Instructure Is Back on the Stock Market, But Not Much Change Expected For Canvas Users

2 months ago 1526

Instructure is officially a publicly-traded company—again.

Officials from the company, which makes the Canvas learning-management system used at many colleges and schools, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange today, marking its IPO.

It’s a return of the INST ticker symbol for the company, which first went public in 2015, but then was taken private last March when Instructure was purchased by private equity firm Thoma Bravo for nearly $2 billion. The initial price today was $20 per share, meaning the company estimates it will raise $250 million.

Today’s move is expected to have little impact on the company’s strategy, meaning little will change for educators who use Canvas. That’s because even with the IPO, Thoma Bravo will maintain majority ownership of Instructure, notes Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger.

“I don’t consider it as impactful as most IPOs—it’s really financial management,” he told EdSurge today. In other words, the move helps Thoma Bravo manage the debt it accrued when it bought the company.

"They have not been the ‘evil’ company trying to use data to change their strategy.” —Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger

The shrugs from observers today are much different than the uproar around Instructure’s sale last year. At that time, some shareholders complained that they weren’t getting a good enough deal in the transaction. Meanwhile, some educators worried that the company was cashing in by selling out the privacy of its users. The specific concern came over a statement by the company’s then-CEO, Dan Goldsmith, who boasted at an investor conference that the company was developing algorithms based on user data that would give it a competitive advantage in the market.

In response to concerns about privacy by college leaders, the company formed a new committee on student data privacy and took other measures to try to reassure customers.

And Instructure’s latest prospectus doesn’t mention big plans to use data or algorithms, notes Hill. “They’re clearly not pushing the claims that their former CEO was pushing,” he adds. “They have not been the ‘evil’ company trying to use data to change their strategy.”

One of the most vocal critics of the sale last year was Cristina Colquhoun, an instructional developer at Oklahoma State University’s libraries, who coordinated a letter-writing effort urging the company to make a more forceful public commitment to student privacy. In an email interview today, she said:

"I am so grateful for the work that Instructure has put in to advance the cause of student data privacy. However, they are a company that provides a service and are bound by the demand of their customers. Therefore, it is equally, if not more important that we are petitioning our individual institutions to hold conversations around student data privacy and challenging them to do better. We can ask ed tech companies to protect our students, but our institutions are the ones setting the precedent for what is acceptable and what is not. So, I encourage everyone to be aware of their institution’s data practices and, whenever it’s safe for you to do so, to ask questions and promote healthy dialogue."

Season of IPOs

The IPO is part of a trend of edtech companies going public, though. While it used to be rare for an edtech company to go public, these days there are so many IPOs or pending IPOs in the sector that it’s easy to lose track. Coursera, which sells online courses by top colleges, went public earlier this year. And Duolingo, a language-learning app developer, and Powerschool, a student information and learning-management system for schools, are both preparing to go public as well.

The reason for the rush of IPOs is simple, argues Hill. The pandemic lockdowns at schools and colleges led to a rush of signups and usage of edtech systems. “And if you’ve got all these gains on paper in terms of number of students and usage, the net effect is it’s time to get [investment] while the getting is good.”

If the public offering goes well and the company reaches its expected valuation of $3 billion, that may give further momentum for other edtech companies to go public, Hill adds.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with a comment from Cristina Colquhoun.