Lightspeed Systems Acquires CatchOn: What You Need to Know

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Lightspeed Systems recently announced that it had acquired the ENA affiliate CatchOn, Inc. 

Here’s what educators need to know about the coming together of these two edtech companies. 

What Does This Mean for Districts That Use Lightspeed and CatchOn?  

Lightspeed and CatchOn’s analytics products will eventually be integrated. “The plan is to let our customers who already use CatchOn continue to use that, and our customers who already used Lightspeed analytics to continue to use that, but the goal is to merge any technology that is in Lightspeed's analytics product into CatchOn,” says Brian Thomas, president and CEO of Lightspeed Systems. “There's a lot more features in CatchOn products than there are in Lightspeed’s analytics products.” 

CatchOn founder Jena Draper hopes the bolstered analytic tool will help across other Lightspeed services. “We should be thinking about how analytics impacts safety, classroom management, filtering – there's just a tremendous amount of value,” she says. 

Suzy Brooks, director of instructional technology at Mashpee Public Schools, was intrigued by the potential of the acquisition. “Our district has been a client of CatchOn for many years,” she wrote via email. “With Lightspeed’s leadership in online safety and classroom management, we’re excited about the potential for visibility into a students’ engagement, academic, and mental health status in one place.” 

Why Did Lightspeed Acquire CatchOn?  

Thomas says he and other executives at Lightspeed were interested in both CatchOn’s mission to help leaders to accurately assess their online software application investments and the data and analytics technology the company had developed. 

Lightspeed technology reaches more than 20 million students in 39 countries and 32,000 schools globally. The company utilizes patented agents to provide web filtering for school districts. “Those agents allowed us to do mobile device management, classroom management, and a product called Alert, which is our human review and artificial intelligence that allows us to predict if a student is at risk of harming themselves or others,” Thomas says. However, members of the company realized there was other potentially useful information about learning that could be gathered at the same time, and that the company could move into “a form of analytics.” 

This type of technology is what led Draper to form CatchOn in 2016. “Jena and the CatchOn team were developing agents of their own and technology that was also solving analytics problems. And she was, honestly, doing it before us, and doing a better job,” Thomas says. 

Draper and Thomas have long been friends, and when Thomas learned that ENA was going to sell CatchOn, he was interested in acquiring the company. “Because CatchOn’s product was at least 18 months to 24 months ahead of the Lightspeed analytics product, and I had great faith in Jena's alignment with Lightspeed, we thought that the merger of two companies would be really exciting,” Thomas says. 

 How Will This Acquisition Help CatchOn?  

CatchOn was founded by Draper in 2016. “The overarching problem that I wanted to help school districts solve was how to use technology efficiently and effectively,” she says. “I wanted them to really understand and harness the full power and potential that technology provided classrooms and teachers and students. And I had this assumption from my own experience in school, that they didn't fully grasp it. It was being used more, but it wasn't necessarily being effectively used and used in a way that could really benefit education as a whole.” 

Draper met with many school leaders and realized they had minimal systems in place to measure what technology was purchased, how or even whether it was used, and what the overall return on investment was. Schools had limited data on technology usage and much of the data they had was being filtered through the companies they worked with, which had a high potential for bias. 

Draper asked if a program that would work as a black box on an airplane, and show district leaders where kids went online and what tools they utilized, would be helpful. “They said, ‘If you can do that, you'll be solving one of the biggest problems in K-12 education. And I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds fun. Challenge accepted.’” 

Being acquired by Lightspeed will help CatchOn grow and reach more students and educators. “I’m delighted to be with Lightspeed,” Draper says. “I've been a fan of theirs for a long time. I love how quickly they move. I love the problems that they solve. I love their agility. I think CatchOn has a fantastic new home, that's going to just amplify and accelerate our vision to the nth degree.” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.