FETC 2019: Successful EdTech Is All About Listening and Communicating

As news of the dreaded Polar Vortex crept into our daily commutes and chilled our spines here in the Northeast, many flocked to Orlando, Florida for the warmth and community that Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) brings every January. Like last year, we filled our days to the brim with sessions that empowered educators with innovative ideas for the classroom and showcased new edtech learnings. As always, the expo floors were filled with sleek, cool demos of new products (and robotics!) that we could hardly find time to stop at each booth As educators and edtech leaders were inundated with new ideas and products, we also started seeing a trend appearing for edtech in 2019.

Here are the big themes we saw throughout FETC this year:  

  1. Teachers’ voices are being heard, and that does not go unappreciated.

Teachers are often underappreciated and overlooked, even when edtech companies go forth with the best intentions. However, without educator feedback, many edtech entrepreneurs with even the sleekest of products will flounder in the classroom. You would be surprised how many tablet-based products don’t take into account overhead fluorescent lights in the classroom or the reality of how much time teachers really have to grade homework.

Emphasizing the importance of educators’ voices was one of the main reasons why Tech Share Live , led by Leslie Fisher, Hall Davidson, Adam Bellow, and Kathy Schrock, is one of the most talked about (and Tweeted about) sessions at FETC. Filled with puppets, robotics, and even Marie Kondo’s advice, it was clear that Tech Share Live wanted to show teachers that they have heard their feedback and wanted to serve them with products that will make their lives easier in the classroom.

Merge Cube, an AR/VR edtech company, exemplified the idea that listening to your users -- in this case, the teachers -- can not only make your product successful but also increase brand loyalty.  As Leslie mentioned, just last year at FETC Merge Cube did not even have a booth on the expo floor. However, not only did they come back a year later with a large and popular booth, multiple sessions brought their name up. And when a tweet about  a WalMart special earlier this school year went viral in educator circles, it immediately sold out. In addition to being responsive to teachers throughout the year, Merge Cube even gave away some product to teachers Tuesday morning! #mergemania

And of course, we wouldn’t be able to talk about edtech companies who really listen and respond to educator feedback without Flipgrid. Usually, when large companies purchase smaller edtech startups, consumers feel uneasy that the mission will change. But not only did this partnership increase interest in Flipgrid, it also gave renewed interest in Microsoft’s tools as well.

All this goes to show that edtech companies that make teachers feel like they are a part of their community see the most success. Besides, overwhelming educators with big data is so last year.

On the flip side, be wary of assuming you know more about the market. We heard more than one teacher walking away from a booth and laughing about how a salesperson thought their product was so special and so different. We even overheard one say “I didn’t have the heart to tell them I already do that easily with XYZ.”  So make sure you truly are listening to the needs of your users and that you do a deep analysis of other solutions in the market. Don’t get caught not knowing your competitors!


2. Learning to speak the same language and learning how to collaborate is not only an important lesson within edtech, it’s also a lesson for the classroom.


This year, our very own Jenny Herrera and Learn Platform’s Karl Rectanus presented a session about bridging the gap between vendors and IT leaders.

In this workshop, both speakers focused on tips and tools to foster collaborative partnerships, including the importance of speaking the same language. While edtech companies want to help educators throughout their busy days in the classroom, wires can often get crossed. They outlined a simple user story to report bugs and make suggestions to product owners. Not only does this benefit the relationship between edtech companies and educators, but this same skill could also be transferred to the classroom. In essence, teachers and students are learning how to effectively communicate with each other as well.  That way, teachers, students, and edtech companies can all be heard and working in harmony.

Just one of the many examples this session touched on bridging the gap between vendors and IT leaders.

Just one of the many examples this session touched on bridging the gap between vendors and IT leaders.

And, perhaps more importantly, the structure and purpose of user stories makes a great mini-lesson for teachers to use with their students. What a great way to teach technology skills, purposeful language, and authentic writing! Speaking of students…

3. Student voices matter, too, and they have no fear taking the stage.

As we delve into teacher voices and edtech companies, we can’t forget about the students. And trust us, they won’t allow themselves to be forgotten! At this year’s FETC, we were delighted to see more students taking the stage and lending their voice to the future of edtech. If you’re thinking about speaking at any upcoming education conference, we challenge you to include a student-speaker in your group.  In fact, we think using student voices and taking in their feedback on what their needs are in the classrooms are the best ways to make your product both authentic and relevant.

