Category Archives: Education

Teens, tweens and media ‘aha’ moments

Cover page of Common Sense’s 2019 survey, a follow up to its 2015 report.

Seventy pages of data is a lot of data. But that’s the fascinating substance of “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens,” a new report from the nonprofit organization. I’ve summarized the findings about digital homework for EdSurge.

But there is so much more.

It is, as far as the report authors themselves know, “the only nationally representative survey tracking media use patterns among a truly random sample of U.S. 8- to 18-year-olds.” The 2019 report also follows up on a similar 2015 report, so trends can be spotted.

Changes in devices, and gaps based on family income, over four years. (Source: Common Sense)

A few observations that didn’t make it into my EdSurge summary:

  • Smartphone ownership is way up, and at earlier ages. From age 11 onward, a majority of kids own a smartphone in 2019. In 2015, the 50 percent mark wasn’t reached until age 13.
  • Kids’ use of screens doesn’t mean a lot of them are content creators. Screen time largely means game play, social media, or passive video consumption. Only 2-3 percent of kids’ screen use time, roughly, is spent creating their own writing, art or music.
  • Smartphones aren’t being used more for homework. Despite their near-ubiquity, overall time spent on smartphones for doing schoolwork at home is essentially flat between 2015 and 2019 while computer use time has increased. However, those in lower-income families spend more time than those from higher-income homes doing homework on smartphones (this last noted in my EdSurge piece).

There is much more in the report itself, including what kids think about multitasking with entertainment media while doing homework. I recommend browsing the full Common Sense report.

Yes. Kids these days.

Minecraft: When learning is the game

A Librarian Villager oversees the Minecraft: Education Edition room at MoPOP in Seattle.

I have never played Minecraft.

However, I’ve written and tweeted about its prevalence in education, a presence potentially more far-reaching than its huge popularity as entertainment. So it was with that perspective I walked into the new “Minecraft: The Exhibition” at the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle.

What I discovered is in my EdSurge story, “World-Premiere Exhibit Explains Minecraft to the Most Challenging Audience: Parents.

Not everything I saw or heard at MoPOP made it into that EdSurge piece, though. That included some additional salient observations by Brooks Peck, co-curator of the exhibit and MoPOP senior curator. For gameplay as well as education, Peck finds Minecraft has “unlimited possibilities.”

“Once people get the hang of it, they really want to push the boundaries. They’re like, ‘How can I mess around with this? What happens if I do this?'” Peck told me. “So there’s a ton of experimentation that goes on. I see that everyday in the gallery where I’ve set up these little experiences for people and they ignore them completely and just mess around. But you can’t break it. So that’s great.”

MoPOP senior curator Brooks Peck (left) at the Minecraft: Education Edition station.

While there’s a lot that makes the digital tangible to fans, the exhibition also helps non-players — like parents and me — understand the appeal and reach of Minecraft. Think of it as Minecraft 101.

For example, there’s a physical crafting table for making things with natural resources that reproduces the virtual one inside Minecraft’s world. Yes, it’s cool for knowledgeable players. But it also serves an educational purpose.

“This is totally an opportunity for kids who are players,” Peck said. “It gives them the chance to be the expert, and they can sit down and show their parents or whomever what they know. They love that. They get so few opportunities to do that, to be the one in the know.”

That was pretty obvious when I visited the exhibition. Even though it was midday on an October Monday, there were lots of kids and parents, and the former led the latter.

A life-sized Minecraft panda waits as visitors leave the exhibition.

Sure, there are those who may wonder about the real-life benefits of playing in a world where you’re manipulating meter-high blocks made of pixels. Yet Peck sees a different kind of learning going on.

“Among other things Minecraft has a really interesting connection to the real world in this idea: You live in the world you make,” Peck said. “That’s a literal fact in Minecraft. You make your house; you might landscape it; you live in this world that you built.”

Five edtech trends from the ISTE 2019 exhibit hall

BrainPOP’s beloved mascot Moby and some other guy.

If there’s a place for conspicuous tech consumption in education, it’s ISTE. The annual event– named for the association that runs it, the International Society for Technology in Education — is the world’s second-largest edtech conference and trade show, behind Bett in London.

This year’s ISTE was in Philadelphia, drawing more than 20,000 participants. If you’re in or interested in K-12 edtech and didn’t get a chance to walk the ISTE exhibit hall, here are five easily digestible observations. In, of course, tweet form.

