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Unbundling Higher Education, A Doubly Updated Framework

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People buy Knowledge Acquisition, Access to Opportunities, Cognitive and Employable Skills, and a Personal Transformation when they buy a degree.

This is what people buy when they’re buying a degree.

Over the past year, I’ve had to update my framework as I realize that the language I use just doesn’t click with the audience.  In particular, I kept describing the service from the service provider’s point of view, rather than they value proposition from the customer’s (student’s) point of view.  So, here’s how I’ve changed a few value propositions.

“The Content Loop” is now “Knowledge Acquisition.”  In the end, people are buying knowledge and the process of acquiring knowledge.  They are not buying the Content Loop.  The Content Loop is what content providers create to ensure they acquire the knowledge they need.  Within that quadrant, I’ve chosen to change Content Authoring to Expert Information.  Again, authoring content is what the service provider does; expert information is what people pay for.

Within Access to Opportunities, I’ve changed “Signals of Achievement Velocity” to “Signals of Aptitude.”  Largely because these are the same thing, people just get Aptitude because of the SAT.  Achievement Velocity, I think, communicates a long run bet on the economic productivity of the student.  That being said, people had to think a minute to understand what I was saying when I said achievement velocity.   When I say aptitude, they get it immediately.

“Metacontent and Skills” is now “Cognitive and Employable Skills.”  Metacontent aslo doesn’t click with people.  It means the subliminal things that are taught, largely by the instructor being an example: how to do a math problem, how to give a presentation, how to respond to complex and tough questions.  Often when you interview alumni 10 years out they remember their instructors because of the metacontent, and they don’t remember the content at all.  However, “metacontent” isn’t really a word.  When I’ve used the phrase “cognitive skills” it seems to resonate.  The education establishment seems to use “cognitive skills” to describe learnings that are picked up earlier in life: Grammar, grit, problem solving – things that get deeply embedded in the brain and character of individuals.  This being said, young adults pick up a lot of behavioral models and life-skills that help them work for economic organizations while they’re in college – and none of them are taught directly.

Within “Personal Transformation,” I’ve changed “A Personal Platform” into “A Secured Life Transition.”  What I always meant was that people need an intermediate step in between where they are now and where they want to be.  A Personal Platform makes sense, but it’s confusing to most people.  A Secured Life Transition has worked better in presentations, that’s for sure.

Sorry for the confusion.  Thanks for bearing with me.  In the end, you always have to test ideas, products and services with the market.  If the market doesn’t get what you’re saying, you have to adapt.





FounderDating comes to Education

It’s the ecosystem, stupid.

FounderDating Education Logo

FounderDating is moving into Education

For a convergence of reasons, the energy buzzing around starting companies in the education sector is coming together quickly.  Being a veteran of the space, working in both Higher Ed and teaching High School, I help others the best I can.

So I’m excited to help announce that FounderDating is having a round to provide a platform for education entrepreneurs to meet one another and make entrepreneurial love and have company babies.  Props to Jessica Alter and a nod to Jessie Arora, Wayee Chu and Jennifer Carolan for helping to bring this together.

FounderDating has high standards for tech and entrepreneurial talent, and if you’re a great designer or hacker it’s a good spot to start noodling around with ideas and scheme with others.

If you have a blog, Tumblr account, please write a post.  Otherwise, share on Twitter and Facebook.

K12 just got (re)Imagined. Or, notes from Demo Day.

Imagine K12 Logo

Imagine K12 is an incubator for companies unafraid of taking on Education.

I just had the privilege of going to the Imagine K12 demo day. At the beginning, the founder of InstaGrock said something along the lines of “welcome to the revolution.” My eyes glazed over. 5 years ago, I gave up on the idea that anybody was going to “revolutionize” Education. By the end of the presentations, I wanted to give the companies a standing ovation. I don’t know if it’s a revolution, but there is a dramatic shift in Education that is just beginning. And it’s time to get really, really excited.

The take-away, by far, is that companies are getting traction.  Lots of it.  And quickly.  Edmodo and ClassDojo, it turns out, are just the start.

TeachBoost, LearnSprout, Hapara, Socrative, InstaGrok, LearningJar, EdShelf, BrainGenie, Tap to Learn.  All of them (are you ready for this?) know what they are doing.  Gone are the days where entrepreneurs were either completely naive to the Education world or hopelessly inept at building great products.  We’ve got both, baby.  In spades.

Best of all, every single company that had launched had significant growth and traction amongst teachers, students, and districts in the MONTH OF APRIL.  Yeah, you heard me.  They are almost all showing HOCKEY STICK level growth in the Education space.  Granted, they are all early, but there is reason to believe that this time change is gonna come.  And it’s been a long time coming.

