200 (Newsletters!) And Counting

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200 (Newsletters!) And Counting

By Tony Wan and Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     Dec 10, 2014

200 (Newsletters!) And Counting

Today marks the 200th consecutive EdSurge-Innovate newsletter that we’ve delivered--that’s every week since “edition 001” was sent to 50 friends way back on February 16, 2011. It’s a streak that’s perhaps only rivaled by Wilt Chamberlain's 227 consecutive double-doubles, and yet still is way short of the number of cups of coffee we’ve gulped down along the way.

Who could have imagined that, in an age of spam and overflowing inboxes, a newsletter devoted to sharing insights and info on edtech might flourish?

In fact, education itself was changing day by day, too. When we started, people wondered whether technology should have a role in education. Three and a half years later, the question has evolved to: What's the right role for technology in education? And we are jazzed to keep asking questions and sharing smart thoughts and commentary with you.

Through late nights, soggy weather, empty stomachs and spotty Internet, we committed to sending our weekly digest of the edtech industry every Wednesday morning. It was--and continues to be--our primary way to weave together a growing community of teachers, parents, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers--you name it.

Want to take a trip in the hot tub time machine to see our humble beginnings? Here goes.

Blast from the Past

The year was 2011. Tim Tebow was starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, Charlie Sheen went off his rocker, and a number of our colleagues were still undergraduates.

That’s about when EdSurge’s four cofounders--Betsy Corcoran, Matt Bowman, Nick Punt and Agustin Vilaseca--saw edtech entrepreneurs come together over dinners and coffees, asking how technology could support learning. We thought we could help--first by sharing news of people, opportunities, ideas, funding information and jobs. And by building a database of the emerging products. No “Consumer Reports” existed for edtech, in spite of the tens of millions of dollars that schools spent. Educators had a right to know more about what tools might--or might not--help, we figured.

So yes, our founders were drawn together by a big mission--and, we confess, a fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. (Whatever it takes, right?)

Here’s the memorable “double-O-1 edition,” a rare, priceless digital artifact! No fanfare, no introduction. Just news. To our early readers: thanks for sticking with us through the um, sickly green background. “When I sent the first newsletter, I added that third digit in the ‘edition number’ as a joke,” says Betsy. “Some of the team wondered if there would be enough news for edition two.”

We squatted in the cozy office of George Anders, a journalist, education aficionado, (and yes, spouse!) who shared writing tips and coffee. Tony Wan and Leonard Medlock joined the team, helping crank away on editorial content including our first reports on products, and grilling and schmoozing with CEOs and CEO wannabes. In an audacious moment in the summer of 2012, we plotted a multi-day event in a 70,000 square foot pavilion at the Maker Faire. Like HP’s famous garage, “Lorton Labs,” as we like to call it, will forever be ensconced in our hearts.

Cozy Lorton Labs

Like so many startups, our website circa early 2012 consisted of nothing more than a splash page. We were thrilled when early fans clicked on our “sign up” button. Betsy unnerved the gal who became subscriber number 1,000 by sending her a “Wow! Thank you!” note.

Too Much News That’s Fit to Print!

Before long, we sprinted into the inboxes of thousands of subscribers from all walks of life. One newsletter wasn’t enough. We struggled to keep the “printed” version of the newsletter shorter than Leonard is tall. (Of course, he is our tallest guy.)

In February 2012, we started EdSurge-Instruct, to spotlight the special work by educators in the classroom trenches. The focus: how edtech tools are actually being used, along with the creative school models and instructional strategies that support their implementation.

A month later, we rolled out the skeleton of our Edtech Index, a searchable database to track tools, starting with profiles of 20 of the most widely-used math products. Since then the database has gone through a number of iterations--as has our website. We pack in over 1,500 products now, including detailed reports of math, literacy, professional development and adult learning tools.

Here’s the thing: we know there are more tools out there! If you know--or have built--an edtech product that isn’t currently listed, head on over to our Index application form.

Meetups and Summits, Oh My!

One advantage of being in the Silicon Valley is that there’s so much happening right in our backyards. In February 2012, Meredith Bordoni of LearnBoost (now Cloudup) planted the seeds of what would become the SF Edtech Meetup. We took over in January 2013 and have run a variety of programs, from the usual discussion panels and cocktail mixers to job fairs and the first White House Film Festivals (of kid-made films!). Now more than 3,300 members strong, it’s one of the largest local edtech Meetups in the world. (Look out New York--we’re coming for that crown!)

But we wanted to bring teachers and entrepreneurs together in a bolder way--and so last year we created a roadshow, kicking off EdSurge Summits, across the country. So far we’ve traveled to Baltimore, Los Angeles, Mountain View, Nashville, Providence, St. Louis and Seattle. More cities are in the works next year, too.

Unlike the typical dog-and-pony vendor expos, these gatherings physically bring over 500 educators, superintendents and other district decision-makers to the table for deep dialogue with the entrepreneurs who claim to be building tools to on their behalf. (How do we know there’s in-depth dialogue? Just check out some of the feedback from educators on edtech products!) And we couldn’t do it without the fabulous team that has joined us.

We capped off this year by collaborating with Digital Promise around the Digital Innovation in Learning Awards, which celebrated the teachers, administrators and organizations that demonstrate exemplary practices when it comes to thoughtfully using technology in education. The glitzy dinner, complete with a red carpet, was a wonderful reminder of how far we’re come. And the stories of how educators have struggled--to find the right resources, to serve students--poignantly underscored how much further we all have to go.

And It’s Thanks to You

In many ways, our growth mirrors--and is only possible due to--the growing community of edtech innovators like you. Yes, there’s plenty of hubbub--and skepticism--around how technology can support learning. Umang Gupta, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, recently asked: “ Could it be different this time?

Our answer is a resounding “Oh yeah!” But it’ll take everyone--not just educators, entrepreneurs and investors, but policymakers, parents and other education stakeholders--to open our minds, to challenge long-held assumptions and beliefs based on the way how we were taught, and to ask deep questions before we deliver on the dream of giving every child in this country an inspiring education.

Community is built on trust. We are humbled by the trust that you’ve placed in us over these 200 issues, as a source of information and opinions that celebrate--and question--technology’s role in education. We want to more than live up to that trust--we hope to delight you and, most importantly, to deliver the information that you need to make smart choices about technology in education.

And we also trust that when we do slip and err, you’ll be there to help dust us off, and challenge us to get back on our feet.

So cheers to another hundred issues! And while we’re counting--to a fourth digit in the year 2030!

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

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