Category Archives: Education

Edtech hits $2B investment record

There was so much money going into edtech from venture capital investors in 2014, it was almost as much as, uh, one Uber.

Investment Graphs_final-01That’s a comparison I draw at GeekWire. Three different sources — CB Insights, EdSurge, and Ambient Insight — all tallied record investment into education technology companies last year. Some were U.S. only, some were global. But all were records, breaking the previous 2013 investment number records.

Investment Graphs_final-02Sounds rainbow-pot-o’-gold amazing, doesn’t it? Not until you realize that Uber, by itself, raised more money in 2014 than every single edtech company tracked, combined. It’s still comparative baby steps.

It’s also worth noting none of the three tallies include merger and acquisition activity, a.k.a. “exits,” which also hit an apparent record for education and edtech firms in 2014. Grant activity from foundations to edtech companies may or may not be included, either, depending on how it’s structured and who’s counting.

Whatever. It’s still a record. For some analysis behind the numbers by the deal-counters themselves, read, “Can you count to $2 billion? Education technology investment hits new record,” at GeekWire.

 

Paper is back: Where eBooks come up short

BookshelfcropI appear to have hit a nerve. Or at least fueled some passion among lovers of the printed page.

To date, my GeekWire column, “Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound,” has garnered nearly 20,000 Facebook shares and more than 700 tweets. And all this for a column that doesn’t take sides in the paper book vs. eBook battles, but points out the two appear to have settled into a semblance of co-existence. Both sales numbers (units and dollars) for 2014 seem to bear this out.

About five years into the eBook boom, we now have a better idea of what eBooks are really good at, and what paper — for now — is somewhat better at, based on actual studies and experience: comprehension, note taking, and human factors.

There are special cases (I don’t address K-12 students in school, for example, who get other comprehension supports and aren’t allowed to take notes in most paper textbooks). And paper has a long way to go to dig itself out of the sales hole of the past few years, if it ever does. But it’s now showing a slight increase, in most measured formats and categories.

None of this will satisfy hardcore printed book or tech partisans, of course. But something in the middle rarely does.

Read, “Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound,” at GeekWire. And don’t miss the additional discussion in the comments thread.

Edtech needs information as much as data

In my annual EdSurge look ahead to the New Year, I instead take a look back at why I almost quit edtech in 2014. It has to do with information. And I don’t mean education “data.”

I’ve been fortunate to dabble in many interests and even call three of them careers (journalism, tech industry marketing, and education technology marketing and analysis). One common thread cuts through all of it: the power of clear, concise and accurate communication.

CatalanosaurIt doesn’t matter if you’re trying to inform or motivate, being specific, honest and unique (in voice or perspective) trumps trendy buzzwords or misdirection. Especially if you’re in it for the long haul.

Not enough of those now cloaking themselves in the mantle of “education technology” seem to be. There’s a lot of short-term thinking (be it for greed or political gain) and of using a thin veneer of edtech to promote or oppose issues that have little to do with the appropriate, intelligent use of technology for all levels of learning.

EdSurge had the clever idea of having this year’s annual outlooks be in the form of a response to a college application essay prompt. So mine answers the question, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?

Damn good question. My answer is in, “Frank Catalano’s 2015 Personal Statement: Harnessing the Power of Information,” at EdSurge.

STEM and fake scientific literacy

The prevalence of “science” in popular culture, STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) hype in education, and the trappings of tech obscure one important fact: As a society, we are still woefully not scientifically literate.

Over at GeekWire, I detail the disconnect between geek culture and scientific literacy. Being able to use an advanced piece of technology isn’t the same as understanding the processes and underlying scientific principles that went into creating it.

Or, as someone commented on Twitter, “Yes! there is a vast difference between CREATING Facebook and posting on Facebook how wasted you got last night.”StarWarsbookphoto2

It all comes down to thinking through and applying the scientific method in everyday life, something your iPhone 6 Plus will not do for you. And it also requires knowing that each of the four disciplines that make up STEM are not the same. If you get one, you don’t automatically get them all.

The original GeekWire post bore the headline, “Scientific literacy: Buried under tech’s trappings.”

But the education technology news site EdSurge re-posted it later (with permission, of course), and got even more to the point in its title: “STEM and the Era of Artificial Scientific Literacy.” EdSurge had a much better header graphic than the one I used at GeekWire, too. Other than that, the two posts are identical.

Now off to watch the Star Wars Episode VII trailer again to try and figure out how that new-style light saber works.

EdNET 2014, in words and video

For almost two decades, I made it a habit to take notes at industry conferences, then distribute them by email to colleagues. With the subsequent advent of blogs and YouTube, I stopped that quaint practice three years ago.