Yes, ISTE 2020 will be in Anaheim, specifically June 28 through July 1. Expect more tweets. And mascots.

An industry insider’s edtech conference guide

The sign outside 2019’s ASU GSV conference in San Diego, with X marking ten years.

ASU GSV. SIIA. SXSW EDU.

No, these are not scattered arrangements of alphabet blocks from an especially precocious early learning classroom. They’re abbreviations for major conferences for companies in the education industry.

I’ve been attending, and occasionally speaking at, these events and their predecessors for more than two decades. What sets them apart from purely teacher-focused conferences is that industry players aren’t viewed mainly as vendors who pony up for a sponsorship or exhibit booth. Instead, in nearly every case, they’re primary conference attendees.

The last time I took a detailed look at the industry conference landscape for EdSurge was in 2014. That was early in the days of low-cost cloud computing enabling a multitude of new edtech startups, really fast internet beginning its spread to schools, and Chromebooks starting their climb to ascendance in U.S. K-12 classrooms as a 1:1 mobile device.

Five years later, these developments didn’t just upend the classroom. They have upended the industry and how it’s reflected in the events that cater to industry companies, investors, and executives at every level from preschool to workforce learning.

If you work inside, or are deeply interested in, the industry, here’s a new assessment of a handful of the most prominent U.S. events. Yes, ISTE, EDUCAUSE, CoSN and other educator-focused conferences remain vitally important to the industry, too, and have gone through some of their own changes (for example, the “F” in FETC no longer means “Florida” but “Future of” Education Technology Conference). There are also other highly specialized and invitation-only industry conferences. But the general, high-profile events that follow are where more industry deals are done and difficult business decisions are discussed.

Here’s how the alphabet blocks are currently stacked: who’s on top, who’s fallen off the pile, and why you might want to play. Or at least go to watch the players.

ASU GSV Summit

If there was any doubt, this year’s event put it to rest: ASU GSV Summit is the must-attend conference for education technology investment, with business deals and policy issues buttressing the financial focus. Held in early April, ASU GSV’s 10th annual event in 2019 drew an estimated 4,900 people to San Diego with celebrity and political headliners providing a star-studded umbrella under which rainmakers prospered.

Its growth has been stunning. From 240 attendees a decade ago when first held by Arizona State University and the investment firm GSV (Global Silicon Valley) Advisors, ASU GSV Summit blew past the 2,000 attendees figure in 2014, outgrew its Scottsdale home, and now is bursting at the seams in San Diego. The event tweeted that it was “sold out” a week before it began this year and started a waiting list. And it’s not exactly the lowest-priced conference option: Last-minute walk up registration was a few bucks under $3,200.

Even if you didn’t attend keynotes featuring Tony Blair, Common, and—yes—Sesame Street, the programming provided measured insights on the state of the industry, ranging from “preK to Gray.” Everyone from large company CEOs and major investors to startups and nonprofit institutions attend. I found that if you simply stood in a hallway, it was virtually impossible to not see someone you knew (or wanted to know) pass by within five minutes. It’s sessile serendipity.

Deborah Quazzo, co-founder and managing partner of the Summit and managing partner of the GSV AcceleraTE Fund, credits much of the event’s popularity to how it covers learning at every level, from early childhood up. “I do think the overall market has moved to a position of seeing the critical integration of education and talent/workforce innovation,” Quazzo said. “I believe ASU GSV was ahead of the curve on that position and we are thrilled with its embrace.”

Draw: Raw financial horsepower and speaker star power.

Difference: GSV’s deep understanding of the financial end of “preK-Gray” learning.

Go: If you want to do a deal, raise money, or simply understand the current investment-and-education landscape, this is the one conference to attend.

Next: ASU GSV Summit, San Diego, March 30 – April 1, 2020.

SXSW EDU

As part of a 30 year history of SXSW conferences, SXSW EDU is one of the younger siblings in the South by Southwest family. But it’s grown from its birth in 2011, and gotten a little, well, more festive, as befits its family ties.

Like longer-running SXSW conferences and festivals, SXSW EDU’s home is Austin, Texas and it’s held in March. It precedes the more famous interactive and music events and is a bit more sane, at least in terms of size and late-night public behavior. (In the past, the city didn’t start shrink-wrapping parking meters and telephone poles to protect them until EDU was well underway.)

