Category Archives: Education

TWIEtR: Horizons, Gartner, Code.org

The week in edtech reports (or, abbreviated, “TWIEtR”) brought new analysis and research on the future of higher education, the effectiveness of Hours of Code, and the death of smartphone operating systems.

All summarized here from my Twitter feed, @FrankCatalano. (See the “Subscribe” box in the left column nav to get these by email.)

Top of the stack of reports was the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition.

NMC’s work has always simultaneously fascinated and frustrated me. It’s fascinating, because it uses a modified Delphi method to get experts to take a look at various time horizons, going out as far as five years, and estimate which technologies will gain widespread adoption in education.

It frustrates because the contents of the reports are released in dribs and drabs before the final is issued, and NMC provides no official scorecard of how their expert panels’ past predictions turned out. At least the 2017 higher ed report has a nifty chart showing which technologies have appeared as topics since 2012.

There have been lots of anecdotes (and hype) about the Hour of Code. But does it really change students’ perceptions about computer science?

Now an actual scientific study says yes. The report, issued by Code.org (the nonprofit behind the Hour of Code), has the daunting title of, “The Hour of Code: Impact on Attitudes Towards and Self-Efficacy with Computer Science.”

But its clear conclusion is that students gain more positive attitudes about compsci: “In other words, after just one Hour of Code activity, students report liking computer science more and report feeling that they are better able to learn computer science and are better at computer science than their peers.”

Strikingly, the increase is greatest among middle- and high-school girls with no earlier experience with computer science.

More implications for edtech developers in a mobile-first world (and districts thinking through student and teacher devices on their networks): If you’re working on apps for new smartphones, only Android and iOS really matter.

While this news from Gartner sort of confirms the obvious from a US-centric perspective, it’s eye-opening from a global perspective. Sorry, Windows Mobile and Blackberry.

And one more thing:

Geez, Intel. I realize the Maker movement is the hot, sexy trend in project-based K-12 education, and kudos to you for getting behind it. But no more high-school science fair sponsorships, after two decades?

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy when it comes to STEM education (yeah, I’ve written about it). You don’t get the technology part without the science part. There’s a reason Thomas Dolby and Bill Nye exclaim: “Science!”

TWIEtR: EdNET, SETDA, Pew

This Week in Edtech Reports (yes, that’s where “TWIEtR” comes from), some hardware info, an online evaluation guide, and an all-encompassing report on algorithms that goes way beyond education technology.

For those new to this exercise, including me, TWIEtR is where I coalesce my recent tweets about edtech analysis and reports so they don’t scroll away. You can also automatically get these posts by email by filling out the brief ‘Subscribe’ form on the left.

Every year this decade, MDR has issued an EdNET Insight “State of the K-12 Market” report — for a subscription fee. The 2016-17 report is a bit different. This year, it’s a series of individual reports, but each still requires payment to view: the new, 124-page K-12 Market: Educational Technology Trends is roughly $1,500.

However, it does have a wealth of useful information based on detailed surveys of school district technology and curriculum leaders. (Personal disclaimer: I helped analyze the data and write those reports for several years, so can attest to their depth.)

You can get an interesting view, though, by simply checking out the announcements about the content, including a news release and earlier article.  Most telling is the fact that school districts don’t seem to be relying on one kind of computing device for students, splitting purchases between laptops, Chromebooks (arguably a kind of laptop without local storage), and tablets. Plus, budgets for hardware and software seem to be recovering.

Still, the most widely used edtech in districts? Regular projectors (73%) and the oft-maligned interactive whiteboards (64%).

Not strictly a report, but SETDA’s new From Print to Digital: Guide to Quality Instructional Materials is a useful resource. The State Educational Technology Directors Association has come up with this online toolkit to help districts and states with a process to review and choose digital (and analog) curriculum materials.

Pew Research Center takes a very broad view of our tech-centric lives with its new report, Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age.  While this fascinating report isn’t strictly about education technology (and only mentions “education” in passing, though it does quote edtech luminary Justin Reich of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab), it’s directly applicable because one of the darlings of edtech is computer- and algorithm-based “personalized learning.”

Pew has developed a thought-provoking report that’s worth a scan, or careful read, depending on your interest.

