This is the outline text from the speech I gave in Nairobi in June.
The actual speech was much shorter (just 5 key points) but I’ve been asked to post the full version several times and thought it would be a good use of time while stuck in my sick bed yet again over the Festive season.
Please remember it’s focus in on Africa and it’s also © MediaTaylor Ltd 2016
Good morning; this is my 1st visit to Kenya and it’s a pleasure to be here.
I’m probably the least educationally qualified person in the room today. I’m neither an educator, parent, nor even a university graduate; I’m a former jackaroo (Australian for cowboy) who fell into the world of education and edtech.
I had written several version of this speech that about how I came into the business side of education and edtech and why I’ve stayed here for 25 years, and as engaging as I think they might be we don’t have enough time if you are to get anything out of this session.
So I will start off with 3 observations:
- 95% of edtech doesn’t work
- picking trends it’s nothing more than an informed educated guess plus gambling
- when it comes to most of the claims about edtech, DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
- Apple’s iPad 2 and the eMate 300 promised to revolutionise education. Neither did
- MOOCs – rather than being a new revolutionstarted with PLATO in 1960 at University of Illinois
- Freemium isn’t new Sir Isaac Pitman, the original ‘teacherpreneur’ was doing it in the 1840’s. He sued sponsorship and Universal Penny Post the internet of the 19th century. We’ve forgotten that the correspondence education movement was as significant in the 19th century we hope MOOCs might be
Now to the trends. In the time remaining we may not be through all of them but this speech will be available as a transcript so you can focus on listening & not taking notes or Tweeting.
I’m looking forward to these being disputed, debated and to having my mind changed by your thinking.
1 – Personalised & Adaptive – AI and the ‘master algorithm’
Algorithms, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence are here now. You use them everyday on Google and or M-PESA. Most students don’t use them in their learning now, but they soon will.
The combination of these technologies plus data is the biggest trend in edtech. They do three main things:
- For students they deliver a personalised and adaptive learning pathway with interlinked content, formative + summative assessment
- For educators such systems fundamentally change their role and how they interact with and support students on their individual education journey
- For bureaucrats and politicians the represent a way to change how they organise and deliver education. This won’t be just look at the performance of students, teachers and schools but will certainly be used to try and address the biggest issue in African education the lack of teachers or ‘the capacity gap’
AI and it’s ilk are spun by vendors and advocates as being wonderful but we don’t hear much about their shortcomings and problems and how their use may well be slowed because they clash with the control and structure of how education is currently delivered (yes politics and bureaucracy).
We also need to look at the underlying pedagogy and how the values and biases of developers influence how these systems operate.
These issue matters for Africa:
- Capacity. Expanding traditional teacher training and education is too expensive and won’t be fixed by spending money trying to alter the public perceptions of educators.
- The ‘elephant in the room’ is will AI replace teachers? The answer is, yes and no. The best thinking about this came from an East African educator who told me, ‘the issue here isn’t about whether AI will replace a good teacher, it won’t; it’s about can it help where we have too few teachers, weak teachers or simply none at all?’
- Weakness and bias. What pedagogical and computational and related models are systems built on, why are most black boxes, so they work and how do they link with or drive assessment?
Most AI come is ‘black box systems’ that are proprietary and inaccessible. Why?
- companies think their IP is the ‘secret sauce’ that what underpins investor value
- they’re too complicated for anyone except computer scientists to understand
Neither is true. The key issue with any edtech
- Does it work?
- Can you prove your system improves student learning or helps teachers do their job?
Like in all areas of edtech and education don’t believe what vendors tell you.
- Their research is often anything but unbiased let alone evidence
- If they aren’t prepared to try and open their systems and data up to some real degree of independent scruiting DON’T BUY IT!
- For investors if you won’t open your data and or commit to proper independent research show your product doesn’t work then you’ve backed the wrong company. You create enterprise in edtech but showing it works not hiding your secret sauce as it probably going to be ‘fools’ gold’
- Most countries are too fixated on high-stakes summative assessment, whereas formative is more important and is where AI is already starting to play a big role.
