TWIEtR: Chrome beats all others … combined

More analysis of Chromebooks as the tool of choice in classrooms today, in what otherwise is a light week in edtech reports.

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Education Week continues to slice and dice the information in its fascinating survey of school administrators and teachers that pits four major tech companies (Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) against four major education companies (Scholastic, Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The latest? Google Chromebooks are used “more frequently in day-to-day instruction than all PC and Apple desktop and laptop computers combined.”

It’s that last phrase that is telling, that Chromebooks are used more frequently than all others combined.

Another interesting, but not surprising, tidbit: going forward, district staff plan to invest more in tablets and laptops than in desktop computers for classrooms.

Quick diversion to my day job: West Corporation (which provides SchoolMessenger communications solutions to districts) is starting to release results of a national survey that will be officially issued in a webinar and white paper on June 1.

The survey examines what communications technologies districts use to engage parents, which channels they find the most effective, and where they plan to invest their time and resources in the next one-to-three years.

Key findings are that, “school districts increasingly rely on social media, turn more to mobile apps, and, ultimately, recognize that they must use multiple communications channels. ”

Tech & Learning had a nice summary of three of the initial data points, summed up as:

  • 86% of district leaders surveyed use social media to communicate with parents today.
  • 65% of district leaders surveyed already use 5 or more channels to communicate with parents.
  • 33% of district leaders surveyed plan to focus on district mobile apps in the next 1-3 years (an increase of 44% from today’s use).

A fourth initial data point — that 45% of district leaders cite parent internet access as a significant obstacle to engaging parents with communications technology.

I’ll be joined on the June 1 webinar by Elisabeth O’Bryon, PhD., co-founder and head of research of the non-profit Family Engagement Lab, which itself has done some interesting research on what families want to hear from schools, and how they hear about it.

Webinar registration is open now. And I’ll likely summarize more results here after the white paper is released.

And one more thing:

I was reminded on May 18, 2017, where I was and what I was doing on May 18, 1980. I was interviewing for a broadcast news position in the Seattle market. I’d flown out for the weekend from my current station, WNFL Green Bay, where I was news director.

That Sunday morning, as the person interviewing me and I headed out for brunch, we heard — and felt — a muffled “boom.” We drove straight to the station, where it was confirmed that nearby Mt. St. Helens had erupted.

I immediately went to work filing reports for the local station as well as the network with which WNFL was affiliated.

Much later, after catching a red eye flight home, I walked into the newsroom and was greeting by the Green Bay station manager. “Great reports about Mt. St. Helens on the network,” he said. “What the hell were you doing in Seattle?”

Fortunately, I was offered the Seattle job. And remained on good terms with WNFL and its management. But it just goes to show that when an opportunity presents itself, it’s important to act. Even if there is both the potential of reward and risk.

Oh, and the 1980s-era photo I posted with the 140 characters on Twitter? It’s now out there, for good or ill. You can’t un-chirp a tweet.

(Note: This Week in Edtech Reports will take a Memorial Day weekend break and return, refreshed and re-snarked, in early June.)

TWIEtR: Edtech attitudes, tech giants vs edu giants

Surveys showing that, despite all the edtech hype, classroom edtech use and tech access is showing only “incremental advances,” and how Google is crushing traditional education companies in educators’ edtech perceptions. Both this week in edtech reports.

This Week in Edtech Reports (TWIEtR) is collected from the public tweets of @FrankCatalano and succinctly expanded upon.

Project Tomorrow released another batch of results from its annual (and huge) Speak Up survey of school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. While survey respondents are self-selecting — that is, this isn’t a scientifically random or representative survey — the sheer volume of responses and how the data is weighed and sliced makes for an interesting snapshot into the state of education technology.

The latest isn’t exactly good news for those who thought more technology in the classroom would transform education practice.

Taking 38,000 teachers who responded to one Speak Up effort through January 2017, Project Tomorrow tallies how they and their students access or use technology in the classroom, and concludes the data, “indicate the lack of real systematic changes in activities, attitudes or aspirations of teachers … These are activities teachers have always done and they are very important, but they would do these regardless of technology.”