And say what you will, but memes are definitely the future.

4. For all of us to communicate and exchange data in a seamless and efficient way may seem as possible as seeing a mythical creature … or is it?

Throughout these sessions, a pain point that came up a lot for teachers, students, and edtech companies is the inability to exchange information among all these great tools that are coming into the classroom. Project Unicorn’s mission is interoperability among technology and tools within the classrooms. That means, there is a seamless and efficient exchange of data among all edtech products, all working towards the common goal of student achievement and teacher empowerment.

We could see that we were not the only ones catching on to the 2019 trend of listening and communication because many people were eager to sign Project Unicorn’s pledge (and you should check it out, too!).

We hope listening and communicating among edtech companies, educators, and students continue throughout 2019 and beyond. In order to move education forward, we must all work together, and even big conferences like FETC know that’s the case as well. It’s not enough to just have the latest and greatest technology anymore. And it seems like FETC has certainly been listening to the weather reports in the rest of the country because next year, they will be moving over to Miami for their annual conference to further escape the cold!

EdTech Product Developers Join Growing Venture Studio Reimagining Education and the Future of Work

New York-based ProjectEd joins Entangled Group; brings deep expertise in user experience and design to team building and investing in the next generation of great edtech companies.

Entangled Group, a Bay Area venture studio pioneering an entirely new approach to the development and scale of education and workforce technology, today announced its acquisition of education consulting and design firm ProjectEd. The New York-based firm will bring deep expertise in product design and user experience to the interdisciplinary team of advisors, educators, and entrepreneurs working to bridge the divide between practice and innovation across the education ecosystem.

"From designing a new educator platform for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to supporting the expansion of Southern New Hampshire University's College for America programs, the ProjectEd team has been at the leading edge of innovation in education," said Paul Freedman, CEO and Founder of Entangled Group. "Their expertise broadens and complements our team's capabilities for education, employers, and the startup ecosystem."

"Rather than let the traditional build vs. buy paradox constrain our vision and impact, our unique studio model enables us to both invest in and scale emerging technologies, while simultaneously responding to the sector's most pressing challenges as advisors," said Nick Hammerschlag, President of Entangled Group. "The addition of ProjectEd is an exciting example of how we can layer in capabilities to meet new market needs."

A spinoff founded by former employees of the curriculum and assessment company Amplify, ProjectEd specializes in providing learner experience, product and visual design, and consulting services for education-focused businesses and nonprofits. Since its launch in 2015, ProjectEd has partnered with more than 40 organizations, including the Walton Family Foundation and Flocabulary, the fast-growing company that harnesses the power of hip-hop music for K-12 online learning.

"What brings these teams together is our shared purpose: designing elegant solutions from the learner's point of view," said Kate Finnefrock, CEO of ProjectEd. "With our roots as education product designers, joining the Entangled team feels like a homecoming that, ultimately, enables us to make an even larger collective impact across education."

Terms of the transaction will not be disclosed.

Contact: media@entangled.group

How 7 EdTech Companies Are Tackling SEL

Say it isn’t so — summer is coming to an end and back-to-school season is here again. Teachers and students are ready with new school supplies and tools to get them through the semester. While many edtech tools are designed to aid and measure success in testing and a variety of different subjects, there’s now budding interest in a less tangible form of knowledge: social and emotional learning (SEL).

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According to 74 Million, SEL is defined as “a method of promoting holistic child development by teaching students skills such as self-regulation, persistence, empathy, self-awareness, and mindfulness.”

During such uncertain times we experience today, where daily news causes anxiety in adults and children alike, it’s no surprise why SEL is on the minds of educators more than ever. SEL doesn’t just help pave the path to moral citizenship. In fact, studies show that effective SEL intervention can increase academic test scores by 11 to 17%. But how do we go about measuring something that seems so subjective?

Of course, edtech does what it can to help educators along the way and incorporating SEL is no exception. Here are 7 companies that we think are nailing SEL and could be helpful for your back to school season:

1. ClassDojo

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As a parent, you may have wondered from time to time what your kid is up to at school. And as a teacher, there may have been moments you would have loved to share on-the-spot with your students’ family. ClassDojo aims to close the communication gap between families and school. This classroom app can be used by parents, students, and teachers to share photos, videos, and messages throughout the school day.