- The reality today is AI isn’t making much impact on high-stake summative assessments because as
- the Chair of a major international exam board said to me, ‘we never get praised for innovation because that means taking risk,. When we take risk all we get are brickbats’
- AI-driven formative assessment in MOOCs and online courses is exploding but as I speak, UK GCSE students are sitting written exams almost identical to those taken by their grandparents.
- AI will disrupt governments’ control over assessment and qualifications. e.g.: Kenyan students won’t all sit their KCSE in Oct/Nov – students could elect to sit the US SATs or International Baccalaureate, IF they could get access (at a reasonable price) to AI-driven adaptive and personalised content, teaching and assessment.
Finally, will Google and Apple be the dominant AI players? Maybe, but the success of M-PESA shows that great edtech AI could come from Africa.
Regardless of what you believe, AI it will change education, it’s up to use to make sure it for the better and not simply a proxy to dehumanise education.
2 – Blockchain
Blockchain is simply a distributed digital ledger; a secure, semi-public database of digital transactions. All transactions are signed using public key cryptography to protect but also to validate the ‘transaction’.
It’s like an old-fashioned set of accounting ledgers where data has to be reconciled, but across a network using what is known as a ‘consensus process’.
Bitcoin – the alternative currency – is the best-known blockchain applications but there are real educational applications and probably the most immediate application will be in assessment.
For any assessment, verification of data and of identity is crucial. Traditionally we have done it through centralised exam systems, face-to-face ID checks, in-exam invigilation and the like. But you can achieve many of these goals using blockchain.
Yet we have a dichotomy of opinion about blockchain:
- Pearson, the world’s largest assessment company, ranked 1,269 on Fortune’s list of the World’s Biggest Public Companies, has no mention of it on their website (although according to my sources they have discussed it extensively at SMT and possibly board level).
- Sony, a far larger company, ranked at 192 on Fortune’s list, but not in education or edtech, announced earlier this year that it is developing a blockchain platform for assessment.
- Here’s a practical example:
- Language-learning site Duolingo already has its own virtual currency based on Blockchain: Lingots. These are primarily used to buy in-game rewards, but if Duolingo allowed it (they don’t) Lingots could be traded for real crypto-currencies like Bitcoin that could then be converted into US dollars to pay for a Duolingo online language test.
- Today a TOEFL test in Nairobi costs $190, whereas Duolingo’s test that is ‘substantially correlated with the TOEFL iBT’ costs just $20.
- Duolingo tests are securely monitored by human reviewers, including viewing the user’s screen + camera recording to verify their identity. This type of human invigilation may soon be replaced by facial recognition technology validated by a blockchain process.
Another organization built around blockchain is Ethereum. It’s already being tested by IBM + Microsoft and I expect that it will soon be seen in edtech in areas as diverse as crowd funding, processing micropayments for educational content and school fees and much more.
Bitcoin could also be coming to M-PESA. Recently, Michael Bumann, an American coder visiting Nairobi, built a prototype application that used bitcoin to send money to an M-PESA account. This was only a hacked demonstration, but it shows that blockchain systems can be built and tested very quickly.
Blockchain, is a trend you will be hearing more about.
3- Alternative Education Universe (AEU)
The Alternative Education Universe is what happens in education outside traditional schools and systems. It’s a broad area and Africa is probably as advanced in the AEU as the rest of the world.
The reason it’s a highly relevant edtech trend, is that it’s fundamentally about choice.
As an investor I love this area as it has far fewer barriers and allows more B2C innovation than the ossified structures in existing education systems that stifle the distribution and use of innovative edtech products and services.
It ranges from:
- just-in-time personal tutoring provided by Oxford & Cambridge undergraduates online to students anywhere in the world (e.g. SPIRES.io)
- robots that teach pre-schoolers the concepts of computational thinking (PRIMO & Tynker)
- passion learning for adults (Craftsy) to
- Augmented Reality that turns everything you can see into an educational object (Blippar).
A key change that will boost AEU is what academic George Siemens called ‘the employability narrative’ – will having more and more qualifications translate into high-paid employment?
As the world moves towards an information economy, we are already seeing this in the shattering of the link between expensive higher education qualifications and employment.
According to the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, almost 60% of graduates already work in roles that don’t require a tertiary education.