Additional good analysis is provided by Anne Wujcik, senior analyst for MDR’s EdNET Insight, who has noted these “incremental advances” over many years: “Too many teachers are using technology to do things they have always done, without rethinking the expanded possibilities technology brings to the table.”

Normally, I’d cite some of the actual data from the surveys, but the clear conclusions are more compelling, and I encourage you to review the data in both Project Tomorrow’s post and Anne’s additional analysis. There is also interesting info from administrators and students.

But let me leave you with one device-centric data point, courtesy of Project Tomorrow. “When we look at impact of technology,” the post notes, “75 percent of teachers say mobile devices increase student engagement, but only 35 percent say mobile devices improve the quality of student work.”

It’s good to be Google. Even in education.

In a new survey released with great fanfare by EdWeek Market Brief (it’s free, but you have to fill out a form to download it), Education Week pitted four major tech companies against four major education companies. This nationally representative sample of teachers and administrators was surveyed in April.

My old stomping ground GeekWire sums up the results. Of Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft (the four tech), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Scholastic (the four education), educators were asked which one company they’d hire to improve student achievement in their district. Google ran away with the results, at 52%. Apple was a distinct second, at 13%. Then, in third, came the first education company to rank — Scholastic — at 9%.

There is, of course, much more, including how Chromebooks and G Suite dominate classrooms. Also, of course, by Google.

Some of the most interesting analysis outside of the report itself came in my Twitter feed by those knowledgeable about edtech:

And one more thing:

Who knew one of the biggest issues in American education today, worthy of detailed debate and study, was … fidget spinners?

As once was said of in-fighting within academia, these battles are so fierce, because the stakes are so small.

TWIEtR: Dissecting EFF on student data privacy

A rather light week in edtech reports. The most interesting work was a calm take down of part of an earlier study from the Electronic Frontier Foundation by a knowledgeable and respected education technology leader in the trenches.

In weeks in which there are fact-based edtech reports, This Week in Edtech Reports (TWIEtR) appears, sourced from the tweets of @FrankCatalano.

Three weeks ago I noted the alarmist tone of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s detailed report, two years in the making, called “Spying on Students.”

Apparently I wasn’t alone. Now Jim Siegl, technology architect for Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) as well as co-chair of the group that developed the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Privacy Toolkit, has done a detailed analysis of the EFF report.

Siegl’s dissection undermines some of the EFF’s claims by noting errors and blind spots, notably in the 152 products that EFF cited as the basis for its findings. Siegl found more than 12 percent of the products shouldn’t have been included because they aren’t used by students, are locally installed (not cloud based), or other reasons.

Siegl went on to discover that more of the products had privacy policies than EFF cites, more had encryption at log in, and more had external protections likely not considered by EFF, such as being signatory to the Student Privacy Pledge enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission.

Siegl is careful to note that his analysis is his own work and doesn’t necessarily reflect the perspective of his employer. It’s a long read. But it’s worth it for those wondering if the EFF had the definitive say on the matter. Apparently not.

And one more thing:

I find it odd to quote myself, but my public note on Facebook and LinkedIn about the end of any status as a “contributor” or “columnist” was said best by a very slightly younger me:

“Some have noticed that I’ve again put my “Contributor/Columnist at GeekWire” status in the past. This time it’ll stick. While I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) a great relationship with GeekWire and its founders, John Cook and Todd Bishop. I haven’t been able to figure out a way forward to where I can again regularly contribute and fit in with the current direction of what is indisputably the definitive news resource for the Pacific Northwest tech industry and its workers, with a solid readership far beyond this geographic area.

“GeekWire has been patient with me as I try to figure a potential new fit, and as they try to determine where I could contribute the most (with my approach, interests, and time constraints). Despite a handful of contributions over the past two years, nothing has firmly aligned.

