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March 31, 2008 12:29 PM

DreamBox Learning debuts Wednesday

Posted by Brier Dudley

The stealthy Bellevue education startup founded by Ben Slivka, a key player in Microsoft's rise in the 1990s, and Lou Gray, former UIEvolution president, is finally opening its kimono.

We'll have more details Wednesday - I'm guessing that's when they'll announce a public beta - but it's an online educational services play.

It sounds like the company's developing curriculum that will be delivered in an entertainment format, with tools to measure and report students' progress.

DreamBox isn't another little Web 2.0 startup. This is an A-list company developing a major scale Web service, with talent from, Microsoft, Apple and Walt Disney Internet Group, among others.

It's going after a growing market for tools and services offering to help public schools use technology to improve teaching and measurement of student progress.

Locally, Microsoft has been pursuing the broader market for years with specialized software and services aimed at school districts and government education ministries. Kal Raman's Global Scholar is also making progress, launching online tutoring services and winning a technology services contract with the state of South Carolina.

Global Scholar is providing an online curriculum platform, but its South Carolina deal focuses more on managing student data and creating an online community for communications between families and schools.

DreamBox is more content-oriented -- Xbox Live and Webkinz meet The Princeton Review, perhaps?

Among the positions it's hiring for is a curriculum and instructional designer to "manage all activities associated with the planning, development, and production of web-based educational content." The person will "create content standards, lessons, and assessment design" and "translate curriculum and assessment design into software specifications for Creative and Engineering teams." The person will also "cultivate relationships and create partnerships with academicians, educational laboratories, schools, and key thinkers in the fields of cognitive science, educational technology, mathematics, and curriculum and assessment."

I haven't seen the demo or heard the pitch yet, but I'm starting out skeptical about how much value online curriculum can add to education and worried about school districts spending money on slick new software packages when they can't afford basic maintenance.

On the other hand, kids are spending lots of time online at ad-driven sites with little to no education benefits. Maybe be they should be working toward a gamerscore with educational benefits.

Then you hear about Finland, which is producing some of the best-educated students in the world. As this article from the Wall Street Journal explains, the secret isn't technology or metrics, it's well trained teachers taking a back-to-basics approach to education.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.