Students, parents and even employers are having to think about how they invest their time and money in education. For a student, does it make economic sense to spend 3 or more years at university racking up an average debt of £44K (6.4m Kenyan shillings) when they only have a 50:50 chance of finding a job that needs a tertiary education?
In the tech sector you already have plenty of companies like:
- General Assembly who offer short intensive courses in areas where there are skill shortages. The GA 12-week coding course costs £12k and ‘graduates’ are recognised by industry as being qualified junior developers, a job with a starting salary of around £28k.
- This is exactly where a Computer Science graduate with £50k worth of debt in the UK will start.
You don’t have to be Einstein to see that General Assembly may be a much better deal for students considering a computer science degree.
Countries like the UK, USA and Australia are addicted to ‘qualification inflation’, but in reality it’s the AEU at all levels that is more grounded in the educational and “employability narrative” of the 21st century and this is a very relevant edtech and social trend for Africa.
Fundamentally, the AEU is about choice, something educationalists and politicians often don’t like because it reduces their control. In Africa the diversity in development may mean your education systems are better able to adapt for the 21st century by modelling themselves on the AEU, rather than on traditional systems.
Edtech is and will become a huge part of the Alternative Education Universe.
4 – Coding, Computational Literacy and Chatbots
Coding is normally at the start of every edtech trend list, but not mine. Today it’s the ‘must deliver’ at every level of education, but most of what I see are teachers delivering very basic tick box lessons that are less educationally significant to students than learning a language or studying art.
I don’t think coding really is a significant long-term edtech trend or hugely educationally important.
Why? Code is like a car, 100 years ago you had to understand how everything worked under the hood to even get started. Today we focus on what cars can do for us, not how a microprocessor is controlling the armature in an electric motor.
It’s the same with coding: what’s going to be far more important than writing code – something computers will soon be able to do far better and cheaper than humans – is what we want programs it to do.
The difference is Computational Literacy, something that will be as fundamental as literacy and numeracy today. You can teach parts of it by coding, but not all.
Computational Literacy involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the basic concepts of computer science.
If you want to know more, read the 3-page document by Professor Jennifer Wing about what she calls Computational Thinking, back in 2006.
Something that I think will be a big edtech trend is Chatbots and they also link to coding.
Some of you may have already used basic chatbots on Facebook, on your phone with Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google Translate. Chatbots are simply chat or text tools powered by AI.
Chatbots are the next step up from the interactive text and call systems that Eneza already provides in Africa. It’s basic and effective, but could soon be replaced by chatbots as we see the impact of low-cost smart phones and more affordable bandwidth.
To see what’s possible with a chatbot have a look at VIV.ai.
VIV is built by the people who created SIRI, it’s Dynamic Program Generation or software that writes itself!
Ask VIV a fairly complex question like: “How warm will it be at 5.30 pm at the intersection of Meru-Nairobi Highway and Westlands Road tomorrow”? In a few hundredths of a 2nd, VIV uses natural language processing AI to create what’s called an Intent. It uses the Intent to automatically write a fairly complex program to generate the answer. (viv.ai was founded in 2012, had $30m in 3 rounds of investment and after debuting at TeachCrunch Disrupt in May sold to Samsung in Oct for an undisclosed amount)
It’s amazing but why are chatbots a significant edtech trend?
Chatbots are an example of computers writing code better than humans, but built on technology developed by humans with strong computational literacy.
They can impact on educational capacity, in systems where there are too few teachers and also outside of school.
Importantly they won’t just delivering linear answers, but rich information that will complement and also scaffold the computational literacy of learners.
I’II bet £500 that within 2 years we will have see a student pass a high-stakes exam with tuition support from a smart chatbot or possibly mimic their presence in school, a virtual ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (for those of you that love that movie as I do) No one took me up on this bet on the day!
Chatbot’s aren’t perfect – as Microsoft found with Tay Tweets. Yet they didn’t have any problems when they launched an identical service XioIce, on the Chinese website Weibo.
So, I think there is a real cultural dimension to AI, chatbots and all similar technologies.