Furthermore, according to their website, 1 in 3 US kids aged 5-14 have learned about Growth Mindset and Empathy using ClassDojo. This app is currently being used by 90% of K-8 schools nationwide!
 

2. Kickboard
 

Integrating Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) and SEL into the classroom is no easy task. In fact, in order to implement it successfully, it must be done so at every level, not just in individual classrooms or with individual students. Thankfully, Kickboard has created evidence-based solutions to track, monitor, and analyze at the student, class, grade, school, and district levels. Using rigorous analytics, Kickboard not only give educators “vivid insights at every level” but also provides educators with solutions to implement intervention where needed.
 

3. Hero
 

Being late to class usually comes with negative consequences -- pink slips, detention, and so on and so forth. Hero wants to change that by empowering students to not only get to class on time but also to make good decisions by using positive reinforcement. Their tools uses strong analytics to help educators reinforce good behavior, manage the classroom, and enact positive cultural change school and district-wide. According to their website, some schools have had their tardiness reduced by 98% and suspensions reduced by 81%.

4. 7 Mindsets


7 Mindsets calls themselves the “Google for SEL” — and they’re not wrong for it! 7 Mindsets has quickly become the one-stop-shop for all your SEL needs. From infographics to training sessions, 7 Mindsets provides everything that an educator needs to start cultivating SEL in your classroom or school.
 

5. Peekapak

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SEL doesn’t always mean tracking behavior and sifting through analytics. If you and your students respond to storytelling, Peekapak is the SEL fit for you. Set in the diverse world of Peekaville, the characters Menka, Cody, and Leo the Hedgehog will guide students through ELA lessons, all the while learning SEL skills such as self-regulation, teamwork, and empathy.

6. Sprig

Sprig uses immersive storytelling techniques both online and offline. Not only do they have engaging stories, but they also provide interactive puppets to “promote fun and deeper assessment results with a loveable, familiar puppet that interacts with technology, engages learners and breaks traditional assessment bias.” What we love about Sprig is that they extend this experience beyond the classroom and give caregivers a chance to explore SEL with their kids, too!

7. Gone Home

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What would you do after you come home from a year abroad and discover your home ...completely empty? Gone Home is an award-winning interactive first-person video game that allows you to explore and uncover clues to find the answers. Published by the Fulbright Company, the game has received critical praise, especially for addressing issues youths in LGBTQ have to frequently face.

 

Because SEL is booming, we’re sure we have missed some edtech companies who are doing great work. What are some of your favorite SEL-based companies? What resources would you like to see more of in and out of the classroom?

Want to learn more about SEL? Send us a message, and we’ll be happy to guide you!

How A Cold Email Led To An MBA Internship

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Our team at ProjectEd is made up of teachers, designers, entrepreneurs, and life-long learners. Not only are we passionate about edtech, but we also believe in moving education forward in every sense of the word. Learning comes in all shapes and sizes, and it does not stop outside of the classroom. Whether you are in high school or just about to graduate into the “real world,” internships are a great way to learn on the job for the job you potentially aspire to have after school.

With concrete aspirations intact and a clear passion for edtech, Columbia Business School student Jessica Langman cold emailed us early in the spring, hoping we would have room for an MBA internship. Turns out, this wasn’t Jessica’s first rodeo in the tech industry. Before becoming a full-time MBA student to pivot into edtech, she’s held leadership positions at three innovative, fast-paced companies — from digital marketing at Rokkan, brand strategy at WeWork, to storytelling at WME | IMG. She tells us that she was impressed with our business model and our roster of edtech clients, but we were just as captivated by her resume. Our CTO, Gillian, reached out the very next day and after a week of interviews, the rest became history. We hired our very first MBA intern, assisting us with business development and project management.

You may be thinking that this was just a stroke of good luck, since most cold emails tend to go straight from the inbox to the trash — right? When you play your communication cards right, you may be surprised by how cold emails can help you in your career.

Here are some tips we’ve learned from Jessica about how to make the most of your network, when you are just starting out in your career.

