Tag Archives: EdSurge

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 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.

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.

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.

Microsoft’s newest education strategy

Microsoft and education have an inconsistent and varied history. But Microsoft has waded into the education pool anew with its “Office Mix” add-in for PowerPoint.

GeekWirenewOver at GeekWire, I took an advance look at the new — and free — tool. Essentially, it adds a ribbon to PowerPoint (the Office 2013 or Office 365 version is required) that allows educators to integrate tests, exercises, video, narration, and animation (for simulations, for example) within a PowerPoint file, then distribute the link to students so they can interact with the lesson on the web.

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Couldn’t this also be used by NON-educators?”

Indeed. It’s free, and freely available. But in my interview with a Microsoft exec, he made it clear that education and instructors were the “North Star” for Office Mix as a key, and primary, audience.

Office Mix also marked Microsoft’s partnerships with two education content non-profits, CK-12 Foundation and Khan Academy. From a brief on EdSurge:

James Tynan of Khan Academy told EdSurge columnist Frank Catalano it’s not every Khan video or interactive exercise, but Mixers will have direct access to “pretty much all of the videos we have created” and a “significant chunk” of the exercises, numbering respectively in the thousands and hundreds.

Read, “Microsoft wades into education again with ‘Office Mix’ tool for PowerPoint,” at GeekWire. And check out the additional detail at Edsurge.

A field guide to industry edu conferences

Those industry-focused education conferences. EdNET. SIIA. CiC. GSV. SXSWedu. If you’re an entrepreneur or a teacher, how do you navigate them? (Let alone unpack the acronyms.)

Over at EdSurge, I’ve produced a sort of field guide to five of the most prominent in the U.S., all of which I’ve attended, some for many years.

The guide is from the standpoint of a startup entrepreneur or an educator who may little familiarity with the conferences aimed at companies and organizations that serve the eduEdSurgelogoTwittercation/edtech market. The calculus will be different for, say, an established company evaluating the five.

The guide doesn’t include the very many conferences aimed at teachers and other educators directly (like ISTE), though admittedly, it’s a continuum, as some conferences like SXSWedu straddle both sides.

So remember the lens as you read: for entrepreneurs and educators, and listing from broadest focus/newest events to the narrowest focus/most established events.

Now click over for, “An opinionated field guide to industry education conferences,” at EdSurge.