement that can be achieved, combined with ease of adoption. Clickers and other competitive products focus on teachers engaging students with questions, and while GoSoapBox accomplishes polls & quizzes just as well, it also focuses on students engaging the teacher with questions. It’s nice to see how well students can answer the questions that you ask them, but it’s often times more effective to see the questions that they’re asking you.

And unlike many of our competitors, teachers don’t have to re-design their curriculum to best fit GoSoapBox — they can customize GoSoapBox to best fit their style of teaching.