Tag Archives: GeekWire

TWIEtR: School-parent communication trends

The many ways technology is used to communicate with parents (yet no one way is the best). Online education industry expected to grow 8x in India. And “clickers” may not help concepts mentally click. All this week in edtech reports.

These summaries of new studies, surveys, and research (plus the occasional commentary and analysis) are based on snippets from Twitter shared by @FrankCatalano. Feel free to follow.

West Corporation has released the results of a national survey of school districts detailing how they’re using communications technology to engage parents and families. West, provider of SchoolMessenger solutions, has some expertise in this area as its communications products are used by tens of thousands of schools across North America.

(For full disclosure, I was the primary author of this study, as West is where I spend my days. So I could probably write this summary in my sleep. And just may have, since it’s at home where I spend my nights. Of course, I only speak for myself in this post and these summaries.)

The webinar releasing the survey results was accompanied by a white paper that delved into the details , “From Apps to Announcements: Increasing School-Parent Engagement With Communications Technology.” Some of the key findings:

  • Mobile apps are on the rise. Projecting from today’s use to their planned investment of time and resources over the next 1-3 years, districts expect a 44% increase in their emphasis on mobile apps to engage parents. Overall, mobile apps were predicted to be the “most effective and used” communications technology in 1-3 years by 53% of those surveyed, coming in right behind social media (76%) and text messaging (69%).  Despite this increase and optimism, district leaders are concerned about the proliferation of communications apps that parents are asked to download.
  • Social media is a dominant force. Across all questions and time frames, social media was seen as a significant communications tool for schools to engage parents. Some 85% of districts use it today, 61% of district leaders find it effective today, and 76% expect it to be the most effective tool in 1-3 years. But it’s not without pitfalls, due to negative posts and constant monitoring.
  • Multiple channels are key to maximum parent engagement. Of districts surveyed, 65% already use five or more communications channels to engage with parents. And even though some may perceive it as an “old” technology, broadcast voice notification remains important — 65% find it effective today, and a stunning 96% use it today, making broadcast voice notification the most commonly used communications technology by respondents.

But all is not sparkling unicorns and fluffy happy bunnies. Districts report several significant obstacles to using communications tech to engage parents — and parent internet access tops the list, at 45%.

Rounding out the top five challenges: staff training and time, at 41% and 38%, respectively, then mobile app proliferation at 33%, and finally automatic language translation, cited by 26% of respondents. Interestingly, parent mobile device ownership, at 17%, was not seen as as much of an obstacle.

The report concludes the future of parent communications for better engagement is, “multi-channel, asynchronous, and parent-selectable.”

KPMG and Google have sponsored a study of online education in India that shows remarkable potential growth. The report, “Online Education in India: 2021,” appears to look at online instruction, and not edtech in general (despite a misleading news story headline).

It notes re-skilling and online certification — two adult/lifelong learning segments — are the biggest segments now, followed by primary and secondary education. But primary and secondary education are expected to surpass all other segments in size by 2021.

A research study out of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth indicates that “clickers” — those little handheld devices that students use to respond to quizzes in class — are complicated. Complicated in that while they appear to help students learn facts, their use when the facts are disassociated from the bigger picture may get in the way of understanding the overall concept taught.

It’s worth reading the nuanced article in EdSurge. And it again shows that the “edtech good/bad” dichotomy is too simplistic. It’s not just the tool. It’s the context in which the tool is used, and how it’s used.

And one more thing:

I sat in to co-host a GeekWire podcast on one of my favorite topics: tech in libraries. Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner was wonderfully open in our interview, from his take on Maker spaces and libraries (in Seattle, they’ll give instruction into how to use them, but won’t dedicate space to them due to the number of other options in the community), to his wish list for Seattle’s libraries (a library-employed “journalist,” and experimenting with 365/7/24 opening hours).

Libraries are a vital part of community education and have their own kind of edtech. I encourage you to read the article, and listen to the podcast, with the head of one of the nation’s top libraries for tech.

(Note: Yes, it’s an outdated practice as we are no longer primarily an agrarian economy. But after 16 installments, education report sources are starting to slow for the summer. So like many schools, TWIEtR too will take a summer break & reappear as reports warrant. Or when the leaves start to fall.)