“Sometimes, it’s best to acknowledge the obvious. And that’s all this does. I still support GeekWire, its talented founders and staff, and hope I can be a resource for its current direction. Who knows? One day its direction may again more fully intersect with my own, and I’ll welcome that.”

TWIEtR: Kids & podcasts, Asian VC, kids & coding

Podcasts as the new “do it again!” for kids. Limited partners from Asia as a trend for US edtech venture funds. Gender tech stereotypes as a staple at age six. All this week in edtech reports.

Check out the @FrankCatalano Twitter feed for more in real time, and subscribe (if you wish) to these updates by email in the left navigation, above “NOTIFY ME.”

Every parent will tell you: Kids will request that favorite book be read to them, or that favorite video be screened, until said parent can recite the text or dialogue from memory. (Ask me about Winnie the Pooh sometime. Actually, please don’t.)

The same obsessiveness, apparently, is true for that favorite podcast.

A fascinating new study from Kids Listen, which advocates for high-quality audio content for children, finds that not only do kids actively listen to podcasts, but they listen again, and again, and again. The survey of more than 400 families discovered that 80 percent say kids listen to a podcast episode multiple times, and 20 percent listen to a single episode more than 10 times.

Also of note — half of kids listen to a podcast every week, and one third listen to a podcast episode every day.

The full infographic has more detail. An accompanying article on the public media news site Current has Kids Listen co-founder Lindsay Patterson observing, “I recently received a handwritten letter from a mother and daughter who listen to Tumble, the science podcast for kids I produce. ‘I never stop asking about flatworms,’ the daughter wrote, referring to her favorite episode.”

Maybe Winnie the Pooh isn’t quite so bad.

A lot has been written about US and other investment in Asian edtech startups. But a detailed new analysis by EdSurge’s Tony Wan finds it’s not a one-way street: “Nearly every major U.S. edtech investor, including Fresco Capital, GSV Acceleration, Learn Capital, Owl Ventures, Reach Capital and Rethink Education, now count Asian limited partners among investors in their newest funds.”

Education technology is indeed global. And reciprocal.

It’s hard to say that the results of this research are a surprise. Still, the findings from a new University of Washington study are sadly consistent with anecdotal evidence.

For what tech news site GeekWire reports is the first time, the UW research shows that, “by first grade, children are already embracing the stereotype that boys are better than girls at robotics and programming.”

The good news: “At the same time, the kids believe that girls and boys are equally good or their own gender is better at math and other sciences.”

These are perceptions at age six, and may affect course and career choices. As one study author put it, getting to gender parity in tech is, “a hard problem … We won’t solve it in five or 10 years.”

And one more thing:

TWIEtR: Q1 Funding, K-12 LMS Use, French Startups

This week in edtech reports, startup funding (sort of) recovers in the first quarter, the US trails several countries in K-12 learning management system adoption, and who knew there were hundreds of edtech startups in France?

TWIEtR is a free service of @FrankCatalano (as I summarize interesting fact-based reports I see every week) and can also be received by email by signing up in the left navigation.

CB Insights, known for tracking investments into various market segments, released some “oh well” news for the broad educational technology sector for the first quarter of 2017. The number of deals is up. But the total dollar value of deals continues to drop, compared to any of the preceding three quarters.

Education Week’s Market Brief, in reporting the analysis of 131 total Q1 deals for a total of $545 million, notes that more than half of the deals were made in the seed or angel stage of investment.

As Market Brief states, “The number of deals in the first quarter still falls short of the zenith of the past few years, during 2015, when 148 were struck. And the value of the deals was well short of the recent high point of $1.345 billion, also during 2015.”

More snippets continue to be released from Futuresource’s recent exhaustive (and paid) report on K-12 edtech platforms. The latest, in a blog post, has a fascinating stat: while penetration of learning management systems in US higher education is near 100%, in K-12 it’s closer to 35%.

