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A spirit that is not afraid

University innovators turn into entrepreneurs

Benjamin Gustafson, Auburn University senior in software engineering, and Tyler Smith, University of South Carolina senior in computer science, started a software program that helps educators nationwide make classroom observation more efficient, according to Gustafson.
Classroom Mosaic, which was unveiled in September 2012, is a teacher-observation platform that helps administrators record their classroom observations on a mobile device and later receive feedback through e-mail, according to Gustafson.
Gustafson said administrators typically recorded their observations on paper which was then stored in a file which would not be looked at again, but Classroom Mosaic helps make the observation information readily available.
“We took that process and put it on a mobile device, like laptop, iPhone, iPad; and we then store all that data for them, we send some feedback to the teacher in email about what the observer saw and also we do some data analysis across the school or department to see what their strengths and weaknesses are to teach the student better,” said Gustafson. “It just updates the observation process better and has a lot of benefits.”
Gustafson said the idea to start Classroom Mosaic came about during their senior year of high school when they were placed in a computer research class.
“We had an administrator from our high school approach us and asked us to help him build a system kind of like classroom mosaic but specifically for our high school, which was moving a paper teacher observation to a mobile phone observation, Gustafson said. "And so we did that and everybody enjoyed it enough in our high school that another high school in our district asked us to do the same thing for them.”
Gustafson said he and Smith also founded a software development company called Benty.
“The company is helping to support the teacher instead of interacting with the student directly,” Gustafson said. “We come from the mentality that teachers are really good at what they do, and so we are going to try to support them instead of keeping them in the Stone Age.”
Gustafson said they are in the middle of releasing Teacher Teams, a program that allows teachers to track a student’s growth within a unit by providing pre- and post-tests and tracking learning styles.
“It is surprising how much we learned by trying to run a company,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson said he still feels uncomfortable some days because he doesn’t have the experience that other people do but has learned a lot within the past four and a half years.
“Personally, my goal is to change the world and make a difference and leave it in a better state than it started, and I particularly enjoy using the tools that I know computer science, software engineering and data analysis to make that happen, and I think the world is ripe for that,” Gustafson said.
Douglas Warrington, director of business development, said he helped Gustafson start up his company.
Warrington said Gustafson was the first Auburn student he interacted with when he moved to Auburn in 2012.
“It’s been a challenge of having student life, social life and business life trying to juggle those three things, and sometimes student assignments take priority and a lot of time,” Warrington said.
“Starting your own company is a truly viable career alternative, and what you can learn at Auburn University you can take it and apply it to someone else’s company and to your own company,” Warrington said.
Smith said he was surprised by how widespread the company became.
“Just the way (the company) has spread nationally, we don’t do a lot of marketing or anything, just a lot of word of mouth and the Internet,” Smith said.
Smith said there are approximately 500 schools nationally that use the company's products.

“We just came together and we realized we needed to try and make it a business and see what would happen,” Smith said.

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