And one more thing:

I love art, both fine and pop. When I used to commute to Manhattan from Seattle for work, I’d take time at least once a month to wander the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art to see new exhibitions or just visit old art friends.

Now the Met has released 375,000 artwork images with an open license for use and re-use, a boon for educators and art lovers everywhere. It’s done so in partnership with Creative Commons for the open licensing, and is encouraging easier distribution through Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, Pinterest, and more.

Art is good for the soul, and the Met’s move is good for art.

TWIEtR: inBloom, BETT, M&As

Let’s start by getting the TWIEtR acronym in the headline out of the way. It stands for, “This Week in Edtech Reports.”

Every day I scour the web for interesting reports and fact-based analysis about what’s happening in education technology. And, on Twitter, I’ve tended to tweet reports that provide a larger perspective or highlight a sweep of trends.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate anecdotes or pure opinion. Both have their place (and I’ve written lots of columns and commentary). But neither are as useful for reference.

Yet my tweets have the lifespan of a fruit fly. So I’m hoping these weekly round-ups will coalesce what I found interesting, with the caveat that what I find interesting also tends to include industry-focused reports, and may stray to where edtech intersects consumer and other kinds of technology.

As a one-time and long-time journalist and industry analyst, I’m hoping you’ll find these pointers useful, too. I’ll provide brief commentary from time to time.

This is an experiment and I hope to replicate it weekly. If you’d like to not have to check back to see if I have, go ahead and use the “Subscribe” box on the left. I promise you’ll only get blog posts.

It’s rare that an edtech startup gets a detailed post-mortem. But inBloom, which began life as the Shared Learning Collaborative (and which I explained early in its life on MindShift nearly five years ago), gets a useful and thoughtful deep-dive from Data & Society in a report called “The Legacy of inBloom.”

Adding further perspective are four accompanying essays from long-time data privacy experts and observers, such as Bill Fitzgerald, Olga Garcia-Kaplan, and Brenda Leong.

The abrupt implosion of the well-intentioned initiative deserves this kind of analysis, especially as proper handling of, and communication about, student data has become an even larger topic since inBloom died in 2014. Cautionary tales have value.

There have been a number of good analyses and reports about how investor interest in edtech startups flagged in 2016. Now Berkery Noyes Investment Bankers weighs in with a slim “Education Mergers and Acquisitions Trends Report” sporting some stunning statistics about last years’ education merger and acquisition activity.

From K-12 to adult, the news was not great, especially if you compare slightly down deal volume to nose-diving dollar value. As many except the biggest cheerleaders in the industry have said, if you’re an edu startup looking to cash out, better focus on building a profitable business first … or instead (always my preference).

One of the best industry analyst firms in edtech (if not the best) is Futuresource.  And one of the biggest edtech trade shows (okay, the biggest) is BETT in London.

Futuresource’s analysts scoured BETT and developed a free 43-page  “BETT 2017 Show Report” for download, in which each “page” has a text-heavy PowerPoint slide’s worth of content. Annoyingly, there’s a form in front of it (and no summary). But hey, it’s free. And a nice piece if you can’t afford to go across the pond every year to attend.

Trivia: BETT, originally an acronym for the British Educational Technology and Trade show, actually prefers to be called “Bett” now and has booted the meaning behind the acronym. But when it comes to calling it that, I bet few do.

And one more thing:

It looks like EdSurge, once my column home, has completed its transition to being more about edtech resources and information than news. It’s actually been a gradual shift, but the new home page suddenly puts paid services front-and-center. News is clearly secondary.

I’m not surprised. Journalism these days is a hard business and the bills need to be paid, especially if investors are involved. Something’s gotta underwrite the coverage if there are no subscriptions and few ads.

But if you, like me, want to avoid the sea of promotion the EdSurge home page has become, you can get right to the stories at this link. I’ve been promised by those in the know that news coverage will still continue, even if it’s not quite as immediately visible.

One year ago today, I silenced myself

FrankBWSXSWeduOne year ago today, I was preparing my final presentation for an education technology conference, a practical session at ISTE on students’ digital footprints and privacy.