Why is K-12 so low with growth so slow? Blame, or credit, school technology and internet infrastructure, and major publishers’ business models that still rely heavily on paper textbooks, plus a lack of a top-down approach: “US penetration falls behind other advanced markets like Canada, the UK and Scandinavia, where regional and central government initiatives have helped spur adoption.”

Kind of a neat tool to catalog edtech startups (and established firms) in France: the new EdTech Observatory. At launch, it lists 242 education technology companies, by product, customer, technology, and region. It’s fun to click around.

An article promoting its launch has appeared on several sites (looks, to my marketing eye, like placed public relations).

And one more thing:

Sometimes, technology for education is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. A new report from the University of Massachusetts Boston, “Investing in the Crisis: Private Participation in the Education of Syrian Refugees,” implies how skewed perceptions can be.

With hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee kids needing to be educated, the highest percentage of offered assistance by private companies and nonprofits is funding. But an equally high percentage is for education technology — far higher than actually building schools or providing school supplies, which are more basic when technology infrastructure may not be present.

As NPR quotes a report author, “Many of these companies are based in Silicon Valley, and they do not have a very clear picture of the context they are delivering to.”

It’s a sobering reminder of the bubbles those of us in the tech industry live inside.

TWIEtR: Student data privacy, algorithm risk

This week in edtech reports was a bit creepy. Two reports were released looking at the potential dark side of educational technology in terms of surveillance (student data monitoring), and  bias (algorithmic personalization).

As always, TWIEtR is all about fact-based reports (surveys, research and so on) that catch my eye on Twitter and in other news feeds. Subscribing to these weekly updates by email is easy: Just enter your email address above “Notify Me” in the left navigation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has a decided point of view about these things (you might recall they filed a federal complaint against Google in 2015 over alleged student data scanning in Google Apps for Education), released its “Spying on Students” report. Indeed, it was that December 2015 FTC complaint that began the campaign which led to this report.

The new EFF report uses charged language in this examination of data gathered by devices and software used in K-12 education (one example: “Surveillance Culture Starts in Grade School”). At the same time, it looked into privacy policies of 152 edtech services and surveyed more than 1,000 students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Some of the disconnects and risks, especially of “free” products that schools increasingly rely upon, are indisputable, even if the report language tends to the attention-getting.

As the EFF warns, “Student laptops and educational services are often available for a steeply reduced price, and are sometimes even free. However, they come with real costs and unresolved ethical questions. Throughout EFF’s investigation over the past two years, we have found that educational technology services often collect far more information on kids than is necessary and store this information indefinitely.”

Not specifically about edtech — but with strong implications for the continued rush to computer-based, personalized learning — is a new report from the RAND Corporation, “An Intelligence in Our Image: The Risks of Bias and Errors in Artificial Intelligence.”

Yes, algorithms (or sets of rules for machine problem solving and learning) power personalization. But these software-embedded instructions are created by people. And people are, well, flawed. Science-fiction fans might remember Colossus: The Forbin Project and many other cautionary tales of that be-careful-what-you-wish-for-in-tech sub-genre.

Less dramatic than that 1970 film, but perhaps more realistic, is Benjamin Herold’s take on the report’s implications for education technology with the RAND authors in Education Week.

And one more thing:

Yes, we have no flying cars or personal jet packs. But we also have no books being ground using hand-crank power to flow knowledge through wires into students’ heads.

Back to the Future of Edtech: A Meditation” is a deeply interesting piece in EDUCAUSE Review, by Educause President and CEO John O’Brien, about how visions of the application of technology to education have changed over the decades — and what it says about us and our aspirations at the time.

There are also claims about what tech could do immediately, too. Did you know Royal’s manual portable typewriter promised to raise grades up to 38% … in 1958?

It’s a long, fun, and thoughtful read. A bonus: there are lots of pictures and video examples.

TWIEtR: District priorities, security progress, & jobs

This Week in Edtech Reports (TWIEtR), a lightning round of reports — ranging from district priorities to sought-after industry jobs — as I return from a week without education technology of any kind.

Remember these highlights also appear (without my scintillating commentary) on Twitter at @FrankCatalano.