EdNET logoBut people still want to know what happened at the conferences, or the conference sessions, they couldn’t attend.

MDR recently summed up takeaways from its long-standing EdNET education industry conference on its site. As a consulting senior analyst for the EdNET Insight market research service, I was asked for some unvarnished takeaways, and came up with the following:

  • A recurring theme was that time is of the essence in making sure education technology actually lives up to its promise. Richard Culatta of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology noted, “Let’s be clear: there is a (limited time) window” for using edtech to help transform education. David Sample of itslearning said for certain types of edtech to prove its worth, “That hourglass is running out of sand.” And a startup said when the “froth” of the edtech market might end keeps her up at night.
  • Robert Lytle of the Parthenon Group hit one school pain point directly: Edtech companies still do an awful job of describing what products and services actually DO. Getting beyond marketing buzzwords — to clarity — is critical.
  • Lytle also had the sobering observation that even though K-12 education funding is recovering to pre-recession levels, almost all of the dollars represented by that recovery will be eaten up by pension and health care obligations — making spending on products and services a zero-sum game.
  • In the View from the Catbird Seat analyst session, an update on digital Open Badges from last year noted that there has been little traction inside commercial education products, even though individual K-12 teachers have jumped on the opportunity to define and issue their own badges for student motivation and accomplishments. One exception has been in professional development, where there are a number of efforts to recognize teachers with micro-credentials (issued and displayed as Open Badges) that will be accepted by districts and institutions.

You can read the full set of EdNET Insight analyst takeaways here, in context, on the EdNET Insight News Alerts site.

And if that View from the Catbird Seat discussion sounded enticing, you can re-live the entire session on YouTube (if you’re curious, fast-forward to 10:45 to get to my observations on the state of Open Educational Resources, or OER, in the industry):

Other EdNET 2014 sessions had presentations, videos or both, and they’re available on the EdNET conference site by clicking on the links embedded in each session or speaker name for Monday September 29 or Tuesday September 30.

 Yup. We’ve come a long way from emailed conference notes.

Microsoft’s Minecraft education opportunity

Sure, $2.5 billion is a lot to pay for the maker of Minecraft. But what might it mean for Microsoft’s education strategy?

Over at GeekWire, I do a quick back-of-the-envelope analysis of this week’s announcement that Microsoft plans to buy Minecraft maker Mojang. Missing in the initial announcements — by Microsoft, by the head of Xbox, and by Mojang — was any acknowledgement of Minecraft’s huge popularity in K-12 schools as an instructional tool for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

ClippyMinecraftAlso missing was any reaction from TeacherGaming, which is Mojang’s officially supported licensee for selling an education-specific version of Minecraft — MinecraftEdu — to schools, libraries and museums. That, in itself, isn’t surprising, as the effect on TeacherGaming of the Microsoft announcement will likely not be known until Mojang passes the ownership baton. (An email from TeacherGaming pretty much confirmed that there was no substantive news to share yet.) The sale should close, Microsoft’s news release says, later this year.

Microsoft’s lack of initial edu-comment was rectified when CEO Satya Nadella made a lunchtime appearance at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and boasted of Minecraft, “It’s the one game parents want their kids to play.”

But neither Nadella, nor official Microsoft public relations, would go into any specifics. So I, uh, helpfully have made some suggestions. Especially in light of Microsoft’s often opaque education strategy, which I noted as far back as 2011.

Read, “How Microsoft can use Minecraft to build its education strategy,” over at GeekWire. (Or, if you prefer, on EdSurge.)

And a tip of the hat to @PoweredRedstone for sharing a brilliant Clippy-Minecraft graphic mashup on Twitter.

OER and paid content learn to play nicely

The digital materials school playground is one of uneasiness, as traditional paid resources and Open Educational Resources (OER) figure out how to play nicely together. But they keep encountering three hazards: platforms, sustainability, even definitions.

Over at EdSurge, I examine each of these issues with experts who have current roles or backgrounds in traditional publishing, OER advocacy and edtech software. The upshot: the two forms of digital instructional content are getting closer to cooperating in schools, but in the near term playtime may be a bit unruly.

500px-OER_Logo.svgThis column has its roots in the opening keynote session I led at the 2014 Content in Context conference, an annual industry event hosted by the Association of American Publishers preK-12 Learning Group (formerly the Association of Educational Publishers).

As with most sessions I moderate, I eschew PowerPoint. It makes for a much livelier session, but also means I have to record — and transcribe — the proceedings if I plan to do anything with the results later. (I recommend the Tascam DR-40 digital audio recorder, by the way: adjustable microphones, rugged and hand-held.)

