Tag Archives: EdSurge

A field guide to industry edu conferences

Those industry-focused education conferences. EdNET. SIIA. CiC. GSV. SXSWedu. If you’re an entrepreneur or a teacher, how do you navigate them? (Let alone unpack the acronyms.)

Over at EdSurge, I’ve produced a sort of field guide to five of the most prominent in the U.S., all of which I’ve attended, some for many years.

The guide is from the standpoint of a startup entrepreneur or an educator who may little familiarity with the conferences aimed at companies and organizations that serve the eduEdSurgelogoTwittercation/edtech market. The calculus will be different for, say, an established company evaluating the five.

The guide doesn’t include the very many conferences aimed at teachers and other educators directly (like ISTE), though admittedly, it’s a continuum, as some conferences like SXSWedu straddle both sides.

So remember the lens as you read: for entrepreneurs and educators, and listing from broadest focus/newest events to the narrowest focus/most established events.

Now click over for, “An opinionated field guide to industry education conferences,” at EdSurge.

Three steps for activating student data

We fear what we don’t understand. And nowhere is that more evident in education than in the debate over storing, connecting and actively using student data.

Over at EdSurge, I round up the latest developments and issues, and call for the education industry and education administrators to move beyond mere transparency to describe the tangible for digital data in three baby steps. Define the product. Lay down the limits. Stop hiding.

The idea for this column came about in a talk I gave on the topic to the Acer Education Advisory Council’s annual summit the same April week. In the presentation and discussion, it became apparent that there was a disconnect even within school districts about digital data: curriculum directors tended to be the ones to specify which digital instructional tools would be used in the classroom, but if there was a breach or other problem with the digital data these tools generated, it was the technology directors who were often on the hook.

Basic RGBAt the very least, there needed to be a stronger connection between technology directors advising curriculum directors on best practices for educational data. And that connection may be more tenuous, in some cases, than anyone would care to see right now.

Factor in the education technology industry, and it becomes a not-so-simple three-part problem (or four-part, once you add in government regulations and laws). But one that needs to move from a “we’ll deal with it when we have to” to a “we’ll get ahead of it now before it’s more of a problem” issue.

And it’s worth noting as a coda: Less than two days after my column was published, one of the cautionary tales cited — the non-profit student data warehouse inBloom — announced it was shutting down. In part, it seems, due to some of the very same issues that remain unresolved.

Read, “Student Data: Moving Past Transparent to Tangible,” at EdSurge.

Edtech startups, now with teachers inside!

It’s become clear that if an education technology startup wants to have an impact on classrooms today, it must have teachers directly or indirectly involved in the company. But does that hold true for those looking at longer time horizons?

Over at EdSurge, I examine teachers in startup roles through the microcosm of five companies presenting at the NY Edtech Startup Showcase in March.


All had teachers involved in some way: as early adopters (pretty typical), as hands-on product consultants and advisers, or — at one extreme — as full-time co-founders. (Of course, for the last case to work, a teacher may need to become a former teacher.)

Now think, in their respective industries, about what the founders of Nest, Tesla, Uber and, uh, Apple’s iTunes had in common. And then extrapolate.

While having current teachers on board helps edtech startups better understand what’s needed in classrooms in the near-term, in some cases it may actually work against efforts to transform (rather than just support) education practice in the long-term. If, that is, the latter is the true objective, versus just making a nice living and helping spur incremental change.

Read, “Teachers Not (Necessarily) Included,” over at EdSurge.

Amazon: Edtech’s passive lurker arises

If you want to understand Amazon’s strategy in education with the Kindle, remember what Amazon is good at: delivering paid digital content. And then you might forget about who makes the tablet that displays the content. Instead, focus on the Kindle Reading App.

71MP0iAoVpL._AA160_Over at EdSurge (and in a slightly edited re-post at GeekWire), I pull together the various moves Amazon has made in K-12 education over the past year or so, and tie them up with a bow that is Amazon’s announcement it is distributing hundreds of textbook titles digitally to teachers in Brazil, delivered not necessarily on Kindle tablets, but on the Kindle Reading App on government-issued Android tablets.

This isn’t necessarily Amazon’s only education technology strategy. But it’s one that makes sense, especially in markets where the objective is to deliver digital content more than to sell low-margin tablet hardware.

Read, “Amazon’s Rising Edtech Play” at EdSurge, and “Amazon: Education’s passive lurker gets aggressive” at GeekWire, if for no other reason than to compare and contrast reader comments.

‘Innovative’ K-12 tests always around the corner

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.

Read, “‘Innovative’ K-12 Tests: Almost Always Just Around the Corner,” at EdSurge.

Digital badges need mass to matter

Representing credentials — whether it’s in education or the workplace — as digital “open” badges is slowly gaining traction. But what the heck is an open badge? And why does it matter?

Over at EdSurge in my inaugural post as a regular columnist (after having been a frequent contributor for almost two years, though consulting remains my day job), I dissect the nascent Open Badge Infrastructure movement, spurred by the Mozilla Foundation and propelled by recent announcements from Pearson, ETS, edX, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) and my one-time employer, Professional Examination Service.

OpenBadges_logoBottom line: If badges are going to be a digital currency (with more stability than Bitcoin) to represent accomplishments, skills or knowledge, they need to seem worthwhile to all parties in a credential transaction, not just those who issue and earn them.

