06/07/2012 11:26 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2012

Where Is Experience in a K-12 Education System That Uses Data?

Is school meaningful anymore? I probably shouldn't talk in absolutes, but every once in a while, I think about a great, fantastic shift that has happened in societies that are tapped into the digital age and the recent big data innovation brought on by the web.

School was created to be and continues to be a confined moment of time -- it's an assembly line that works to specific standards and stamps students into categories based on teachers' ability to impress these upon students, and based on students' ability to represent that well to the world, or at least to a test.

My friend Jackie Simmons, a prof at Columbia University's Teacher's College, has been visiting the Bay Area this week and taking in the entrepreneur sights. We hung out at Launch Silicon Valley yesterday, and interviewed some startups, including an education startup called Noodle, which helps communities make smarter choices about learning for learners.

This provoked a discussion between us about how hard it is to marry students, teachers, and parents with ed tech entrepreneurs.

Data Dive

Data is both the solution and the problem in any market in which it is being used to craft solutions. Education is no different. Data is a great platform for building solutions, but in the end you need something else. You need a space.

Jackie talks about experience, and the desire to learn, as being the actual foundation for education success and innovation probabilities within the education ecosystem. That's something that always comes up. Where is the user experience in data? Parents and students have tremendous amounts of information in their heads about what works in the community, what works at school, how to find good schools, and how to interact with and acknowledging great teachers.

We were talking about this. She said, "It's inconceivable to me that, at the first stages, entrepreneurs can ignore the most essential part of the market, which is students, teachers, parents."

In Defense of Entrepreneurs

Spaces are being created. I think that in any disruptive market, these things take time, and it's absolutely true that, even if some entrepreneurs come first from teaching or education as a background, the real innovation, or the new space, will come from outside the existing framework. In this case, if school is where education happens now, the real, new, education, will not come from inside school.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Startup Weekend Education launched their first initiative to marry education data from K-12 with the creativity and innovative thinking of developers and designers. These mashups of boiler room intensity and startup thinking are run by a non-profit group, but Microsoft hosts some of them, because it is at these events you can have real conversations with real developers and hackers. It's a seedbed of real thinking, and improvisational methods to tune the disruption machine.

Ashish Jaiman, one of the Microsoft Developer Evangelists on the East Coast, was at the event. His big thing was social value.

The educational datasets are primed for the creation of innovative software applications that can provide unique social value proposition for the developer and educational community to consider, access and use. The released datasets carefully guard student privacy and no data on an individual is released.

Teachers normally stay outside of the circles where this innovation for a few reasons, most of which are practical issues:

  • They don't know they exist
  • The events are not connected to the day to day standards and accountability and it's really challenging to prioritize really important activities if they don't relate to specific outcome
  • Their job is always on the line

But one of the winners was made out of a team of elementary school teachers, which made their win very exciting.

The winning team "pigeon" is, in fact, a team of elementary school teachers wanting to solve a real problem of parent teacher communication, hence making sure that the message to build the next generation is not lost in translation.

The winners looked like this:

First Prize - Pigeon - solution that allows teachers to better communicate with non-english-speaking parents

Second Prize - GoalTracker -- Measurable results and resources for teachers and parents to help increase achievements.

Third Prize - HelpNathan --matching students in classroom with seating charts, peer teching based on their strengths and weaknesses

Best use of VDOE data - Edunomics -- Mashup of education data and visualization, actionable insights

And here's the whole list of companies that pitched, minus the ones that won. You should go to Ashish's blog to see his commentary on each of these companies.

What do you notice is missing? Mobile seems to be geared towards resources, tools, and helping resolve situations.

What about these other companies? Is it just harder to make it realy about content and collaboration, and the questions of pedagogy and content:

K12 Budget - providing budget tools for schools, districts and superintended. Efficiency, compliance analytics for schools budget allocation. - BYOT - Bring your own teacher - tools for teachers to create interactive experiences and adaptive instructions with in the e-text books.

MyStuDebt - Web platform to manage student loan, plan and repay.

VeritaStudy - personal learning community - ebay for education - online instruction portal/market place for students, parents and teachers.

Quume - Accumulate IQ - market place for professional development and continuing education

Pigeon - send student/teacher messages on any delivery vehicle and any language, removes the lost in translation problem with in teachers and student/parent communication (1)

PeerPower - empower parent and students on how they stack among others

WishBooks - connecting the companies that give/donate to schools with parents and schools to measure impact on their gives and foster local business / school/parent collaboration.

Animatron - virtual world for education, avatars etc for educators and students to foster learning via gamification. - with connecting classrooms and professionals in the community

It seems that the winners were personal learning tools that use mobile well and/or deliver instant solutions to classroom management and logistics in the relationship between budget and classroom or teachers and parents.

It reminds me of what Jackie was saying. It's very difficult to take the consistently traditional format of school and pair that or enmesh that into mobile, or into data solutions. Teaching and learning is about group collaboration and methods. "We need to create spaces to get people to talk. That's how all communities develop. It doesn't have to be a literal, physical space, it can be space, perhaps more virtual," she says.

I don't think any of these choices were wrong, at all. I think that there is more to be discussed. Is learning turning towards the individual, on-demand, and away from collaboration? Are teachers being left out of this space?

How would you bring more of what teachers know about technology and education into the space where this hacking and building is taking place?