Northwestern student startup hopes to ‘democratize’ education with free online database for teachers


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

The Garage, 2311 Campus Dr. The Lighthouse Education Project is a Northwestern startup that hopes to make education more equitable.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

Mason Secky-Koebel wants to “democratize,” and not “commodify,” education.

The McCormick junior is the founder and CEO of The Lighthouse Education Project, an education platform he hopes will make elementary school learning more equitable.

“It’s kind of wild right now the way education in this country is set up,” said Thomas Barnett, a McCormick junior and Lighthouse’s lead backend engineer. “We could be doing so much more if we could be collaborative rather than working as more of like a capitalist market. Because if we work together to figure out the best ways to teach things we’ll probably end up finding just the best solution.”

Lighthouse is a free, collaborative platform where teachers can choose from a library of other teacher’s exercises as well as upload their own. Instead of having to resort to costly alternatives like Teachers Pay Teachers, a popular online marketplace where teachers must pay for lesson materials, Lighthouse will be a way for teachers to access an entire collection of problems and learning tools for free.

Secky-Koebel said the platform will generate revenue through online advertisements.

He hopes his Garage-based startup can be the big “disruptor” that the education sector has yet to see.
“I think of really classic examples like the iPhone to smartphones or Uber and Lyft to the taxi industry. And that in the beginning was what I was looking for,” the McCormick senior said.
The project, he said, is an online learning platform intended for teachers of kindergarten to 5th grade. In addition to its free and accessible library for teachers to select problems and classroom activities, it includes a special “mind map” feature designed to organize connections between interesting themes across subject areas to pique students’ interests.

The idea for Lighthouse spawned from a McCormick grant in April that gave Secky-Koebel the opportunity to research how people learn. Now, after starting the project this fall through The Garage, he has grown his team to eight members and is ready to test out a minimized version of the platform by the end of the quarter.

In the upcoming beta version, Northwestern students will be able to upload their own learning exercises, as well as view those of other students’ on the platform. Secky-Koebel invites students to publish problems ranging from calculus all the way down to basic counting activities. He predicts the learning platform will be launched in September for teachers to use.

Kieran Bondy, also a McCormick junior and Lighthouse’s mobile developer, said the startup will give teachers freedom in the way they assign problems in the classroom.

“Right now you’re forced to pick a book, and then you have to stick with that, but if it’s all in one database, and, and everybody’s able to access it, it gives you a lot more freedom with your course plans,” Bondy said.

Between the mind maps and open learning exercise platform, Lighthouse’s scope is quite broad. But the team knows that no startup grows without evolving.

“We’re an early-aged tech startup, if the (final) platform is 10 percent of how we describe it now, that’s shocking,” Barnett said. “In terms of the flexibility of tech startups you change so much during your development, you can’t expect to be what you originally thought you were.”

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