In 1994, I got a call from an editor I knew at a Seattle-area newsweekly. Computers for personal use—and the companies that made them possible—were getting a lot of attention due to this newly accessible Internet. I’d been a full-time journalist and now worked in tech. Would I be interested in writing a snappy regular column explaining computer industry developments to mere mortals?
Sure, I said. It needs a name, he said. I first suggested “Dispatches from the Digital Frontier.” And then I offhandedly added, “Or you could just call it ‘Byte Me.'”
He eventually stopped laughing. That set the tone for more than 200 weekly “Byte Me” columns that ran in Eastsideweek and later Seattle Weekly through 1998, starting with one titled, “The Internet as Goat Trail.” It bemoaned the difficulties of using this largely free and open so-called “information superhighway” while still noting it “sparks the imagination of what could be.”
After the Seattle Weekly column ended came a several-times-per-week on-camera tech analyst slot at KCPQ-TV Seattle with a column on its website, then columns or regular contributions for Puget Sound Business Journal, TechFlash, NPR/KQED’s MindShift and finally almost eight-year-long stints with both GeekWire and EdSurge.
My current work with GeekWire and EdSurge wrapped up earlier this year. That’s led me to reflect on two-and-a-half decades of a side career analyzing and writing about technology developments and the industry for a general audience (after reporting on the original personal computer boom when I was a full-time broadcast news reporter).
Yes, a lot has changed from a technology standpoint. What was nerdy fringe is now geeky mainstream. What was desk-bound and disconnected is now portable and persistently linked. What was an annoying buzzword…is still that.
Yet as the major technology hype has shifted from personal computing and the internet to mobile devices, I’ve discovered that three universal truths endure when it comes to explaining tech to a general audience.
Under-the-hood interest is limited—but it is there. People do want to understand why a new technology, product or service is useful. But they do not want to be buried in technical detail.
Sometimes stories about what’s new go so deep in the weeds of the tech underpinnings (I’m looking at you, blockchain) there is no clear tie back to the practical benefits.
That doesn’t mean a writer should stick to describing what’s cool on the surface. Cool doesn’t always mean useful. There are many examples of “cool” products and services that required such contortions in customer behavior that much of the benefit was lost. This goes way back, and includes everything from earlyTimex Datalink smart watches to theRadio Shack precursor of today’s laptop computers. I owned both.
So surface or weeds alone don’t serve the non-expert, tech-interested audience. There needs to be enough factual foundation for understanding and a clear connection as to how that tech makes it possible for the useful stuff to be delivered.
It’s easiest to focus on the giddy change-the-world surface. It is oddly also easy (for the nerdy) to give an expert tutorial on the tech. What is hard is figuring just how much of the latter is required to help people understand the former without going too far in either direction. For the good explainer/educator, it’s a constant challenge.
The lure of the bright-shiny is eternal. Similarly, people want to hear about what’s new and exciting in tech. But they don’t want to be served a diet of empty-calorie hype.
This is when context and comparison helps. Sure that foldable smartphone or virtual currency is really neat. But what will it replace, or will it simply be another service or gadget that requires care and feeding? What else is needed to make it work well? What behaviors (see above) will have to change for it to succeed?
Often, unfortunately, the cool overwhelms the useful in gushing coverage of new digital developments. Sometimes, the stories are only about the wonderful assumed benefits of new tech with zero explanation as to the how. While the companies may like that, it’s a disservice to anyone truly curious about what new tech may mean.
Writing forces understanding. Good tech writing helps two audiences: the reader and the writer. I’ve found this to be the personally most valuable part of what I’ve done as a columnist and contributor over the past two-and-a-half decades.
It’s very hard to accurately explain a development in part of the tech industry without understanding it first yourself. Of course I can write a concise tweet based on something I’ve quickly read, or pen a brief story on specific spot news. But to fully explain a development to others in a column or other analysis requires digging in, excavating the most important parts and then building a coherent narrative upon that foundation.
This kind of writing is a wonderful discipline. It also gives me permission to dive into topics that seem interesting but I’d also likely never explore unless I had to write about them.