You wouldn’t think this would be a controversial position, but it exposes a tension in the open digital badge community between those who want rapid uptake on the technical standard and have anyone issue badges for any reason just to get them out there, and those who want to ensure the badges aren’t trivialized by an overwhelming number of badges for just showing up that could confuse the value for everyone. It’s a tricky balance, and the tension is understandable.

In this case, “open” is a double-edged sword.

At least the latest developments in open badges support a 2014 prediction I provided to Politico’s Morning Education newsletter in December of last year:

The Mozilla Foundation’s efforts to turn digital Open Badges into an accepted, student-centric marker of accomplishments will move from experiment to nascent trend, as more major edtech products and platforms include support of the open standard. Key to the Open Badge Infrastructure’s momentum will be its adoption by at least one of the major, traditional educational “publishers” and by at  least a handful of highly respected educational institutions to counter the threat of a potential flood of “junk” badges that may proliferate like gold stars in a kindergarten.

Yup. That happened.

Read, “Digital Badges Need Mass to Matter,” at EdSurge.

Coding is not a foreign language

Coding for kids is cool and useful, but the movement promoting it threatens to go sideways when programming is equated with learning a foreign (human) language. Sure English grammar is tricky but it’s completely different to coding.

Yet that’s what has happened in several state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives — with one going so far as to propose formally classifying computer programming languages as “critical foreign languages.”

Over at GeekWire, I humbly submit that this is a Really Bad Idea and shows an ignorance of either computer languages, world languages, or both. (For one, human languages are also a long-standing life skill … and don’t change as often.)

CodeDayfulllogoSince the column appeared and was re-posted on EdSurge, it’s led to some spirited (and thoughtful) debate in the reader comments on GeekWire and also on the education technology site.

Others have weighed in. Code.org, which pushes an important learn-to-code agenda, similarly flatly states, “Computer coding is not a foreign language.” Meanwhile, on Twitter a researcher pointed to a small-scale study that suggests that “young computer programmers have ‘bilingual brains,‘” an interesting implication of the cognitive benefits of coding.

Bottom line: understanding computer programming is important, both as a window into computer science and how our technological world works. If you would like to understand it better then you could take a look at computer programming homework help. But well-meaning efforts at the policy level should have it counting toward math and science graduation requirements (as it does in Washington and at least nine other states) and not toward world human languages, especially if it means sacrificing a student’s foreign language exposure.

Read the full argument, “Learn to code? No: Learn a real language,” over at GeekWire.

Stop the edtech hype and hysteria

There are some things I hate about edtech. A few of my least favorite things are arguments that blindly present technology in education either as a cure-all or utter evil, or players who manipulatively claim their talking points are about edtech when they really are a stalking horse for another agenda.

EdSurgelogo“Hate” is a strong word. But “an intensely frustrating and distracting misappropriation of time and effort when valid arguments can be made without hype or hysteria” takes too long to type. It’s a topic I began thinking about last April, even banging out my initial concerns on Evernote with a smartphone while on a train in France. On vacation. To the irritation, not of those in edtech, but of my spousal unit.

Over at EdSurge, I’ve refined my thoughts and clustered them into three types of frustrating approaches under the umbrellas of Cheerleaders, Paranoids and Dogmatists. I framed it as an EdSurge 2014 Outlook piece, in the category of what I hope (not expect) will happen next year.

Sadly, I think of the emergence of these three groups in education technology as an unintended consequence of edtech finally going mainstream in public awareness and K-12 classrooms in 2013. It’s a kind of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for essay; if edtech were still at the margins, odds are these types of arguments wouldn’t be as prominent nor getting the kind of press that they do.


Speaking of unintended consequences, a few of the  tweets and comments about the EdSurge piece are especially illuminating, if only to illustrate how heavily polarized discourse about edtech and its implementation have become. And they may have unwittingly supported a point or two of mine.

Read, “Stop the Hype and Hysteria,” over at EdSurge.

Privacy, digital disconnects at EdNET 2013

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.






Some of my Catbird-recommended resources on understanding and using Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges for student accomplishments (as well as for other types of digital credentials) are linked here. For the rest of the EdNET themes, read “EdNET 2013: Privacy Goes Very Public,” at EdSurge.

Pitching an edtech (or any) startup

I recall at one time, when it came to startup pitch fests in education technology, the Software and Information Industry Association’s twice-yearly Innovation Incubator was basically the only game in town. That is clearly no longer the case as nearly every edtech or education-focused conference has added a pitch fest, a special area or a dedicated program for startups to hawk their wares.

Now comes SXSW V2V, which has stripped away any pretense of incorporating startups into a conference and instead the conference itself was only and all about startups and entrepreneurs. And its pitch fest — for which the “V2V” stands for “Vision2Venture” (I think) — had five category competitions, of which education technology was a prominent part.SXSWV2Vlogo

Over at EdSurge, I combine the excellent advice of three top-notch coaches with my own experience as a mentor and judge for startup pitches (I was also on the V2V edtech Advisory Board) into seven tips gleaned for good presentations. These tips come from attending two days of closed-door rehearsals and final two-minute spiels of not just the edtech hopefuls, but of all the companies. So even though these tips are offered through an edtech story-telling lens, they have broad applicability.

Read, “Tips for Pitching Your Edtech Startup,” over at EdSurge.