The annual Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) “K-12 IT Leadership Survey” is always a welcome snapshot into the priorities (and pain points) of district tech leadership. This year’s free report is no different.

Significantly, “mobile learning” has made it to the top of the priority list for the first time since MDR began conducting the survey on CoSN’s behalf five years ago. Conversely, a one-time top priority — “bring your own device (BYOD)” — had its lowest ranking ever.

Not surprisingly “broadband and network capacity” remains in the top three, where it (or a closely worded relative) has lived since the first report in 2013.

Common Sense Education has stepped up its privacy game over the past year, and now twice has surveyed web sites aimed at kids and schools for a very basic security measure: encryption of log-in credentials.

The latest “Login Encryption Survey” from its Privacy Initiative finds the needle has moved. Somewhat. As of March, 56% of the surveyed sites required encryption, up from 52% in October 2016. Still, 23% of sites do not support encrypted log-ins at all.

Freely licensed open educational resources (OER) have, for years, been held up for their potential to reduce textbook costs and increase the use of digital content in the classroom.

Now RAND Corporation has released a study supporting at least some of that promise. The case study, “Use of Open Educational Resources in an Era of Common Standards,” looks at how teachers have been using one particularly rich OER repository, New York State’s EngageNY.

Most fascinating is the number of other states’ teachers who are required to use EngageNY resources. The report summary concludes, “Early evidence suggests that EngageNY is among the most commonly used curriculum materials for mathematics and ELA in kindergarten through twelfth grade.”

EdTech Strategies’ Doug Levin — who has long highlighted cyber security issues at schools, districts, and states — has taken his observations a step further by creating the K-12 Cyber Incident Map.  It’s worth a regular visit if data security and privacy is of interest, and promises to be updated regularly. Doug’s other writing and tweets have a thoughtful policy tinge to them, and are likewise recommended.

Market research firm Futuresource has released a bit more public detail from its paid “Digital Platforms and Tools in Education” report. This time, it’s the school “enterprise communications” space that’s covered, and how classroom-to-parent communications tools are challenging district-level providers while being challenged themselves. (Disclosure: This touches on my day job, but I found it both even-handed and well-reasoned.)

Finally, I can’t quite get over this neat job market analysis from EdSurge. The edtech resource site sliced and diced its own jobs board to see what positions appeared to be the most popular from those looking to work in the edtech industry. It wasn’t sales. Perhaps owing to the large number of teachers visiting EdSurge, the top spot went to “curriculum writer.”

And one more thing:

Yes, I really was on vacation. And yes, NPR’s Sam Sanders did do an awesome dramatic reading of “Green Eggs & Ham” in honor of what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 113th birthday. Check it out, and smile.

TWIEtR: Library tech, family engagement, & ranking startups

This week in edtech reports, a look forward to technology affecting libraries, home for satisfaction with family engagement, and at startups for tracking how “hot” they are.

The usual reminder, too, that updates are available in real time on Twitter at @FrankCatalano and via email by entering an email address under ‘SUBSCRIBE’ in the left navigation.

New Media Consortium, perhaps best known for its Horizon Reports forecasting important technology trends and challenges in K-12 and higher education, has released its third annual (skipping 2016) briefing for libraries, NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Library Edition. The free 60-page report, like its K-12 and higher ed siblings, uses a modified Delphi method that polls experts to look ahead five years.

“Library” in this context means not public, but academic and research libraries. That is, the kind you’re likely to find on college campuses.

That’s why one tech trend and one tech challenge stand out. “Patrons as Creators” is not something you normally tie to scholarly libraries, and “Improving Digital Literacy” is a general societal need. As an accompanying announcement points out, this shed lights on library professionals’ roles, “as deeper learning guides. Libraries are well-positioned to lead efforts that develop patrons’ digital citizenship and content creation skills, ensuring mastery of responsible and creative technology use.”