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: 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: IWBs, higher ed landscape

Interactive flat panel displays and edtech categories ripe for consolidation topped a relatively short pile this week in edtech reports (abbreviated: TWIEtR).

As always, this expands upon what I tweet, so you can also follow @FrankCatalano in real time, or get these updates by email by filling out the “Subscribe” field in the left margin.

To most parents, “educational technology” in the classroom has meant the near-ubiquitous interactive white board (IWB) at its front. Now Futuresource has released a report that implies interactive flat panels are well on their way to challenging that perception.

A key stat is that now more than two-thirds of US classrooms have an interactive display, yet in Q4 of last year, 68% of all display sales to education and corporate markets were interactive flat panels.

There’s a bit more detail in Futuresource’s news release.

Higher education edtech is getting more attention than it has since K-12 edtech seemed to suck all the hype out of the market after the iPad was introduced to ecstatic industry hopes in 2010.  That K-12 hype has diminished, in part, due to long customer sales cycles and reduced venture funding rounds in the past year. But to fill the gap, never fear: higher ed is here.

Not that Eduventure’s latest report is about hype. But its free infographic (behind a form, ‘natch) and news release on its 2017 Higher Education Technology Landscape Report at least outline the players and categories to watch.

Its take is that mainstream tech moving into higher ed includes social media, cloud-based student information systems, and software-as-a-service providers.  More interesting are its takes on five markets with the largest numbers of new entrants (e.g., student success and retention solutions) and five markets facing consolidation (e.g., learning management systems).

And one more thing:

My first essay for GeekWire (or anyone, for that matter) in nearly a year takes on bad tech’s personal impact, but — spoiler alert — there’s a positive outcome.

Yes, I was one of the many who purchased a VW diesel car based on promises of fuel-efficient, relatively clean performance. And I was one of the first to sell my Golf TDI back to Volkswagen after long months of following the emissions software cheating scandal.

I kept a journal of the first 60 days since the buyback and how it changed how I, and my wife, think about transportation in an era of new (Lyft, Uber, Wingz) and old (bus) alternatives.

Read “A Post-Diesel Journal: How the VW emissions software scandal sent one family down a new road” at GeekWire.

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.

Awards don’t matter, until you get one

SJPAwardsI will openly admit that yes, I’ve won two awards for my recent writing in GeekWire from the Society of Professional Journalists. And I’m delighted to have done so.

This weekend, at the SPJ Gala held in Seattle for the Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest, I was honored with second place in Editorial & Commentary for a selection of three GeekWire contributions, and third place in Critique & Review for my piece, “As science fiction ascends, its popular award – the Hugo – threatens to nosedive.” (Both were in the Small Daily Print and Online division for work appearing in 2015. Size does matter in award competitions.)80100_spjlogo-for-header.png.300x300_q85_autocrop

There is a type of bashful condescension about awards in the creative arts. “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m not competing with others.” “Money will get you though times of no Hugos.” (Anyone with a long memory of awards in science fiction will be able to attribute that last reference.)

But the reality is awards can serve useful purposes: to draw audience attention to good work that isn’t wildly popular, or to give artists (including writers) a rough benchmark of whether their peers think they’re hitting the mark.

Flanked at the reception by KPLU's Ashley Gross and first reader Dee Dee Catalano.
Flanked at the reception by KPLU’s Ashley Gross and first reader Dee Dee Catalano. (Photo: Sara Lerner)

I’m pleased to note that two great online-only news outlets, Crosscut and Seattle Globalist, took the first place awards in the two categories in which I placed. But coming in right after them makes me happy, since they do such good and broad-based work.

The last time I placed in an SPJ competition was in 2013 for columns I wrote in 2012, a third place in Commentary when there was a different Online-only category. This year is better. (I don’t enter every year, though I’ve been writing for GeekWire since 2011.)

If you’d like to see the three pieces that added up to this year’s Editorial & Commentary honor, they are:

And yes, for those counting — the last one actually won twice. Writing about Hugos apparently will get you other awards, if not a Hugo itself.

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.

Saving (digital) public media in Seattle

Jazz24captureThere is no shortage of media “voices” in a digital world. But when a unique, successful online voice like Jazz24 is set to be extinguished by an unexpected sale, it’s time to speak up.

