This week, Eduventures and many others from edtech companies, VC firms, and colleges and universities across the country attended the annual ASU GSV Summit in San Diego. There was a lot to see at what has become the premier event for edtech investors, with over 200 celebrity keynote speakers, film screenings, technology exhibitions, and award and venture company presentations. We managed to dodge the Doctor Who-like campus safety robots patrolling the halls to speak with a number of edtech vendors about their product visions and features. Here are the companies that captured our attention:

Using Data to Strengthen Insights across the Student Lifecycle

Throughout our meetings, we encountered the recurring theme of institutions deploying data analytics to improve the student experience. For example, our conversation with John Dobbertin, COO of Helix Education, centered on how its clients use data from its product suite to detect enrollment and retention patterns. Its suite consists of an inquiry management platform (Find), an enrollment management CRM (Enroll), a retention management CRM (Retain), and a data intelligence platform (Acuity). While each of the CRM products contains its own data stores, the data intelligence platform serves as a powerful central data warehouse for the CRM and any other system (i.e., LMS, SIS). This gives users the ability to synthesize, analyze, and report data from disparate sources to drive enrollment and retention decisions.

Ensuring the Right Instructional Technology Alignment

With so many technology providers displaying their products, we had to wonder: How would institutions know whether a particular piece of technology actually provides value to stakeholders? Lea(R)n Trials, a North Carolina-based company, is seeking to answer that very question. Karl Rectanus, CEO and Co-Founder, explained how its Lea(R)n Platform enables institutions to curate a menu or “app store” of applications from its broader portfolio. Using this menu, stakeholders can evaluate the selected applications using institution-specific criteria (i.e., usage, impact) and share their reviews. For example, the Lea(R)n platform currently powers the very impressive UNC Learning Technology Commons. It seeks to empower institutions to make data-informed decisions about whether to acquire or retain applications and, in turn, ensure that their technology meets their needs.

Increasing the Market Value of Students through Credentialing

Unsurprisingly, many discussions at ASU GSV focused on enabling student credentialing and improving student retention in online courses. We spoke with Krishna Kumar, CEO of SimpliLearn, a company that seeks to achieve both goals through a rich online learning experience. Its platform allows students to participate in self-directed courses that usually last no more than three months to obtain industry-accepted credentials in areas like project management, big data (Hadoop), IT security management, and IT service management. Alternatively, students can enroll in FlexiPass to learn directly from an authorized instructor and share information with other students. With the FlexiPass option, SimpliLearn currently boasts very impressive course completion rates, and we look forward to reviewing data with its team over the next few months.

Portfolios are the New… Everything

With nearly 30 ePortfolio companies in the market and faculty still struggling to get students to engage with these tools for academic purposes, it’s no surprise that some vendors are looking to differentiate their offerings and seeking new institutional buyers. We spoke with Troy Markowitz, VP of University Development at Portfolium, which is shifting from academic ePortfolios to the career services and campus recruiting market. Coming off a $2.1M round of fundraising at the end of 2015, Portfolium is ready to go head-to-head with incumbents like Symplicity Corporationwhile staying ahead of giants like LinkedIn that haven’t quite replaced the career services office yet. Instead of basing employer-to-employee matchmaking on an outdated resume-writing process, Portfolium uses a living portfolio that is comprised of verified learning artifacts mapped to the skills and competencies employers seek. Content within portfolios is indexed and matched to job descriptions that employers have posted to the top job boards, and Portfolium recommends the job postings to students that fit best with their skills. When students graduate, they maintain access to their portfolio for life and don’t have to go back through the resource-limited career services office for future assistance or employer connections.

Job Seeking is all about Alumni Networking

We also met with CEO Andrew Margie and COO Trip Tate of AlumniFire, which is flipping the paradigm of alumni networking on its head by enabling alumni to review resumes, practice interviews, or open their own networks to students looking for entry-level jobs. We decided to put its platform to the test by creating a profile for an Eduventures analyst. The system recognized his degree in computer engineering and asked whether he would like to help “fellow engineers find jobs in the real world.” The site also used his company connections from LinkedIn to show all of the jobs for which Eduventures is currently hiring. AlumniFire also provides a data feed of updated alumni profiles to link back to their CRM and an indication of which alumni are engaged with others and on what topics.

Technological Anachronisms on the Physical Campus

Finally, with the rise of adaptive learning platforms, online assessments, proctoring solutions, and complex plagiarism detection software, it seems anachronistic that a novel area of innovation on college campuses involves a cloud-based grading platform that is built on top of traditional paper grading forms. According to CEO Mark Espinola, GradeHub’s vision is to become the unified institution-wide grading hub. Instructors use a web-based console to prepare answer sheets that students print, complete, scan, and upload to an analytics dashboard that the instructor can access in real time. Since its initial product launch in March, GradeHub is still trying to spur adoption among Southern California colleges. This market is already relatively crowded with Scantron and dozens of Scantron-compatible vendors. GradeHub is currently free to institutions, and students pay $12.99 for an unlimited annual subscription. While this revenue model may encourage adoption among institutions, for which there is no financial risk, student-payer models have been heavily criticized in other tech sectors, such as ebooks and proctoring.