Each of these companies deserves their own post, so I’m not going to leave a trail of one sentence descriptions.  Just go to their sites and get the scoop.

Tap to Learn probably won the day, thus their closer status.  In the spirit of Brian Wilson (closer for the SF Giants), they made me giddy.  2 million children are using dozens of their learning game apps on the iPad.  Their games are genuinely fun, AND parents can get learning analytics.  250,000 minutes of “study” aka “game play” got logged YESTERDAY.

So Kudos, IK12 companies. Kudos to Alan Louie, Geoff Ralston, and Tim Brady for collecting a great motley crew of emerging companies and budding entrepreneurs.  This time, the seeds of transformation that are sewn are looking like they’re going to sprout.

Leave your thoughts and your ideas, and give a round of applause for the new talent in EdTech.  And, shouts to my friends at @LearningJar, @LearnSprout, and @TapToLearn.  You nailed it.



Unbundling Education, A Simple Framework

Education provides ten services, listed here in the order of they will be disrupted.

Education provides ten services, listed here in the order they will be disrupted.

You can download a PDF version here.

College Readiness and Completion: My Perspective

I made this presentation auditioning for TEDxSFED.  Hope you like it.

Video Platforms in Education, Facebook Video in Education, Facebook Video Now Embedable.

Well, I’m going to take a cheap shot at getting street cred here: I was hanging out the other Saturday with Chris Putnam, a 22 year old GSU drop-out that is responsible for Facebook’s video offering. (Many of Facebook’s early hires were either graduating Harvard and Stanford CS students or young, hungry, overly talented hackers getting stir-crazy at big state schools.)

Putnam told me about the softlaunch of a Facebook feature I’ve been dying for: “Facebook Video is now embeddable,” he said.  I had been waiting for this moment.

Facebook video, just like Facebook, is a technological wonder. It keeps better resolution, presents a bigger window, and has fewer glitches than most video offerings. As with most technological problems on the internet, it’s not the actual product (in this case, the video) that’s hard to make, it’s hard to make that same product highly functional and fast when there are millions of concurrent users.  This is where only Facebook and Google can play, and its amazing that Facebook can even play on this field because until this past year it was literally a bunch of ivy grads and dropout savants staying up late drinking red bull.  I think YouTube, now powered by Google, recently came out with a size and res that trumps Facebook, but I haven’t figured out where to load one and Facebook Pages are way more conducive to marketing purposes than are YouTube channels.

Here’s our video conversations on Facebook for Colleges and Universities. It talks about how Facebook can be used for recruiting, enrollment management, retention and persistence, educational enrichment, and alumni engagement.

At Inigral, we’ve been using Vimeo for our promotional videos up until now. Viddler, I think, has the best UI on their video player, but both Vimeo and Viddler get choppy when during playback.  I think YouTube is so cluttered with nonsense that I don’t want any Inigral promotional content to get much audience there.

I’m sure as Educators we sense the power of reduced barriers to video distribution. Unfortunately, most video content on the internet is senseless; but on the back of senselessness educators everywhere will have their own video content publishing and distribution platforms for free. John Couch, VP of Education at Apple, told me in his office once “the brilliance of iTunesU is that it’s becoming the most powerful distribution platform for educational content and it’s all subsidized by the music and movie industries.” How’s that for innovation.

Now if we could just get the oil industry to subsidize school improvement…..

Facebook for Educators: A Guide for Instructors

here’s a video we made, a follow up to my most popular post.

Facebook for Educators from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.
An Instructional Guide to Facebook for Teachers from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

Shout Out: Diigo Educator Accounts

I just wanted to give a shout to Diigo for releaseing educator accounts.

I’ve been in touch with Maggie Tsai, just like most every blogger in education.  She does a great job of being involved with the community and seems to care a great deal about Diigo’s future in education.

I personally think social bookmarking is one of the key areas of growth both on the internet as a whole and in education, and I’m really excited about Diigo’s product.  They’ve been trying out lots of new features and the offering has been getting more than robust.

Feel free to friend me on Diigo.

Debunking the Creepy Treehouse: the Functional Mall.

I need to debunk the Creepy Treehouse, as it seems to have become some sort of rallying cry and is pulling people in the wrong direction.  I’m going to debunk it with contrarian metaphor: the Functioning Mall.  (If you come up with something more catchy, let me know.)

First off, let me tell you that the metaphor of the Creepy Treehouse is powerful.   There are many different ways you can build a Creepy Treehouse.  Instructors crossing lines by getting into personal or social settings where they are not particularly invited is totally creepy treehouse.

However, this in no way suggests that instructors should not be using innovative, even social technologies to engage students.  Adults and Teachers and Parents are allowed to and should get on the Social Web, but they must do it carefully and obey the general laws of coexisting with teenagers.  There are, in natural settings, places where the two have been known to coexist.  This has been happening since at least, as far as I can calculate, 1992 😉  We can look there for another metaphor: the Functional Mall.