One year ago today, I had finished dealing with comments and tweets on my last education technology analysis, a snarkfest for GeekWire on edtech trends, fads, and WTFs.

GeekWirecolumnsOne year ago today, I walked away from formally writing or speaking about edtech. I did so after two decades of writing and speaking about edtech, in locations as varied as New Zealand and DC, and for vehicles as varied as EdSurge and MindShift.

It was a departure I had planned for months, after many well-received keynotes and columns as an independent observer.

ETIN2As 365 days passed, a few began to notice my absence as a speaker or attendee at industry-focused conferences (this month, I shed my Advisory Board member role for SXSWedu, one that I’d held since 2012). A very fewer have asked: Why?

I usually coyly respond that it was time, that I was pruning extraneous activity. Now it seems worth unpacking that further into three reasons:

  • The influence of stupid money. Venture capital has an important role to play in accelerating startups and good ideas. But cash can equally and aggressively propel bad ideas. It was becoming increasingly clear that, as with consumer tech in the late 1990s, too much money was chasing too few good ideas in edtech by the middle of this decade. That gold-rush mentality was influencing what people wanted to write about, read about, hear about, and even which conferences waned and waxed.
  • The binary religious war. More and more of the conversation about edtech — inflamed by limited attention spans and limited social media character counts — devolved into an “edtech is education’s savior” or “edtech is de-humanizingly evil” binary argument. (There also were hidden financial or social agendas in which edtech was purely used as a stalking horse.) The truth is far more nuanced. Edtech is a tool that can be used both badly and well under human direction. And “edtech” is no longer just one thing, like a network connection, or a device, or software: It takes so many forms, that loving or hating “edtech” generically is meaningless. But nuance is not currently in vogue in popular dialogue, and I deal in nuance and its antecedent, thoughtfulness.
  • The lack of anything new to say. I still have plenty I’m observing and noting about education technology. I’m just no longer saying it publicly, because so much of what I have to say would repeat what I’ve said before about appropriate use, workable business models, realistic speed of change and all that. The only thing worse than a voice crying in the wilderness is the cranky old guy repeatedly yelling, “Get off my lawn!” Sometimes, the best approach when you have nothing significantly new to add is to simply shut up.

I still work in edtech. I still believe it has promise. I still occasionally write and speak about other types of technology (most recently, on subjects from Amazon to digital public media for GeekWire).

But as for edtech? Others can own the microphone and keyboard. I’ll let my previous work speak for itself. Unless or until, that is, I get so worked up that I can’t stand being silent anymore.

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P.S. Still reading? Even though I’m not formally writing or speaking about edtech right now, I do tweet. And an ad hoc comment might occasionally leave my lips. As it appropriately did at ISTE this week, a year after my last formal presentation. Kevin Hogan pulled me in front of a camera to ask me about trends I saw on the exhibit floor for his Tech & Learning Live broadcast. Enjoy. But please don’t get used to it.

Old columnists never die, nor fade

It’s been nearly a year since I made the conscious decision to not pursue new speaking or writing opportunities about education technology.  Think of it as a pruning of extraneous activity. But previous columns — and comments — about edtech and even tech persist to spur new observations.

IMG_20150617_132617(For those wondering, my self-imposed exile date was last June 30, shortly after my EdTech for Export keynote in Wellington, New Zealand. That was a wonderful swan song in terms of content and setting. And yes, I want to go back and see more.)DSCN1326

At the same time as I ended my edtech speaking and writing, I took a hiatus from my non-edtech analysis and commentary for GeekWire, which I’ve since resumed as circumstances and snark allow.

Yet I wasn’t invisible in that near-year, even without the recent GeekWire byline re-appearance.

  • EdSurge picked my brain when the Software and Information Industry Association acquired the members of the Education Industry Association in April, because I’d been an SIIA Education division board member and once keynoted events for both organizations;
  • KIRO-FM Seattle interviewed me about what Microsoft’s launch of its Minecraft Education Edition meant for its “ed cred” in January, as I’d analyzed Microsoft + Minecraft for GeekWire in the past (which GeekWire itself noted at the time);
  • USA Today, in a January article on Apple’s brand in education and elsewhere, cited my observation that Apple’s “brand is being nibbled to death by many ducks” (yeah, I love analogy and metaphor); and,
  • GeekWire’s Generation App podcast trotted me out as a long-time tech industry dinosaur observer in March when it examined video cord cutters and why they did or didn’t do it.

