Category Archives: Education

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.

ETIN2

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.

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.