More Status Quo

So, spending on edtech is growing. Which means the amount of money being invested in edtech companies is also growing as investors anxiously anticipate huge profits from the “education sector”. These days all those edtech startups, and their funding chase, are not only being covered by business news sites, but also by general interest education information sources.

Here are just three examples I’ve stumbled across recently and I think they have one major attribute in common. See if you can spot it.

First is Nearpod, as reported by Tech Crunch, a website that covers the technology industry in general. The company just received an investment of $9.2 million in series A funding for their product that helps “teachers use tech for live instruction”.

Nearpod’s app lets teachers deliver digital lessons to students right on their mobile devices, during class.

First, teachers sign up and select from a smorgasbord of digital lessons on the Nearpod content marketplace. Then they assign a digital lesson to students, who engage with the material in class via student accounts on Nearpod.

The lessons feel like interactive stories, projects or mobile games, typically. But they give teachers a view on students’ mastery or struggles with particular topics.

Then there is Brainly, which is getting “$15 million in a Series B funding round led by Naspers that brings its total funding to $27 million”.

Brainly is a bit like Quora for students, a social network where children and teens come to help one another work through homework problems that are stumping them. “Peer-to-peer learning” is how the company describes it.

Students earn points for the quality of their answers and can eventually climb into the leaderboards for subjects like math, biology, and so on.

Finally, we have Lilwil, “one of the hundreds of projects built overnight at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY Hackathon” and not a company that venture capital people are funding. Yet.

It then applies IBM’s Watson to assess the different personality traits of students based on their work such as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional range.

Lilwil then presents a personality analysis to teachers, along with suggestions for the best methods for assisting that student. For example, Lilwil could identify higher levels of extraversion and conscientiousness in a student, and determine that they’re best taught through role-playing simulations and roundtable discussions.

For me, the common thread in these hot new products is that none of the technology will be used by students. These are all tools for teachers and administrators. Even Brainly, which sounds like it’s building a community, is nothing more than a help session for kids to help each other work their way through traditional homework assignments assigned by adults.

Schools and districts that spend their scarce edtech funding on these tools are reinforcing a direct instruction model for the classroom, rather than enabling kids to create and communicate. These and many other edtech startups are building products that reinforce the status quo, rather than something “innovative” or “disruptive”.

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