EdSurge Newsletter (click to show images)

edition 051

1 February 2012

Good morning, Digital Learning Day! We've seen plenty of sniping about the role of digital technology in schools; today students and teachers get their turn to speak out. Here's a smorgasbord of schools' promising practices. States are gearing up, too: the California Writing Project, for instance, is running an installation of student work in Sacramento; Globaloria is a dandy site of student-made educational games. (Betsy confessed to an addiction to the periodic table and so was charmed by "Elemental Elegance.")

What should an edSurgent do on Digital Learning Day? Let's get some viral action going on by doing a digital shout-out to cool digital teacher-student work (no corporate chest thumping, today, please!). Take a look at the sites above or call out something in your home district. Put it on your Twitter feed, add the hashtag #esinstruct, and we'll retweet it all day long! Hey, there might even be a tee-shirt in it for you! (See "Apply Now" below.)


DAWN OF A NEW ERA: Less than a year ago we were spying on the blended learning trial in Oakland a la Khan Academy, while wondering how many people would build their own Udemy course. Six months and 23K "graduates" later, we ogled at Stanford's online class experiment, and Sebastian Thrun's startup, Udacity. Call us crazy, but it appears we are in the web 2.0 online course era. Or maybe it's just Coursera. The latest online course venture, from Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, aims to "flip" university lecture halls, leaving more time for "meaningful and engaging interaction between faculty and students," while freely sharing the prepared digital lessons with the world. Currently there are 16 courses slated for this winter and spring. Among them is a class on entrepreneurship by lean-startup demigod, Steve Blank. Oh yeah, they're funded and hiring.

LIFTOFF: SxSWedu has announced finalists for its LAUNCHedu competition, where companies will compete in pitching rounds in front of judges (and try to avoid getting grilled). Always good to know which ideas are turning (some) heads: music, gradebooks, socio-emotional skills, admissions, and of course--"social."

JUST NUMBERS: As Amazon and Netflix have shown, today's information age processes our choices into algorithms and attempts to recognize patterns. Here's Tina Barsheghian's brief recap of big data and what some schools are doing to push boundaries even further, including recommending majors and flagging students at risk for failing a course--just two weeks in.

MANIFEST(ING) DESTINY: Google has recently announced it will bring over 27,000 Chromebooks to three school districts in Iowa, Illinois, and South Carolina that have committed to implementing a 1:1 Chromebook program. (This expands their reach to an unspecified "hundreds of schools" across 41 states.) Tom Vander Ark spoke with a few district officials and shares in Huff Post why they like them: the easy setup makes them "invisible and get out of the way to allow students and teachers to focus on instruction." It also helps that Google rolled out a clean, new education site, which features a handy news and events calendar, along with more focused tools for educators and organizations. More from Mind/Shift.

UTAH OPENS UP: Utah's Office of Education announced last week plans to develop open online textbooks for language arts, science, and mathematics. The press release also reveals that early pilot programs were able to provide 3,800 high school students with science textbooks at $5 each, a drastic savings from the average of $80.

CRAIGSGRAPH: Craig Newmark, best known for his lists, has put together an infographic of social media usage by the 50 highest earning nonprofits over August and September 2011, by looking at numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. You may think that the ones with more money can afford more active engagement, but check this: the YMCA of the U.S., which tops the list with a budget of over $5.8M, has a mere 200 Twitter followers.

THE AXE: McGraw-Hill is selling its $2.5+ billion education business, according to Financial Times. This comes after earlier announcements to separate the unit into a publicly traded firm got the attention of private equity groups. Everyone's pretty mum about it; sources suggest an auction is in the works.

TECHSTARS: TechStars is a startup incubator with great street cred: it provides 3 months of mentoring, $100K in the form of a convertible note, PR assistance and other perks (Zipcar discounts!) The results: TechStars claims 80% of its companies get funded and it lists all the outcomes (including groups that tank). Edtech companies have been rare among the TechStar picks but that may be changing: in the latest TechStar class, which is Boston-based, two of the 13 chosen are edtech plays: adaptive testing company, Testive, and a site to collaboratively build lessons, LessonSmith. (Nice going!) Here are deadlines for applying for the TechStars summer program in Boulder or the autumn program in Seattle.