The concepts of parent and family engagement are, if you will, engaging topics in education technology right now. Family Engagement Lab, a new initiative and subsidiary of non-profit GreatSchools, has released a survey to help quantify the need.

In a blog post and infographic, the national survey of parents with kids ages 3 to 18 found only 68% of parents were “highly satisfied” with the information they were getting from their child’s teacher or school.

“This leaves nearly a third of families who are looking for more, better, or different information,” the researchers note. “Furthermore, we uncovered a relationship between household income and satisfaction, with higher income associated with higher levels of satisfaction, suggesting that there is additional work to be done to meet the needs of families from lower income backgrounds.”

Trying to figure out which edtech startups are on the rise? Tech news site GeekWire (full disclosure: I was a founding columnist and still am a contributor) has a useful tool, at least for startups based in the Pacific Northwest. It’s the GeekWire 200 monthly ranked index.

You can filter by category (e.g. Education) and/or B2B/B2C (e.g., All) to get to strictly edtech startups, albeit it’s “edtech” broadly defined. The rankings, based on publicly available info such as number of Twitter followers, employees on LinkedIn, and Facebook likes, can be fascinating proxies for popularity.

And one more thing:

Or, as one commentator noted, it may now be science fiction again. Perhaps post-apocalyptic steampunk. Maybe we’ll find out when I speak at Hawaiicon in September.

Speaking of breaks, I’ll be taking time off to hike in the desert. So expect TWIEtR to resume the weekend of April 15th. Or earlier. Who knows what prickly observations cacti might motivate?

TWIEtR: Global markets, German compsci

This week in edtech reports has been a quiet one. It’s had me flipping through my photos of SXSWedu while I think of noteworthy non-US reports in my @FrankCatalano feed that have not yet appeared in a TWIEtR. (And robots.)

Don’t forget that subscribing to TWIEtR by email is easy if you just put an email address above “NOTIFY ME” on the left.

There has been a lot written about the dearth of venture funding for edtech startups in the U.S. in 2016. But looking just at venture investment, just K-12 — and just the U.S. — provides a partial picture.

Seattle-based market research consultancy Metaari (formerly Ambient Insight) released a full, free report on its global tally for last year, “The 2016 Global Learning Technology Investment Patterns,” and a rather comprehensive summary news release.

One unexpected observation: “Education robots have been on the market for at least a decade, but the early products were very expensive and relatively primitive. That changed in the last 2-3 years with very sophisticated and relatively inexpensive robotic tutors hitting the market. Investments made to Robotic Tutor companies more than doubled in 2016 to $450 million, up from the $204 million invested in 2015 and up ten times from $45 million in 2014.”

Neither education technology nor coding as a gateway activity to computer science are purely U.S. phenomena. But some countries are better equipped than others, and those that appear not to be may surprise.

A survey by the publication WirtschaftsWoche of schools in Germany — known for its engineering prowess — found that taking computer science is mandatory in only nine of 14 German states. While that may sound pretty darned good to those of us in the U.S., the article notes that Estonia requires programming classes from the first grade, and the U.K. has mandatory computer classes for ages 5 and older.

And one more thing:

TWIEtR: SXSWedu, Platforms, News & Kids

I don’t want to bury the lead (as I used to critique journalism and executive memos): This Week in Edtech Reports (TWIEtR) includes my observations on SXSWedu 2017. But first we get through the latest on K-12 market stats and how kids view online news.

As always, you can subscribe to these summaries by email by looking for the SUBSCRIBE box in the left navigation. Or get updates in real time by following @FrankCatalano on Twitter.

Futuresource continues its parade of new data by walking out its latest, the Digital Platforms in the K-12 Education Market report. Among the tidbits revealed are that the mobile device management category in K-12, “is high growth, especially in the US, where the penetration of student devices is over 45%.”

That leads Futuresource to forecast that the “digital management and platform tools” market (which includes student information systems, communications and data analytics platforms, learning management systems, classroom management and collaboration tools, and more — basically, edtech not used for student instruction and testing or teacher professional development) will grow a lot. Futuresource estimates a compound annual growth rate of 4.5%, for a US K-12 total of $1.83 billion by 2020.