There are also data and privacy issues. Google say they won’t store the contents of our Chatlogs and are just ‘analysing them and then throwing them away’. Really? Google already keyword scans the contents of all email sent via Gmail – will they really throw away such a valuable data source?
So the read trend is Computational Literacy and chatbots, not coding!
5 – Augmented Reality (AR)
You were probably expecting to hear about Virtual Reality or VR.
VR is exciting and it may become an edtech trend but not just yet. Why?
Simple: at the 2016 Consumer Electronic Show, chipmaker Nvidia pointed out that <1% of the world’s 1.43bn computers have the graphics capacity to run VR. That’s just 13m devices and only a tiny percentage of those are in school or will be anytime soon.
Sure VR runs on the latest mobile phones but these are expensive, as is VR development. You need a headset – and many users report motion sickness. Sometimes called cybersickness, it’s not something you want with a classroom full of kids.
So VR may be a trend – but it’s not new and like lots of over-hyped technology there is a fair degree of compassion fatigue for a technology that promised to be ‘revolutionary’ and wasn’t.
I felt exactly like that about Augmented Reality or AR, until I saw Blippar.
So what changed?
AR layers digital content onto physical items, but it was limited by the horsepower in your device and the vendor’s backend. In short, it lacked the wow! factor.
Blippar, one of the UK’s most successful tech startups, has taken AR, turbo-charged it and added ‘wow!’.
What their tech may soon be able to do is turn everything into an AR experience. Right now they only have a few edtech products – but they also have a toolkit for educators to make their own AR applications.
A few months ago I saw a demonstration of a prototype of Blippar’s new educational AR that knocked my socks off. It really did turn any object ‘Blipped’ via their app into an educational experience. The app didn’t just identify a single generic image – it recognised the floor was made of wood, the fabric on the seats was woven orange wool and for each of these the app brought up information that was educationally relevant.
The next step is to improve the corpus of information and then to make this personalised and adaptive; something I believe is already on the way.
What’s exciting is that while AR combines loads of cutting-edge technologies for educators it will be simple to build really engaging material with.
For students it will give them a tool that runs on their own devices which turns almost everything they want to interact with into a potential educational experience.
Procurement is an edtech trend and a serious one!
Edtech is expensive and has real opportunity costs, so has to compete for the limited resources any country or organisation has to spend.
I have seen numerous examples of disastrous edtech procurement and watched billions being wasted. It isn’t just a trend – it’s as vital anything in education. You can’t afford to do it as wrong as these examples:
- Australia’s A$2bn Digital Education Revolution gave away 1m laptops to students, but didn’t give the state governments, enough money to cover the real TCO (total cost of ownership) = A$3bn shortfall!
- England’s £400m+ Curriculum Online project improved the availability of quality edtech and boosted the local content industry. It had no discernable educational impact and the local edtech industry then crashed when the BBC announced BBCjam, a service that was going to give away edtech products covering 50% of the curriculum. It cost £200m, closed, and can never be released.
- The LA Unified School Districts $1.3bn iPad program was stopped, led to a FBI investigation, cost Pearson $6m, investors much more, and the $400k-a-year School Superintendent his job.
Every country differs in how they procure edtech. Some, like Kenya’s Digischool, are highly centralised. In England, responsibility for procurement can go down to the individual school level.
Neither is perfect; centralised systems tend to buy weaker ‘solutions’ due to the broad audience. In decentralised systems I have seen schools buy great products, but often more by accident than design.
Here are a few key issues that make procurement a major edtech trend,Does it work?
- I think 95% doesn’t because makers and vendors can’t prove that it does.
- Mandate that any edtech procured with public funds has some form of open data so researchers and other interested parties can start to assess the educational benefits independently. If they won’t, spend your money on something else like more teachers or professional development.
Link spending to needs and outcomes.
- Don’t just buy stuff and drop it into schools.
- Map what you might buy against real needs and ideally tangible educational outcomes. Renaissance Learning won’t even sell their products if schools won’t also agree also take their professional development programs. This isn’t a cynical attempt to boost revenue by bundling an unnecessary service, but comes from their experience that even great edtech without PD is likely to fail
Best of breed versus solution sales.
