Tag Archives: mindshift

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.

Lessons schools can learn from Maker libraries

At the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, cool tech was largely absent — unless you were interested in the Maker Movement.

MakekitsWebThe Monday of the conference was dubbed Maker Monday, and while I’m old enough to remember metal shop and wood shop classes in junior high, and the excitement of building (and occasionally destroying) Heathkits and Estes rockets, there are two important differences between Making now and my childhood activities. Making almost always incorporates a high-tech element. And it can be on a huge scale, like a human-sized, mobile robotic cupcake with embedded LEDs. (Yes. They showed a photo of one such project at ALA.)

Over at the NPR/KQED education site MindShift, I cull together seven lessons schools and other wanna-be makerspaces can learn from the experience of libraries in Illinois, Michigan, California and Kansas which have already taken the Maker plunge. As Carla Avitabile of the Marin County Free Library observed, “It’s not that hard to pull off some of these programs.”

Read, “Want to Start a Makerspace at School? Tips to Get Started,” over at MindShift.

Closing the educator-entrepreneur gap

One of the dangers of being an entrepreneur — especially a tech entrepreneur — is making the assumption that the customer is Just Like You. Or, just as bad, assuming you alone Know What’s Best for the customer.

That’s the kind of disconnect that has hampered many education technology entrepreneurs from meeting the needs of real-world classrooms, teachers and administrators. And it’s a gap I address in my latest piece for the NPR/KQED education site MindShift.

Based on the experience of DreamBox Learning’s Jessie Woolley-Wilson, McGraw-Hill’s Randy Reina and teacher/entrepreneur Lindsey Own, the post condenses nearly two hours of lively discussion into four key points “edupreneurs” need to understand to be successful. (Hint: “technology will solve everything” is not one of them.)

MITWAEduReportcoverThe discussion took place as part of an MIT Enterprise Forum on Obstacles and Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in Education that I moderated, with both a professionally produced video of the full discussion available to watch, and a separate (and parallel) companion paper available to download.

The companion paper itself has generated a bit of controversy as the publication Education Week recently covered the paper’s concern about the inflation of a possible “edtech bubble” occurring as entrepreneurs and investors rush to fill the perceived demand for tech solutions.

 But to get the short, direct advice, read “Closing the gap between educators and entrepreneurs” at MindShift.

2012 edtech trends, insider edition

As another year comes to an end, there is no shortage of pundits or promoters trotting out both thoughtful and tired “top ten” lists of what’s hot in education technology and digital learning.MindShift logo

So, of course, I felt I had to add my own over at the NPR/KQED education site MindShift. (But I felt no compulsion to go to ten, as I have no need to further demonstrate my counting skills.)

My take might be a little bit different as these five trends are culled from my first-hand observations at a half-dozen industry conferences this year. As a result, they include MOOCs, mobile, money, malls and … paper.

What didn’t I include?

The winner of 2012’s don’t-ask-a-question-you-don’t-want-answered award. It goes to one poor speaker at the EdNET conference.

From the lectern she asked, “What’s a two billion dollar industry that attracts millions of students a year?” There was a pause, and then a lone voice from the back of room called out, “Pornography!” The speaker, horrified, quickly said, “Oh my god! No! It’s online learning!”

For the rest, read “2012 edtech trends: insights from insiders” at MindShift.

Reading apps for real books

Does digital mean the children’s book is dead? Not if Wanderful’s revival of Living Books or RRKidz’ next phase for Reading Rainbow are any indication.

Over at the NPR/KQED education site MindShift, I share the latest examples of reading apps for real books. Even though some companies have moved to purely original interactive play apps for kids on smartphones and tablets (such as the best work of Callaway Digital Arts, based on well-known characters), there is a certain delight in a well-illustrated, well-told narrative children’s story. It was true on paper, true on CD-ROM physical media and remains true in digitally delivered apps, even when enhanced with audio, activities and educational guides.

It’s why I still give hardcover illustrated children’s books — even to adults — as gifts, and support organizations such as the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

 The newest crop of reading apps aim to do the static e-book one better without losing what makes a classic or contemporary kids’ story work as it brings it to a new medium. And they do so either direct to individual parents and teachers, or to an entire school building or library.