So is OER a threat or an opportunity for traditional education companies? A few transcribed quotes that didn’t make it into the finished post:

Dan Caton, former president of Pearson Learning Group and McGraw-Hill School Education, and now president of Wittel/Morris Strategic Consulting: “For core curriculum, if the Open Educational Resources community gets its act together, it’s a tremendous threat” to traditional publishers.“It’s surprisingly good content … sometimes.” And in its current state, as “supplemental content, it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design for DreamBox Learning and a former math teacher:  Companies need to ask themselves, “What do you bring to your classroom that teachers can’t get for free on the Internet? … When we piece together either print resources or digital resources, we wrongly think about learning as incrementally just going through a series of activities.”

Tom Woodward, former director of instructional technology with Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, now at Virginia Commonwealth University:  With OER and traditional publisher content, “There’s a large continuum with lots of gray in between.” For companies looking at integrating the two, “There’s lots of opportunity, because this is a very difficult thing to do.”

And one closing note: This post marks my final regular column for EdSurge. Matters of both time and focus require me to step back from my writing sideline somewhat. But there’s an EdSurge archive of my contributions to date.

Read, “The unruly playground: free OER and paid digital materials,” at EdSurge.

The “believability barrier” to tech adoption

Customers aware of product? Check. Product works as advertised? Check. Customers believe the product works as advertised? Uh oh.

The believability barrier is where edtech (and other tech) products can get stuck.

Over at EdSurge, I look at this ongoing challenge for any new technology through the lens of two technologies that have been turned into education products or services: online proctoring in higher ed, which has recently surmounted the barrier, and automated essay scoring in K-12, which is still scaling it.

By English: Cpl. Patrick Fleischman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg">
(Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Even if/when a technology product or service hurdles the barrier, it doesn’t mean that tech is appropriate for every use in every situation. Actually, often what makes it possible to make it around that third obstacle is creators and users of a new tech figure out where it will work the best, neither over-promising nor over-criticizing what it can or cannot do.

Automated essay scoring, for example, appears to be settling into a position that requires a human touch, both so machine and human scorer backstop each other, and so humans provide deep feedback when the technology is used to encourage student writing practice. (The human part delights me, of course, as a one-time fiction and current column writer.)

Read, “The believability barrier: automated essay scoring,” at EdSurge.

Do edtech products need Open Badges?

Mozilla’s Open Badges provide portable proof of competence for students earning them and can live on outside of the issuing edtech product or platform. So should education companies adopt them?

Over at EdNET Insight News Alerts, I briefly define what Open Badges are, and offer my take on the pros and cons for education startups and established firms.

In brief: Open Badges are part of an open technical standard, free for anyone to use, to create digital badges that represent some kind of underlying knowledge, skill or accomplishment. There’s embedded information (metadata) in each Open Badge image that makes it easy to verify and hard to counterfeit. OpenBadges_Insignia_EarnOur_Banner

So, if an organization is already thinking of adding some kind of badging system to its product or platform to mark learner participation or mastery, or to provide motivation to progress, why not?

As a side note, the EdNET Insight post actually is a follow up to my EdNET 2013 conference presentation on Open Badges in September 2013. Open Badges have gained a fair amount more traction since then, and while certainly not ubiquitous, uptake is going in the right direction.

I’m not done with Open Badges, either. I’ve just completed a (cough) 35+ page detailed Insight Report for EdNET Insight that goes into some depth, with examples, on Open Badges for a non-techie education business audience. Plans are for it to be published in early July as part of the EdNET Insight market research service.

But in the meantime, whet your appetite with, “We don’t need no … Wait. Maybe we do,” over at EdNET Insight News Alerts.

That elusive edtech “bubble”

There’s a bubble in education technology. No there isn’t. Yes there is. Well, maybe sorta kinda … depending on how you define “bubble.”

MrBubbleYup. Clearly (if you can use that word), that’s where we are in the debate over an edtech bubble. Bubble chatter was one of the areas of interest at the Software and Information Industry Association’s annual Education Industry Summit in San Francisco.

Over at EdSurge, I recap the top developments (bubbles, data and awards) at what used to be called the “Ed Tech Industry Summit.” It was an industry event at which hype took a back seat to struggling with, and discussing, issues surrounding technology in education.

Plus, of course, an event at which the industry honored what it considers the best in edtech products and services, some of the most promising startups, and a handful of high-profile awards for individual contributions to edtech.

Read, “SIIA Education Industry Summit: data, bubbles and kudos” over at EdSurge.