1. Take advantage of your alma mater and alumni network — they are there to help!

While we may cringe at how The Office’s Andy Bernard eagerly represented his college alma mater, he may have been on to something. Jessica knew she wanted to work in edtech after graduating, so she took the time to reach out to alums who were already thriving in the industry:

“I was astonished and supremely grateful for the swift responses I received from CBS alums who work in edtech, all of whom were incredibly eager to offer insight into the industry and support during my internship search.”

Every university/college has an extensive alumni network you can tap into. The shared bond already puts you ahead of the game, and most alumni are always willing to lend a helping hand in the industry.
 

2. Birds of a feather flock together at meetups and events.

If you’re interested in something, chances are there are other people who share that interest in your local area as well. Jessica advises aspiring edtech students to join local edtech meetups. If you are in NYC, she recommends Built In NYC and filtering for local edtech startups.

Whether you’re interested in niche edtech technology such as VR/AR or the vast landscape of edtech conferences, there will always be something of interest to you (and people who want to help you move education forward, too)!

3. When finally reaching out, remember the 3 Ps.

If you’re Googling “cold email templates,” you may be going down the path of emails that go straight to junk. When you finally decide to reach out to your network, we recommend integrating 3 Ps in your message: make it Personal, show you’re Passionate, and have a Plan of action.

Here’s what we mean: When Jessica reached out to us, it was Personal — she let us know who she was and why she was interested in our work. She further showed that she was Passionate about edtech, so she wasn’t just looking for any MBA internship. Jessica wanted one that would specifically help her reach her edtech career aspirations and goals. Last, but not least, she had a Plan of action: she asked if we had any opportunities for her or if we could give her some time to learn more about us.

When you’re sending out a lot of cold emails, it can be easy to fall into the trap of sending a template that is “one size fits all” because it’s easier and less time-consuming. But if you do take a little time, who you are reaching out to will surely take notice of the effort.
 

After 6 months of interning with us, Jessica is back at Columbia Business School to finish her degree. When she graduates May 2019, she hopes to find “an awesome role in edtech in either growth or product marketing.” You’ll want to keep in touch with this future edtech rockstar — we know we will!

 

Interested in learning more about a career in edtech? Feel free to send us a message. We’ll be happy to guide you along the way!

How To Transform Great Research into Data Visualizations for Policy Makers

The vast field of education comes with unique set of challenges from understanding complex policies to serving students with differing socioeconomic backgrounds. Rigorous research is often done to equip teachers with effective pedagogy and inform policymakers of improved solutions. However, these long-detailed reports don’t often have the impact on policy they should because their complexity is hard to translate.

Kid Shoes Art

This is where effective data visualization comes to the rescue. By making the data digestible, interactive, and solution-oriented through rigorous UX, we are lessening the burden on educators and policy makers to sift through data and empowering them to make informed choices for their next steps.

And that is exactly what we did with the amazing team at  Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO). By applying UX methodology and concepts, we were able to translate rigorous research into something that could be easily understood by educators, policy makers, and education leaders. For the first time in history, this type of interactive report was also accepted by the U.S. Department of Education as an official submission for evaluation.

Building this type of visual report took more than just design skills though.  Our ProjectEd Education Data Storytelling Design Model consists of these key steps:

1. Look at the research as a whole before diving into the nitty gritty.

It’s important for the team to look at all the data, not just the pieces that we presume are important. The team works together with data scientists and researchers to fully understand the research from initial theories of action, surprises along the way and final results.

We worked together with CREDO to conduct an exhaustive review of all of their research. By doing so, we were able to identify together the key components of the data that needed to be translated to the target audience (i.e. educators and policy makers) and ensure that it tied back to the research as a whole.

2. Carve out a coherent path by asking the right questions.

In the same way that we must take a step back to see the big picture, we must also “zoom in” to see the intricate details and moving parts that make the picture whole. That’s why it’s important to ask certain questions before rushing to the blank canvas:

  • Who is looking at this data?

  • Where will they be accessing this information?

  • Who needs to know what information?

In order to do this, we must also ask and research what each stakeholder needs to learn from the data such that each view while different will be equally effective.

3. Design, Build, Test, Repeat

Once we fully understand the data, the target audiences and the impact it needs to have, then we design and build the best possible data visualization.  Depending on the goals, these can be websites, animations, infographics, or more traditional downloadable reports.

In all cases, testing the results with real users is key.  This extensive and careful research is done because we want to make education better and to do that we need our data to be understood and have an impact with those that need to understand it to make informed decisions.