- Edtech isn’t just the stuff on the surface, it’s underlying systems bandwidth, Virtual Learning Environments and Enterprise Resource Planning systems.
- Buying ‘solution’ from a big vendor including hardware, software, content, assessment and professional development is far simpler than dealing with multiple vendors. The weakness is that these solutions are bundles of average products and not what students’ and teachers’ want to use
- There’s too little teacher voice in how edtech is imagined, built, procured and deployed.
- Great edtech tackles substantive problems & is grounded in the experience of educators. Most edtech isn’t and it’s a problem. The same applies to students’ voices.
- Better procurement needs actionable data.
- Most backend VLE and ERP systems do it poorly at every level. It’s expensive and probably not your organisation’s core skill set.
- I’d recommend looking at emerging EdFinTech systems like Allovue.
Given the rigid nature of education, procuring edtech that’s just a bit better may be pragmatic, but could be economically disastrous for the most globally important continent of the 21st century.
7- BYO-X Bring Your Own Everything
You will all have heard of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.
As a relevant theme for Africa, and as an edtech trend, BYO-X may be more important.
While BYOD challenges the notion that the provider supplies the hardware and software, BYO-X goes much further by asking students to bring their own device plus software, content, assessment and other services.
In a continent with such a huge appetite for education and limited resources, some of the solutions are going to have to be radical, and BYO-X certainly ticks that box!
The world is watching African education, looking at things like the impact of low-cost private schools. Why? Because many know their systems need significant change, but they lack the political will and mandate to make change. So in a very real sense Africa is already a world leader in education and it’s in light of that, that radical ideas like BYO-X start to make sense.
BYO-X is also linked to the issue of control: when individual students can access high-quality, low-cost personalised content and services, this changes everything.
I’ve already said that most education systems are at best resistant to change and the tenacious way they have avoided it is may be directly correlated to how our economies have developed.
For example, I think 50% of what we call education is actually childcare that allows parents to participate in the economy. Yet we are already seeing the patterns of employment change as we move towards information economies. Whether this is the explosion in home working or the growing importance of micro SMEs, these changes are happening.
I’m pretty sure that today video is a bigger edtech trend, but it fell just outside my top 10. I’m probably wrong and some thoughts about video if we have any time left.
8- Funding Vacuum
Edtech is expensive, takes a long time to see who wins any race, and investment unicorns are as elusive as mythical ones, although some analysts think we have two:
- Age of Learning (US)
- China’s TutorGroup
They have attracted high-profile investors like Goldman Sachs and Temasek Holdings.
In 2015 you could read anywhere that edtech was ‘hot’ with US companies raising $1.85bn, 85% of all that year’s global edtech investment.
In 2016 things are cooler and the balance has shifted with the US share of global edtech funding falling to 67%.
Yes, there is local some VC activity from the likes of Fanisi and from US funds like Learn Capital and Rethink Education, but it isn’t enough to build a sustainable ecosystem.
Equally concerning is that the most investable edtech opportunity that the Naspers – a huge African conglomerate – could find was the $15m Series B in Polish edtech company Brainly (now US-based).
But the problem isn’t primarily about VCs or the fact they invest later, take less risk and ask for absurdly favourable terms. The problem is edtech needs more early risk capital, and it needs as much in Africa as anywhere else.
The substantive vacuum isn’t with start-ups – who can bootstrap, get into incubators, tap family and friends and find angel investors.
The real gap is between this early stage and a Series A round.
Part of this gap is filled by 3rd sector investors who come in all shapes and sizes – from Gates and Omidyar, through funds like Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, to tiny niche outfits.
I’m not keen in general on the 3rd sector for two reasons:
- They talk too much and invest too little, and
- Many of the projects they support won’t ever be sustainable businesses.
But, I do have a favourite, one whose hybrid investments strategy includes both highly successful schools and excellent edtech.
They are Charter School Growth Fund, who backed the RocketShip and KIPP charter school groups and who acquired edtech start-up DreamBox Learning.
DreamBox is an adaptive primary level maths product built with strong pedagogy and which CSGF was able to test and improve through the schools they back.
(Another I like is Rethink Education, who have invested in Bridge International Academies and also exciting edtech companies like Allovue (procurement), General Assembly (tech training) and 2U (higher education).)
