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.