What Happened at ASU-GSV.....

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What Happened at ASU-GSV.....

Leading industry conference spotlights the fragility of 'The American Dream'

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     Apr 27, 2014

What Happened at ASU-GSV.....

More so than most any other education technology event, last week’s ASU-GSV Summit, which brought 2,000 entrepreneurs, investors and, yes, educators (there was a corps of 100) together at the Phoenician hotel, in Scottsdale, AZ, is a triathalon networking event:

The Chase: Chase prospective partners and funders up and down the escalators of the luxurious Phoenician hotel;

The Shake: Ricochet through the lobby outside the Grand Ballroom, shaking hands with acquaintances as you type-jab at your mobile phone to arrange your next appointment;

InfoDownload: Dart into a keynote talk or panel, plant yourself in a chair and tap into the edtech zeitgeist for a few minutes. Extra points if you simultaneously charge your phone or manage to wolf down lunch.

Tom Vander Ark, founder of Getting Smart, surely earned the gold by clocking an impressive 132 meetings, and moderating a panel on how to deliver equal access to education and writing it up here.

And just in case someone asks you what else happened, here’s cheatsheet of what we heard and overheard at the Summit:


Why here, why now? More than anytime before, conference organizers GSV and ASU emphasized the “why” of the conference: Why develop, invest or use education technology? Because, asserted GSV chairman, Michael Moe, the American dream—the belief that a child will build a better life than his or her parents—is endangered, particularly for immigrants. A majority of students in 18 of America’s 50 states live in or near the poverty live, he noted. “It’s about what you know, not where you go,” Moe noted. His touchstone acronym: EIEIO—or “education, innovation, entrepreneurism, immigration and opportunity.” And here's the video.

TheDream.us: Don Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post and now head of Graham Holdings, offered his solution for helping undocumented immigrant children pay for college: The Dreamers’ program aims to cover tuition for qualifying DACA students at schools and organizations (including Kaplan) that grant degrees for $25K (total for the four years). Graham, who has raised $31 million for the program that is less than a year old, is stumping for $100 million. (Kaplan’s involvement is through a nonprofit arm.) EdSurge’s Betsy Corcoran got to ask the questions.

Jeb Bush Revving? Even though he was ailing from a nasty cold, Jeb Bush made a passionate pitch for school choice and accountability. He certainly seems campaign ready.He saluted Julie Young, who created Florida Virtual School as the “godmother” of digital learning. He gave shoutouts to LearnZillion, Remind101 and Edmodo, as organizations that are helping teachers and students. “Instead of excuses, we should be focused on engaging every child in our education system,” Bush said.

And what about all that "chitter-chatter, yik yak or whatever you call it" about innovation in education? Michael M. Crow, President of Arizona State University who is building what he calls a "new American university," tried to lay to rest some of the worries about education innovation: It's not about replacing teachers with machines, or shedding what some see as an "archaic academic culture" or adding in some special genius. Instead, "It's about culture change"--at many levels, Crow said, especially "...around the notion of the empowerment of individualized learning." Here's the video.


Of the 250 companies that made 6-minute presentations at GSV, 40% were founded or are led by women.

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice: The US has made progress in equal opportunities since the 1960s but, yep, we have a ways to go. We still need Affirmative Action, she said, for the foreseeable future.

InBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger shared the decision to “wind down” the massive development that would have collected and managed student information. InBloom’s technology is open source; its APIs, dashboard and collection of tools are available for downloading here. Expect to see something emerge from these ashes.

Palo Alto-based startup Declara, which is building a sophisticated learning social network, said it has raised beaucoup bucks: $16 million in a round led by GSV Capital. Overheard: the team is still prowling for more.

Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation debuted a study of teachers which reports they want better digital tools but they only use about half of all those available. Barely more than half of those teachers say the tools are effective. Edsurge report here; Childress’ blog post about the study here.

Reed Hastings, Netflix founder and CEO and long-time edtech supporter particularly of DreamBox, delivered several succinct messages to entrepreneurs: If at first you succeed…prepare for a nose dive. What’s the best way to survive a crisis? Build a team that comes together in tough times rather than one that bails. Hastings worries that too frequently in education, we mistake “oscillations” for “progress.” Politically elected school boards swap superintendents in and out too much for schools to make steady, long-term progress, he charged. What Hastings would like to see: charters educating 80% of American students.

Google’s Jaime Casap took a packed room of companies to task: Don’t build edtech products that simply reinforce old and damaged practices. Next question: So what’s brewing in Google that will take education to a new level?

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble? Yep, we’re in an edtech bubble, declared Weld North CEO Jonathan Grayer (who snapped up Truenorthlogic and Imagine Learning in April) and Senior Managing Director Chris Hoehn-Saric of Sterling Partners. But Grayer noted that bubbles aren’t all bad, in part because they draw talent.Here’s EdSurge columnist, Frank Catalano’s bubblish commentary in GeekWire.

Overheard (or not so much)

MIA: MOOCs. Only one panel dealt specifically with MOOCs and there was far less hubbub on the topic than in the past.

Research, wherefore art thou? They could have been more discussion of brain science and what we know about learning, noted some attendees.

Data, data, data: What really matters? Although there was much discussion of the importance of looking at student “outcomes,” and “efficiacy” there is still ambiguity over what measurements matter the most. One panel offered these three measurements: Literacy (particularly by grade three); “Engagement” of both students and teachers; and the more ambiguous but still measurable: “Hope.” Particularly promising: test beds aiming to find out what works for students in their cities, such as the iZone in New York and LEAP Innovation in Chicago.

Darn Definitions: “Adaptivity” and “personalization” were also terms that popped up in many conversations. But precisely how those terms get translated into products for students is still a work in progress.

The Gates Foundation team ruled the late night karoke scene.


Overall last year's raw startups were more polished: The distance between startups and investors, who talk in Big Dollars, edged more closely together. Our guess: this year, they're within a order of magnitude or two.

Teacher spotting: About 100 were here, including the likes of Cesar Chavez Academy Principal Barton Dassinger, Chris Liang-Vergara, now Chief, Learning Innovation at LEAP Innovations, Jin-Soo Huh, Director of Technology, KIPP Chicago and the articulate Arelys Villeda, the Chicago Public Schools district and Tanesha Dixon from DC Public Schools. Their presence grounded a number of the conversations.

Students: Not so many. But some of the clever kids who are part of Roadtrip Nation parked their funky green van (see above) in the Phoencian’s driveway and interviewed attendees.

Celebrity lookout out: Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson of Ozy Media shared an lunch chat about “what’s going right” in schools.

And no, most edtech entrepreneurs and investors are *not* taller than Magic Johnson, who showed up for a late afternoon chat to talk about what his centers are doing to close the achievement gap. But let ‘em climb up on a chair and you get a different view.

And the Winners...

Winners of the second annual Return on Education Award were the following:

Code.org -- for Modern Language

Roadtrip Nation -- for Student Support

2U -- for Partnerships

Learnist -- for KaizenEDU

Clever -- for Learning Infrastructure, Analytics & Platform

DreamBox Learning -- for STEM

TSL Education -- for Teacher Support

Renaissance Learning -- for Knowledge as Currency

Imagine K12 -- for ROE Accelerator

General Assembly -- for Modern Curriculum

Quizlet -- for New Gen Content

Summit Public Schools -- for "New" Schools

Parchment -- Overall 2014 ROE Winner

More summaries by the Getting Smart team are here and here. And if you have the time, here are all the videos.

Editor's Note: GSV Capital and Don Graham are investors in EdSurge; the Gates Foundation has also supported some EdSurge projects.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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