ASU+GSV: Education Dreaming

EdTech, Leadership, Mission-Driven Work, Startups / by

ASU+GSV has grown to bring together a very interesting group of education stakeholders. Teachers are here- not as the majority, but the ones that are here are the forward thinking, highly talented and bravely bring the voice of their colleagues to the table. There are innovation leaders, developers and investors, coming in from all over the  globe. From the discussions in the hall to the intriguing, conversation-starting 50 minute sessions, one common theme is rising to the top: schools are changing and there are models from all over the country that are making education better for students.

Outcomes and Efficacy. As a result of many panel discussions over the three days, the words “student outcomes” and “efficacy” were probably two of the most mentioned terms. Big city organizations fostering innovation while monitoring outcomes in order to find out what works best for students are LEAP Innovation in Chicago and the iZone in New York. Together with Susan Patrick, CEO of iNACOL, Phyllis Lockett of LEAP Innovation and Steve Hodas of iZone talked about the running test beds in their cities. All agreed that it is time to stop thinking of the products as the end goal. The iZone and LEAP are creating precedent, making it easier for others who want to try things for the first time. By linking what is happening in the test bed to break through school and is helping to elevate and create the dynamic of what 21st century education should look like.

Students Can Code. With Code.org approaching it’s one year anniversary, the effect this organization has had is clear. 1 out of 3 students in the country participated in the first hour of code and the goal for 2014 is to get 100% of students to participate. In less than a year, this conversation has made headway in state policy while  also convincing 10 states to add Computer Science towards high school graduation credit. Still only 31 states count Computer Science as counting towards graduation credit, so there is still change to be made.

Good vs Bad Software. Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure has gained 700 school clients in 3 years because they make an LMS, Canvas, for education institutions. Coates knows technology tends to get inundated with features- and we start to associate quality with numbers of features. Coates learned early on that is not the right metric. Instructure makes an LMS that “just works” for teachers and students.  After 14 years, only 62% of courses use an LMS- and right now, by our own admission it is because we don’t believe it is working very well.

We must address the needs of the actual majority of users. There is a tug of war going on between the power users and “everyone else” but it comes down to the basic push and pull of good software vs bad software:

  • saves time/wastes time
  • makes life easier/makes life harder
  • more people use it/people avoid it
  • more usage data available/less usage data
  • more improvements can happen/becomes incrementally worse

Lunch Chat. Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson of Ozy Media, came together for a lunch conversation about what is currently going right in schools, sharing their experience with the entire conference audience. Beginning by answering the question of where are the most exciting classrooms in the country today, Jobs echoed something we know at Getting Smart – Summit Prep (see our update here). Watson added that the most exciting classroom he’s seen is at  Uncommon Schools, NorthStar, serving at risk students in Newark, NJ.

There are enough good charter schools out there doing good things, Watson feels that they are not just anecdotes but good models that need to scale and help more students. Jobs called for action from the government to find systematic ways that can innovate our schools. It’s also time to directly call on parents and let them know that the responsibility to know not only how their children learn but what their children deserve educationally is on their shoulders.

It Takes a Touch of Magic.  At a conference that where there is much talk about nuts and bolts, it’s great to sprinkle in a little “Magic” Johnson, who closed the second day of ASU+GSV. Magic decided to invest in urban America and has been working in these communities to close the “achievement gap” we talk about in education- wanting to transform the urban marketplace to welcome all people.

EdTech doesn’t hold any mysterious “magic” that can transform education into a system that will work for all students- but it definitely holds the potential. Magic Johnson knows this because his foundation has built technology centers for at-risk students in the heart of many urban areas. It won’t work if we aren’t brave enough, like Magic Johnson, to take risks, work to make a difference, stay committed and make sure we never stop learning- whether we are education stakeholders, investors, administrators, teachers of students.

Crazy Enough To Try.  Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and board member of DreamBox explained how founding his company was like “jumping out of a plane without a parachute, hoping to catch a bird on the way down.” He started his company when entering the market of very challenging and the space completely transformed during that first decade that Netflix was born. With YouTube first streaming in 2005, Hastings realized this was going to have be better than anything that was previously available.

By 2007, Netflix had reinvented themselves, took risks, and succeeded as many times as they failed. He brought his message of build a strong team that works well together throughout success and failure and continually work to position themselves as the leaders in what they do best. Hastings acknowledged that for the edupreneurs right now, the huge challenge is selling to districts because the elected school boards lead to rapid turnover of the decision making leadership.

But like Netflix, EdTech will see it’s share of failures and success in the coming years. Hastings connects his experience to that of the majority in the room, leaving everyone with a reason to stay true to their innovative dreams.

Instructure and DreamBox Learning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is a Media Specialist at The Madeleine School. Follow her on twitter at @tedrosececi.

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