Yet SXSW EDU has tilted more toward a global teaching and learning festival as it has grown, even though it still attracts a healthy number of industry and government attendees from K-12 up through higher ed: about half educators, based on a breakdown of 2018 stats, and a third business and industry. In 2019, there were 8,300 registered for the conference, slightly up from 2018 but significantly up from the 6,000 who attended in 2014.

As EDU has aligned itself more closely with other South-by events over the past few years, conference keynotes, panels and workshops have been joined by new programming such as a hands-on Playground, and a free one-day education expo that’s open to the public and adds thousands more beyond the conference total.

For the industry, it’s less a setting for business and more to see what educators are excited about without the us-them distinctions of an exhibit hall, mingling in an atmosphere that encourages different types of attendees to mix. Much networking gets done at the many meetups, receptions, and parties.

“SXSW EDU’s mission is to advance teaching and learning and we work to assemble as broad an array of stakeholders as possible, believing the more diverse the community the more impactful the conversations,” said Ron Reed, SXSW EDU’s founder and executive producer, and director of emerging events for South by Southwest. When EDU was launched, Reed told me, it was one of the few education events not tied to a specific association or membership group. He sees the event landscape continuing to evolve. “We believe it is a reflection of education becoming an increasingly interdisciplinary conversation,” he said.

Draw: Festival! And the SXSW reputation for informative and interesting events.

Difference: Educators, industry, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and wonks attend as equals in large number.

Go: To see what’s exciting educators without the restrictions of an exhibit hall, or feeling as though industry types are intruding into a sacred educator-reserved space.

Next: SXSW EDU, Austin, March 9-12, 2020.

SIIA Ed Tech Industry Conference

If anyone is playing the long game in edtech industry conferences, it’s the Software and Information Industry Association. The SIIA Ed Tech Industry Conference may be part of a larger “code and content” trade association, but it’s an organization in which the education division—technically, its Education Technology Industry Network—has traditionally been very strong.

SIIA’s long-running annual conference was once the only industry education conference with a technology emphasis. It’s undergone a few modest identity changes. The last time I wrote about it, the name had changed to “Education Industry Summit” from “Ed Tech Industry Summit.” But it’s generally been held in San Francisco, most recently every June. Attendance numbers more in the hundreds than the thousands, owing to SIIA’s tight focus on edtech industry companies.

What’s remained consistent—and is being emphasized even more this year—is that SIIA is a place where the industry, from K-12 through higher education, discusses the hard issues of building and maintaining an education technology business. It also has an established innovation showcase for startups, popular one-to-one business connection meetings, and the annual education CODiE Awards which are now in their 34th year.

Jill Abbott, the new senior vice president and managing director for SIIA’s ETIN, says she’s seen “a larger focus on start-ups in the event landscape” over the past five years, as well as a more thoughtful approach to programming. “Questions such as, ‘What are the educational trends?’ (and) ‘How can we help companies evolve their business model?’ are now being addressed,” she said.

As to where SIIA fits in, Abbott said: “SIIA views its role to focus on essential problems or questions that we need to address as an industry.” That includes making sure there’s a “call to action” in its conference programming, beyond exchanging ideas and networking. “Providing a call to action—whether it’s for diversity, equity, and inclusion, new marketing approaches, or how AI is impacting your business—brings the conversation outside of the event and into the organization,” she said.

Draw: Peer-to-peer conversations about the business of edtech, plus the CODiE Awards celebration marking the edtech industry’s highest honors.

Difference: Long-standing association event with a tight focus on industry and company needs.

Go: To discuss hard business issues, learn from what other companies have done, and connect.

Next: SIIA Ed Tech Industry Conference and CODiE Awards, San Francisco, June 10-12, 2019.
[UPDATE 6/17/19: The dates for the 2020 SIIA Ed Tech Industry Conference have been set, May 18-20, 2020, in San Francisco.]

EdNET, Content in Context and others

No industry-focused conference I highlighted five years ago survived completely unchanged. Some didn’t survive at all.

In 2014, Content in Context was a thriving conference for educational content publishers going digital, drawing hundreds to D.C. each June. Formerly called the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) Summit, the event name changed to CiC and AEP was acquired by the Association of American Publishers. But its 2017 event, after a move to Philadelphia, was CiC’s last gasp.

I reached out to an AAP spokesperson who said the organization had recently hired a new leader for education, and anticipates future events that might be open to members and nonmembers alike.

