Tag Archives: SXSWedu

TWIEtR: SXSWedu, Platforms, News & Kids

I don’t want to bury the lead (as I used to critique journalism and executive memos): This Week in Edtech Reports (TWIEtR) includes my observations on SXSWedu 2017. But first we get through the latest on K-12 market stats and how kids view online news.

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Futuresource continues its parade of new data by walking out its latest, the Digital Platforms in the K-12 Education Market report. Among the tidbits revealed are that the mobile device management category in K-12, “is high growth, especially in the US, where the penetration of student devices is over 45%.”

That leads Futuresource to forecast that the “digital management and platform tools” market (which includes student information systems, communications and data analytics platforms, learning management systems, classroom management and collaboration tools, and more — basically, edtech not used for student instruction and testing or teacher professional development) will grow a lot. Futuresource estimates a compound annual growth rate of 4.5%, for a US K-12 total of $1.83 billion by 2020.

One other fascinating observation has to do with differences in the student information system markets in the US and the UK. Essentially, the trend to consolidation is flip-flopping in each country. The UK is seeing its one dominant provider challenged by cloud-based startups. At the same time, the fragmented US market, with more than 120 providers, is consolidating: PowerSchool alone has purchased several competitors.

Kids these days … and news. The non-profit Common Sense has released a new report, “News and America’s Kids,”  that surveyed 853 children age 10–18 on how they feel about the news and where they get it — including online and social media sources.

Kids (and I use that word hesitantly for older teens) still value news, or so say 48% of them. But their primary source is family, teachers, and friends (63%) followed by the tech source of online and social media (49%). Perhaps surprising to some, traditional media is pretty high up there, too (46%).

For social media, the top two sources? Facebook and … YouTube.

And one more thing:

SXSWedu, in its seventh year in Austin, continued its somewhat-under-the-radar role as the start of the entire annual SXSW  festival series that runs through interactive and music to film and comedy. The focus is education technology, broadly writ, and the mutual impacts tech and human education have on each other.

Not only will you hear edtech cheer-leading, but there is also a balancing chorus of voices with provocative and thoughtful concerns about digital equity, student data privacy, and the role of government. Much of this willingness to deal with hard issues is a byproduct of the organizers’ conscious mix of K-12 and college educators, policy wonks, and industry execs.

But SXSWedu has evolved from its mainly conference start to incorporate many of the festival elements of the other South-by-Southwest events. There are films, a hands-on Playground, an open-to-the-public exhibitor Expo, and always, of course, parties.

I don’t have final figures, but attendance for the conference part of this year’s SXSWedu, held March 6-9, seemed flat or smaller than last year’s 7,500 or so. (One conference official felt international attendance was down and that would hurt totals.) That’s after years of explosive growth. The free Expo itself draws in the thousands, and isn’t included in the conference numbers.

I’ve attended SXSWedu for six of its seven years, and was on the Advisory Board for five of the six. So, if you’ll humor me, a few observations.

We are at peak coding startup. From the Expo to the Playground to various sessions, K-12 coding startups were everywhere. To quote nearly every Star Wars lead in every non-Jar Jar movie, I have a bad feeling about this.

The new bright/shiny is VR/AR. Several virtual reality or augmented reality sessions and startups were touting the wonderfulness of three-dimensional edtech hardware and educational content. While some of this is legit (I liked LlamaZoo’s veterinary simulations in the Launch competition), it’s still expensive and awkward for much of education and it will be a slow, long climb to viability.

The bloom is off the K-12 investment rose. We’ve seen it in declining funding for K-12 edtech startups, shifting editorial focus to higher education and adult learning in edtech news sites, and now in startup competitions — it’s a bad time to begin a me-too, indefinitely unprofitable K-12 edtech startup. Grant funding and unpaid pilots are not business models. Perhaps the final confirmation needed was when, in SXSWedu’s Launch competition, the top three startups were not for K-12 students.

Speaking of Launch, it was an odd-yet-refreshing mix of ten startups that made the finalist cut. The breakdown illustrated the shift from K-12 student-facing edtech: Eight of the ten had zero to do with tech for K-12 students.

My personal favorites in this competition that didn’t win — for concept and/or potential — included TeacherConnects (an app and service to help teacher candidates and new teachers succeed), Cell-Ed (using mobile audio and text messaging to teach job skills), and Quizling (interactive app and kiosk quizzes for museum and library education, institutions for which I admittedly have a soft spot). Tellingly, each of these has customers and revenue.

The ultimate winner was The Whether, an app to help college grads get internships and jobs.

The upshot for 2017’s SXSWedu? It still provides a pleasantly challenging meeting place for educators, wonks, and industry to mix and discuss the big issues of education and technology. Or — as I suspect many do — just network and party.

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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.