SparkBridge: Boston-based startup funded jointly by FableVision Studios (Boston) and the Vancouver Aquarium. The SparkBridge deal is intriguing: the Vancouver aquarium, Canada's largest, is a self-supporting nonprofit. That's made it acutely aware of the need to build revenue and to foster its relationship with customers even once they've walked out the door. It's also got a treasure trove of content and a million or so visitors every year. The hope is that by partnering with a winning media and story designer, the for-profit FableVision, the pair will devise an app--and a rollout plan--that will engage millions. First app is due out in Q2. Overseeing it is freshly recruited CEO Scott Triola, formerly with Blue Fang Games. They're not fessing up to the funding but Scott says he has good runway to launch. Another sign that the age-old distance between for-profits and nonprofits may be more of a mirage than a chasm.

Verbling: $1M to SF-based Verbling from DFJ, LearnCapital, and a host of other investors. A graduate of Y-Combinator, Verbling aims to facilitate language learning by instantly connecting learners with native speakers around the world through live video. More details from TechCrunch.

OneSchool: $750K in seed funding to Mountain View, CA-based OneSchool from 500 Startups, LearnCapital, and Magnolia Ventures. OneSchool offers a free mobile app, designed to help college students acclimate to their environment, including campus news, course schedules, transportation maps, and eateries. Currently used at eight campuses, according to VerticalWire.


Have you celebrated a digital media learning project today? Tweet all about it here: #esinstruct.

NEWCLASSROOMS.ORG: As EdSurge noted two weeks ago, Joel Rose, ideaman behind School of One, has a new nonprofit afoot: NewClassrooms.org. Once again, he's pushing the edge of school models, with an eye toward turning learning into a deeply personalized experience. NewClassrooms will get started by pulling together a middle school math program ("Teach to One: Math"), which will use both existing and home-grown materials. Joel expects that four to six schools in three cities will try out the program in fall 2012; some schools will get a headstart by using the materials in after-school programs this spring. Chris Rush, who headed School of One after Joel's departure, has also joined NewClassrooms.org. And School of One? New York City has agreed to let NewClassrooms.org manage the program, which is expected to expand to as many as 50 NYC public schools over the next 2.5 years. NewClassrooms.org is funded by the Bezos Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and NewSchoolsVenture Fund.


CENTURY-OLD PROPHESIES: How this for accountability: In 1911, The Lady's Home Journal published this set of predictions about the year 2001. "These prophesies will seem strange, almost impossible," warned writer John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. "Yet they have come from the most learned and conservative minds in America." Judge for yourself, but by our reckoning many have come to pass. Exceptions: Americans will think nothing of walking 10 miles at a time. Mosquitoes will be eliminated. And universities will be free. Any bets on which of those goes next?

BIG FISHES: Pearson was the single most active buyer last year, according to Berkery Noyes' 2011 M&A report for the education sector. Transaction volume (229 deals) was up 10% over 2010, even though the total volume stayed almost constant ($10.01 B). Nearly a third of companies sold between 2009 and 2011 were between $3 million and $33 million. You'll know edtech is really catching fire when those deal values start to climb. On the positive side, venture firms are getting pumped up, raising $5.6 billion in Q4-2011, a healthy improvement over the lackluster 2011 Q2 and Q3.

TRUSTY RESEARCH: Just what should constitute genuine research results in edtech is a great topic for debate (and a big part of the dialogue last week at a Gates Foundation confab). In Mind/Shift, Audrey Watters offers up a smart interview with cognitive psychologist Alicia Chang on when research is trustworthy.


LESSONS LEARNED: Khalid Smith, Startup Weekend's Education Leader, responds to Audrey Watters' dismay over Pearson's involvement with the Startup Weekend EDU events. Startups pushing new business and distribution models are great, he says, but they must still navigate the thickets of school bureaucracy...and who better to advise on that than Pearson? Smith recalls a famous line from entrepreneur saint Steve Jobs: "We have to give up the false notion that for us to succeed Microsoft has to fail."