Aging was somewhat kinder to EdNET: at least the event name survived. But both emphasis and length morphed. What had been the longest-running and broadest-based standalone K-12 industry conference—a fixture for three days each September that drew hundreds—also wrapped up in 2017. MDR, the marketing data and services company which ran it, moved to a new format in 2018. EdNET now is a set of three, smaller one-day regional events across the country, with a more narrow education marketing focus and fewer than 100 attendees each.

That cellular division and regeneration appears to have worked for MDR. Kristina James, who’s responsible for the EdNET events, said two of its three 2018 events had waitlists. Part of that success, she said, was in “minimizing the time and financial commitment necessary to attend and presenting content that was localized for attendees.” This year, EdNET plans to host similar one-day events in Boston, New York City and San Diego.

Industry reflected in a not-so-funhouse mirror

So you may now be thinking: What was it about 2017?

Here’s where it becomes clearer that the traditional edtech industry reached a Titanic tipping point of sorts: maybe not exactly in 2017 when certain high-profile events ended, but during the past five years. The conferences reflect that upending in three different ways (and it’s not simply that ASU GSV has sucked all the money people out of the industry conference room).

Consolidation. Not only is “edtech” no longer separate from “education,” but K-12, higher education, and workforce learning are less distinct and moving to more of a seamless continuum. (I keep returning to Deborah Quazzo’s delightful term “preK-Gray.”) Some individual industry-focused conferences may no longer make sense when companies are trying to cross boundaries and business models.

Delivery. The double-edged sword of better internet bandwidth enabling more education technology uptake is that people can now get the equivalent of live conference panels and keynotes in high-def, streamed remotely and sometimes in real time. As MDR’s Kristina James noted, “The education industry event landscape has really evolved over the past few years with more people connecting via webinars.” So the better conferences are evolving: fewer rote presentations and more face-to-face time, rapid-fire discussions, and unique experiences.

Generations. As an Exec of a Certain Age, this might ring more true to me than to others. But many startups that have flooded the industry over the past few years may prefer real-time remote over in-person interaction. That means attending fewer events, while making sure the ones they do attend have the most bang for the buck. In addition, the driving forces behind the longest-running edtech industry events are getting older; the analysts and organizers that put on the original-format EdNET for many years, for example, have retired. Newer blood has new approaches.

When you make plans to attend education technology industry events, remember that the conferences themselves can change as much as the industry does. As they say in the finance world—and perhaps more frequently at ASU GSV—past performance is no guarantee of future results. Or of edtech success.

This post originally appeared on EdSurge as, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? An Opinionated Guide to Changing Edtech Industry Conferences.” 

Today’s high school student in 2022: College technology expectations

Screen 53 of 57 presented at CAMEX 2019 in San Antonio at a thought leader session.

Three years from now, 15-year-old high school sophomores are going to be college freshmen. And their expectations about the tech that surrounds them in 2022 will have been shaped by both what they experienced in school as K-12 students and outside of school as teenaged consumers.

At CAMEX 2019 in San Antonio, held by the National Association of College Stores, I explored what that combined expectation of edtech and consumer tech exposure might mean. While the slides of my thought leadership session by themselves aren’t that useful without narration or detailed notes (I favor lots of images with any vivid words coming from me, not crowded bullet points), I did summarize my trends take in a series of a dozen tweets. Of course.

You can read more about three of these trends in a think piece I wrote for EdSurge afterwards, “Analysis: Is higher ed ready for the tech expectations of the teens of 2022?

In the talk itself, there were five K-12 tech trends and seven consumer tech trends with teen takeaways. Across 57 slides. And yes, I did cover it in one energetic hour, with time left for Q&A.

What’s happened to edtech industry news?

http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/sturgeon-campbell-awards.htm#images
Theodore Sturgeon Award trophy “asks the next question.” (Gunn Center Photo)

I don’t do tweet storms much. But recently, I got riled up about the state of K-12 edtech industry news coverage. Ten tweets resulted.

I don’t regret any of what I wrote rapidly that morning. Except maybe misspelling “motivators” in the very first tweet, a typo I introduced as I tried to make “motivations” fit into Twitter’s 280-character limit and had to come up with another word.

I’ll also point out that EdSurge is doing some good reporting in the K-12 edtech area. What EdSurge writes can be selective and uneven as the edtech news and resource site has expanded its coverage  into higher education and adjacent markets.  Yet some of EdSurge’s best work has come from Managing Editor Tony Wan, who provides context and background, and not just the latest press release.

