Recap: Monday’s “Technapex Pre-Conference Edtech Mixer”

We’re thrilled to share that our pre-SXSWedu conference mixer and panel here in San Francisco was a big success! First, we’d like to extend our thanks to our moderator, panelists, and attendees who came out to Parisoma on Monday and helped make the event great. Moderator Tina Barseghian, founder and editor of NPR’s MindShift, came prepared with thoughtful, engaging questions for each company that led to an interesting discussion on the digital shift in the classroom. Our panelists included Nate Kimmons, vice president of enterprise marketing at lynda.com, David Straus, vice president of product at Kno, Crystal Hutter, chief operations officer at Edmodo, Jessica Lindl, general manager of GlassLab (collaborators on Sim CityEDU), and Misha Leybovich, founder and CEO of Meograph.

About the companies:

lynda.com: Lynda.com is an online learning company, founded in 1995,  that helps students learn software, technology, creative and business skills. Through individual, corporate, academic and government subscriptions, more than two million people have access to the lynda.com video library of courses taught by recognized industry experts and filmed at the company’s 12-acre campus in Carpinteria, California.

Kno:
Kno is an education software company on a mission to make learning engaging, effective, and social for students. Kno’s interactive apps work with digital textbooks creating functionalities such as digital flashcards, textbook search, a study dashboard, and a sharing function so that learning becomes more social.

Edmodo:
Edmodo is a free service that allows teachers to create and maintain their own safe and secure classroom communities. Edmodo is used to share educational content, manage projects and assignments, handle notifications, conduct quizzes and events, and facilitate highly engaging learning experiences among students in classes and colleagues in professional learning networks. Teachers all over the world build profile pages on Edmodo, which they use to meet and stay in contact with other educators, sharing best practices and top resources.

GlassLab & SimCityEDU: GlassLab is a non-profit bringing together leaders in the commercial games industry and experts in learning and assessment to leverage digital games as powerful, data-rich learning and assessment environments. GlassLab is collaborating with Electronic Arts in order to create SimCityEDU, an educational community based on the SimCity videogame. SimCityEDU will serve as a resource for classroom teachers who have a strong interest in utilizing digital platforms as a learning tool to drive student interest in STEM subjects.

Meograph: Meograph helps students easily create, watch, and share interactive stories by combining maps, timeline, links, and multimedia to tell stories in context of where and when. Meograph’s interactive content makes learning more fun by allowing students to create their own projects in subjects such as literature, history, and more.

Tina opened the discussion with a quote on blended learning: “The digital revolution is more than textbooks or tablets. It is an unprecedented inflection point in education, a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and educational organizations collaborate on education. It should spur us to look at all aspects of a student’s life, to enhance engagement, learning, and academic success.” She then touched on technology’s impact in education, and the idea that technology is neither a villain nor a savior. It has become a ubiquitous force that is helping us move forward, she said, and we must recognize it’s potential. Tina made it clear that as the editor of MindShift, she would be representing educators by asking the panelists questions about their companies from a pedagogical perspective. She kicked off the questions by asking panelists how they believed education has changed in the last few years as a result of technology — specifically, how was the experience of teaching changed for teachers and the experience of learning changed for students?

Nate stated that regarding technology, he hears anything from fear of use to transformation. While he’s seen amazing progress by teachers, technology in the classroom is still in flux, and technology adoption in classrooms varies by both regions and school districts. Jessica made the point that we’re in the middle of the edtech “storm,” and although it’s hard to see the future, many people’s perspectives on technology has shifted in the last couple years in that they’re more likely to adopt it. Crystal noted that not there has not just been a technological change, but also an economic change that has occurred over the last few years, which has resulted in teachers who might not have adopted technology to do so, as they must now make do with fewer resources. Misha hears from teachers that there are so many tech tools now that they’ve become nearly impossible for teachers to sort through. He made the point that entrepreneurs need to help teachers by differentiating their products and making the products simpler for teachers to use.