Twenty-five years ago, people needed to be educated about digital technology before they were even interested in using it. Today, the interest is already there, but the need for education and explanation remain. And it may be that tech has so overtaken our lives that—from personal data collection to remote social interaction—it’s the tech itself that now has the explaining to do.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I gave an hour-long original talk at #CAMEXshow on what 15-yr-old high school students today are going to expect of tech as incoming college freshmen in 2022, based on their teen #edtech & consumer tech experience. I’m going to try and summarize in a tweetstorm with images. 1/12 pic.twitter.com/xXhWcqPZuO
First, teen tech landscape. It’s a cloudscape. Since iPads & Chromebooks and more pervasive campus broadband, the decade-long lag from consumer tech to #edtech adoption has compressed to 2-3 years. That means a more seamless tech life, but also more danger of schools buying fads. pic.twitter.com/AuGPxPmW3z
Teens also are more savvy of how tech is affecting their behavior this decade. @CommonSense found 89% of teens have a smartphone. But @PewResearch found 54% of teens also think they spend too much time on smartphones. And nearly a third say it distracts them in class. pic.twitter.com/qX1LhUiAYE
So what K12 tech trends now will persist in 3 years, to 2022, setting teen expectations? Early school experiences with AR/MR/VR (extended reality), mostly in computer labs. Coding leading to a fascination with robots. Dominance of cheap Chromebooks and Windows devices in school. pic.twitter.com/fAmnhVm96e
Now to teen consumer tech expectations. Big story here (or hear) is #smartspeakers. Adoption is huge, rapidly leading to virtual assistants with screens. Some hotels and higher ed dorms are already making smart speakers standard. This is a key 3-year teen expectation trend. pic.twitter.com/YdWWXN0nGx
Other key consumer tech trends teens will internalize: Smart homes. Internet of things devices (standalone). More advanced wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers, and wireless headphones (Apple shines in both, and revenue is increasing faster than unit sales). pic.twitter.com/nnXWSBJeMV
Final top teen consumer tech trend is being social through deeply engaging tech. Extended reality through group AR/VR experiences and arcades, and eSports as competitors or audience. Both are together-yet-isolated teen tech trends that will see strong growth by 2022. pic.twitter.com/R1oXom7KEH
Teens, as consumers coming into college, will expect tech everywhere in 2022, but will want it to integrate well with physical life and (my take, based on some of the behavioral research) not simply a case of losing themselves in screens. pic.twitter.com/VHDDTVbATx
Combining K-12 #edtech trends with consumer tech trends affecting today’s 15-yr-old,: In 2022 smart speakers will turn out to be transitional, XR will be common for group/social interaction until hurdles are overcome, and Apple may be hurt by the lack of edu exposure it once had. pic.twitter.com/WTjSk28lAO
Key issues for teens over the next three years in tech products? Expectations of “free” software, potential for a major privacy breach and attendant backlash, and increasing concerns by teens themselves of having too much screen time. pic.twitter.com/qweeXpD6qk
I’ve done my best to summarize an hour of @CAMEXshow detail. But it may give you something to think about as you consider how today’s in-school K-12 #edtech trends and out-of-school consumer tech trends are shaping the expectations of a 15-year-old between now and 2022.
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 find it troubling that the amount of regular reporting of what’s happening inside the K-12 #edtech industry appears to have fallen off. This is important not just so those in the industry know what’s going on, but those in the public (including educators) understand movitators.
Yes, there are the big (and often good) feature stories in the @NYTimes and other media outlets. But the routine business of #edtech – who owns what, which execs are switching jobs – illuminates the day-to-day that can help many people understand decisions. It provides context.
As many observers (including @audreywatters) have pointed out, modern #edtech hype frequently ignores history. Electronic edtech goes back one hundred years, to radio and then TV (including Mr. Rogers). Digital edtech goes back nearly 60 years, to the PLATO instructional system.
But that perspective is frequently ignored, and often consciously so, by #edtech startups and promoters who want everyone (notably investors and customers) to believe everything they come up with is brand new and has never been thought of before. And it’s perfect if it’s digital.