I also didn’t mention Education Week’s EdWeek Market Brief, which arose as the funding boom did (and seems to be tinged with the patina of a subscription market research service, but isn’t quite that). Still, it’s not edtech-specific, and appears to be a bit of a side project to Education Week’s mainstay good work in covering education as a whole.

That leads to one final postscript observation: Perhaps there just isn’t enough, in these days of click-bait and cut-back journalism, of what science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once simply called, “Ask the next question.” He was describing it in terms of good speculation and debate. It’s also a hallmark of good journalism.

Of Pittsburgh, edtech, and science fiction

Duolingo’s Pittsburgh headquarters. (Duolingo photo)

February is coming to an end. And with it, a rather unique initiative of GeekWire’s.

Back when Amazon announced it was accepting proposals from cities to be the location of that company’s “HQ2,” GeekWire’s founders were inspired (admittedly, during a happy hour).

If Amazon can solicit bids for an HQ2, they thought, why not GeekWire?  And thus was born the GeekWire HQ2 project.

GeekWire would only locate a co-headquarters in the winning city for a month, and just bring a handful of transplanted jobs (the RFP stated “up to three”).

Yet several cities responded, and Pittsburgh won.

Even though I didn’t travel to Pittsburgh, I did contribute. I happened to know that Pittsburgh is a hub of education technology activity, and developed a detailed round-up of how edtech is in Pittsburgh’s DNA — going back to Fred Rogers, when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was airing on the edtech of its era (television).

My contributions took a different tack as the month progressed. Turns out Pittsburgh also is a hub for science-fiction activity — at least in 2017 and 2018. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is presenting its Nebula Awards in Pittsburgh again this May, as the Nebula Conference completes a two-year location rotation.


Plus, this year’s SFWA Grand Master, being honored for a lifetime of achievement, has roots in both Pittsburgh and Seattle. So I highlighted the career of author Peter S. Beagle (best known for the novel The Last Unicorn, but writer of so much more, including a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, film adaptations, and many other books) in the context of SFWA and the two cities.

Catch up on all of GeekWire HQ2 special coverage here. And, if you’re wondering what else I’ve been writing lately, my GeekWire author archive is here. (Spoiler alert: there’s edtech, science fiction, pop culture and a fascinating podcast with author and futurist Ramez Naam.)

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 (if something was a 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

EdNET 2014, in words and video

For almost two decades, I made it a habit to take notes at industry conferences, then distribute them by email to colleagues. With the subsequent advent of blogs and YouTube, I stopped that quaint practice three years ago.

EdNET logoBut people still want to know what happened at the conferences, or the conference sessions, they couldn’t attend.

MDR recently summed up takeaways from its long-standing EdNET education industry conference on its site. As a consulting senior analyst for the EdNET Insight market research service, I was asked for some unvarnished takeaways, and came up with the following:

  • A recurring theme was that time is of the essence in making sure education technology actually lives up to its promise. Richard Culatta of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology noted, “Let’s be clear: there is a (limited time) window” for using edtech to help transform education. David Sample of itslearning said for certain types of edtech to prove its worth, “That hourglass is running out of sand.” And a startup said when the “froth” of the edtech market might end keeps her up at night.
  • Robert Lytle of the Parthenon Group hit one school pain point directly: Edtech companies still do an awful job of describing what products and services actually DO. Getting beyond marketing buzzwords — to clarity — is critical.
  • Lytle also had the sobering observation that even though K-12 education funding is recovering to pre-recession levels, almost all of the dollars represented by that recovery will be eaten up by pension and health care obligations — making spending on products and services a zero-sum game.
  • In the View from the Catbird Seat analyst session, an update on digital Open Badges from last year noted that there has been little traction inside commercial education products, even though individual K-12 teachers have jumped on the opportunity to define and issue their own badges for student motivation and accomplishments. One exception has been in professional development, where there are a number of efforts to recognize teachers with micro-credentials (issued and displayed as Open Badges) that will be accepted by districts and institutions.

You can read the full set of EdNET Insight analyst takeaways here, in context, on the EdNET Insight News Alerts site.

And if that View from the Catbird Seat discussion sounded enticing, you can re-live the entire session on YouTube (if you’re curious, fast-forward to 10:45 to get to my observations on the state of Open Educational Resources, or OER, in the industry):

Other EdNET 2014 sessions had presentations, videos or both, and they’re available on the EdNET conference site by clicking on the links embedded in each session or speaker name for Monday September 29 or Tuesday September 30.

 Yup. We’ve come a long way from emailed conference notes.

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.