Posts tagged "Indie EdTech Data Summit"

Indie EdTech: Future and Funding

Note: This post is 3 of 3 in a recap of the Indie EdTech Data Summit: The Personal API held at Davidson College. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

This part of the series is probably most fluid and evolving part of my thoughts on Indie. Ben Werdmüller of Known was kind enough to give everyone a very detailed walkthrough of how Known got start through the Matter startup accelerator. Matter was initially funded by the Knight Foundation and KQED to help usher in the next generation of media-focused startups. Matter gives startups (all who are accepted have a working prototype) $50k and require them to complete a 5-month accelerator program (longer than the normal 12-week schedule of Y-Combinator).

Why is this compelling? Silicon Valley is what it is because the requirements of venture capitalism. VCs are looking for quick and large returns on their investments so startups are incentivized to find money quickly, most of which comes through high growth and advertisement dollars. Targeted advertisement is only possible when data is harvested and monetized, which is why we have the web we have. Free = scale, data = advertisements. These do not mesh with the values of the education industry, but you see quickly why Coursera and Udacity are what they are. Matter is made up of entities from media that are interested in changing media for good. As Clay Shirky put it in 2009 (cited by Matter):

If the old model is broken, what will work in its place? The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for lots and lots of experiments.

It makes sense that a group higher education institutions would unite to support “lots and lots of experiments” around education technology that focus on the needs of teaching and learning rather than the needs of administration (where the bulk of IT money is funneled). But possibly rather than investing in one large behemoth solution (like edX), institutions can focus on more Indie solutions. These solutions are more niche and aren’t meant to broadly serve the needs of the entire institution (though let’s be honest–no tool is) like enterprise solutions. They are tools like SPLOT, Wikity, Reclaim Hosting, Known, Github, and to name a few.

Conversely, there are already plenty of good folks already in higher ed (see those listed above) who are building great tools that are adoptable by other schools and there may even be a greater need for that. Our community benefits most from a deep literacy embedded in our local institutions. We have to continue to educate our students, faculty, and staff to understand the complexities of both data and technology. One of the main ways to combat the notion that technology will usurp higher ed is to make sure everyone is knowledgeable about the affordances and freedom that technology can supply while also recognizing its real limitations. We can do this by creating (or supporting the creation of) tools that our communities can utilize to develop, manage, and better understand themselves and their identities. This is going to require a commitment towards education, development, and broad sharing of strategies and practices to the community.

The exact, right next step is fuzzy (more focused sessions designing along students is a must)–but the thought of what can be done if we can get some larger support behind the development of Indie EdTech feels promising at the moment, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead of this small but mighty movement.

Cover photo is by Didier Weemaels made available via the CC0 license on Unsplash.

Indie EdTech Design Sprint

Note: This post is 2 of 3 in a recap of the Indie EdTech Data Summit: The Personal API held at Davidson College. Here is Part 1 and Part 3.

Audrey and Kin’s framework led nicely into design sprint, facilitated by Erin Richey and Ben Werdmüller of Known, who utilized the design thinking methodology to accelerate a deep brainstorming session.

My design team consisted of myself, Audrey, Alan, Eddie Maloney (Georgetown), and two students: Gage Holloway (Davidson), and Erika Bullock (Georgetown). And these two students are (underscore, bold, and enlarge this next part) the reason we ended up with anything–partially by design but also because of how awesome they are.

We spent a lot of time asking them a ton of questions about who they were and what college was like. Who are you? How did you get here? What is a normal class like for you? How do you manage “life?” What are the most meaningful moments for you? What does assessment look like?

And a theme emerged about relationships. Office hours with faculty. Instructors who related classroom discussions to life lessons. Advisers who helped them decided on a major. Bosses who were also mentors. And the lack of relationships. Seniors who were just now understanding the system. “If only I had known that I had the option to put together an interdisciplinary degree.” These were conversations about people. And these questions aren’t able to be answered by Siri. You can’t build an algorithm and you can’t automate it. It requires human interaction Any technology that deals with these problems needs to be augmented by humans.

So this led us down a rabbit hole of trying to come up with some dating-like, scheduler app that matched mentors and mentees. Woof. This was difficult. Part of the issue was, being insiders of the system, we got stuck in the minutia about the complexities of HE, like getting faculty on board. How could be build mentorship into promotion and tenure? Should we require it? Are they matched via interests or pain points? How do you know what’s a good match? And there we were again. Algorithms. Automation. Data. Blah blah blah.

This sounds like it’s a knock on dating apps and it’s really not. I’ve been convinced by several happy couples that a lot of good comes from these services. The problem here isn’t necessarily the algorithm. At least on dating apps everyone can agree that everyone on the app has the same desired goal: a relationship. Here we are trying to figure out how to convince faculty that they want to mentors and educate students on the fact that they need a mentor. And then use our little cute service. Yeah, we are really out in left field on this one. I remember Alan eventually yelling, “We have a problem! We hate our idea!”

Luckily, we had smart people on our team, like Audrey, who eventually just asked what if we stopped thinking about the idea that people need to get together to have these kind of conversations? What if people could just come get answers to questions?