Better coverage of the industry itself could help counter hype. And for a while, at the peak of the K-12 #edtech venture boom this decade, we had signs of that. @Marketplace had an edtech reporter. @EdSurge began, covering K-12 as an industry. @EdNETbiz tracked comings & goings.
Yet over the past couple of years, it seems coverage has moved more to tips for teachers in some outlets, and to higher ed and corporate #edtech startups in others. I get it. Teachers are a bigger audience than industry. Investors are touting other segments. We all need to eat.
And it’s not that K-12 #edtech industry coverage has disappeared. But so, so much of it now is all about funding and the bright shiny. Uncritically reproduced (not even rewritten) news releases should not be how the general public finds out about industry inner workings.
Personally, I do write about #edtech when I can. It’s a sideline, and there are some topics I can’t tackle well because I have a long history of working inside the industry, and consciously avoiding conflicts of interest (real and perceived) is important and limits what I write.
More is needed. Coverage doesn’t have to be uniformly critical. It also can’t be universally fawning. No one is well-served by either extreme as a regular diet. We’re also not served by less independent editorial coverage of the K-12 #edtech industry. I hope some step up, again.
For those who prefer it when I just tweet #edtech and tech news, I apologize. I rarely kick up a tweet-storm. But this issue about editorial coverage of the K-12 education technology industry has me musing a bit more than usual. Now back to your regular, predictable Frank feed.
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.
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.
Also 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.
In a workplace or higher education world of advanced test questions that approach full simulations, why are so many K-12 school tests so, well, Scantron? Blame time, money and appropriateness.
Over at EdSurge, I examine the reasons why what had been called “innovative test items” (now, over time, being re-phrased to “technology-enhanced items”) are the types of questions we don’t routinely see on tests in K-12 classrooms. Bubble sheets still rule, and it’s not because there aren’t alternatives, even established ones.
One especially fascinating workshop session at the Association of Test Publishers’ Innovations in Testing conference in early March examined six now-common categories of technology-enhanced questions — hot spot, video, short answer, drag and drop, audio and multiple response (which a presenter noted were sometimes incorrectly, and amusingly, called ‘multiple multiple choice’).
One of the two session speakers, Cynthia Parshall of CBT Measurement , said test taker unfamiliarity with new test question types and their potentially complex interfaces was slowly being eroded by consumer technology. “The whole world of Swyping is making drag and drops more intuitive,” Parshall noted.
That said, going beyond simple text-based multiple choice (which assessment professionals call “selected response,” as opposed to “constructed response,” the latter in which the test taker has to build or create a correct answer without choosing from a list of options) has its own challenges. For example, Parshall cited quality assurance when sound is involved: “For one item, the stem (written question introduction) referred to a ‘he,’ and the audio was a female voice.” The learning curve with new kinds of technologies for test questions goes beyond the test taker.
The lack of advanced test question types in K-12, however, is likely to start changing with the introduction of the online-only student assessments from the two Common Core assessment consortia. But the obstacles to widespread adoption in K-12 are pretty steep.
Education industry execs say the darndest things. And at EdNET 2013 in Denver, one of the major education industry conferences, that remained the case.
Over at EdSurge, I pull together the common threads from the 25th annual EdNET in the areas of privacy issues and digital disconnects (and toss in a few “heard and overheard” quotes).
What I didn’t include is the wide range of predictions and observations in the closing View from the Catbird Seat session, which featured long-time, knowledgeable session leaders Anne Wujcik and Nelson Heller, accompanied for the second year by a relative newcomer.
The Catbird session started with us being asked to describe the biggest successes of the past 25 years (I chose NetDay‘s wiring of classrooms for the Internet and the double-edged sword of “edtech” going mainstream), biggest disappointments, then go in depth on a trend with a brief presentation, and end with our predictions for the future of education (mine with a nod to my recent GeekWire column on the unexpected — at the time — runaway success of the first graphical web browser).
Tweets tell the tale. Starting with the disappointment.
25 years later, since founding of EdNET, we’re still talking about integrating tech into classroom: @FrankCatalano#EdNET13