Another part of this gap is being filled by crowd funding.
In the UK, CrowdBnk, CrowdCube and The Syndicate Room have helped 4 UK edtech start-ups raise £2.3m by mid 2016.
It’s not a simple or inexpensive option and you need a lead investor to underwrite a sizable chunk.
Africa has some crowd funding, with Lelapa being really interesting, but you need many more to help build a sustainable local edtech ecosystem.
The funding gap matters because without a better ecosystem three things may happen:
- Local start-ups will grow more slowly and probably have less impact
- Local markets may end up dominated by products imagined, created and owned outside Africa
- Edetch entrepreneurs will start their businesses outside Africa even though Africa may be their primary markets
Africa needs a bigger edtech funding ecosystem, but my advice to all early-stage edtech companies is also contrarian:
- Don’t take investment until you have to – bootstrap for as long as possible because investors change your business and not always for the better. My favourite example is Aconex, a construction SaaS business founded by two men I went to school with. They bootstrapped Aconex for 8 years, with a little bit of money from family & friends before taking their 1st VC investment of over $100m. Aconex is now a listed company on the ASX worth over $1.25bn!
9 – Educator Entrepreneur Commonality
This is a trend I believe very strongly in.
A few years back I looked at starting an edtech incubator and went around the world looking at them. It was a frustrating experience and in the end I didn’t set one up but did get involved in something called StartUp Weekend, a US program backed by the likes of the Gates and Kauffman Foundations to promote entrepreneurship. Outside of their general program they have a single vertical, education.
One of my 1st conception investments is a company called Night Zookeeper who won the UK’s 1st StartUp Weekend for education and with them we organised and ran another in 2013 at Google.
An unexpected outcome of this was a JV between my company and part of Cambridge University. Called ed-invent it was a pilot program, whose aim was to put ‘Educators at the heart of edtech’. We tried to see what sort of edtech ideas real educators might come up with. It was 50% success / 50% failure, but some interesting things came from it.
Possibly the most important came from an analysis we did of the commonalities between educators and entrepreneurs. We found five fundamental similarities, and these were consistently validated by the edtech ideas educators came up with during the program.
This diagram relates to the term teacherpreneur, one I don’t like but can’t escape. The common characteristics are that educators and entrepreneurs characteristics are that they:
- Think Differently
- Are Persistent & Resilient
- Are Problem Finders
- Are Risk Takers
- Are Mistake Makers
Our aim at ed-invent wasn’t to get teachers out of the classroom to become entrepreneurs – it was to try and change the role of educators in how edtech is imagined, developed, distributed and used.
The reality today is that most educators don’t have much of a voice in edtech. They’re just the consumers at the end of a long line who, at best, get asked for a cursory opinion about products when they are almost fully built. This disconnect is, I believe, one of the reasons edtech has had such a poor impact for the investment many countries have put into it.
This overlap in these five key characteristics is an important trend if we are going to make edtech work.
10 – Data
Data is part of the DNA of education and always has been.
However, the hype around it is almost unbearable. The pendulum swings from promises of educational transformation to dystopian master algorithms that track, analyse and control students’ every action.
With such hype, two sensible voices I recommend you listen to are:
- Professor Roland Fryer, Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University, probably the most influential educational researcher alive today. He said, ‘Data-driven instruction, is one of the five characteristics of high-performing schools’, however I doubt many in the edtech world heard this or even worse even know about him
- Audrey Watters, who runs the Hack Education blog. Ms Watters is a controversial but important independent voice in edtech and education on many issues, especially data and privacy.
Some of the issues in data as a trend are:
- Use and Improvement. What use is lots of data if doesn’t help teachers, students and decision-makers?
- Don’t just assume that some data is good and more is better – or you’ll drown in a tsunami of it!
- Access. Who has, needs and gives access?
I advocate all publicly-procured edtech should have some form of substantive open data, but equally access needs to be controlled and that’s not easy because it involves government, regulators, edtech creators, 3rd party vendors, schools, students and parents.
Say you buy edtech from company A who promise never to share your data. They are then acquired by company B. Has your data been sold and do the previous warranties stand?