Effective data visualization is no easy feat, but the end results are impactful. This intersection between UX design and rigorous research creates another tool that educators and policy makers can use to move education forward.

 

Want to learn more about data visualization and how it could potentially benefit your edtech research? We're happy to answer any of your questions. Feel free to send us a message

(Re)Introducing #EdTechBridge, Every Second Wednesdays!

Wait a minute — didn’t summer just start?

In a blink of an eye, teachers are already gearing up for back-to-school season, just as we’re coming out of our summer daze. Because we are always championing the ever-busy and heroic educator, by learning their language and urging edtech leaders to always loopback for feedback, we’re rebooting #EdTechBridge!

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On the second Wednesday of each month at 8PM Eastern Time, join us on Twitter to connect with edtech entrepreneurs and teachers to discuss the latest trends in edtech. If you’re new to edtech, don’t be shy — we’d love for you to jump in on the conversations! We hope that this monthly conversation not only generates new ideas but also bridges the gap between the ever-growing field of technology, and teachers who can offer valuable insight and observations.

Let’s start chatting!

What We Learned At The AWS Summit: Using Machine Learning in EdTech

The machines are taking over!

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Machine Learning is no longer the subject of a dystopian sci-fi movie, it’s now our reality. As we saw at the AWS Summit in New York City, Machine Learning (ML) is the talk of the tech industry, especially when it comes to big data. Amazon unveiled a new component to its natural language processing (NLP) service -- Amazon Comprehend Syntax Identification -- that interprets text-based data’s nouns and adjectives and extracts insights from it. This service can be connected to social media and other text based services (i.e. blogs, comments, emails, etc.) By using it, companies could extract valuable insights from customers by analyzing keywords, understanding customers’ sentiments, personalizing content, and categorizing content.

While this hasn’t expanded to edtech use cases just yet, we predict this type of technology could bring exciting changes to the classroom. In the same way that innovative educators took to Twitter to connect and teach digital literacy in the classroom, we believe it’s only a matter of time for Machine Learning insights to be invaluable to districts and educators.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

For edtech innovators looking for the next challenge, here are some ways Amazon Comprehend could potentially be developed to be used by educators and parents:

1. Nipping cyberbullying in the bud before it get outs of hand.

Social media has made us more connected than ever. However, the dark side of this hyperconnectivity has led to bullying outside of school hours. According to DoSomething.org, only 1 in 10 victims report cyberbullying to a parent or trusted adult, yet 70% of teenagers frequently see bullying online. Since social media is saturated with an endless feed of content, a lot of this harmful activity can slip under the radar.

By using Amazon’s services that can mass-analyze adjectives and sentiment, there could potentially be a way for parents or guardians to quickly flag negative comments, nipping cyberbullying in the bud.

2. Districts may efficiently interpret qualitative data from schools and parents.
 

For a student to have a well-rounded education, there’s constant back-and-forth from parents, from teachers, from administrators, from the district...and so on. Qualitative data like this is often the hardest to analyze and sift through, especially navigating the already-complex space of education. We believe, with a service such as Amazon Comprehend, administrators could efficiently go through text-based feedback and better understand the needs of the schools, parents, teachers, and students.
 

3. Teaching digital literacy in the age of fake news

Fake news is currently the top headline of, well, the news. How can an educator effectively teach students digital literacy, when even some adults can’t even tell the difference? According to the keynote from the AWS Summit, developers can build their own models within Amazon Comprehend. If digital literacy is, in fact, a lesson plan within an educator’s curriculum, this could be used to help students understand how there are certain keywords or sentiments that should alert them to dig deeper into a headline and ask questions about the reliability of its sources.

Even outside of education, this could be helpful for everyone to analyze their social media feeds and see just how truthful the content really is.


Machine Learning in education is truly an exciting opportunity to explore. Of course, there are always concerns for privacy and efficacy of the results it may produce. These concerns are valid, but there is no doubt that the machines are about to take an even bigger role (and give educators and parents some much needed help)! Like any new technology, there will be a lot of trial and error, but that is exactly why edtech innovators love what they do.

 

Where do you see Machine Learning in edtech? We’d love to hear your ideas and help you with your edtech needs. Message us or give us a shout on Twitter @_ProjectEd!