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!

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

The machines are taking over!

AWS Summit 2018

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!

The Rise of Voice Command Technology In EdTech

Over the years, voice-command technology has made its way into our homes and part of our daily routines. From asking mundane questions such as the weather for the day to late night philosophy pondering (“Alexa, are we in the Matrix?”), the instantaneous responses have no doubt made our lives easier and more efficient. Now, this type of technology is making its way into classrooms and districts.

At ISTE 2018, Frontline Education demoed its pilot program for educators, who need instant access to district data. As we all know well and clear by now, teachers are constantly bombarded with data, while they are often performing superhuman balancing acts. Partnering with AWS and utilizing Amazon Echo, Frontline Education wants to provide “on-demand access to critical data and actionable insights” in real-time to education leaders and ease the burden of daily operations.

This is only the beginning of what voice-command technology could do in edtech. In fact, Northeastern University plans on providing all 18,000 of their students with an Amazon Echo, after a successful pilot program. Students can instantly access valuable information, such as what events are happening on campus or access to their bursar accounts.

But instead of just having another trendy piece of tech in the classroom, where could these devices really elevate teaching and learning?

Students with learning disabilities can now be on the same page for learning and success.

With the influx of technology use in the classroom, it can be difficult with students with learning disabilities to keep up. However, with the use of voice-command technology, it may just level the playing field a bit more for students with learning disabilities. For example, a student with motor disabilities may use speech dictation within the classroom instead of typing or writing. Furthermore, a student with dyslexia may use voice enabled technology to assist them with reading aloud and quickly fix any grammar errors. 

Speech dictation is not uncommon in special education -- in fact, its usage is regularly recommended by Dyslexia Association.  Speech recognition technology is quickly becoming more advanced, especially with products such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, which can be integrated into existing classroom tools (i.e., Chromebooks, Google Docs) already used in the classroom.

An all-in-one package: Individual evaluation, real-time data, and student participation.

While there are a multitude of apps that promise language fluency, we all know the best way to learn a new language is with consistent practice and immersion within the native community. That can be difficult for students who don’t have the privilege to travel often or who don’t have access to a community of native speakers. While keeping up with regularly classroom time with a foreign language teacher, voice command technology and voice recognition in the future could be integrated into the curriculum so that the device can eventually evaluate the students’ pronunciation or grammar.

This doesn’t have to be foreign languages either -- students can also be individually evaluated in an array of subjects, where the teacher can collect real-time data and understand a student’s unique needs. Edtech educators, such as Kenneth Eastwood, have already started imagining a classroom 5 to 10 years from now, where students would wear individual headsets or microphones when verbal responses need to be recorded and evaluated during test-taking or for general classroom participation. 

While this could be an exciting new development for edtech, many educators and edtech leaders alike are wary about what this could mean for  students’ privacy.

After all, the privacy issues for voice command tech in the home are still up for debate, and there may be more than just a few bugs that need to be tweaked...

Twitter Alexa Laugh

But as this type of technology progresses and becomes more refined, it may be inevitable for voice command technology to be integrated into the classroom setting. In fact, some teachers have already taken it into their own hands to pilot it within their own classrooms.

Interested in how new technology could affect your classroom or edtech product? Feel free to send us a message

How To Use VR/AR Technology In Your Classroom In 2018

How To Use VR/AR Technology In Your Classroom In 2018

Despite the ominous messages that Black Mirror has warned its viewers about the advancement of AR and VR (let’s hope none of us end up in the USS Callister), the technologies are growing and here to stay. AR and VR for education is also a budding field, and we even had the pleasure of sharing ideas with content creators at a recent VR for Education meetup right around the corner from our office in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

EdTech Is Booming In North Carolina. Here’s Why.

EdTech Is Booming In North Carolina. Here’s Why.

When you think about the tech industry, your mind may automatically go to Silicon Valley, where designated techie buses roam to and from San Francisco. Or you may even think of New York City, nicknamed “Silicon Alley,” where hip and industrial chic co-working spaces are abound. From Austin to Las Vegas, there are always new, exciting cities contending for the tech crown. But one state has been quietly growing and thriving as an edtech hub: North Carolina.

So You’ve Gone to An Ed Tech Conference…Now What?

So You’ve Gone to An Ed Tech Conference…Now What?

You’ve come home with a branded tote bag of swag, a bundle of new contacts, and an after-conference high. Your FitBit probably counted more steps than it can handle as you walked from one session to the next, and you may be in need of some new walking shoes. Sounds like you just got back from FETC (Future of Education Technology Conference) just like us!

The Biggest Takeaways From NY EdTech Week 2017

The Biggest Takeaways From NY EdTech Week 2017

Festivals can be daunting and overwhelming. There are endless booths, swag, and speakers — sometimes, you don’t even know where to begin. We were thrilled with the opportunity to participate in the Global Innovation Education Festival: New York EdTech Week.