Mapping The Edtech World, Flipped Classrooms, And More…

The latest stories from the bleeding edge of education thinking.

Mapping The Edtech World, Flipped Classrooms, And More…
Flickr user frankjuarez

A few highlights from the recent issues of EdSurge,
the edtech entrepreneur’s weekly roadmap.


Every pioneer needs a map and now the NewSchools Venture Fund has started to make one of the edtech world. With support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and contributions from edsurgent dudes Michael B. Horn and Anthony Kim, NSVF’s Ted Mitchell and Kristina Ransick have pulled together a marvelous connect-the-dots portrait of the industry, cataloguing companies into four high level groups (such as curricula and instructional systems) and then into more specific areas (under curricula: tutoring, test prep, digital textbooks, etc). The project aims to give entrepreneurs and funders (nonprofit and for profit) a clearer view of the industry. The market map OF 230 companies was unveiled at a meeting of philanthropists in San Francisco. Click here to start your voyage through the edtech marketplace. The challenge, of course, is keeping it current. Other catalogues of the edtech world, such as StartL’s Dealbook,  have languished. No word yet on how this one will be maintained.

NOT TO BE FLIPPANT: We’re fascinated by the rumbling debate on the “flipped classroom”
model, where students watch lectures at home and do teacher-guided homework in school. Fans are exuberant. Skeptics raise the “digital divide” issue: we can’t take for granted that everyone has the hardware and networking gear to stream videos. (That’s led by Microsoft, Comcast, Best Buy, and others working with the FCC’s Connect to Compete initiative to try to bridge the gap.) Then there are the critics: Education blogger Frank Noschese worries about the excessive marketing hype around Khan and warns against the rebirth of the “filmstrip teacher.” Liz Dwyer from GOOD asks whether a video is more active or engaging than reading a textbook. Who’s to say that students are paying attention–or just chattering away on Facebook? (This latest study from Rey Junco suggests this is where they spend on average 106 minutes a day.) Even earning “badges” for working through problem sets is tricky, as students using Khan Academy in Los Altos schools are learning.

What gets lost in this whole “flipping” debate (forgive the pun) is the fact that it’s a tool. And just like you can’t use a mallet as a screwdriver, one tool won’t educate every student. (Personalization people!) Illinois teacher Brian Bennett emphatically reminds us “the flipped class is not about the videos”.

EdSurge agrees: we’d like to hear more about how teachers are deploying video as part of a multi-faceted teaching strategy–even if they learn a few lessons along the way because it doesn’t work as planned–rather than treating video lectures or the flipped classroom as the cure-all for our education woes.

BLENDED, NOT STIRRED So called “blended learning” continues to be the biggest buzzword in this industry. The term embraces many instances where schools fuse technology and traditional teaching. Exactly what does that mean? Industry consultants, Ed Elements, offer up this spiffy, eye-candy video explanation of the different flavors of “blended learning” that it has seen. These guys should know: they’re the architects behind a number of pilot blended learning programs throughout the U.S.

THE GRADES ARE IN: Last week’s 2011 Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform also rolled out the Nation’s Digital Learning Report Card, grading states’ digital learning programs on 10 criteria. The yet-to-be-released bill tracker feature looks promising for policy wonks.


UNPREPARED FOR CLASS: Clever advertising from edtech company, Knewton: an infographic about how unprepared many American students are for college (see below). Knewton knows a bit about prepping: the Manhattan-based privately-held edtech firm, which employs 70 people, makes test preparation programs that it reports are used by thousands of students at colleges and universities including Arizona State University, Penn State University, University of Nevada (Las Vegas), Mount St. Mary’s and Washington State University.

It’s prepping itself for a bigger role in education, too. Last week, Knewton announced it had raised a $33 million series D financing round from investors including Founders Fund, education publisherPearson, as and previous investors, Accel, Bessemer and FirstMark.

Knewton got its start in the lucrative test-prep business and has been building an “adaptive” engine that presents learners with different types of problems depending on how they’re doing. So far, it’s operated in the post secondary space. But Knewton plans to use its newfound equity cash–along with mthe partnership with Pearson and, on the horizon, other significant publishers–to get into K-12. Schools hunting for “adaptive” language
arts programs will likely welcome the move. Jose Ferreira, Knewton’s blunt-speaking founder and CEO, tells EdSurge that Knewton will likely launch its K-12 programs in 2012. “You can only be competitive if you convince publishers to adopt you as a standard,” Ferreira says.

EdSurge is a community watering hole and resource for those engaged in the emerging eco-system of education technology. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.