Investments in EdTech Impacting Education’s Future


An article appeared in an online newsletter that may signal some changes in educational technology in the future.  EdSurge, “a community resource for those engaged in the emerging eco-system of education technology (mission from website),” publishes an online newsletter that ran the following article, What Three Big EdTech Investments Say About the Future of Education.

The article focuses on three investments in technology companies that have recently been made and signal a shifting direction from the venture capitalist world.  The authors write:

This past week saw venture and private investors grabbing a pen to write checks to support three significant edtech trends: the move toward supporting Common Core standards, the use of “adaptive” learning technologies, and an increase in social media in education.

Common Core Standards

Along with the emergence of the Common Core on the education scene, there will be billiions of federal and private dollars invested in implementing the Common Core standards across every state but the five who have not adopted the national standards (TX, NE, MN, AK, VA).  In addition, an equally large investment will be made in high-stakes assessments aligned to the Common Core.  As companies position themselves to develop, market, and sell technologies used to implement Common Core initiatives educational institutions will be need to proceed slowly, thoughtfully and carefully.  Where there are billions of dollars being invested there are individuals and companies that will try to sell something that will not meet the needs of schools, teachers, and students.  In education, we have to be careful that we are not led down the primrose path by the slick marketing strategies that will try to sell things we don’t need.

Adaptive Learning Environments

Adaptive learning environments make use of computers, interactive teaching devices, and software that collect large amounts of information from users, builiding a vast database that allows the computer to “adapt” to the learning needs of individual users.  Adaptive learning environments have great potential to assist teachers in helping students learn, especially in areas where teachers want to differentiate instruction for diverse learners.  The authors of the article write:

“Intelligent adaptive learning means that there are a million individualized pathways” along which a student might progress, says Woolley-Wilson. “We have a class of technology that’s going beyond just measuring what a student knows to assessing the strategies they are using to solve problems,” she says.

They reference a large venture capitalist investment in a company, Dreambox, that creates adaptive learning environments for mathematics classrooms.  In the article, the authors describe the program this way:

The Dreambox program captures every mouse click a student makes and can adjust for 60 different parameters of student behavior: how quickly he or she answers questions, how many “hints” they use to get an answer, and so on. The program amasses data based on thousands of students’ answers and then identifies hot-spot problem areas.

Chris Dede, Professor of Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has been researching the use of virtual and augmented reality learning environments for a number of years.  EcoMUVE is a byproduct of his research in the area of virtual or augmented reality.  EcoMUVE teaches students about ecosystems using an “immersive virtual environment.”

Along with adaptive learning, immersive virtual learning environments may transform the classroom of the future.  However, the research is definitive in pointing the way.  High-quality learning environments need high-quality teachers that are passionate about their work.  The challenge will be for schools to train their faculty to use these emerging technologies to meet students’ needs.  Again, investing wisely.

Social Media in Education

With 800 million users, if Facebook were a country is would be the world’s 4th largest.  Nearly 400 million of those users login to Facebook every day and have on average 130 friends.  That represents astounding growth over the past 7 years since its founding. 

While Facebook is one of the most popular social media sites, many schools block access to Facebook by teachers and students.  However, the article references major investments by venture capitalists in other social media sites that are education-friendly, specifcially the company Edmondo

Edmodo is a fast-growing social networking tool that enables teachers to communicate with each other and with their students in a safe environment. Some 4.5 million teachers and students now have Edmodo accounts, up from 500,000 in September 2010.

Social networking platforms can be a valuable educational tool.  A recent article in Education Week entitled, Social Networking Goes to School, lays out many of the advantages to the use of social networking platforms in classrooms. Here is a quote from the article by the principal, Eric Sheninger, at New Milford High School in New Jersey:

I used to be the administrator that blocked every social-media site, and now I’m the biggest champion,” Sheninger says.  I’m just someone who is passionate about engaging students and growing professionally, and I’m using these free tools to do it.

So what we learn from EdSurge is that venture capitalists see technology in these three areas at the next frontier.  They are investing heavily into the design and development of tools that will be pushed out to schools, school leaders, and teachers.  I think it is our responsibility to be well educated and smart investors in technology to support teaching and learning.  It doesn’t mean we should invest in every fad that comes our way.  Investing in some technology is probably a waste of resources.  If a high-quality teacher can do the work, then we should invest in teachers not technology.  Let’s only invest in areas that leverage teachers to do their work more efficiently, creatively, and effectively, Thereby meeting the needs of their students through developing engaging curricula and interesting learning spaces.






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