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Department of Education Kicks Off "Edtech Developers' Tour"

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Oh, what a time to be a fledgling edtech entrepreneur!

North America is home to more than a dozen edtech incubators, LearnLaunch in Boston to Imagine K12 in California -- and  MaRS in Toronto. Now the Department of Education is amping up those efforts by launching its own ‘Edtech Developer’s Tour’--a series of 18 events designed to spur collaboration among entrepreneurs, developers, educators, funders, and students and more.

Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology in the US Dept. of Education, announced the program at the 1776 Challenge Festival Education Day, a gathering of hundreds of educators, entrepreneurs, and investors that met this week (May 11) in Washington, DC. The day culminated in a series of pitches from prospective Challenge Cup semifinalists.

There’s still room for more entrepreneurs, however, the Dept. of Ed believes--particularly if they adhere to some good practices.

In early April, the Dept of Ed launched its Edtech Developer’s Guide to support budding entrepreneurs. But it didn’t take long for Culatta and his team to realize that the mere act of publishing a guide wasn’t enough. One solution: connecting with developers in person.

“We’ve actually done this before, with an earlier effort called ‘DC to VC’ [back in 2013], but with venture capitalists,” Culatta told EdSurge. “With this developer community now, we have two purposes for leading this tour: To share the guide with them and to listen to what’s challenging and difficult for them.”

Each event will feature an in-depth discussion of the Edtech Developer’s Guide, and be hosted by a local incubator or edtech organization, such as the Highlander Institute in Providence and LearnLaunch in Boston. Ideal attendees, Culatta says, are either developers who “have a lot of these great ideas but have gotten rejected” from incubators and the like, or developers who are very excited about building apps, but might not yet understand the space. “We want to channel that energy,” Culatta says.

This isn’t the first time this academic year that the Office of Educational Technology has announced a nationwide tour; in November, Culatta’s department launched Future Ready Summits, designed for superintendents to meet regionally and discuss innovation in their districts. And so comes EdSurge’s lingering question--was this developer tour inspired by Future Ready, and will it really be all that different?

“There was definitely mutual inspiration from the Superintendent summits,” Culatta says, “and this tour was developed in response to the guide. We’ve heard practical feedback from entrepreneurs, who are asking, ‘How do you work with schools?’ and ‘How do you measure what’s working?’” This tour, Culatta says, is an opportunity for those questions to get answered.

For Culatta’s part, he’s hoping the additional guidance will catalyze more than just “wannabe” products. Not so welcome: digital replicas that just continue the model of education that American has had for decades.

Want to be a tour groupie? Check out this list of tour stops or follow #edtechdev for updates as Culatta’s team hits the road.

Can’t wait to see the tee-shirt! 

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