SXSWedu: LAUNCHedu Educator Insights

The next session I’m attending is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, LAUNCHedu: Educator Insights. The panelists are Anya Kamentz, Bob Metcalfe, Ph.D., Jennie Magiera, and Mark Edwards. The focus of this panel is to distinguish between the “must haves” and “nice to haves” of innovative educational tools. It’s the teachers’ reaction panel to the LAUNCHedu competition. The broader discussion is how can startups do a better job of connecting tot heir target audience and consumers? You can see the list of LAUNCHedu competitors here.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Anya is moderating and asks each of the panelists to go down the line and discuss the top companies as well as concepts that they say at the LAUNCHedu event. The top start ups per the teachers was UnlockYourBrain (which puts brain teasers on your smart phone), Robots Lab, NBA Math Hoops (making math accessible and engaging) and Proctor io.

Anya asks what would the panelists have liked to have seen? Bob says he would have liked to have seen more personalization and individualized feedback. He also feels that collaboration should be part of the design. He also highlights that price-point is key and we must always ask how will this enhance teaching and the quality of student work. Jennie wants to see more start-ups disrupting the educational space. She felt that most of the start ups were taking innovative approaches to long established pedagogy. Jennie argues that they need to bring active, classroom teachers onto your board as they will be the ones using it. Better yet, bring students on board! Start ups must shake up the individual learning space. They need to change the way teachers teach and students learn! Also, rebrand blended-learning so that it’s not about replacing teachers. She wants to see students have more power and authority of their creative content. Mark steps off of Jennie’s words and says that he thinks they are not wanting to get in front of education as they want to survive – they have to match what is present, not develop for the platform of the future. However, the platform of the future is coming! He also wants to see start ups focusing more on big data and analysis. He also would like to see more cognitive computing.

Jennie believes that these Ed Tech startups have the opportunity in their positions of being new companies of shifting their focus and emphasis on changing up the educational environment. This is the time they should come up with creative and innovative solutions for problems we didn’t even know existed! Bob argues that overall cost is vital here – that it must be cost effective for adoption, training, and application. He also believes that schools and districts should be open to serving as beta testers. Mark believes that most educational technological innovation will take place outside of the realm of schools, teachers, and even buildings. Right now, schools have the largest impact on student learning in conjunction with their peer interaction as well as screen time. However, Jennie jumps in and points out that most of her students (in inner-city public schools) do not have access to interactive tools outside of school. Unless they’re in the classroom, they won’t be able to use them.

Anya asks what role does current educational practice bare on educational technology start-ups? Bob believes that when there is engagement with the end user, it keeps a ‘reality check’ with the start-ups. Practitioners are necessary to understand their needs and ease of use. This is especially true for him when it comes to price-point. If they price themselves out of the market. Bob argues that just because something has been done before doesn’t mean that it can’t be done better (remember Alta Vista?). He also says we should keep in mind who is going to be learning? Will it just be individuals between 5-25 or can older learners participate? The participants are key – who will be using it and navigating your tools. Data is also vital (protected data).

The focus of ed tech startups is interesting. There is a lot of money in this realm that is for sure, but as Jennie states it’s a great opportunity to disrupt the world of education. At the same time, there are needs now that aren’t being addressed, not just the future world. If nothing else, maybe they will keep the big dogs from getting complacent.

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