ANALYZE THIS: Digital humanities is not just about digitizing old wrinkled books, but a way to teach information literacy, according to professors. This means getting kids who are "largely ignorant of the underlying logic of the digital tools they rel[y] on" to approach "websites and digital discovery tools with the same critical vigilance with which they are taught to read textual arguments." HASTAC's Cathy Davidson shares these views in her blog, ardently defining (and defending) how digital humanities promotes open access, participation, and experimentation across all boundaries and disciplines.

LESSONS FROM BJORK(S): Robert Bjork, director of UCLA's Learning and Forgetting Lab, thinks locking yourself up in a room to cram is a bad way to store knowledge. Instead, he recommends a strategy called "interweaving"--a mix of exercises related to the core task at hand, and studying in different locations--as a better way to recall those pieces of info in different scenarios in the future. (Meanwhile, the Icelandic Bjork is embarking on an educational tour of her own to teach science and music while promoting her latest album.)

PLAYTIME, GAMETIME: All work and no play made Jack Nicholson a scary boy. And neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones agrees, according to the NYTimes. At the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London last week, he, along with others like famed inventor Ray Kurzweil, called for better applications of technologies--such as gaming--so that students learn to become "proprietors of knowledge," rather than customers.

A NEW (IL)LITERACY: Blogger and author Will Richardson contends it's "most likely" that his and your kids are illiterate, based on six objectives established by the National Council of Teachers of English. These go way beyond mere ABCs and instead involve skills such as managing, analyzing and synthesizing streams of simultaneous information. Richardson's money quote: "learning and literacy are absolutely shifting, and that means the roles of schools and teachers are going to have to shift as well."

RICHTEL 2.0? Count Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education, among the skeptics of the flipped classroom and other technological promises. Harshest words (courtesy of TIME): "Much of the online content available today merely replicates the lame instruction already available in too many of our nation's schools." Ouch.


DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 5: THE EDSURGE TEE-SHIRT! Oh, you EdSurge readers are a clever bunch! We were awestruck by the proposed slogans that flooded our mailbox last week! With great difficulty, we have winnowed the selection down to five. Your mission now: vote for your favorite three. We'll do a series of three tee-shirts that we will then bestow with reckless abandon (ok, well, at least sometimes)--as well as make available for purchase. If you're struck by an idea too good to forget, lobby our Facebook page. Voting deadline: midnight (PT) February 5. Game on!

Copy and paste your 3 fav and send here with the subject line: COOL SHIRT.

  • ed-sur-gent. noun \-jent\ : an education contrarian, esp: an innovator recognized as a nonconformist
  • "The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you."-- BB King
  • An education never stops; it only pivots.
  • EdSurge: Jet fuel for the edtech bonfire
  • EdSurge: Get plugged in

DEADLINE ROLLING: Looking to spread the word about the latest edtech ideas behind your startup? Here's a chance for those in the Bay Area. The folks at pariSoma are looking for edtech startups to pitch their wares at their next mixer event on February 23. There'll be a total of 15 demoers...and looks like 4 of those spots are already taken. Apply here!

DEADLINE FEB 22: The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the Department of Education, is accepting proposals for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for edtech innovations. Up for grabs are $150K for Phase I proposals; those accepted will be eligible for Phase II, offering up to $900K for further intensive R&D and realization of market potentials. Folks developing for special-ed needs are also encouraged to apply for the same amount, or may consider trying for the Fast-Track program that awards up to a whopping $1.05 million. More details here. Update: check out the SBIR's web conference on February 1 for more info about various SBIR funding opportunities and how small businesses have benefited in the past.

DEADLINE APRIL 1: Here's one for the kids. The 2012 Google Science Fair is now accepting entries from students aged 13-18 to carry out a scientific investigation into a real-world problem or issue that interests them. Students, either individually or in teams of up to three, pose a question, develop a hypothesis, and conduct experiments to test it. The entire submission process is online (and can be done in 13 different languages). 90 regional finalists (30 each from the Americas, Asia/Pacific, and Europe/Middle East/Africa regions) will be recognized; the top 15 get flown out to the Google HQ for the finals. Swanky prizes await, including scholarships and a trip to the Galapagos. Details here.


