In the 2 ½ years that we’ve been publishing EdSurge, the team has never been so awestruck and humbled as we were this past Saturday, November 2 at the EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit, held in Mountain View, Calif. Here are a few memorable numbers:
+600: the number of educators--teachers, administrators, CTOs, tech administrators and yes, even a few school board members who devoted their Saturday to attending the EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit.
+1,500: the number of commentaries those teachers created on the edtech tools and vendors at our summit. This included: more than 900 “quick” surveys, more than 500 more qualitative surveys and 50 or so indepth reports.
33: the companies and gold sponsors represented at the event
20: the number of marvelous EdSurgents on hand who helped make the event run as smooth as silk! Like top knotch roadies everywhere, they helped “make” the show;
17: The number of great giveaways that we raffled off: Chromebooks, Surfaces, iPad Minis and year-long subscriptions to Lynda.com;
?: the number of weeks before our next Summit!
Mostly we were gratified that everyone--educators, entrepreneurs and everyone else--took us at our word: the conference was about dialogue. And did we ever!
The EdSurge team will spend the next week or so pulling together the feedback we received. And then what?
Stay tuned as we start to weave this treasure trove of comments and thoughts onto our site.
And one more thing: We’ve loved all the comments and emails we’ve already received from conference goers about what they liked and how we can make this event work even better in the future. (If you were part of the Saturday festivities, expect to see a quick email from us shortly!) In the meantime, if you have suggestions--or even ideas about where we should take this program next year--drop us a line!
For now, we’d like to share a few impressions from the show and some aggregated stats from our “lightning” surveys:
We made it clear in our messaging to companies that this was a no-nonsense event. Leave your marketing knickknacks and verbose pitches at home. That message resounded with many entrepreneurs. Nearly 90 startups from our Silicon Valley backyard, across the country (New York) and across the Pacific (New Zealand) applied to participate. (Another round of applause for our educator judges who diligently vetted all of them!) Thirty companies, in addition to our gold sponsors, CK12 Foundation, Amplify and Google, were on hand to share their work.
Learning goes both ways, and selected entrepreneurs enjoyed not only the opportunity to share their tools to new audiences, but also a steady stream of reality checks on their assumptions about classroom problems and their product fit. Some 600 educators from across the Bay Area submitted over 1,500 product review surveys. Where else can you get this much feedback on a sunny Saturday?
“Educators were extremely engaged and genuinely interested in providing honest and insightful feedback,” said Jill Nyhus, VP of Business Development at Insight Education Group. “The feedback we received and the conversations we engaged in were better than any other conference or trade show exhibit hall than we've attended in the last couple of years.”
For Motion Math co-founder, Jacob Klein, the “overall feeling of respect, community, and optimism” made this the “best edtech event I’ve been to in three years of working in this industry.” Alex Selkirk, co-founder of Ponder, added that “the get-your-hands-dirty pragmatism I fell in love with when I first arrived in the [Silicon] Valley was out in full force” at the Summit.
At the start of the day, the EdSurge team made that clear by highlighting Summit’s four central themes: Play, Listen, Explore, Share.
“Play” carried a sense of experimenting with products (without inhibition!) throughout the event. The EdSurgents encouraged teachers to tinker with products and observe demos like a kid in a candy story.
“Listen” suggested the importance of educators engaging in honest feedback discussions not only with the entrepreneurs, but also with the other educators present. And honest feedback and collaboration did indeed happen. “I have been teaching for 24 years and it was the first conference I have gone to that I really felt the spirit of collaboration between the companies and the teachers,” declared teacher Eileen Craviotto, who works with Peabody Charter School in Santa Barbara and drove up just for the event.
When “Explore” was introduced, EdSurge stressed moving beyond one’s subject, grade level, and comfort zone--to find new and interested products that might’ve not been initially attractive.
And finally, “Share,” the most vital of the day’s themes. The goal was not only to share feedback with the entrepreneurs, but also with the EdSurge team. The team, in turn, would disseminate it out to the public and ensure that educators across the country had access to open and detailed product reviews.
Along with bridging the communication gap between educators and entrepreneurs, EdSurge wanted to highlight the feedback from another key constituency, the group that we’re all working on behalf of: students. After all, they often use these tools just as much as teachers--and are quick to tell you when technology is working--or going horribly awry.
We invited a half dozen students from The San Francisco School, the MOUSE Squad at Crittenden Middle School and Lynbrook High School’s Virtual Vikings--future architects, scientists and doctors--to share their thoughts on edtech.
The youngest ones tended to say the darndest things. Justin Forde, a fourth grader at The San Francisco School, declared that he “want[s] to be an architect because a lot of things in this world are not designed very well” while showing off his impressive Minecraft maps. His schoolmate, Jayvyn Morthel, was even more blunt: “I had a teacher who knew nothing about the Internet and it was horrible!”
From start to finish, teacher voice was front and center. Teachers shared valuable pearls of wisdom all day long like: “Great product, but it needs to be multi-modal. It won’t work for my ELL’s” or “I wish they made this for K-5, this would work much better with a younger audience.”
Kickstarting and capturing this wisdom was simple--the old fashioned survey. While in most instances surveys can be the sort of thing one dodges or ignores, at the Summit we used them as a tool to empower teachers to share what they really thought about the edtech products.
And share they did. Teachers spent most of the day furiously filling out surveys on their cell phones, iPads, and at the computers surrounding EdSurge “Island.”
We gave teachers choices, making it flexible and easy for them to share their thoughts. They could opt for a lightning round of feedback--a one-minute rating of whether they would use the product, recommend the product, and estimate how engaging it would be for their classroom. Or, they could take a load off, sit for a few minutes, and take a deep dive to assess the products strengths and weaknesses.
We captured over 1,500 surveys filled with teacher’s thoughts, expertise, and insights on each product. By the end of the day, the surveys weren’t really surveys at all. These surveys became instigators, giving the educators the authority and opportunity to ask questions, play with products, and command the edtech conversation.
At the main EdSurge booth (or “island”), teachers plunged into the “deep dive” survey, eager to share their insights and experiences of trying out the various products. With hardly ever an empty seat at our island of Chromebooks, some even resorted to whipping out their laptops and tablets to type in the URL and engage in feedback-giving.
While the tickets for the prize drawings lured teachers back to give feedback consistently throughout the day, the most powerful result of all was that educators appreciated being validated for their expertise.
“This is so cool to be able to talk to companies about what I want to see next, “ and “When will you do this again?” were comments we heard over and over at the EdSurge booth. At times, the island seemed more casino than survey spot, as educators grabbed their tickets, promising to return after visits with more vendors.
A day on EdSurge Island affirms that educators, when given the respect and opportunity, will show up with their teacher voices in full volume.
A tweet from the NewSchools Seed Fund captured the energy of the event: “I can’t believe how far this edtech movement has come in just two years—the excitement is real, palpable and educator-driven.” Similarly, educator Craig Yen expressed a sentiment shared by many other educators: “I want it all! Playyyyyyyy, Listen, Explore, Share--I’m a kid in a candy store.”
The edtech companies felt similarly about the opportunity to listen to educator feedback and to share their products with engaged educators. "We had an overall feeling of respect, community, and optimism," says Jacob Klein of MotionMath. "It made me proud to work in edtech."
"We thought the event was absolutely fantastic! We really appreciated how the event was set up--from the pitches to the tables in the large room for educators to circulate and talk with vendors. Educators were extremely engaged and genuinely interested in providing honest and insightful feedback," said Jill Nyhus of the Insight Education Group. "We left the event energized and excited to reflect on the great feedback we received that will ultimately help us make a product that will really support educators--not what WE think will support them."
In addition, to educators sharing their excitement about specific companies on Twitter and with each other, many filled out surveys to add their thoughts to the collective group. (And yes, they added their names so we know who said what!)
The #SVSummit13 tweeps shared lots of photos of educators filling out surveys and talking with startups. Several educators won personal devices at the closing raffle, including Alicia (@aliciac) who shared a photo of her new Chromebook on Twitter.
The Twitterverse was particularly abuzz during the lunchtime student panel. Educator Angela Estrella had a reason to be proud of her student technology leaders, the Virtual Vikings—the students were articulate, well informed and reminded participants that students should always be the focus of education technology. Educators and startups alike were impressed. In fact, several of the startups were ready to hire the students on the spot!
A significant number of participants remained to hear the fireside chat with Lynda Weinman of Lynda.com. Several quoted Weinman when she shared that “there is something energetically different about being here.”
Yes, it was different here last Saturday. And we’re jazzed about the idea of bringing some of that different energy to other communities around the US. 2014, here we come!