“Five years ago, in most schools — in order to talk about technology —  a committee would be formed to form a committee about the use of technology,” said David. He noted the huge transformation that has taken place in that teachers are more willing to experiment with technology, describing this willingness to try new things as “bushwhacking.” He noted that he would give credit for the increased reception to technology to Apple and their creation of the iPad. Tablets have created an optimal interactive, touch-mobile experience, which has been at the heart of Kno’s mission in making learning engaging and interactive.

Crystal added that the widespread availability of the internet has also played a major role in technology implementation. “Teachers and students now have have immediate access to the largest repository of information ever created. This ‘wild wild web,’ changes the way we teach,” she said. She made the point that the web has made it easier than ever for teachers to share and discover content, and to create individualized instruction to students at scale.

Tina then asked panelists, whose companies’ products have been adopted outside school districts, not within, if they found the government’s school districts hard to penetrate, and what challenges they face when trying to show their value to educators and administrators.

Crystal pointed out that Edmodo has users in 85 percent of U.S. school districts, as their company focused on a grassroots movement where educators quickly and early on reached out to them, asking to use Edmodo in school districts.  David said that Kno tends to work from the bottom up, focusing on the student’s experience in the hopes that the product will make its way up to educators, administrators, and then districts. Misha said Meograph came about as a grassroots movement, as they had not originally intended for their product to be used specifically in education. Educators became their biggest forum, and Misha values their feedback as it helps them develop a better product.

GlassLab, Jessica pointed out, is a nonprofit, so it’s interesting in that the company is not market-driven. She’s found that with the evolution of the Common Core, teachers themselves are looking for tools that can help them adopt the standards in the classroom quickly and in an easy-to-use format. Nate then described lynda.com’s history, explaining that the company was started 18 years ago by a teacher and was also adopted mainly through a grassroots effort. With the advent of online education in higher ed over the past few years, lynda.com found themselves with the right product at the right time. Now, he said, they’re beginning to focus on incorporating lynda.com in K12 and is facing new hurdles to overcome in terms of pricing for their subscription-based model, bandwidth issues, and curating content for a different audience.

Tina directed another question at the panelists, first stating the importance of students creating their own learning paths in order to be better engaged. She asked how the panelists’ products help teachers engage students. Crystal answered that in providing a variety of options to teachers, teachers can allow students to make choices in their learning, both empowering and heightening engagement in students. GlassLab’s games, Jessica said, are about the idea of free-form learning, which leads to a deeper level of engagement because the students go through a process of making choices within the game.

Misha pointed out that stories have unlimited possibilities when students are creating the content — no one story ever looks the same. “Even if a teacher directed students to create a story about the same 10 moments in the Civil War, each story will come out totally differently,” said Misha. With content creation, students can manage their own choices and direct their learning. David stated that digital textbooks allowed for a layer of interactivity and individualization that can’t be achieved with a traditional textbook. Teachers, authors, and students alike can curate their own content with supplementary videos, links, and other resources within a digital format.

Tina then made that the point that it’s impossible to talk about edtech without addressing equity and access to technology among students, and asked panelists how their companies planned on getting their products and services in the hands of all students.

Nate stated the importance of making products available on mobile devices, and David agreed, saying that mobile’s lower-cost devices will be critical. David also pointed out that many corporations, including Kno, are donating equipment to schools. Misha said that Meograph offers both browser and mobile experiences so that their services are accessible from any device, whether it be a shiny iPad or a beat-up desktop. Jessica noted that with the Common Core Standards requiring assessments to be computer-based by 2014, we’ll see a big influx of technology that wasn’t known before because schools will have to start providing computers for these assessments. Crystal stated Edmodo’s commitment to designing lowest common technology denominators in both schools and homes.

Tina then went on to ask specific questions to each other panelists about their companies, and the audience then followed suit in a Q&A with questions directed at specific panelists. Check Technapex for updates next week, where we’ll post a video of the entire discussion, including the Q&A session between the audience and the panelists.

Thanks again to all of our participants, and we hope to see you at our next event! We’d love to hear your feedback — send to editors@technapex.com so we can continue to improve future events.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.