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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

‘Sponsored’ homework pitched to schools


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Michael Zelin believes he has an online system that could boost student performance in Hernando County through commercial incentives, and incentivize businesses and nonprofits to offer those rewards to students in exchange for an unbeatable advertising opportunity: dirt-cheap advertising space to thousands of young consumers during online homework assignments.

“My students did excellent work, excellent. They came with incredible PowerPoints at Kent State University, and they made the presentations,” Zelin said, who said he’s a former-adjunct professor at Kent State University who taught physics, engineering, and math. “All that work is gone. They received the grade, and that’s where it all stops.”

Zelin, who lives in Hernando Beach now with a child at Challenger K8, is a technical director at Adan, Inc. Adan, which stands for “advanced analysis,” is an Ohio-based corporation with operations in Arkansas, and with apparent ambitions to expand in the Tampa area, as well.

The collaborative learning website Zelin pitched to the school board during public comment last week — – appears to have a host of sponsors, ranging from Walmart to Suze Orman to Lego to OneTravel, offering $150 flights with links to “book now.”

Although the proposal is just currently part of a small pilot program intended for 10 to 20 participants the hyper-commercialized sponsorship element is difficult to overlook, which appears to be the point, especially as it relates to students.

Zelin said that, essentially, students can earn “points” for completing homework assignments that can be used as a currency toward participating sponsors, whether that be a charitable contribution to a nonprofit, or tospend on one’s self for a product like, say, a pair of shoes. And sponsors, in exchange for their participation, will receive highly competitive advertising in an otherwise untapped market: schools.

“Like posters at the school, everybody sees them, but nobody thinks of that as advertising,” Zelin said. “You have to help people to help you, and that’s the only way I think of it.”

According to the company’s website, it has developed sites providing “novel solutions” for online education and online training for schools, colleges, and corporations. However, the company seems to have a stronger reputation in providing website design and web development for commercial services, including web hosting, search engine optimization, and e-commerce with customers in the U.S., Italy and France.

According to Zelin, Adan, Inc. would provide support to the participating school district, where students could create assigned projects with sponsor links, as well as school links, which would be added to the Web pages. Zelin said students would learn through collaborative use of the medium in various subjects, and would be incentivized beyond the obvious benefits of education through rewards earned via participation and service learning hours, or “novel reward mechanisms.”

In return for company support of the network, including an e-folder or personal storage database, sponsors could reach out to their customers while receiving advertising at a fraction of the cost, Zelin said. Zelin also said that, further down the line, scholarships and funding is to be incorporated from participating sponsors.

“Now in Arkansas, I used this system where students could post their work online, and the main question here is: Is there value in student work beyond the grade?” Zelin said. “So think about it — they have to do homework — so they post it online and there is a button offering improvement and to collaborate. There is a button for comments and they can share their ideas, and they can post links from nonprofit organizations on the pages.”

The website becomes a support for nonprofits, Zelin said, because nonprofits can find sponsors, and with sponsor links, this would provide a way for nonprofits to gain further support.

“How many students would love to do that?” Zelin said. “No. 1, they’re helping the good cause, and No. 2 they build their own resume when they go to college. They have a portfolio of their work. It’s free. It’s all free of charge.”

The proposal was met with obvious albeit respectful skepticism — another resident who spoke during audience comment addressed Zelin, saying nothing was free and had a price whether now or somewhere else down the line — but Zelin said he wants suggestions to modify his idea to align best with the district and community’s education goals.

“People hear my rationale, and they think I’m trying to sell them something,” Zelin said. “No, it’s all free of charge, and that’s what I’m trying to address here because I need (the school board’s) help, and (the community’s) help, too, because maybe I’m doing something wrong here, and I’m trying to right them, so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.”

School Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said Zelin could meet with the proper district contacts to have a more in-depth look at his proposal, and see if it aligns with the district’s education goals.

“We’ll have someone on staff sit down and look at what you’re talking about,” Blavatt said. “Once we’ve taken a look at it, if it’s something that we see as an application from the professionals on staff, then we certainly will bring it back to the board in the form of trying to move forward with it.”

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