Year in Review: Our Top Edtech Business Stories of 2018

Market Trends

Year in Review: Our Top Edtech Business Stories of 2018

By Tony Wan     Dec 24, 2018

Year in Review: Our Top Edtech Business Stories of 2018

At this time of the year, some businesses are busy filing expenses and reports. Many adults are frantically filling stockings. And we’re filing stories that capture the essence of the edtech industry in 2018.

As another year closes, here’s a look at the biggest stories of the year—the ones that captured the most attention, and the ones that should have your attention. Over the following days, we’ll be sharing the top stories of the year for our business, K-12 and higher education readers.

First, let’s get down to business. This year’s list surfaces some familiar trends. Apple and Google continue to up the ante in their quest to win adoption in classrooms. Startups jostle to win market share and sell their wares—or themselves, if their financial runway is getting short. And Pearson is still around.

But the edtech industry has hit some bumps along the way, wrestling with collateral concerns from the public spotlight over data privacy and security. Also top of mind are worries over whether the bells and whistles of flashy educational apps are demanding too much of our attention and fostering unhealthy device habits.

From new curriculum to new ethical challenges, here are the top 10 most popular business stories (in reverse order) based on your clicks. This list is followed by an editor’s pick of the other important pieces you may have missed.

2018’s Top 10 Countdown: Business Edition

10. A Clever Way to Measure How Students Actually Use Edtech (and Whether It Works)

If you buy it, you better use it. That especially holds true for K-12 school officials who altogether spend more than $8.3 billion on education software each year. Yet it can be tedious to manually keep track of how students interact with different pieces of software—or whether these tools are even being used. Here’s one startup trying a “clever” approach.

9. Apple’s Strongest Case to Reclaim the Education Market Is Not the New iPad

Much of the buzz surrounding Apple’s events focus on new gadgets like the iPads. But the company’s most compelling case for reclaiming pole position in the education market isn’t the tablet, argues EdSurge columnist Jin-Soo Huh. Rather, it lies in two tools that could make Apple devices and education apps more convenient to deploy and manage in the classroom.

8. Former Google Design Ethicist: Relying on Big Tech in Schools Is a ‘Race to the Bottom’

When teachers rely on tools from Google and Facebook just to keep up with students, it’s a “race to the bottom,” says Tristan Harris, who heads the Center for Humane Technology. At a conference on tech addiction in February, the former Google design ethicist shared with EdSurge his concerns about the role of technology platforms in the the classroom.

7. Is Assessment Ready to Move Beyond Standardized Tests? These MIT Researchers Think So.

Standardized testing is often the culprit for many things wrong with U.S. education—from curbing kids’ enthusiasm for learning to stifling new instructional practices and tools. So MIT researchers have been hard at work developing a new kind of assessment to measure all the things we say we care about—like curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. An essential part of that, they say, is eliminating the anxiety and ultimatums around testing and making it altogether more playful.

6. Conrad Wolfram: Let’s Build a New Math Curriculum That Assumes Computers Exist

Is math a tainted brand? That’s a jarring question, especially coming from Conrad Wolfram, the brain behind Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica—two widely-used math software. But too often, he says, kids today “spend almost all their time in education learning how to do computation, and not leaving that to the computers” so they can focus instead on solving real-world, higher-level problems. What he’s proposing: a new math curriculum that assumes computers exist.

5. More Popular Than Gmail, Facebook and Instagram: The Education App That Hit #1 on the iOS Chart

What’s more popular than Gmail, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook? During back-to-school season, one educational app reigned over all in the endless galaxy of apps. Remind, a school communication tool, took the #1 spot on the chart of free iOS apps. So, how does a tool that effectively functions as a messenger for students, parents and educators take the crown?

4. What’s Next for Pearson? (Not Buying Your Education Startup.)

It’s hard not to pick on Goliath when things unravel. But has Pearson, the world’s biggest education company, finally turned the corner on its rocky digital transformation journey? We sat down with CEO John Fallon earlier this spring to learn about what’s in store for the near future. Here’s a teaser: Pearson’s plans do not include buying your startup.

3. Google’s 12 Education Updates Include Classwork and a (Slight) Classroom Makeover

Google Classroom, the tool used by more than 30 million teachers and students to manage online assignments and discussions, got a big facelift this fall. Among the tweaks: a new feature, called Classwork, that aims to make it easier to organize materials.

2. Andrew Ng Is Probably Teaching More Students Than Anyone Else on the Planet. (Without a University Involved.)

Some of Coursera’s most popular courses aren’t taught by universities at all, but rather by its co-founder Andrew Ng, through his spin-off company, Already it’s generating lots of dollars as students pay for certificates for courses on artificial intelligence. A look at the professor who’s probably teaching more students than anyone else on the planet—and in a position to have an unprecedented impact on an emerging field.

1. The Most Important Skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution? Try Ethics and Philosophy.

For a future that will be shaped by artificial intelligence, bioengineering, 3D printing and other technologies, how should society prepare its current students (and tomorrow’s workforce)? The conventional answer is STEM and computer science education. But a panel of global scholars say another set of skills will be in even higher demand: philosophy, ethics and morality.

Editor’s Picks

It’s a (sad) truism in journalism: the articles that get the most clicks and attention are, sometimes, not the most important ones. Here’s our pick of the most important pieces you may have missed this year.

danah boyd: How Critical Thinking and Media Literacy Efforts Are ‘Backfiring’ Today

Few would challenge the value of critical thinking and information literacy. But danah boyd, a Microsoft researcher and the founder of Data & Society, offered this grim prognostication: “Many of the forms of critical thinking that we’ve introduced into American education are backfiring right now.” Her provocative keynote at SXSW EDU on how good ideas and intentions are becoming weaponized into tools of media manipulation.

Companies Are Bought, Not Sold: M&A Advice From 3 Edtech CEOs Who Survived the Process

“Turning equity into cash is the hardest thing you will ever do,” says Kim Taylor, founder and CEO of Cluster. At an EdSurge event this summer, she joined founders from Motion Math and Schoolmint to share what it was like to sell an edtech startup—and whether they would have done anything differently. They all agreed on one thing: Companies are bought, not sold.

Acquisition Autopsy: Details—and Questions—Behind MissionU’s $4M Sale to WeWork

Usually, when a hot startup gets acquired by an even hotter one, the industry cheers. But reactions to the news that WeWork bought MissonU have been lukewarm—and raised more questions than toasts. This exclusive look at the details behind the $4 million deal shows how sometimes companies can stall and disappoint simply because its founder got a deal that’s too good to pass up.

Why Are We Still Personalizing Learning If It’s Not Personal?

Despite our good intentions, personalized learning in practice often falls short, says educator Paul Emerich France. The problem arises when people conflate personalization with individualization. And that, he writes, can “take away the very things that make the human condition of learning utterly personal in the first place.”

What Happens to Student Data Privacy When Chinese Firms Acquire US Edtech Companies?

When NetDragon, a Chinese online gaming and education company, bought Edmodo this year, questions emerged over how users’ data privacy and security would be safeguarded. Any firm operating in the U.S. has to abide by American laws, but experts note that enforcing regulations might be still be challenging. Here’s why.

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