I did exactly that in my role as a commentator and analyst for GeekWire. In the piece, “KPLU’s proposed acquisition by KUOW puts a global online audience at risk,” I pointed out the to-that-point under-covered fact that if the sale of Seattle area public radio station KPLU’s license to KUOW went through, it would likely mean the end of a highly popular, global digital audio stream.

Jazz24studiosessionsThe intent reported in my commentary was later confirmed by the public media news site Current, complete with supporting emails, in a story titled, “Email shows KUOW saw ‘no sound business vision’ for Jazz24.”  (Current also kindly quoted my GeekWire commentary in an earlier story it wrote on the fund-raising drive by the community group Friends of 88.5 FM to buy KPLU’s license from Pacific Lutheran University, instead of letting KUOW buy it.)

There is still no guarantee, as of this writing, that the fund-raising effort of the Friends of 88.5 FM non-profit and the #SaveKPLU movement will succeed, though it’s awfully close to reaching its goal. (Update May 26: The fund-raising goal has been met; negotiations on the purchase remain.)

Yet in a digital-first and sometimes digital-only world, any threat to an analog media source shouldn’t just be dismissed as the inevitable end of an old model. The analog media outlet should be viewed in the entire context of its analog+digital presence because sometimes — as with KPLU — that sum, and the potential loss, is far greater than any individual part may imply.Jazz24Facebook

It’s Amazons, all the way down

CatalanoAlexaA month or so ago, I marked my fifth anniversary as a GeekWire contributor by picking up my writing after a ten-month hiatus. (I’d still “contributed” during that hiatus — notably as a speaker at the GeekWire Summit and inside others’ stories and podcasts — but not in pieces under my own byline.)

It appears that in my absence, Amazon has been busy.

So I visited Amazon’s first physical bookstore in Seattle, and found that its major accomplishment isn’t as a bookstore, but in how it merges the online and offline shopping experiences almost seamlessly (“Amazon Books: 4 months later, the retail giant’s bricks-and-mortar experiment feels like a winner“).

I bought an Echo Dot and was impressed in how it gives you more options to output streaming audio than the original Echo, even as it still lacks sync capability across more than one Echo in a household (“Echo Dot review: Hands-on with Amazon’s smart, squat, almost-too-independent Alexa sibling“).

Then I borrowed an Amazon Tap, and liked how it was smaller alternative to a traditional Echo with portability despite the incredibly crappy Alexa app experience (“Amazon Tap review: Say hello to my little friend — and new travel buddy“).

And somewhere in the midst of all of this, GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and I brought Alexa (in her Echo guise) into the studio to record an entire podcast with us (“GeekWire Radio: Amazon’s Alexa returns as our special guest“).

So at this point, I think I’ve done my Amazon time. I’ve definitely completed my trifecta of Alexa device reviews, if you go back to my first one (“Amazon Echo in the house: Superior streaming speaker with so-so smarts,” an opinion since improved thanks to Alexa’s mad skillz or, as Amazon would put it, “Skills”).

Now on to other subjects. My wife only has to say, “Oh my God. It’s another one,” once before I take notice.

Science fiction and the future

What’s the future going to look like? That simple question has fueled the work of philosophers, theologians, scientists, stock pickers, and, of course, science-fiction writers. So naturally it was the focus of my session at the 2015 GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

Joining me for the lively, 40-minute, and mercifully PowerPoint-free discussion were Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Nancy Kress, futurist and writer Ramez Naam, and former astronaut Ed Lu.

20151002_GeekWire_Summit_2015_8391-620x414

One of my favorite parts of the session was a utopia/dystopia lightning round, in which I asked for quick assessments of which direction seven developments might take us, including:

  • Uber
  • Self-driving cars
  • Internet of Things
  • Robots overcoming the “uncanny valley”
  • iPhone 17S
  • All knowledge only digital in form
  • President Donald Trump

You can read a partial transcript (including the lightning round) on GeekWire. And, there’s a full video of the session on YouTube.

And for those who prefer podcasts, an eight-minute audio excerpt on the role of science fiction in looking ahead to the future is part of an episode of GeekWire Radio, starting at 25:25.

Lu also had some choice words on the current state of NASA. And the three all expressed both concern and delight when asked what keeps them up at night. I was simultaneously entertained and learned a lot from my guests. I trust you will be, too.