Today President Obama unveiled a new government initiative called ConnectED, which will give 99% of students in the U.S. access to high-speed broadband and wireless internet by 2018. American schools currently lag behind many developed nations, such as South Korea, which has high-speed internet installed in all of its schools.
ConnectED will help fill a critical gap between the hundreds of new technologies entrepreneurs are building each year for classroom use and the ease of implementation of those technologies, since many ed tech tools require wireless access.
In order to implement ConnectED, President Obama is asking the FCC to overhaul its outdated E-Rate program, which currently provides discounts on internet services to schools and libraries. The basic threshold for digital learning, 100 megabytes per second, is 10 to 100 times faster than what most schools have today. It remains unclear how much ConnectED will cost and who will finance it.
Administration officials called ConnectED “transformative,” hoping that a fully connected classroom will not only prepare students for the modern-day job market, but will also spur innovation and production in the private sector, where President Obama is calling for the development of new education software.
In addition to improving internet access in American schools, ConnectED will also train teachers to use education technology tools to improve student learning. If done correctly, this will alleviate another headache for ed tech entrepreneurs — teacher training. Ultimately, the implementation of nearly universal internet access across U.S. classrooms is likely to improve learning as well as support the growth of the ed tech sector.
Last night, the LearnLaunch team headed down to Providence to the last EdTechRI event of the school year. Led by Shawn Rubin, co-founder of the mobile assessment app Metryx, the organization brings together educators and entrepreneurs from Rhode Island and beyond to discuss new ed tech tools and learn from one another.
Throughout the night, audience members were polled on various ed tech related topics, most of which had to do with the use of ed tech tools in the classroom. Here are some highlights:
41% of those polled said “We’re making do with what we have but we need more” in regards to their school’s hardware situation.
35% of those polled said they’re most likely to use ed tech tools in all subject areas. The second highest subject area was science at 17%.
This month’s event featured a shark tank style pitch session featuring 9 companies. About half of the companies are taking part in the NYC-based accelerator program Socratic Labs. The other half were selected by EdTechRI. Each company pitched for 5 minutes, followed by Q&A from the audience.
Our three favorite companies were:
Teachley creates iPad apps for elementary school students based on cognitive research. Founded by 3 PhDs, Teachley is currently focused on building math apps that incorporate visual learning strategies into games that will be available in the app store soon. Their first app, which is still in development, is focused on counting and addition. They were also recently awarded a 2-year grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (part of the US Dept of Ed) to develop more research-based math apps.
NuSkool develops curriculum around current events and pop culture that allows teachers to incorporate content that kids can relate to into their lesson plans. Content can include articles, videos, and other multimedia to help students gain understanding of an issue or an event from different perspectives.
3. PenPal News
PenPal News connects classrooms of students from different parts of the U.S. (and sometimes world) to communicate with each other by writing about current events. Students are paired up and read articles together and then express their opinions on the issues covered in the articles by answering a series of questions. Right now, the platform is only available for English speaking students, but they hope to expand to other languages soon.
Other companies that pitched included:
BookLeveler: helps teachers deal with different reading levels among students
EdTrips: helps teachers plan class trips more effectively (Boston based)
Parlor: tool to help students develop critical reading skills
Sharewith911: app that lets teachers communicate with 911 in an emergency
STEM 2.0: platform that helps make STEM subjects more interactive
We were pleasantly surprised to see so many companies focusing on early education. Also, most of the companies wanted to keep their content free for teachers and charge content providers or other 3rd parties.
It was great to see such a vibrant and welcoming ed tech community in Providence. We hope to attend more EdTechRI events in the future!
I recently asked a 20-something who’s running a startup a probing question and he answered, “Oh, that’s the $64,000 question.” Then he pondered, “Where did that expression come from? $64,000 won’t do me very much good.” (A: A game show in the 1950′s; prior to that a phrase meaning a difficult question.) While probably none of us would balk at getting a $64,000 check, in this day of five dollar lattes and 100 million dollar lotteries, mere thousands seem like chump change. Even small ideas need BIG money to reach the market. While Kickstarter is a great place to start, it often takes more than “generous donations” to succeed. So where do you go to get funds? What must you absolutely—or absolutely not—do?
At last month’s Sandbox Summit, we held a session for companies to pitch new ideas to angel investors. It was co-sponsored by LearnLaunch, a non-profit organization that helps mentor innovative education technology companies in New England through classes, peer group learning, conferences, networking, and more. The pitches were moderated by Jean Hammond, a serialentrepreneur with over 20 years experience in the high-tech industry, an active angel investor herself, and the co-founder of LearnLaunchX, an accelerator program for ed tech startups.
