Knowing vs. Understanding

Knowing vs. Understanding (or, in honor of Spring Break…EdTech Start Ups Gone Wild!)

How much does the typical ed. tech investor want to know about education?

As little as is necessary to ensure at least a 10:1 return on their investment.

To be more precise, most of the investors and start-up angels I spoke with base much of their solution approach on their own experiences as a student, which is not a bad start point I guess.  However it is helpful to recognize the need to secure at least some time with people who not only know, but understand the intricacies of the teaching and learning process as acted out daily between adults and children in the classroom as well as the materials appropriations and legislative processes at play in any given state education agency and everything in between those two distant points on the public education spectrum. In the end, there seems to be far too little understanding of how teaching works, how teachers create rich learning opportunities, how students access and process information in a meaningful way…and too much, “Ya, we know.”

Without working to create education-centric perspectives, we can expect to keep seeing “new” ed-tech content “play” tools and instruments that look a lot like existing web community tools that are suddenly, miraculously, awkwardly and indescribably trotted out as educator resources a’la a new banner slapped across the top of the old tools with a quizlet service tacked on the side (maybe, click on image above to see new Education features!). Same pony trotted out during the last act, but now painted with stripes and touted as the worlds smallest zebra.

Here is today’s announcement from a resource aggregation site that takes urls and descriptions of said urls you the user provides and processes them as a pinterest like tiled poster with auto-generated thumbnails of the sites you submit and your own description wrapped around them, (which is not un-interesting as a feature set, but…)

We just got a whole lot better: better text, comments, and reports! Create beautiful text tiles more easily than ever – add hyperlinks, quotes, and tables!  Stay up-to-date – we tell you how your students are viewing your lesson with our education platform!

(Hmmm, tell us how our students are viewing our lessons…with their eyes? Via a browser? Or do I dare imagine a drop down of adverb options for students to select how they’re viewing a teacher’s lesson – Begrudgingly, Hesitantly, Reluctantly, Precariously, Egregiously,  Contemplatively, Soberly, Cautiously, Other)

Or how about a popular online portfolio tool that allows professionals to develop a visual tapestry of work accomplishments or individuals to frame out pillars of their life accomplishments and happenings, that announced in January that it now has an educator community and online suite of course development tools. I signed up to see these tools, and was then directed to an ambiguous video about proposed tools and a “coming soon” screen. I was forced to identify the grade level of students I work with (only one, because all teachers teach one grade level) and quickly was called by a young man about my use of their new tools which don’t exist yet. For the record, I did not express excitement, nor alluded to my 6th grade class, but told him I had to make that up to create my educator acct. and was merely trying to see how things worked. Here is how he processed that conversation and has sent 3 more emails since this one.

Hi Brian,
It was great to talk to you today and hear about your 6th grade classes. I am glad to hear that you are excited about our new xxxxxxxxx for Educators Solution!

Once you get a chance to play around with the new educator features please let me know what your think. Any feedback you could give us would be extremely valuable.

(btw, as a former English teacher I love when people say, “…let me know what your think”.) Awesome.

In a follow up call, he asked how my 6th graders were doing. I said, “Great.” He added, that they would have those course tools available for me soon and I asked, “Will the courses essentially be a portfolio of weblinks and files that I have uploaded into one playlist similar to the portfolio I made about my hometown and life which includes my bikeride to work video, a Yelp review of my favorite lunchspot, a picture of downtown’s best barista, a Mark Twain quote, and the high-score I registered on the pinball machine in our office?”

He said, “Yes, but you can pose questions and discussions around those items and then your students can access that course and learn.”

“How do my 6th graders access my course then?” I asked. He said, “You can create accounts for them or provide them a key that we will use to get to your course at which time they will be charged $10 a piece for full access.”

I said, “How are they supposed to pay?” He replied, “They can pay online via credit cards.”

I said, “My fictitious students are 11 and 12 years old.” He said, “Their parents can pay then. Or the school can with a purchase order.” I sat silent…long enough for him to add, “If they are low-income students and qualify for the reduced lunch thing, then they can indicate that and get free access.”

I asked, “Are you tying their student id back to their qualification for free or reduced lunch?” He said, “No, we just take their word for it so you could just have all your students just do that. We don’t check.”

Indeed, well then…let’s party.