Brace for What’s Coming – Themes from Launch Education and Kids
For the last day and a half I felt like a hungry kid in an edtech candy store. As a participant in Jason Calacanis’ Launch Education and Kids, I got to see thirty-three education startups pitch to a mixed audience of entrepreneurs and teachers and a panel of venture capitalist judges.
Twitter is aflutter with short reviews of the spotlighted products. Search the hashtag #launchedu. Thankfully, this saves me from feeling obliged to offer a comprehensive list of reviews in this post.
Instead, I will offer some commentary about what is soon to be available to teachers and students, and the potential impacts for practice.
First, the trend of making products available to the consumer for free is still alive. Many of the edtech companies that pitched at Launch EK offer at least some part their service for free. Some then make money by upselling services that you will want once you begin using the tool and become a convert. Some make money providing user data trends to other interested parties (not necessarily selling your email address).
Second, assessment is definitely being disrupted. Many of the startups offer analytics on student progress that is real time and actionable. You can say goodbye to your enemy and mine, the Scantron machine. A cheaper, more effective bubble test solution now exists for any teacher that has a webcam in the classroom. Check out Gradecam now! In Eduvant, teachers and administrators may someday find relief from the painful (and almost always useless) data analysis we are required to do on staff development days – Eduvant’s promised analytics engine provides a synthesized news feed to teachers and administrators by weaving together all of the data systems within a district.
Third, Khan is no longer alone. Companies like StudyEgg, Educreations, and Gather Education extend the reach of the teacher in time and space with screencast technology and a virtual 3d environment that looks a lot like Second Life in the case of Gather Education. When quasi experimental studies begin to show the value added by blending learning in traditional settings, these companies will be so busy they will have to find ways to cool down their servers (or Amazon will, anyway).
For a first stab at entering the education technology space I have to tip my hat to Jason Calacanis. The lineup of startups that pitched their products was well vetted for their interesting solutions to real problems. However, the American Idol style judging panel that consisted exclusively of Investors on the first day and only one teacher on the second day could have used some insider information. For example, ManyLabs, an incredible innovation in science lab data collection and analysis went unrecognized by a few of the investors because they don’t have the professional’s perspective. Then, it wasn’t until John Deane, CIO of Summit Charter Schools, spoke up from the audience in specific praise of the pain point relieved by AlwaysPrepped, after the judges handily panned the product, that the panel finally saw the light. Incidentally, this earned John a seat at the table on day two. Jason learns fast. I would strongly recommend parity between education professionals and investors on the judging panel if there is another Launch EK, and this will mean vetting the educators in the same way you would vet venture capitalist judges.
Since too much candy can make you sick, and since, like American Idol, a winner was selected from the host of companies that pitched at Launch Education and Kids, and since I didn’t stay to find out who it was, I will share my pick with you..
Marshall Tuck, CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
Marshall was actually the opening keynote speaker. This guy is taking the worst performing public schools in LA and working within the system to improve outcomes for kids who we have left behind. Keep your eyes on East LA.