Buncee goes to the head of the class

Owning it: Female business owners (like Buncee CEO Marie Arturi) are doing great in New York, with certified Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises holding more state contracts than ever.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Buncee is putting the “e” in education.

Educators across the country are embracing the Calverton-based company’s “digital canvas,” which was originally designed as an e-greeting-type multimedia communications tool but has emerged as an award-winning educational resource.

Buncee has become so popular as a teaching tool, in fact, that the company is in the process of rolling out an education-specific platform called Buncee for Edu. With some features not expected to go live until July, the Edu-app is still not where it’s ultimately going to be, but B for E and its companion website are already racking up customers and honors.

In use by school administrators in 48 states and 71 countries, Buncee’s educational spinoff has been named in the Content Creation category of the American Association of School Librarians’ 2015 Best Apps for Teaching & Learning. It’s the latest award for the Edu-app, following a “cool tool” award earlier this year from EdTech Digest, a reader’s choice nod from eSchool News and “Best Free Web Tool” honors in the 2014 Edublog Awards, a public-vote forum celebrating school-based digital initiatives.

That’s a lot of educational attention for an app that wasn’t originally conceived as an educational tool. Today, “80 to 90 percent of our focus is now on education,” according to founder and CEO Marie Arturi.

The pivot began when a teacher suggested to Arturi that Buncee – a digital tool allowing users to create and share personalized content including pictures, videos and other elements – would be a big help with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the controversial attempt to create a uniform, nationwide K-12 curriculum that ensures high school graduates are prepared either for college or the workforce.

The app spread through education systems both here and abroad – as far afield as Tunisia and Bulgaria, Arturi noted – thanks to “old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing” and a healthy dose of social media attention.

“We have good relationships with people,” the CEO said. “And if an educator finds you on Twitter, they’ll share it.”

That viral spread inspired the creation of the new Buncee for Edu site, which includes a back-end administrative dashboard allowing instructors to create lesson plans, grade student work and perform other basic teacher tasks. All student submissions through the Edu-app are private, Arturi noted, until a teacher or other administrator makes them public.

“Our relationship is with the teachers,” she added. “We built this out in collaboration with educators, including two teachers we have on our staff.”

The American Association of School Librarians spent four years developing evaluation criteria to judge and honor the most useful apps for librarians, teachers, parents and students, according to Melissa Jacobs, the group’s chair, and the committee annually explores hundreds of contenders.

Buncee for Edu shared the spotlight in the Content Creation category with Adobe Voice, the LEGO Movie Maker, Pixel Press Floors – a revolutionary create-your-own-video-game program – and Glogster, a Flash editor that lets users create posters from premade and user-generated content.

The AASL also honored entries in the Books, Organization and Management, Social Sciences and STEM (for science, technology, engineering and math) categories.

“School librarians definitely use this resource,” AASL President Terri Grief said in a written statement, regarding the Best Apps awards. “But parents and teachers also benefit from it and find just the right app for their children and students.”

Arturi, who was presenting at the International Society for Technology and Education conference in Philadelphia this week, said she’s not surprised the AASL would recognize Buncee’s educational advantages.

“Librarians tend to be the ones bringing new tech into schools today,” she noted.

While Buncee for Edu is making headlines, the original Buncee e-greeting site continues to evolve. The company launched an all-new website this month – “We think it’s much easier,” Arturi noted – and received play on filmmaker George Lucas’ Edutopia site, where Buncee was featured in an article exploring the best student apps in a creation-based world.

Arturi is happy to see her brainchild – initially conceived to create e-thank-you cards for the doctors who tried to save her 7-month-old daughter Daniella from a rare blood disorder – achieve widespread success. But the longtime IT professional, whose Daniella Maria Arturi Foundation has raised over $40 million for research into diamond blackfan anemia, is especially gratified that Buncee has taken an educational turn.

“When we go into a classroom and discuss the app, every one of us walks out going, ‘OK, this is why we do this,’” Arturi said. “We’re particularly pleased when we see how easy it is for students to grasp it. That’s the best part.”