Or Gmail; Google keyword scans every message we send but claimed this didn’t happen in education, except they were caught doing exacly that, twice!
Control. Data Sovereignty or Data Residency.
- Where does your edtech data really live and are you really in control of it?
- It’s not ‘in a cloud’, it’s on physical servers and back-ups often in multiple countries and jurisdictions. I bet most of you don’t really know where all your data is because I don’t!
- Security. No data is 100% secure!
- In edtech it’s really tough as systems span institutions, homes and even teachers and student’s personal devices.
While security is important, the reality is many institutional safeguards are clumsy, stifle edtech innovation, and starve users of access to the tools and resources they want.
Security is one areas where big (provider) is often better; why? Compliance: it’s nightmare for any edtech company with international aspirations (particularly in the US and increasingly within the EU).
I hope African countries understand the impact of complex compliance. Higher compliance leaves less money for innovation, plays to the strength of multinational corporates, and always leads to higher prices, because everything about data cost money.
The better it’s managed the higher the cost somewhere in the ecosystem. I don’t believe anything is free so if you think you’re not paying, you’re wrong. CLEVER is a good example. It’s a terrific single-sign-on service that saves schools, teachers and students lots of time. To them it’s free but only because CLEVER charge vendors between $5-$15 per month per school.
A successful edtech company I know used to give away their content free to schools during the school day – access outside that was by subscription. Soon all US schools will have to pay at least $180 per year just to cover the costs of getting free access via CLEVER.
What was free now isn’t.
Some things you should look at:
- The US Student Data Promise
- Everything from The Open Data Institute, founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Dr Ben Goldacre’s UK Cabinet Office paper about evidence-based decision and randomized control trial in education
- Pencil’s for Promise’s Transparency & Data Innovation program
I have two stories to tie up the importance of edtech trends on African education.
The 1st comes from sport and why so many edtech products fail to have a major impact.
A few years ago I was describing the world of edtech start-ups to the coach of the Australian rugby team.
He thought edtech start-ups sounded very similar to elite sports teams: in that both had
- talented young people
- plenty of money
- most failed.
He said the problem wasn’t about a lack of strategy, talent or money, it was about their weak culture.
In education and edtech, the dimension of a strong, positive culture is something we ignore at our peril.
The culture you have in your countries, educational bodies, schools and homes is far more important educationally than any edtech product or trend.
My 2nd and last point is that, as committed as I am to edtech and no matter how strongly you or I may feel about it – I suggest you hang above any of your educational diplomas, the sage counsel of Tom Vander Ark, a former US schools superintendent and founder of the influential edtech investment fund, Learn Capital, who wrote,
‘Edtech only ever delivers incremental change. We need systemic change and that’s politics’.
11- Disaster led change
In education, innovation in anything, including edtech takes place against a complex backdrop of tradition, pedagogy, policy and politics.
Unsurprisingly, educational change is slow and often seems Kafkaesque. But I’d argue that the greatest catalyst for innovation in education and edtech comes from disasters.
In normal times change needs agonising consultation, research, analysis and occasionally consensus.
Disasters short circuits social and political stasis and allows real innovation to happen.
Disaster is what’s transformed education in New Orleans and also made it the epicentre of really innovative educator centred edtech. A catalyst for this has been 4.0Schools and if you don’t know them you should.
Yes, lots people like Naomi Klein, hates what happened and their claims that disaster opened the door to an opportunistic takeover of the system by the private sector and that it also disenfranchised local residents who had change imposed upon them. Both arguments have some merit, but frankly I don’t care because the metrics I’m interested in, is how did New Orleans, which had for decades been at the bottom of US educational attainment, improved so markedly post Hurricane Katrina? It’s the vast improvement in life chances for the children in New Orleans that’s matter not the politics or structure of schooling.
Interestingly, in a move that that may address some of the issues that critics have levelled, there is now a proposal to place all New Orleans Charter Schools, including all the Charter Schools under the a degree of control of the locally elected School Board.
New Orleans indicates that we need to think differently about disaster recovery strategies and rather than just rebuilding education systems sometimes we should start again where pedagogy, policy and politics have failed.