Read about, “Going retro: reading apps for real books” at MindShift.

Where do edu games come from?

Over at the NPR/KQED education news site MindShift, I examine the sources schools turn to as digital learning games rise again in popularity. And this cycle, it’s not just the traditional and startup education companies, but non-profits, consumer crossovers and academic institutions themselves.

(And yes, I know: with a title like, “Where do educational games come from?,” there is a temptation to begin it with, “Well, when two fun-loving snippets of code love each other very much ….” But I restrained myself.)


There is always a danger of leaving out good examples when citing others. And there were several I had no room for, including that of some former clients like Sokikom and the innovative work being done by SMALLab, which began at Arizona State University and uses wireless tech (think Xbox Kinect controllers) to capture motion in math and physics student game play. Digital education games are definitely fertile territory for innovation, and this cycle appears based on a more solid foundation of research.

This latest MindShift explainer on digital learning games is something of a “bookend” to my previous MindShift piece, “What’s the difference between games and gamification?” Together, they should provide a good snapshot of digital games in education and perhaps a way to understand the landscape.

Read, “Where do educational games come from?” at MindShift.

When a game is not a game

All “learning games” are not alike. While the term is often tossed around to represent a current hot area in digital education, there’s a marked difference in approach and structure to the products that get plastered with this catch-all phrase.

At the NPR/KQED education news site MindShift, I break down “learning games” into three approaches: gamification, simulation and games.


It’s probably no surprise that perhaps the least widely understood is also the bright-shiniest — gamification. And experts I spoke with in this discipline for my analysis were hard-pressed to find digital learning examples that do gamification well.

But games? Simulations? A lot of solid research has been done since the turn of the century, and it promises to make a  huge difference in what really works when digital games and education meet.

Read, “What’s the difference between games and gamification?” over at MindShift. (And one of the experts quoted, Alex Chisholm, adds his own take at the Learning Games Network site.)

How will student data be used?

Call it an unintended consequence of the digital education era: all sorts of student data is being created, but is frequently stuck in the software where it was generated.

A gutsy foundation-funded, multi-state, data-geeky initiative, the Shared Learning Infrastructure hopes to pull together these sources of student data, put it in the cloud, and use it to make better personalized learning decisions. It’s a big effort by the coordinating Shared Learning Collaborative and complex, with many moving parts. And I dig into it over at the NPR education blog MindShift.slc-avatar_reasonably_small

If you’re into buzzwords, it’s a project that could enable Big Data and learning analytics. SLI is so complicated, that gathering information for an essay took place through several meetings over several months. And my attempt to make it simple without, I hope, making it stupid resulted in a piece that is twice as long as most columns I write.

The result is a look at what the Shared Learning Infrastructure is– now that it’s just entered its alpha, or pilot, phase (only a handful of days behind schedule) — and what it could mean for educators, students and the education industry, in terms of both potential benefits and challenges.

Read “How will student data be used?” at MindShift.

“Open” is changing the texture of edu content

Over at the NPR/KQED education site MindShift, my latest analysis tackles peanut butter. Well, maybe the consistency of peanut butter — as it applies to instructional materials in schools and colleges.

Because a major shift we’re seeing is that the materials used to teach students are moving from a creamy, uniform consistency like that found in paper textbooks and many early monolithic digital texts, to a more chunky consistency as instructors assemble their own lessons and courses from digital pieces.cc.large

And a large factor in this change is the emergence of Open Educational Resources, which are perceived to be “free” and are designed to be mixed, modified and shared. (Though, of course, many educational companies also have digital pieces that offer several of the same benefits.)

Read, “How open education is changing the texture of content,” at MindShift.

Which device will win the tablet battle?

It seems everywhere you look in U.S. education, the tablet story is an iPad story, from college to kindergarten. (Yes. Kindergarten. In Maine.)

But perhaps it’s time to look beyond the United States’ borders.


Over at the NPR/KQED education blog MindShift, I analyze the latest trends in the global tablet market for education. And across various ponds, the emphasis seems to be on Android — especially for a growing number of lower-cost, under $200 tablet computing devices aimed at schools and a consumer education market.

Read, “Which device will win the tablet battle?” on MindShift.