Ah, yes! There was another other piece to this conversation which we had ignore which was that this was also a conversation about distribution of power. How do you know what you don’t know? How do we cultivate a conversation of caring individuals answering each others questions? How do we get students who have figured out the institutional “secrets” (or education hacks… thanks Audrey for letting us borrow Hack Education ::smile::)? How do we redistribute this power through knowledge?

Our wonderful student Erica sketched out this idea of “wants” and “haves”:

So we conceptualized this idea of building something similar to Quora or Stackoverflow where you could ask questions, but that there was a negotiation to entering the space: you had to first tell us things you were willing to answer: your “haves.”

Yep, that’s indie. Indie EdTech nurtures these communities. It redistributes power. It promotes giving as much as receiving. It urges students to move towards being authorities. It removes intermediaries.

Everything about this project was a great experience. It seems simple but, man, there’s a lot to takeaway from simply interviewing students and understanding needs. Kudos to Ben and Erin for putting together such a powerful example of how we can work towards building tools that prioritize the student. What’s even more awesome is there has continued to be discussion on our IndieEdTech Slack channel about how to continue these projects with the students being the most excited bunch. Turns out this whole Silicon Valley-based approach to design isn’t all bad after all.

Cover image: A flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Framing Indie EdTech

Note: This post is 1 of 3 in a recap of the Indie EdTech Data Summit: The Personal API held at Davidson College. Here is Part 2 and Part 3.

I’m back in Oklahoma after a jam packed weekend at Davidson College for the Indie EdTech Data Summit. The event came together after a joint presentation that Jim Groom and I gave at Stanford’s dLRN Conference on Indie EdTech and a conversation over coffee that Jim and I got to have with both Kristen Eshleman and student Andrew Rikard, both of whom are at Davidson College. Our conversation evolved into how we are starting to think more about how we can add technologies, like the personal API, to students arsenal to further empower them as the rightful owner of their data. Kristen had the great idea to bring together a larger group to discuss personal APIs and Indie EdTech. We brought together 26 people from a handful of institutions (BYU, Oklahoma, Davidson, Georgetown, Virginia Commonweath, and Charles Sturt University) several of which supported the attendance of students. We were also joined by Jim, Tim OwensAlan Levine, Audrey Watters, Kin LaneBen Werdmüllerand Erin Richey.

Alan has already done a great job giving a detailed account of the happenings of the event and I highly recommend folks read that as a primer to some of my thoughts. As I wrote this, I decided to break it up into three posts to make it slightly more digest-able. So consider this a small recap series. It’s hard for me to even attempt to put words to a lot of the thoughts currently swirling in my head, but I have vowed to myself to take a shot in my continually evolving reflection.

The recap will be loosely structured around the three goals Kristen and I set for the gathering:

  1. Continue to define Indie EdTech
  2. Participation in a Personal API Design Sprint to include students from our universities
  3. Build a conversation around the future as well as a funding mechanism for Indie EdTech.

Framing Indie EdTech

Much of the current thinking for Indie has revolved around Audrey Watters and Kin Lane’s who were deeply influencial in concepts like “reclaim your domain” and Reclaim Hosting via a 2013 MIT Conference nicknamed “Reclaim Open” (longer saga here) as well as Jim and my poor attempt to always relate life back to music (#4life). So we first convinced Audrey to come up with her own music analogies. ::grin:: Since Jim brought punk to the table and I took aims at the 2000 Napster narrative, Audrey filled in the gaps with 80s hair metal and Justin Bieber (if someone is willing to commit to talking through hip hop and grunge we should be able to piece together a fully loose historical narrative!).

Where Jim and I focused on how Indie as a somewhat step to freedom in the life cycle of music, Audrey took a critical approach to where technology has sought to perfect commercial music:

Researchers boast they’ve developed an algorithm to predict the probability of whether or not a song would be a top 10 hit – this algorithm did accurately predict the probability of the songs that eventually made the top 10 Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs of 2015. This particular algorithm takes into account things like song length, tempo, key, and “danceability” – whatever the hell that means.

Audrey does an excellent job of tying these promises of predictions to the predictive modeling tools education technology is selling us now.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

But there’s good news. There’s an alternative.

Indie means we don’t need millions of dollars, but it does mean we need community. We need a space to be unpredictable, for knowledge to be emergent not algorithmically fed to us. We need intellectual curiosity and serendipity – we need it from scholars and from students.

We moved into a working session with Kin Lane. My expectations here were that we were going to be working with APIs. Kin, has Kin nearly always does, one-upped my expectation by following up with a web resource all about APIs including an incredibly thorough look at APIs from Canvas, Slack, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google, and more.

I love how Kin packaged and planned this. Rather than saying we are going to use this and that API, he basically said, (not a real quote) “You are your own person with a complex set of technology needs, desires, and use cases. Here’s a library that I’ve validated that they may be relevant to your day-to-day life.”

Yep, that’s indie. Once again, Audrey and Kin are framing Indie EdTech. One part ideological and one part practical. Let’s get started.

Cover photo: By Gemma Garner available via the CC0 license on Unsplash.