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 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

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

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!

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Product Balances Innovation with True Accessibility

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Product Balances Innovation with True Accessibility

In the education industry, we want our products to support all students. Education technology tools should be accessible to any student, regardless of their native language, learning abilities or need for special accommodations. Yet trying to achieve true accessibility while keeping up with the pace of new technology can leave many feeling like a dog chasing its tail.