Well, that was quick. I feel like I just got used to writing 2023 on things, and now it’s 2024. But, to be fair, I’ve probably felt that same thing about each of the past 30 years or so. The last time a year dragged on to where I got tired of writing a particular date? Maybe when I was 12. So 1994? Which means sorry, 2023, like the 28 years before you, I never really got to know you.
But I do have some numbers about what happened with Unrulr this past year. So, without further ado: 2023 by the numbers. Or, as the kids call it, 2023: wrapped.
Sometimes the numbers just line up. Sometimes the numbers line up so well that you recheck your database query three times. But the numbers were right – in 2023 we had exactly the same number of new communities as returning communities: 51 new, 51 returning (with a minimum of 20 posts).
Every year we get new ideas and meet more, awesome people. The crazy thing about these numbers? So many of them are doing cool, innovative things. And that’s one of my favorite things about this work: there’s this magnetic pull between us and the people who are pushing the envelope of education.
Between Aaron, Jack and myself, we hit a spread of conferences this year:
We haven’t done the booth thing yet. We like to walk around, check out talks, and meet with our friends who are also there. It’s tough to do those things and be tied to a physical space on the event floor (also, the ROI of those? Questionable).
We’ll probably be doing a similar schedule this year. But at least one of the above won’t be making the cut :) And some we just can’t fit in. Now, if we were 20 years younger (except for Jack, who’d be like 5), we’d do all of them! But, you know, families and stuff are important. And on-the-road life doesn’t hold the same luster it once did.
60k moments of learning, captured. Over 90k pieces of media, as evidence. And 2.3 million words in captions? That’s cool. We see a steady stream of documentation daily, but it’s fun to see how it all adds up.
In 2019, we started Unrulr as a C Corporation. This is one of the standard business structures for startups in the US, and pretty much the de facto choice for any startup looking to raise venture capital (which we were at the time). In 2022, we filed to amend our articles of incorporation, and convert Unrulr into a Public Benefit Corporation. IANAL, but, broadly, this lets us legally prioritize impact alongside profit (C Corporations are legally bound to maximize value for shareholders).
The key requirement for Benefit Corporations? A public benefit statement. Here’s ours:
to encourage a diverse understanding of contributions, growth, and impact from both individuals and organizations.
It’s a mouthful, but we’re trying to say:
All these images, videos and captions we’ve collected push our mission further. And in 2023, we added two new options for documentation and reflection: audio recordings, and text-only posts.
Our partners have been asking about these options, on and off, since our earliest days. But we’ve held off because there have always been work-arounds: Want an audio only post? Take a video of the wall while you talk. Want a text-only post? Take a picture of the ground and just write a caption :)
In 2023, we finally got around to creating first-class options for audio and text-only. If you’re curious about some of the thoughts and design that went into it, you can check out this post about audio or this post about text-only.
We’re pretty happy with how they both came out. We released audio-only posts this summer, and were excited to see learners use audio, especially as a medium for reflection. Audio can help ease some of the anxiety around seeing yourself on camera, and the interactive transcription we create is top-notch.
We released text-only posts in mid-November, and saw such quick adoption that it made us feel a little bit guilty for not doing this earlier. [Apologies, everyone – we really should have listened to you sooner :)] But for real it’s useful.
Sometimes I just want to write something down and don’t have an appropriate image or video to share along with it. And then I get hung up hunting for something that makes at least some sense. And even when I do find something, it makes my profile feed confusing, because: Why is there a thumbnail with a picture of my feet? Oh, right. I just didn’t have a matching picture for that moment.
So, yeah! More ways to document == More evidence of learning, impact, and growth
These were not the numbers we were expecting when we built Unrulr V1. We had future goals of supporting web-browser access and browsers, but fully expected that the majority of users, both learners and educators, would want to use their phones. Because: Phones! Always at hand for moments of learning!
However, we were wrong (a fairly frequent occurrence). Mobile is popular, but so is the web. Pretty close to dead-even, actually. And for a long time, we haven’t given web users the same support as we have to mobile users.
This fall, we finally rolled out live recording via the computer camera. So web users can look just as awkward reflecting on video as mobile users do :)
This is important for equity (the recording, not the awkwardness). There are a lot of reasons that learners and educators might not have access to a mobile device. And we want to support education everywhere, not just education in places with privilege.
In total, learners self-assessed more than 150k times in 2023. When self-assessing, they chose over 2000 different COGS from more than 324 sets created by and for our learning communities.
That’s a lot! And this is an exciting piece for us. Not only are learners capturing and reflecting on their learning, but they are also connecting those moments to the greater learning initiatives of their community. That’s building the link between qualitative and quantitative.
Where we were really optimistic initially, back in 2020, was the opportunity to look at those self-assessments and then either affirm or refute the assessment using peer and teacher feedback.
By the numbers, that isn’t going so well :(
But we’re working on it! We’re trying to do something both pedagogically interesting and which drives user engagement. In other words we’re trying to answer the questions:
When will we answer these questions? Ummm… soon I hope?
The question we’re trying to answer in the near term is: What can we build with all the awesome media, writing, and self-assessments that learners are creating?
We think that the answer is something like a cross between a portfolio, a report card, and a story. We call it a re-fol-ory. Just kidding – that’s not what we call it. Unless you want us to.
But for real: we help learners document and reflect on their learning, and capture the process as well as the outcome. And process can tell you so much about a learner. So once we’ve helped a learner do all the hard, fun work of documenting, how do we help them turn that rich media into an artifact that tells the story of who they are? And not only who they are now, but the growth they navigated to get there.
That was 2023. I originally attempted to start this post by talking a little bit about 2023 in the context of the world. But no matter which scale I looked at, local, national, or international, it got too scary, too fast.
But 2023 was a good year for us at Unrulr. We ran into some tight (so very tight) financial moments in the spring, but we snuck on through and came out healthy. As a company we’re in a place where we can peer a little further down the road, and we believe, more than ever, in the direction we’re going.
It ain’t always pretty, and it ain’t always fast, but education is moving.
So here we go, 2024. We’re excited to see where both Unrulr and education get to. And in the outside world, it’s got to be better, right? Wait, 2024 is even. [Checks math, googles] *wince* Election year :(
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