Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dear Edtech Entrepreneur


I came across this open letter from a teacher to ed-tech entrepreneurs, which I recommend to anyone planning to reshape the educational landscape.

The writer of this blog is a teacher and PD professional, who makes an impassioned plea to developers of innovative and disruptive ed-tech products to spend a little more time thinking, or talking to their customer, in this case, teachers. The essence of her post is that in order for her to recommend any new product or service to the teachers at her school, it must meet several criteria. These include many of the factors any new product or app should have, including an “instant-gratification” UX – no cumbersome set-up time or complicated data migration issues. Also, readily available support from the vendor, including, if need be, a site visit. (This one may pose a challenge for freemium-priced products, but clearly support is a major requirement). Fair enough, but I would argue that there is another factor that determines the success of any new technology in a school. That is, the adoption rate by teachers. Any single teacher may discover a new tool that makes her/his life easier, but if that teacher is the only user in the school, the product will have limited traction in the market. So the challenge for the entrepreneur is to create a solution that makes advocates, or better yet, evangelists, of those early adopters. The user experience should be so compelling that other teachers who look over the first teacher’s ask, “Hey, where do I get that?”. (This is known as the Instagram adoption model.) If it results in some measurable parameter improving by a standard deviation or more, then it is likely that it will get the attention of other teachers, and perhaps even the principal.  The adoption rate will increase geometrically if this achievement can be obtained while decreasing costs or time spent on a mind-numbing task. According to the teacher-blogger Ms. Estrella, the worst offenders apparently are grade-book and learning management systems.


Schoology bets $250k on open education data challenge

This is a very positive development for the ed-reform movement, but it strikes me as about as likely to succeed as a bank robber paying SunTrust to allow him to tunnel into the their safe. Sure they get $25K now, but they may find that down the road, people use the bank less often. SIS vendors have built nearly impenetrable walls around their systems, leveraging the fear and paranoia associated with issues such as student privacy and data security, because that allows them to continue extracting rents from their captive users, without having to innovate. Nimble start-ups like Clever, Learnsprout and others are creating ways to circumvent the stranglehold the SIS vendors have had on school districts, and it’s refreshing to learn that a Goliath like Pearson is willing to give a slingshot to a David, like Schoology. Fire away!

“How MOOCs preserve the jobs of dull and boring professors”

A perverse but growing trend among students who have learned how to compensate for dull, uninspiring lectures:

“Here’s an open secret:  many doctoral students enroll in the statistics courses required by their programs, courses taught by dull and uninspiring lecturers, but then take the free OLI statistics course, which is strategic and problem-based and graduated to one’s skills.  They then ace the final exam in their actual program (the one for which they pay tuition).  The prof thinks he’s a genius, but he’s been replaced by a computer screen.”

We are entering a period in which is enabling teachers who haven’t updated their lecture slides in a decade, and cause their students to think about changing their major, to perpetuate their behavior. The higher-ed system is ripe for disruption and dis-intermediation, but it’s likely to take longer than it should, due to the increasing array of online alternatives to Professor Borehead.  To read Cathy Davidson’s full (and thoughtful) post, click here: