New York City is home
to thousands of teachers, dozens of edtech start-ups and a handful of graduate
education programs. Yet, in spite of their common interests, the groups don't always
communicate. Now one organization, based at Columbia University's Teachers
College, is kick-starting a dialogue.
Called EdLab, the organization is Teachers College's
technology research unit. Founded in 2004 to develop software tools for
Teachers College faculty and students, EdLab has lately been expanding beyond
Columbia to play a more public role in New York's edtech community.
EdLab's new role was
clear Tuesday night as the organization hosted its first start-up Demo Night.
About 100 people trekked uptown to Columbia's campus to hear three local edtech
start-ups (Amphetomobile, BiblioNasium
and Late Nite Labs) discuss their products and answer questions. The mix of faculty, students, teachers
and entrepreneurs represented a more diverse crowd than the business types who
typically attend New York edtech Meetups and networking events.
EdLab plans to host
Demo Nights quarterly. "We want to help promote things and spread the
word," explains Hui Soo Chae, EdLab's director of development and
research. "Someone has to get the accelerators, incubators and VCs working
together to support and develop the edtech space."
Adam Aronson, who helps lead the NY EdTech Meetup agrees. Aronson's Meetup boasts 1,220
members but he still sees a need for an organization like EdLab. "EdLab's tie to the university
brings out a lot of folks who otherwise might not get involved," he notes.
"These intersections between the edtech and Columbia communities could be
Outside of events,
EdLab is connecting these communities through its products and services. Though
it initially only created tools for Teachers College, EdLab has opened up many
of its recent products. Currently, anyone can access:
New Learning Times: EdLab's education news site. Written by EdLab
staffers, NLT soft-launched in September and will officially launch in January
Research Broker: an online tool that matches academic
researchers with corporate research projects and jobs;
an online platform that both designs surveys and coaches users on the most
effective ways to write them. Currently in beta, Survey Sidekick is expected
to fully launch in the coming weeks;
video-hosting site that facilitates group discussions via time-synched comments
and quick polls and surveys.
Some of the online
curricula EdLab designs on a consulting basis for external organizations are
freely available, as well:
an arts study guide designed for HBO and the National YoungArts Foundation;
Understanding Fiscal Responsibility: a curriculum about the federal budget, national debt and budget deficit
commissioned by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
EdLab still develops
products to Teachers College specifications but now takes a longer view. "We
want to support
both the College and the broader educational landscape," says Chae.
To stimulate New
York's edtech community, EdLab is considering establishing an edtech
accelerator that would be an East Coast response to California's Imagine K12. First, however, EdLab has to figure out how to
bankroll big projects while supporting its 40 full and part-time employees. In
contrast to, say, MIT's Media Lab, which is an accredited
program, EdLab is considered part of the Teachers College library department
and operates on a smaller budget. "We're still building up an audience but
these projects do need to be self-sustaining," admits EdLab's Chief
Strategy Officer Michelle Lee. "Monetization is on the roadmap." Options
include spinning off popular services and inserting ads into EdLab sites.
Also planned for
2013: new products such as a social learning platform, outreach events and more
alliances with educational publishers and start-ups. "We're branching
out," says Lee. "We realized there are a lot of relationships we can
Start-ups seem to
value EdLab's hybrid nature. "Coming here is an opportunity to talk to
teachers and people who want to be teachers," says Ovi Jacobs, chief
operating officer of New York-based Late Nite Labs. "And teacher feedback
is so much more valuable to us than other kinds of feedback."
Elizabeth Woyke is a technology and business reporter. She has a strong
interest in edtech and the New York tech community. In addition to
EdSurge, she writes for Fast Company, Inc. and Money. Be sure to check out her
EdSurge exclusive on New York's iZone360 initiative.