HireEducation, which specializes in finding great edtech candidates, is sponsoring EdSurge's job section through June. Free posts for you; great info for all. It's first come, first printed. Write your own ad (but spare us the over-the-top claims, please!) Keep it under 500 characters. Send your job ads here.


HireEducation: Hunting for the next VP of Corporate Development for a highly entrepreneurial, teacher-focused school reform company. The perfect candidate will get to help change the world and live in New York City! Email Mark Philips.

Fidelis: Fidelis (a venture-funded higher education tech company building solutions for service-members) is looking for a Dean and VP of Academic Affairs who will take a senior post on the company's leadership team and be responsible for all learning activities within the company. This includes managing relationships with accredited teaching partners, supervising transition coaching and supplemental/remedial education, and ensuring enrollment quality. Learn more here.

Education Elements: You've read it here before--Education Elements is helping schools across the country make blended learning a reality, with a combination of consulting services to design and tailor blended learning school models (see its snazzy video for more on what that means) and a Hybrid Learning Management System (HLMS) platform that integrates digital content for students and teachers. Now, the Palo Alto-based startup has new positions open: EDU Senior Consultant, EDU Consultant, Implementation Consultant, Sales Operations Manager, and Data Guru. Check out these job openings now.

Rocketship: Rocketship Education is looking for a Manager of Talent Recruitment responsible for recruiting and hiring exceptional educators who embody Rocketship's core characteristics and who can serve as teachers, school leaders, and instructional staff. As Rocketship aims to expand to dozens of schools in the coming years, the Talent Recruiter will form partnership with key organizations and build a robust pool of diverse candidates to fuel our high quality growth as we eliminate the achievement gap. Full job description here (PDF).

Data Driven Classroom: Data Driven Classroom is looking for a few people to join our new team that will be responsible for the design, development and deployment of the server and client side of all user facing features for our two main edtech products. This ranges from the development of rich web experiences, to designing and developing APIs, to low level performance optimization. The ideal candidates will be creative, full stack engineers who are capable and excited about moving up and down the stack quickly. More details here.

Whiteboard Advisors: DC-based Whiteboard Advisors is seeking a senior associate passionate about education innovation, ideally with some consulting and policy expertise, and has strong writing and research skills. Whiteboard Advisors has played an advisory role on key education transactions, advised philanthropic strategies for organizations including Target Corporation and the Gates Foundation, and assisted education startups with business strategies. The Senior Associate would also work with Andy Rotherham and John Bailey on the Education Insider publication. Please send resumes here.

LearnZillion: Scale your impact! LearnZillion is looking for teachers who want to have a broader impact and who have the talent to craft dynamite video lessons. Dream Team members receive lesson creation equipment, $2000, and recognition on LearnZillion's website. Each member will create 20 lessons this summer. Lessons will be available for free on and linked to professional development platforms in multiple states. Click here to apply, or visit www.learnzillion.com/join. LearnZillion was recently featured on the NPR show Marketplace.

Presence Learning: Seeking MBA-class consultant to develop reports on the benefits of Presence Learning for potential clients. You should be able to conduct independent research and assemble a quality presentation, likely a former management consultant or MBA. The project is likely to last three months and you can be located anywhere. Email Clay@presencelearning.com.


Planning or know of an event that we should look out for? (Hint: we certainly are!) Let us know!


