Big question for edtech: But how do we know what’s working?

As more than 900 entrepreneurs and educators converge in San Francisco this week, some will talk academic standards, literacy and charter schools.

Others will bypass weighty sessions at NewSchools Venture Fund summit altogether, preferring to tinker with dozens of new tools and products that promise to “transform teaching and learning.’’

4488250788_83e9158cab_zParticipants can teach to student avatars in a virtual classroom, check out the Two Bit Circus or attend “Hour of Power,’’ sessions that promise to be “provocative, fun and interactive.”

They can also learn about new start-ups, games and ventures with names like BetterLesson, Blendspace, Edthena, Educreations, Hapara, Nearpod, Zaption, eSpark and LearnZillion , all eager to demonstrate.

It’s fun to check out new efforts, even though it’s not clear how many will ultimately survive.

That’s why after attending two major edtech conferences in a row (SXSW.edu) and (ASU/GSV), I’m heading straight for a panel entitled: “But How Do We Know What’s Working?’’

It’s an excellent question. And I’m hoping the mix of cheery enthusiasm for “disrupting,’’ the education landscape – a favorite, overused phrase at both conferences– will finally be accompanied by concrete suggestions and evidence.

It’s time to start sharing evidence and data about what makes schools better, and not just from those who stand to profit from innovation in a booming tech market that attracted $650 million in capital investment last year

It’s time to start sharing data, anecdotes and results that help us understand what makes schools better — and not just results gathered by those who stand to profit from innovation in a booming tech market that attracted $650 million in capital investment last year.

I’m hoping this conference will also include views from the classroom along with CEO’s and their promotions staff.

In dozens of conversations with teachers recently, I’ve learned that many are all for new approaches; they are excited about blended learning and its potential to help students work at their individual skill level while receiving real-time instruction as needed, with the help of technology.

But they also want a say in which products they use, as Stacey Childress, Deputy Director of Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pointed out in Arizona, as she released survey filled with detail. (Disclaimer: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among the various funders of The Hechinger Report.

It’s not always easy to find teachers at so-called “innovation,’’ conferences, which are often dominated by new products and their potential. Not that there isn’t plenty of discussion about education: at ASU/GSV, there was a spotlight on “The American Dream.’’

Yes, it’s an overused phrase, but GSV Capital chairman Michael Moe touted EIEIO—or “education, innovation, entrepreneurism, immigration and opportunity,’’ as a critical piece of improving education. An excellent synopsis and videos can be found on Ed Surge, available by clicking here.

With all the talk of tech and the pushing of new products and companies (some quite promising) one of the moments I most enjoyed at ASU/GSV came when Arthur Levine of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation reminded a room filled with well dressed investors that they have enormous power to help poor children and improve education.

The NewSchools fund says its summit has a similar message, deeming it an “invitation-only gathering of entrepreneurs, educators, and policymakers who are passionate about the power of entrepreneurs to transform public education for underserved children.”

I’ll be listening and trying to answer the question I started with: How do we know what’s working?


POSTED BY Liz Willen ON April 29, 2014

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