One of the things both pitchers and viewers realized is that a concise, as well as compelling, message is key. Attention spans are short. Competition is high. Hammond sees pitching for funds as an opportunity to start a conversation. She says that the goal is to make sure that the person being pitched is not only intrigued, but understands the product, the market, the people involved, and the stage of your product. All, in under 5 minutes. In other words, do your homework and target your message to your present audience. Unlike the quick deal-makers on Shark Tank, engaged investors will want to learn a lot more about you and your product before making a commitment.
Be realistic about your timing. Many startups take over a year to get a product made and entry trials done. Two to five years of growth is not uncommon. For most high-growth startups, the trick is to find the right advisors to get the product going. Once you’ve got traction, Hammond believes that institutional VCs (who invest about $25B annually) or angel investors (who add about $22B more) could be a perfect fit.
An advisory board serves different purposes at different stages. Early on, Hammond recommends finding people to help you figure out a marketing strategy, those who can help complete the product, or experts who can help find complementary team members. As your product develops, you may need to assemble more high profile advisors who can open key doors, be impressive to investors, and, of course, be useful for the business.
For more pitching tips or to learn more about the LearnLaunch accelerator program, visit the LearnLaunch website.
SXSWedu is quickly becoming one of the education technology industry’s premier events. Now in its 3rd year, nearly 5,000 people nationwide descended upon Austin last week for four days of networking, to hear Bill Gates, and of course, to eat some BBQ! Several ed tech companies unveiled new products at the event, including Amplify, which launched its proprietary K-12 tablet for classrooms.
There were three themes that seemed to be woven throughout a packed schedule of panel discussions, keynote speakers, and ample opportunities to meet new people from across the nation.
Those themes include:
The Transition to Digital (and Its Divide)
The question has not only become how do publishers and other content providers bring U.S. schools into the digital age, but also how do they ensure that all students have access to this new influx of technology into schools?
There are many startups working on solving these issues, including Clever (winner of the LAUNCHedu K-12 competition) and LearnSprout, which are helping schools integrate all their software with open APIs. Jeff Livingston, SVP of McGraw-Hill Education Group, advocates for closing the digital divide among schools so that all students will have equal access to new technologies.
Data-Driven Decision Making (and what to do with all that data)
Pretty much every ed tech startup is integrating analytics into its platform. Schools, parents, and students are all demanding to see their progress in terms of numbers, yet in the rush to digitize everything, student data is the next frontier that hasn’t quite been conquered yet.
LearnMetrics is a NYC-based startup that offers real-time analytics to educators and is trying to bridge the gap between collecting data and turning it into something meaningful that can help students progress beyond the numbers. Richard Culatta, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology, said, “Teachers didn’t sign up to be data analysts. They want to be teachers. Help them navigate the data.”
MOOCs (aka how to educate the masses)
Despite the fact that online learning has been around for decades, massive open online courses (or MOOCs) have steadily gained in popularity over the past few months as the price of college has continued to soar. The jury is still out though on whether offering free online courses from mostly Ivy league universities to the public really does anything beyond increase access. Anant Agarwal from edX believes that MOOCs offer more benefits than traditional classrooms since they provide a more level playing field for all students. Andrew Ng from Coursera just wants the student to win – a noble idea for a for-profit.
Neither Agarwal nor Ng thought MOOCs were hurting universities – instead both saw MOOCs as a way to improve the current system by pushing for excellence. Andrew Ng stated that, “We all need to get booster shots of learning to stay relevant.” As the badge movement begins to take off and employers slowly start to look beyond resumes when hiring, this is a particularly good time for MOOCs to be blossoming, especially since they plan to offer accreditation down the road.
A few things were missing or lacked a strong presence at the conference. These include:
panels on what technologies teachers currently use and love
how personalized learning will really be utilized in the classroom
the specifics of how schools, educators, students, and parents are going to leverage new technologies to not only learn something new, but also demonstrate tangible progress
data security and how schools will be held accountable for the management and dissemination of student data in the future
Overall, the conference provided attendees with a broad overview of many of the hot topics in education technology, as well as the opportunity to meet like-minded leaders who are passionate about improving education.
ConnectEDU’s mission is to connect the world’s learners to life’s possibilities through clear education-to-career pathways. To accomplish our end goal, we are committed to expanding the education innovation ecosystem. That’s why we are thrilled about sponsoring the LearnLaunch conference and being a partner in the long-term growth of New England’s education technology scene.
Our solutions serve more than 20 million registered learners, 5,000 educational institutions, and 130,000 employers throughout 40 countries. Our robust network has taught us that collaborative technology coupled with a stable deployment infrastructure is the key to creating positive change among large groups of learners and educators.
We are here because we believe our mission matters. Why? Because preparing and transitioning 21st century learners on their pathways from school to college to career, helping them realize their potential, achieve a secure financial future, and ultimately connect to life’s possibilities matters. If we don’t fix the current system, the next generation will be robbed of these fundamental rights.Technological advances, and thus low-cost distribution, are at the core of solving the existing skills gap in our country and across the globe.
