Working at 360Ed

In 2014, 360Ed was acquired by Junyo.

I started with 360Ed in October of 2008. At the time, 360Ed was wrapping up development on Conspiracy Code: American History, which is a 3D adventure that teaches a full year of American history. CC:AH is not sold like most educational games; it isn’t a supplement to some other history course, it is the history course, and you take it in a classroom, with a teacher, homework, discussions, oral assessments, and exams.

Because there is work to do outside of the game, there is a web site that goes along with the game that handles all of that student-teacher interaction. The history course material (text, audio, and video) is also served through this web site. That web site (“SiTi”) was my primary responsibility at 360Ed. We launched CC:AH in spring of 2009 with our partner Florida Virtual School (FLVS).

In the fall of 2009 we launched our second game, Conspiracy Code: Mindbender, which instead of history taught reading skills to struggling students. SiTi gained a few extra capabilities to support the new game, but for the most part could be used as-is. The same web site was used for both games simultaneously; we didn’t make separate sites for each game.

In 2010 we began planning our next project, looking at ways that we could use gaming to keep students engaged with educational material. We brainstormed ideas under the working name of “Happy Fun Place”. We also recognized that although FLVS had been an excellent partner, their classroom structure (every student at their own pace, enrolling in classes at any time during the year) was very atypical for online learning. We wanted to extend our reach beyond FLVS and from that perspective, the SiTi platform had some drawbacks. We started to build SiTi2.

By summer of 2010 we were partnered with McGraw-Hill to produce SiTi2 under a to-be-determined brand1 and import MH textbooks into the system for teachers and students to use. We started in-school pilots in the fall of 2011. We expect to launch in summer/fall of 2012 with Biology and Algebra 1 textbooks, with Algebra 2, Geometry, and Precalculus following shortly after.

My specific role with SiTi2 has been to provide architecture and direction for the overall development as well as to write code. This means not just solving the problems we have today, but also preparing for the solutions to future problems. This requires care; a lot of “scalable” solutions are harder to manage until you reach the scale that mandates them. Often the choice is to identify a solution that is good enough for now, but can easily be swapped out for a larger-scale solution later.

360Ed was the first company I’ve worked at where Python knowledge was required. The choice to use Python for the web side of the projects was made before I started; it was already being used for some of the other tools in the production of CC:AH and it was even embedded into the game itself as a scripting language to help manage the game’s story.2 They elected to use Python for the web site in order to have the most overlap with the rest of the game team. That choice then drove them to select Django as their web application framework. (Obviously I’d never worked with that, either!) My first few weeks were a crash-course in learning Python and Django.

Two years is a lot of time to spend on a web project. We’ve had staff turnover and changing requirements. MH is doing some reorganization of their business. And the tech industry has seen some fairly significant changes during that time. We’ve killed features we thought were going to be crucial and added features we thought would have to wait another year or two before implementing. But the team has put in a lot of hard work that they can be proud of.

1 After extensive discussion, McGraw-Hill has decided to name the product “Spot”.

2 Python is easy to integrate into existing projects this way. It’s also a language taught at FIEA, from which many of 360Ed’s early employees graduated.

Photo Credits: textbooks for McGraw-Hill Spot (SiTi2): Damien Jones