One other fascinating observation has to do with differences in the student information system markets in the US and the UK. Essentially, the trend to consolidation is flip-flopping in each country. The UK is seeing its one dominant provider challenged by cloud-based startups. At the same time, the fragmented US market, with more than 120 providers, is consolidating: PowerSchool alone has purchased several competitors.

Kids these days … and news. The non-profit Common Sense has released a new report, “News and America’s Kids,”  that surveyed 853 children age 10–18 on how they feel about the news and where they get it — including online and social media sources.

Kids (and I use that word hesitantly for older teens) still value news, or so say 48% of them. But their primary source is family, teachers, and friends (63%) followed by the tech source of online and social media (49%). Perhaps surprising to some, traditional media is pretty high up there, too (46%).

For social media, the top two sources? Facebook and … YouTube.

And one more thing:

SXSWedu, in its seventh year in Austin, continued its somewhat-under-the-radar role as the start of the entire annual SXSW  festival series that runs through interactive and music to film and comedy. The focus is education technology, broadly writ, and the mutual impacts tech and human education have on each other.

Not only will you hear edtech cheer-leading, but there is also a balancing chorus of voices with provocative and thoughtful concerns about digital equity, student data privacy, and the role of government. Much of this willingness to deal with hard issues is a byproduct of the organizers’ conscious mix of K-12 and college educators, policy wonks, and industry execs.

But SXSWedu has evolved from its mainly conference start to incorporate many of the festival elements of the other South-by-Southwest events. There are films, a hands-on Playground, an open-to-the-public exhibitor Expo, and always, of course, parties.

I don’t have final figures, but attendance for the conference part of this year’s SXSWedu, held March 6-9, seemed flat or smaller than last year’s 7,500 or so. (One conference official felt international attendance was down and that would hurt totals.) That’s after years of explosive growth. The free Expo itself draws in the thousands, and isn’t included in the conference numbers.

I’ve attended SXSWedu for six of its seven years, and was on the Advisory Board for five of the six. So, if you’ll humor me, a few observations.

We are at peak coding startup. From the Expo to the Playground to various sessions, K-12 coding startups were everywhere. To quote nearly every Star Wars lead in every non-Jar Jar movie, I have a bad feeling about this.

The new bright/shiny is VR/AR. Several virtual reality or augmented reality sessions and startups were touting the wonderfulness of three-dimensional edtech hardware and educational content. While some of this is legit (I liked LlamaZoo’s veterinary simulations in the Launch competition), it’s still expensive and awkward for much of education and it will be a slow, long climb to viability.

The bloom is off the K-12 investment rose. We’ve seen it in declining funding for K-12 edtech startups, shifting editorial focus to higher education and adult learning in edtech news sites, and now in startup competitions — it’s a bad time to begin a me-too, indefinitely unprofitable K-12 edtech startup. Grant funding and unpaid pilots are not business models. Perhaps the final confirmation needed was when, in SXSWedu’s Launch competition, the top three startups were not for K-12 students.

Speaking of Launch, it was an odd-yet-refreshing mix of ten startups that made the finalist cut. The breakdown illustrated the shift from K-12 student-facing edtech: Eight of the ten had zero to do with tech for K-12 students.

My personal favorites in this competition that didn’t win — for concept and/or potential — included TeacherConnects (an app and service to help teacher candidates and new teachers succeed), Cell-Ed (using mobile audio and text messaging to teach job skills), and Quizling (interactive app and kiosk quizzes for museum and library education, institutions for which I admittedly have a soft spot). Tellingly, each of these has customers and revenue.

The ultimate winner was The Whether, an app to help college grads get internships and jobs.

The upshot for 2017’s SXSWedu? It still provides a pleasantly challenging meeting place for educators, wonks, and industry to mix and discuss the big issues of education and technology. Or — as I suspect many do — just network and party.

Strategic advice, analysis & insight