Saturday, November 1, 2014

Education Technology Panel


What tools are particular effective? Where are there rooms to grow?
  • Marissa: We've funded ~250 startups in Boston area and have seen a lot of growth in really niche area, for example, classroom management or grading papers. For example, one startup, Gradeable, allows students get feedback faster within a day rather than weeks. Most successful companies have teacher support, if they haven’t piloted in a classroom, they don’t know the challenges. 
  • Dan: Hardware is a way to get points across, most effective solution in special needs classroom, interactive hardware system like interactive whiteboards. In one particular pilot, kids were laser focused on the hardware product. Hardware only works when given to teachers with the right training and uses it the right way with the right support. 
  • Kin: Kaymbu focuses in preschool. The most effective technologies, hardware or software, are those that help teachers do what they do better. Teachers are pretty good at what they do. Don’t transform, focus on enabling teachers that do things better, faster, easier. In EdTech, nondisruptive is a good thing. Technologies that integrate very easily, rather than revolutionize the dynamics of the classroom, are the most effective.
  • Kimberly: EdTech is taking up a lot of airspace in education, and are misguided. It's taking a lot of talent and a lot of funding, where people are trying to make money off of schools. I don’t believe that. I don’t think anything will make a big change in education. Education is the business of developing human capital, and human capital is developed in person. For teachers, they need to believe in their own vision and authority and lead their kids to there. They need to interact with parents and kids as much as necessary to get there. There's no screen or app to help you do that that will actually be transformative. Deep rich education that make school betters needs to develop the teachers. The technology that we use are for general audience, not specific for schools (e.g. Google Docs). One exception: Coding websites that help teachers to teach that to kids in K-12. Most other things are actually distracters of time and talent and resources. 
  • Dan: The situation to avoid is one where the Technology Coordinator of the district say, here’s your technology, use it. That’s a failed way of using technology. Alternatively, here’s a budget for each school, and the teachers go out to find the technology, and they pitch them to the school board to buy for the school.
  • Kin: While I agree with Kimberly, there are tools that can make teachers more effective and communicate better.

On the next big change in EdTech
  • Marisa: There will be more ability for teachers to experiment with new tools as wifi access increase in the classroom. Focus on experiential learning/group learning rather than having teachers standing in the front. 
  • Dan: Biggest opportunity and challenges is the Keep It Simple rule. Make it frictionless, part of people’s lives. The more interesting is way for kids who are ahead or behind can continue their learning or catch up at their own pace.
  • Kin: Most excited about are bringing more people into the fold. Family and advocates, technology can play a role.
  • Kimberly: Technology can’t replace the human relationships. Our K-8 schools, almost all of our children live in poverty, almost all will be first generation in their family to go to college. We need to be teaching kids to interact, don’t put a screen between them. They need to interact with each other, learn from each other. I visited a high school who implemented technology fully. Their feedback: This is great because I am not as held back by the other kids. Self-centered, self-driven things, doesn’t recognition the social skill of learning from others. Most of our technologies are coming from a collaborative process. Making sure we only have one laptop with every 2-4 kids. We don’t want one device per child. The most promising: Massive portions of the world don’t have access to this technology yet.

  • Most exciting EdTech startup?
    • Marissa - Tiggly, physical product focused on early learning; it's a toy that you use with iPad. It combine shapes and numbers with iPad games in a blended learning model. There's a lot of startups that are combining the physical and the digital.
  • What would you need to see to believe a truly disruptive technology in education? 
    • I would need to show actual data in a large school. That there are actually student outcome, that actually proves it. 
  • With the growth of online learning platforms, will alternative education complete overtake classroom learning?
    • The math lectures on Khan Academy are are actually a lot closer to lecture/problem set process. So students never have to differentiate between the situations when learning the concepts. They ask you to master this concept, and then they test you on it. We ask kids to tackle a problem they've never seen, and figure out which math concepts they need to solve the problem. That’s not what you can do with the current online offerings.
  • Are needs different in poor and affluent community’s school?
    • If you feel like you have a product that’s going to benefit students, you want to make it available. The selling process in K-12 is so nebulous and it’s a really hard decision on how to allocate resources. More of the affluent schools are open to ideas. The affluent district wants more data. Selling to MA is different from CA (where per capita education expenditure is much lower low). 
  • Emerging markets like Africa and India, there’s a major paucity of good teachers are rural/low-income schools. What kind of technology do you think will help bridge this cap?
    • EdX — universities that provide their courses for free, open sourcing their education. I don’t think they will ever replace working around people. If you’re not working with people when you’re going to school, you’re not gonna have the social skills for your job. 
  • Are Interactive Whiteboards really not beneficial?
    • Kimberly: Don’t see any reason we need. It's better if students write their own solutions to problems and work together as a group. In that case, the board just a distractor. Best math class: Went through 2 of 3 problems. He was not teaching them and they learned from each other. Similar to the working world, any bosses that are great took the time to talk to you a lot, and invested in you a lot.

  • Marissa — As you’re thinking about EdTech startups, really talk to the potential users of your product, and what their challenges ares, test the product with all those users. If you just make assumptions based on your former assumptions, they can be faulty assumptions.
  • Dan — User tests, figure out what problem actually exist in the classroom? As far as advice of building technology in general, focus on watching them, then you can improve that problem. Improve that process. Sometimes, it's just one UI/UX change. 
  • Kin — It is a very noisy space, because there's lots of stuff out there. Interesting to note is the gap between the user and the purchase decision maker in EdTech. The products that are pushed down from the city level are the most appeal to VCs because you can sell a lot of it.

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