Going from education, both as a student and a teacher, directly into the education technology space has been eye-opening. I work in an entrepreneurial incubator in the heart of Silicon Valley, surrounded by unbelievable technologists from the hottest tech startups in San Francisco. Out of the 20-plus companies launching amazing products, the one for which I work is the only one completely vested in education.
Techies do care about education. I would like to believe that at the core, everyone does. Bill Gates and George Lucas have been harbingers in initiating collaborations among educators, technologists and the media. Education news and updates often make their way into Hacker News, a forum for up-voting the latest start-up and tech news, demonstrating a general interest among the world of developers and entrepreneurs in education, but as Rafael Corrales notes, "the same exact content from 2-3 months ago reappears and gets pushed up to the front of the Hacker News community (and other online tech communities)."
Perhaps tech communities are becoming increasingly aware of the possibilities or happenings in the ed space, but what is lacking is a real drive among developers to change the status quo of education. Sifting through a few ed tech articles shows that technologists care a bit, but it does not mean they will apply themselves toward creating amazing products for schools.
Among educators and pundits, there seems to be a general sentiment that educational innovations should stem primarily from the education world. Here's one example from a recent tweet via @bryanwb:
"@learnboost looks like a neat tool, only thing worrying is that only person w/ edu experience at bottom of list of exec bios."
As much as ed tech should be a collaboration between educators and technologists to shape new solutions that best meet schools' needs, technology -- yes, even educational technology -- is driven by developers, not teachers. As the one person in the exec bio list with educational experience, I am eternally grateful that the programmers constructing our gradebook are genius computer gurus.
One of the fundamental issues that I have noticed when tech efforts come from ed-specific initiatives (as opposed to ed solutions coming from high-powered tech companies) is that people with little experience with tech see "Technology" as a panacea to problems in education. They aptly notice students engaging in virtual social networks outside of the classroom and jump on the idea of bringing it into the classroom. I have had professors that set up clunky chat room sessions when an in-class discussion would have benefited everyone involved tenfold -- all because they were trying to prove their savviness. To me, the tech solutions in academia resound very much like one's parents saying they are "jive with all the hip computer apps," trying hard, and even if completely appropriate, still awkward.
If there is any money in education right now, it's in ed tech. Government subsidized grants and privately funded awards for innovation outshine funding for individual academic and social projects. This may be because a thriving nonprofit academic support network already exists, whereas big donors notice a disconnect between technological advancements at large and those in education. In other words, it's easier to give large sums if there are relatively few innovators in a market. Especially when huge amounts of money are being allocated for forward-thinking ed tech products, we must keep in mind the basic law of comparative advantage: we want superb technologists working on technology (in education). We do not want education playing catchup with tech industry leaders, making shoddy replicas of influential, seemingly flawless tech.
As we move forward, the question to ask ourselves should not be "how many education companies are innovating on technology?" but rather "how many technology companies are innovating in education?" Only when framed appropriately can we begin to brainstorm ways to draw more innovators into the educational world.
Follow Meredith Ely on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@meremagee