Getting Our Priorities Straight

EdSurge, an organization that tracks the edtech industry,1 is covering a conference called the ASU+GSV Summit. Here is the opening paragraph from their report of the first day.

Bankers, lawyers, researchers and policymakers. Administrators, entrepreneurs and the Golden State Warriors. The ASU+GSV Summit, now in its eighth year, has assembled yet another potent cocktail of education industry stakeholders from different walks of life. (We’re kidding about the Warriors, who just happened to be staying at the venue hotel prior to Game 4 of the NBA playoffs.)

Notice anything missing from that “potent cocktail of education industry stakeholders”? Like teachers, parents, and the most important stakeholders of all, students?

Just the fact that they use the phrase “education industry” pretty much tells you all you need to know about the priorities of EdSurge and this conference. But if that’s not enough, how about this little observation.

Yet among the more than 3,000 people who poured into Salt Lake City for the event, the bankers were visibly in full force.

In the hierarchy of edtech, bankers are far more important than teachers. And for the entrepreneurs excited about their invites to “meetings in private suites” with those bankers, profits are far more important than children.

The Business of MOOC

Tis the time for year-end reviews, as EdSurge2does with “MOOCs in 2015: Breaking Down the Numbers”.

According to them, the number of students enrolling in MOOCs has doubled with “the total number of students who signed up for at least one course has crossed 35 million–up from an estimated 17 million last year”.

The number of courses offered has also increased, with “1,800 new courses were announced, taking the total number of courses to 4,200 from over 550 universities”.

The usual suspects are still at the top as “Coursera, edX and the Canvas remain the top three providers of courses”.

And lots more statistics – languages used (English fell… a little), best reviewed courses, the top rated universities – along with some trends (evidentally free certificates are dead).

Missing from the report, however, is anything about how many students actually completed the courses. Or about whether the instruction was beneficial to their academic life (or their actual life). Or whether students felt the money, time, and effort they put into the MOOC was worthwhile.

For 2016 “MOOC providers have started targeting high schoolers with the intentions of closing the college readiness gap, helping students to get a taste of different majors through introductory courses, and providing exam preparation (like AP) courses”. And increasing their business.

Because, as best I can understand from reading EdSurge, MOOCs are all about the business, not learning.

Edtech Fool’s Gold

Showing up at a gold rush with a shovel and a pan doesn’t make you a genius. – Dave Pell

Dave, who curates the daily and essential NextDraft, was commenting on a story about the debate over whether the tech industry is in another bubble. But his observation could also apply to edtech.

I don’t know whether there is a bubble yet, but lots of companies are showing up to the edtech gold rush with apps, software, “solutions” for your Common Core problems, and a variety of tools repurposed from other businesses to be “innovative” and “entrepreneurial”.

In many cases, the “gold” they are seeking is data. Either they want to collect enough student information to make their products more valuable than the next one, or they are selling products that are supposed to help schools and districts magically find the nuggets in their own data. Very often, both.

Whatever the motive for arriving at the school door with a shovel and pan, very few of these edtech products are concerned about actual learning and kids. Scan through the huge collection of vendors from the ISTE boatshow2 floor and Edsurge’s summit and it becomes obvious that most of this crap is edtech fool’s gold. And we are the fools for buying it.

The State of EdTech

A few weeks ago I spent a chunk of my Sunday at an odd little conference held in the threadbare ballrooms at one of DC’s utility hotels. The meeting was a combination of a micro version of the ISTE expo, an edtech pitchfest, and an attempt at a teacher pep rally.

As I said: odd.

The event was the Tech for Schools Summit, presented in various locations around the US by a company called edSurge. For those who don’t follow the edtech “sector” and haven’t heard of them, here’s the nutshell description in their own words:

EdSurge was started in 2011… to connect the emerging community of edtech entrepreneurs and educators. We wanted to share detailed information about what new technologies could–and could not–do to support learning.

However, the short time I spent at the summit didn’t leave me feeling very good about that “emerging community”.

About thirty small companies participated in this event, each of them showing off their creations at tables in a cramped, noisy room as well as giving a short pitch on the stage in another space. None of them did a good job explaining either what their product did or why any educator would want to use it. If I was a wealthy investor, I would pass on all of them.

Anyway, my biggest problem was with the concept behind their products. Except for two tables2, these edtech “entrepreneurs” presented very little that involved students in creating their own learning.

They were showing technology grafted to the same old curriculum and classroom process, aligned to the Common Core, of course. Very little innovation in either the “ed” or the “tech” part of the equation.

And that pretty much sums up the current state of that whole edtech “sector”.