Columbia's EdLab Offers Forum for Startups


Columbia's EdLab Offers Forum for Startups

New York City's famed Teachers College dives into education technology

By Elizabeth Woyke     Dec 5, 2012

Columbia's EdLab Offers Forum for Startups

New York City is home to thousands of teachers, dozens of edtech start-ups and a handful of graduate education programs. Yet, in spite of their common interests, the groups don't always communicate. Now one organization, based at Columbia University's Teachers College, is kick-starting a dialogue.

Called EdLab, the organization is Teachers College's technology research unit. Founded in 2004 to develop software tools for Teachers College faculty and students, EdLab has lately been expanding beyond Columbia to play a more public role in New York's edtech community.

EdLab's new role was clear Tuesday night as the organization hosted its first start-up Demo Night. About 100 people trekked uptown to Columbia's campus to hear three local edtech start-ups (Amphetomobile, BiblioNasium and Late Nite Labs) discuss their products and answer questions. The mix of faculty, students, teachers and entrepreneurs represented a more diverse crowd than the business types who typically attend New York edtech Meetups and networking events.

EdLab plans to host Demo Nights quarterly. "We want to help promote things and spread the word," explains Hui Soo Chae, EdLab's director of development and research. "Someone has to get the accelerators, incubators and VCs working together to support and develop the edtech space."

Adam Aronson, who helps lead the NY EdTech Meetup agrees. Aronson's Meetup boasts 1,220 members but he still sees a need for an organization like EdLab. "EdLab's tie to the university brings out a lot of folks who otherwise might not get involved," he notes. "These intersections between the edtech and Columbia communities could be very beneficial."

Outside of events, EdLab is connecting these communities through its products and services. Though it initially only created tools for Teachers College, EdLab has opened up many of its recent products. Currently, anyone can access:

  • New Learning Times: EdLab's education news site. Written by EdLab staffers, NLT soft-launched in September and will officially launch in January 2013;
  • Research Broker: an online tool that matches academic researchers with corporate research projects and jobs;
  • Survey Sidekick: an online platform that both designs surveys and coaches users on the most effective ways to write them. Currently in beta, Survey Sidekick is expected to fully launch in the coming weeks;
  • Vialogues: a video-hosting site that facilitates group discussions via time-synched comments and quick polls and surveys.

Some of the online curricula EdLab designs on a consulting basis for external organizations are freely available, as well:

EdLab still develops products to Teachers College specifications but now takes a longer view. "We want to support both the College and the broader educational landscape," says Chae.

To stimulate New York's edtech community, EdLab is considering establishing an edtech accelerator that would be an East Coast response to California's Imagine K12. First, however, EdLab has to figure out how to bankroll big projects while supporting its 40 full and part-time employees. In contrast to, say, MIT's Media Lab, which is an accredited program, EdLab is considered part of the Teachers College library department and operates on a smaller budget. "We're still building up an audience but these projects do need to be self-sustaining," admits EdLab's Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Lee. "Monetization is on the roadmap." Options include spinning off popular services and inserting ads into EdLab sites.

Also planned for 2013: new products such as a social learning platform, outreach events and more alliances with educational publishers and start-ups. "We're branching out," says Lee. "We realized there are a lot of relationships we can build."

Start-ups seem to value EdLab's hybrid nature. "Coming here is an opportunity to talk to teachers and people who want to be teachers," says Ovi Jacobs, chief operating officer of New York-based Late Nite Labs. "And teacher feedback is so much more valuable to us than other kinds of feedback."

About Me

Elizabeth Woyke is a technology and business reporter. She has a strong interest in edtech and the New York tech community. In addition to EdSurge, she writes for Fast Company, Inc. and Money. Be sure to check out her EdSurge exclusive on New York's iZone360 initiative.

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