  Middle Grade Math: Why Algebra Matters & How Technology Can Help: Stanford, CA: February 2. Hosted by Policy Analysis for California Education, NewSchools Venture Fund and Silicon Valley Education Foundation. Day-long policy-oriented event to explore how digital tools and resources can better support middle grades mathematics. NSVF leader, Ted Mitchell speaking. Cost: $50. Register here.
  Startup Weekend EDU (NY): Mandell School on the Upper West Side, NYC: Feb 3-5. The crash course is back!. You know the drill: a 54-hour blitzkrieg of people pitching ideas, ideas coalescing into teams, teams building products, and (for some) teams paving that yellow brick road to success! (Um, no guarantees on this last part, but some sound advice here.) A-list mentors from all backgrounds stand ready to assist with all sorts of icky startup questions. Judges include investors and entrepreneur gurus who'll tell you straight up what they think. Register here.
  RocketSpace Future of Education. SF, CA: February 16. The inaugural edtech panel at incubation/office-space provider, RocketSpace. Hear thoughts on informal learning from an all-star cast including: Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of Udemy; Steve Schoettler, Co-Founder of Junyo (and Zynga); Ahmed Siddiqui, CEO of GoGoMogo; David Merrill, Co-Founder of Sifteo; and Chalon Bridges, Executive Educator at Pearson. EdSurge's Leonard Medlock will moderate. $10 GA but EdSurgers use the discount code 'rocket50' for 50% off!
  NEW! 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong, Hong Kong: February 16-18. Hong Kong's largest education tech conference, focusing primarily on English-speaking (international schools), and organized by nonprofit, 21CLHK. Registration closes Friday, Feb. 3.
  pariSoma Mixer Series: EduTech. SF, CA: February 23. Teams from the hottest EduTech startups will be pitching the next groundbreaking products/services, providing demos and Q&A sessions. From learning apps to online classes, all platforms will be represented. Indulge in drinks, learning, and great networking opportunities at the beautiful pariSoma Innovation Loft. Register early and save. (Want to demo? Apply here.) Exclusively for EdSurgers: Use the discount code 'edsurge' for 15% off!
  Startup Weekend EDU (Bay Area): Santa Clara, CA: Feb 24-26. These just keep getting better! Pick each other's brains in the offices of Kno, get useful advice from friendly mentors, and pitch to a panel of awesome Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Sign up here.


  Digital Media and Learning Conference: SF, CA: March 1-3. The Digital Media and Learning Conference, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, will explore the development and use of mobile technology in new, innovative learning environments across various disciplines. Promising an all-star cast of researchers, teachers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors, this year's conference will be led by Diana Rhoten, co-founder of Startl and currently senior VP in News Corps' Education Division. EdSurge will be there! More details to follow--stay tuned!
  CoSN 2012: Washington, DC: March 5-7. The Consortium for School Networking's 2012 K-12 Technology Leadership Conference focuses on re-imagining education beyond "four walls and seven bells." (Seriously, that sounds like a jail cell.) Featuring Douglas Thomas, John Seely Brown, Karen Cator, and a schedule packed with workshops, demos, presentations, and schmoozing opportunities. EdSurge's Betsy Corcoran attending. Lots of different registration options.
  GDC Education Summit: SF, CA: March 5-6. Part of the Game Developers Conference (March 5-9). For better or worse, gamification is here to stay. So why not check out the premier game industry event, and hear from the folks actually make games? This year features over 400 industry sessions spread across seven tracks and eight summits, including this one on "experimental and inventive educational approaches that established game curriculum builders can bring back to their faculty and classrooms." More details forthcoming. Costs a very pretty penny, but well worth it for ubergame enthusiasts. Register by February 2 to save big.
  SXSWedu: Austin, TX: March 6-8. This second annual conference focusing on chic innovations in learning comes to this hip, hip city with a distinguished lineup including Arne Duncan, Pearson CEO Majorie Scardino, and Reading Rainbow's (or Star Trek's) LeVar Burton. Game designer Jane McGonigal also onboard as well. This year promises more bang for your bucks, with meetups, a LAUNCHedu showcase, and organized "Meet Ups" around different content strands to connect you with other attendees. Register here.
  SXSW: Austin, TX: March 9-18: This is the big shindig, the event that launched the likes of Twitter and countless other Internet memes. It's got a dash of tech (EdSurge's Betsy Corcoran will be on a panel on Education 2020) but is also just a rip-roaring, idea generating time about interactive media (March 9-12), film (March 9-17), & music (March 13-18). Be warned, though: tix are pricey.
  EETC 2012: Salt Lake City, UT: March 14-16. An annual conference that brings researchers, policy makers, administrators, and educators together to present and discuss research and applications in the areas of preschool through elementary education. Michael Levine, Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, will be one of a host of other renowned experts there. Register here.


Look for us in our FastCompany blog and on KQED's Mind/Shift! But fear not: we bring the best stuff directly to you first. Always.

Don't forget to write to us--feedback@edsurge.com--wherever you may be.

Thanks for reading -- and for sharing. -- Betsy, Nick, Agustin, Tony, Leonard, Darri, and Matt

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