Yes, video is a major edtech trend and I debated long and hard about putting it in my top 10. But, video’s hardly new or a trend you cry? Well actually it is. What this isn’t is the informational and educational videos of yesteryear. You and I all watched these at school and some of us even slept through more than one.
The current trend is two fold:
- Students searching and learning from video.Whether this is a student getting help with maths from Khan Academy or Heggarty Maths to a local farmer wanting to learn about alternative crops, video is the preferred search and delivery technology of most people. Add to this assessment, something that Duolingo have built into their TEFL test system and you start to see the enormity of video in edtch.
- Getting cheap, simple, and appropriate educational video for edtech products and services.
If you are developing some edtech content around velocity then adding video of Felix Baumgartner jumping out of a balloon in the stratosphere may be exactly what you want. Except getting just the amount of the clip you want, right cleared and with educational meta data usually isn’t quick, simple or inexpensive. But it can be with edtech infrastructure tools like BoClips. This may not have been officially announced yet buy Pearson will be integrating BoClips via an API directly into the ePub tool of their global higher ed team. This will allow over 1,000 authors to drag & drop video clips from 1.7m clips from AP, Getty, Bloomberg, the BBC and many other libraries, straight into courseware at the start of the creative process (when etext books are being written) rather than using video as an ‘add on’ or via an unreliable YouTube link.
13- Open Education Resources and Free
Milton Friedman’s book, There’s no such thing as a free lunch, can be translated into edtech as, ‘If the product is free, you are the product’.
I recently had an argument about this with the founder of Memrise, an education website whose strapline is, ‘Learning made joyful’. He claimed the site was free and that new users didn’t cost anything. It piffle:
- It’s not free, 100k of 10m users pay (1%) so it’s freemium
- New users don’t ‘cost nothing’ as the founder claimed, everyone costs Memrsie a few cents on Amazon Web Services and a similar in overhead. Insignificant, but not when multiplied by 10m!
Are open educational resources trend? Well they’ve been around for decades in various guises, but the excitement around them seems based a big leap from the idea of ‘content is king’ to that ‘content is cheap and so should be free’. It’s a nice idea and there is loads of free content, it’s just that the best free content isn’t free because I’ve never seen a big open resource project that produced anything worthwhile educationally that wasn’t paid for by someone. From what I can see 99% of the free content shared amongst educators is execrable and the amount of time spent wading through it to find the 1% is a completely false economy. The most valuable thing any educator has is their time. If they spend an hour online finding a single resource, then the opportunity cost is far higher than the cost of buying a quality resource.
And that’s the nub of the issue. Quality matters and it also cost
The TES recently released the results of a survey by Stanford University of 10k teachers who buy or sell resources on TES.com an 8m strong online community. The results look impressive, but are I think are worthless because:
- the audience is totally self selected
- all the results are tainted by confirmation bias – all participants have sold or purchased resources on the site. It’s highly unlikely that having done this they would say their contributions were poor or that as buyers they’d wasted their ((or their schools) money
- the research failed to address a key related issue. Was their participation an effective use of their two scare resources, their professional time and their money?
14 – Robots
Robots’ replacing teachers? It’s been promised for decades and not happened yet but robots will be more than an edtech trend sometime in the next 20+ years . But, the only way they will replace educators is with huge strides in related technology like AI and machine learning. Robots are in schools today but as a learning tool not as educators. The question is what’s the substantive difference in edtech and education between a chatbot and a robot? Not much.
15 – 3D printing & the maker movement
- The maker movement fits into the general scheme of constructivist pedagogy and may both engage students and build some of the skills they need for employment and as citizens.
- But is an equally important outcome of this trend a way to address mental health problems amongst students?
16 – The Internet of Things (IOT)
- Is this trend as brightly possible and dully unfulfilling as the promises of the Semantic Web and Web 3.0? Hopefully not.
- The IOT will impact on education, so it’s a trend but to what extent I can’t gauge so it’s not in my top 10 although it might be in yours.
- Possibly it will be more relevant in educational infrastructure than with students and teachers. It’s already part of the AEU, but I see it falling under the shadow of the Maker Movement umbrella