Of course, I continue to have a full-time role in education technology. I’m still learning. Just a bit less distracted as I absorb more.

The bottom line of the continuing coverage? In a digital world, when you have a reputation, you can run. But it appears you can’t hide. No matter what that reputation is. Or how much fun you’re avoiding.

Edtech fads, trends — and extra-credit myths

Education technology is a hotbed of activity. And some developments will stay warm, while others, now overheated, will rapidly cool.

It’s helpful not just to companies, but non-profit organizations in education and educational institutions themselves, to have an idea of which is which.

At the EdTech for Export conference in New Zealand last week, I flipped the questions I’d been asking other industry execs (“Fad, trend, or it’s complicated?“) into advice for the industry itself. It’s mostly U.S.-centric, and has only a three-to-five year time frame.  Both are key caveats.

Below is my presentation — with screen-by-screen notes — on nine developments (from Open Educational Resources to the rise of iPads and Chromebooks). Plus I highlight five bonus myths about education technology, corrected. The last has turned out to be one of the most popular parts of my presentation on Twitter.

Or, if you’d prefer, the full 30-minute video has also been posted by my New Zealand hosts, which may be more entertaining that clicking through slides and reading text.

(Et4e15 – Keynote 3| Frank Catalano, Intrinsic Strategy from Grow Wellington on Vimeo.)

As with any free advice, it may largely be worth what you paid for it.

Continue reading Edtech fads, trends — and extra-credit myths

Edtech cheat sheet: 10 trends, fads, and WTFs

I think the phrases that have gotten the most attention are “Burning-Man-for-investors” and “they called it ‘assigned reading.'”

Why the freemium trend is better than "free" for the "customer"
Why the freemium trend is better than “free” for the customer

Over at GeekWire, I end the spring 2015 education technology conference season (which itself is almost at an end: I’m still speaking at two more in the second half of June, one in New Zealand, one in Philadelphia) with my humble summation of the state of ten hotly discussed education technology developments.

I also conveniently define them in a sentence for normal human beings who don’t speak edtech jargon. (I’m not one of those “normal human beings,” I’m afraid. Never been accused of that, nor had it proven in a court of law.)

My summary judgement of each — whether it’s currently a fad, trend, or a WTF — comes with a small bit of trepidation. Not because of the conclusion. But the wording. In my public speaking, I’d often label the triumvirate instead as “fad, trend, or it’s complicated.”  But honestly, the two WTFs I identify truly are more than simply complicated — they’re mystifying in either their failure (so far) to take off in education, or in the overblown claims of supporters that ignored hundreds of years of human-to-human interaction. WTF, indeed.

The fact both have the word “open” associated with them is pure coincidence, since something “open” is also one of my trends.

Oh, and those two phrases getting attention? One has to do with the ASU+GSV Summit. The other with flipped classrooms. You can figure out which is which.

Read, “Education technology: Your cheat sheet to 10 fads, trends, and WTFs,” at GeekWire.

Amazon’s ‘any device’ edtech strategy

Amazon’s strategy in education technology is becoming clear. It’s not about selling Kindle e-readers or Fire tablets into schools or colleges. It’s about pushing digital content — free or, one presumes ideally, that purchased through Amazon — to the Kindle reading app. On any device, from any manufacturer.kindleapp300300

Amazon’s play in edtech isn’t about the device. It’s about the digital materials.

I was filling in at GeekWire when Whispercast 3.0, the harbinger of this clarity, was released by Amazon. So I took that opportunity to interview the new general manager of Amazon Education, Rohit Agarwal (also co-founder of Amazon-owned TenMarks).

Two developments stood out:

  • Amazon is, for the first time, offering what it calls “Digital Transition Services” to schools to help them make the switch from paper to pixel. Not only is this free, it is with a named Amazon representative, presumably not a random support rep that changes with every contact.
  • Amazon is officially device-agnostic in education. As Agarwal put it, “We want to be the provider of the right content, for every device, as students need it.”

(You can read more about what’s new in this version of Whispercast in the GeekWire piece, “Amazon launches Whispercast 3.0 tool, emphasizes free services for schools.”)

It doesn’t hurt that the Kindle reading app and the Whispercast 3.0 distribution and management tool are both free.  And work with Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets and phones, Chromebooks, and Macintosh and Windows computers.

There were hints of this direction in a major deal Amazon announced in education in Brazil a year earlier. Government-issued, non-Amazon Android tablets were the device; the Kindle reading app was the delivery mechanism.

I went into this a bit more on GeekWire Radio the week of the Whispercast 3.0 announcement (the segment starts at time code 24:07).

Or, put another way: Amazon is no longer, as I dubbed it a year ago, education’s passive lurker. U.S. schools and universities — and digital content ecosystem providers Apple and Google — will likely find that out, soon enough.

Edtech: Fad, trend, or it’s complicated?

There is a lot going on in education technology, so much so that it’s dizzying to keep track of it all: Massive Open Online Courses, digital Open Badges, 1:1 computing programs, Open Educational Resources, and foundation grants to startups, just to name a few.

And it can be even harder to determine if some of these are fads, trends, or something more complicated.

At two events in 2015, I took to the stage to ask two different panels of industry executives and long-time observers for their takes.

FrankBWSXSWedu

First, at SXSWedu in Austin in early March, I moderated a session with Don Kilburn, president of Pearson North America, Peter Cohen, U.S. education group president for McGraw-Hill Education, and John Dragoon, executive vice president and chief marketing offer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Called, “Reinventing Industry: Changing Edu’s ‘Big Three’,” we tackled major changes these three major players have seen — or been a part of — in the past two years. (Sadly, due a technical glitch, all of those responses didn’t make it onto the official event recording, which is missing the first 15 minutes of the session.)

SXSWedupanelcrop

In the final five minutes, I engaged all three in a lightning round of ten developments, asking simply: Is it a fad, trend, or complicated? You can listen for yourself (starting at time code 41:33).

None were universally dismissed as fads Three of the ten got a consistent “trend” response: freemium (as a business model), flipped classrooms (as an instructional model), and an edtech investment bubble (as being as bubble).

The only universal “it’s complicated?” Common Core State Standards. After a slightly stunned reaction by at least one or two panelists.

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A somewhat extended approach was taken at the Software and Information Industry Association’s annual Education Industry Summit in San Francisco in early May: 15 topics in under 15 minutes. This time, the panelists were Karen Billings, vice president and managing director of SIIA’s Education Technology Industry Network, Kevin Custer, founding partner at Arc Capital Development, and David Samuelson, executive vice president and general manager at Capstone Digital.

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You can catch the video here (it’s the very first part of the one titled “Networking Lunch”).

Spoiler alert: Only three of the 15 developments had the panel in universal agreement. Fad: Completely replacing all paper textbooks with digital materials. Trend: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. And, it’s complicated: Common Core State Standards, again.

To, I suspect, almost no one’s surprise.

Making “personalization” more than an edtech buzzword

FolditI’ve been in the education technology industry, as a consultant or exec, for two decades. Over that time, a consistent objective has been how best to use personal computers (or computing power in other devices) to “personalize” education.

There’s been some success in narrow slices. Adaptive assessments that change test questions based on a student’s answers. eBook platforms that suggest books for students based on their interests and demonstrated reading ability. Mathematics instruction that tracks concepts students have trouble grasping, and attempts other approaches to teach it.

But a lot has also been blunt and inelegant. (And, sadly, ignores the very real and important role of a human teacher or parent in the process of kids learning.)

Over at GeekWire, I examine yet another attempt to “personalize” K-12 school instruction from an unusual genesis: scientific games. Seattle non-profit Enlearn has developed what it says is a new platform for “adaptable curricula.” And the inspiration is the protein folding game Foldit from the University of Washington.

Since the column appeared, Enlearn announced its first major commercial agreement, with educational publisher Voyager Sopris Learning.

Read about Enlearn’s approach, and a little about what’s come before, in “Seattle nonprofit Enlearn tackles thorny task: Personalize school with technology” at GeekWire.