Tag Archives: SXSWedu

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.

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.

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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.)

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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.

Digital future of “textbook” publishers

SXSWedulogoSXSWedu has posted the audio of my session, “From Legacy to Uncertainty: the Digital Future of the Major ‘Textbook’ Publishers,” featuring execs from Pearson North America, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill Education discussing their digital efforts (and failures), relationships with startups and future paper-to-pixel balance.

As it typical of sessions I moderate, there were no presentations, just conversation, making this audio the only record of an interesting session.

And it was interesting, with McGraw-Hill’s Jeff Livingston laying down a challenge to startups, Pearson’s Peter Cohen admitting where large publisher digital education products had failed, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Mary Cullinane, who came to HMH from Microsoft, commenting on a number of topics from her unique perspective.

Listen to “From Legacy to Uncertainty, the Digital Future of the Major ‘Textbook’ Publishers,” at Soundcloud.