Industry, finance, and healthcare all experienced waves of scalable digitization over the last 30 years that brought efficiency and transparency to once opaque sectors. And yet rationalized investment in education technology remains nascent. The coordinated technology enablement of global education through groups like LearnLaunch can be the differentiator that allows free and open access to education and concurrently, opportunities.
Beyond the direct impact on learners and their stakeholders through ConnectEDU solutions, we believe we can impact learning by providing support for the creation and growth of other education technology and learning companies. Our partnership with the growing LearnLaunch community enables a strong distribution network for education solutions that may otherwise lack market access. We are focused on being an enabler for the learner, for the partner, and for the education innovation community.
ConnectEDU already partners with organizations large and small, from IBM and the New York Times to Socrative and MERLOT. We want to be the partner of choice for other education technology companies (content, service, or technology focused), all with the goal of creating a more complete solution for learners. Broader partner offerings in platforms like ConnectEDU provide the learner with meaningful access to new educational content, contextualized knowledge, and opportunities.
LearnLaunch is bringing together the most innovative education technology companies, creative
practitioners and accommodating service providers. We’re excited to partner with LearnLaunch to plant a
flag in Boston and Greater New England around the education innovation community.
Kemper Pierce is a Manager of Corporate Development at ConnectEDU. He focuses on acquisitions,
partnerships and growth strategy.
I manage a forum called Parents with Apps (PWA), which helps family-friendly app developers share and learn how to overcome the technical, marketing, and legal challenges of building a successful app company.
App developers are often confused about the legal requirements, which continue to evolve as technology and the political landscape change. However, apps aimed at children under 13 require special considerations.
In the U.S., some of these legal requirements have become more complicated since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its final rule amendments in the Federal Register, updating the FTC regulations that implement the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). I’m not a lawyer, but as an app developer, I wanted to introduce some of the ideas and provide my take on some commonly asked questions.
What we have seen after numerous trips to DC to meet with government officials is that currently no legal issue affects developers of children’s apps more directly than COPPA.
What is COPPA?
COPPA is intended to protect children and provide parents with the ability to control their childrens’ personal information. It requires verifiable parental consent prior to the online collection of any personal information from children under the age of 13. The original rules first implemented in 1999 primarily targeted websites. The FTC changes address both mobile technology and changing web standards.
FTC Rule Changes The impact of the changes on small developers can look complex. If you don’t follow the FTC guidelines, you risk steep penalties that most small app developers cannot afford. Some of the most significant rule changes that affect developers include:
Allow persistent identifiers without parental consent if they are limited to internal operations that include contextual ads, frequency capping, anti-fraud measures, compliance efforts, and authenticating users or personalizing content, or other “internal” operations specifically approved by the FTC
Require parental consent to include persistent identifiers used for behavioral advertising and other tracking across web sites and services
Require reasonable steps to ensure a child’s personal information is released only to third parties capable of maintaining its confidentiality, security, and integrity
Streamline notice requirements to ensure information about data collection and use is presented to parents
Treat a child’s geolocation information, photos, videos and voice as personal information
One of the areas that is most confusing is parental consent. It is important to separate consent from privacy notification. You should always disclose how you use all information you collect. Parental consent is only necessary under certain circumstances. Once the latest changes go into effect in July, the FTC will accept the following as valid forms of parental consent:
A consent form signed by a parent and returned by postal mail or fax
A toll-free number parents call to answer consent questions
A digital certificate using public key technology
E-mail accompanied by a PIN or password
“Email plus,” when personal information is collected from children for internal purposes only. This is an email address plus one other piece of information, such as an address or telephone number.
Electronic scans of signed consent forms
Collection of parents’ government-issued IDs (Information must immediately be deleted upon parental verification.)
Parental monetary transactions, such as use of a credit card, debit card, or other online payment system that provides notice of each transaction to the account holder
When do I need to collect parental consent?
While there are some exceptions, any time you want to collect personally identifiable information from a child, you will need parental consent.
Can I communicate with the child via email or newsletter?
Communicating with a child via email would require you to receive prior parental consent. In general, I think it would be better to send information to a parent’s email address instead of to the child.
Can I host chats in my app that allow kids to talk to one another?
There are many people who would like to create collaborative or interactive apps that allow children to communicate with each other within an app. In these cases, you would need to avoid displaying any personal information if you don’t have prior parental consent. Usernames can act as real names in terms of identifiable information, so you would not want these to be sent in a chat. Also, you would most likely need to provide children with pre-defined phrases to send instead of allowing typing. This is sometimes referred to as “Dictionary Chat”.
As a parent, the second part makes sense to me even if you could get around it legally. Allowing typing in apps geared toward children under the age of 13 would open your app up to possible abuse by child predators and other types of criminal behavior, such as phishing or identify theft. If you have an app for children under the age of 13 and feel they must be able to type to each other, then parental consent should occur first. Just be prepared for possible complaints of bad language or worse. There are plenty of horror stories on Facebook as an example of theft, fraud, etc., and the site requires users to be at least 13.
What do I need to do with an email address if I know it’s from a child?
Delete it. As far as I know, unless you have prior parental consent, you cannot use it and should not collect it or distribute it.
Where do I go from here?
You can see that there are a lot more questions to be answered, and hopefully we can continue this discussion through ongoing dialogue with organizations like LearnLaunch, PWA, and ACT. There are many of us working to make these challenges manageable because we want to see your innovative and creative solutions for children become outstanding successes.
In fact, ACT has launched a community-based initiative called ACT4Apps, which was designed to tackle these issues for the development community. We are currently setting up working groups to disseminate best practices in the area of children’s privacy and hope to have more answers for you soon. The new FTC rules go into effect in July, so look for more announcements in the near future from us.
In the meantime, if you have questions on this or related topic, let us know in the Comments section below.
Scott Weiner is a partner in Blue Hills Partners and CTO of Blue River Associates consulting group and BrokerSuite, LLC. He also builds family-friendly apps with his children as owner of Weiner Family Studios and volunteers for various communities dedicated to children’s education and improving the technology and marketplace for app developers.
LearnLaunch co-founders Eileen Rudden, Marissa Lowman, and Jean Hammond
Although many people may not know it, New England is becoming a hub for education technology startups. There are currently over 150 ed tech startups in the region, and more are sprouting up every day. Below we have highlighted two early stage ed tech startups that have benefited from the close-knit ed tech community in Boston.
Beth Marcus, founder of Playrific, was a member of Kids Club, a peer learning group for startups that market to families, which was founded by Jean Hammond and has since merged into LearnLaunch. Matthew Harris, co-founder of College Miner, has been involved in EdTechup since its launch in March 2011 and has attended 11 EdTechups, more than any other person so far! EdTechup was founded by Marissa Lowman and has also merged into LearnLaunch.
Playrific is the only commercially available product that makes it simple to provide pre-school and elementary-school aged children with digital content that reflects their likes and interests. The free Playrific app can be accessed from any web-enabled device – the company also offers an iOS app via the App Store and expects to release its Android app to the public soon.
Ed Tech Insights From Beth Marcus:
Among other things, LearnLaunch is an idea exchange and forum that aggregates the real world expertise and feedback of peers, investors, mentors and potential users to fine-tune strategies and manage misdirection, especially in the critical early stages.
At Playrific, we’ve really been able to leverage the connections we’ve made to help our company grow. As part of our iOS launch, we were able to market our iOS app through Moms with Apps, an organization we met by attending a LearnLaunch event, and got almost 2,000 downloads in just one day. Resources like this are invaluable to start-ups, and that connection wouldn’t have happened without LearnLaunch.
I’ve also been able to reach out and work with user communities, other CEOs, and experts via the LearnLaunch ecosystem to evaluate key factors, such as pricing models. In this way, LearnLaunch is like putting critical feedback loops on steroids.
Until now, bits and pieces have been accessible, but LearnLaunch really brings learning and ed tech talent pools and critical players together in one place and helps accelerate and de-risk an entrepreneur’s early growth stages.
College Miner provides data analytics platforms to help students and professionals make better career decisions.
Ed Tech Insights From Matthew Harris
LearnLaunch and EdTechup were instrumental in College Miner’s formation. I actually attended the first EdTechup and have been to just about every one since. I’ve connected with a wide and constantly changing variety of K-12 teachers, administrators, professors, entrepreneurs, and other key resources who have helped test and hone product strategies and targets.
After demoing a student outcome analytics platform at an EdTechup demo night, an administrator at a leading public university invited me to speak on a panel for innovation and e-learning, and things really accelerated from there. Through connections made at EdTechup and now LearnLaunch, we have tested and refined our primary targets and ultimately shifted our focus to delivering analysis that clarifies tough choices and real world problems.
Today, we’re developing and delivering solutions that can give students and professionals new insight into their best potential career goals, college choices and employment paths. Our focus is on taming big data to tangibly improve life choices at a time when students and their parents typically have great hopes, but relatively sparse information that is directly applicable.
A chance meeting with an instructional designer at an EdTechup led to an introduction to a program administrator at the Venture Development Center at UMass Boston. I was later invited to participate in the incubator, which in turn has led to a lot of interest from big data, education and career-based industry leaders.
LearnLaunch resources and contacts are likely to be just as important – if not more so – in our next growth stages.