Now, youngsters hang out at the mall.  They consider it a highly social space, and their scene is operated more or less on their terms.  Grown ups, while not prone to hang out at the mall, go to the mall.  There are stores targeted for teenagers that no adult should go to (e.g. Urban Outfitters), stores targeted to adults that no kids would be caught dead in (e.g. the Back Store), and places where both species coexist in their native habitat (say, a movie theater or the Cookie Company).   Adults and young adults know how to behave around each other, seemingly, in this same ecosystem.  There’s a rule, and let me make it transparent: transactional interactions are accepted, social interactions are not.  If a teacher sees their student at the mall, wave hi (or better yet nod slightly).  A security officer opens doors, stops fights, tells directions.  A store owner or employee helps them find things, accepts money, packages items, and send them on their merry way.  Yes, there is a clear line, and that line is socializing rather than transacting.

Would youngsters want adults to leave the mall, never to return? Well, not really.  They understand that the mall can be there for their dates and shopping sprees largely because adults also shop there.  And the mall doesn’t want to limit its customer base to teenagers.  I mean, there’s a business in teenagers: you could have rollerskating rink, or a go-kart shop, maybe put them in the same spot with mini-golf.  But the real business is open access and open wallets.

Facebook, most decidedly, does not want to be just for teenagers.  Most of the country doesn’t realize this but, out in the Silicon Valley, Facebook is hot business.  Microsoft invested in Facebook at a 15 billion dollar valuation; that’s more valuable than Ford Motors.  Their revenues are probably around 200 million a year and climbing dramatically; they have around 550 employees up from some 50 three years ago.  Their engineering and operations team is the magnet for the best talent anywhere.  Zuckerberg just recruited Google’s COO and Head Chef to boot!  This isn’t happening because people think Facebook is going to be a site for college students and teenagers.  Facebook, hands down, is going to get everyone on it and won’t stop until they do.  In the past year in a half its grown from around 35 to 90 million users.  60% of the population of Norway is on the site.

College students aren’t going to just up pick and move to another site.  Facebook is the only web application that’s figured out how to scale and still keep some sort of cohesion as a product and a community.  It’s got privacy settings, and gives users granular control over who can see what.  Grown ups can join without any creepy treehouseness.

What Facebook is lacking is a way for those with careful relationships to have transactional interactions.  But, that’s a good part of the reason that they’ve opened up to applications.  Soon, you’re going to see transactional applications for just about any interaction for any set of careful relationships you can think of.  Yep, you heard me, you’re going to be able to interact with your boss without being friends.

We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies.  We need to keep in mind the “creepy treehouse” to guide us, but let us not point to everything on Facebook and Myspace, Twitter and Flickr and start accusing.  As long as everyone is using their privacy settings and limits contact with those that might be of a “transcendant” age group or have a “careful” boundary (e.g. teacher/student, parent/child) to transactional interactions.

FERPA, Facebook and The Social Web

As some of you know, I’ve been posting at Michael Feldstein’s blog about our limited beta release this Fall.  The overwhelming sentiment is “This is exciting, but what about FERPA!”

The immediate reaction to the thought of activating a campus-wide Facebook application can make any decision-maker nervous.  Information is shared all over Facebook, and a campus’ interest to keep student data private and secure is not only an obligation but is also upheld by the law.

First, a basic understanding of Facebook Platform is necessary.  Facebook presents applications through a frame and never has the opportunity to cache nor store any data presented within an application.  As of the new redesign pushed by Facebook in July 2008, users have direct control over the “stories” that are generated by applications.  Users also have control of what Facebook users can see what kinds of data, and can even directly block individual users that may find a nuisance.

We store our data with an infrastructure company on the cutting edge of data storage and security.  We can, if requested, create a local installation on a local server behind campus security systems.  However, we’d like our customers to note that innovative hosting companies have extensive expertise regarding large scale, secure hosting with nearly 100% up-time.  Having that kind of performance locally is nearly impossible.

At Inigral, we’ve worked with our pilot school and our lawyers to assure that all features of our application are FERPA compliant and uphold the strongest standards of security and privacy.  I don’t want to go into the exact feature set that makes it such a comfortable thing for institutional adoption, but it is proof that venturing into the wide world of the Social Web is highly possible with a little care.

However, the institution is not completely hands-off in this regard.  At most campuses, the administration will have already asked the student to sign an agreement to share data with third parties acting in concert with the mission of the institution.  With near certainty, we will be covered under such agreement.  If the institution does not have such broad language in place but has policies that treat enrollment data as “directory information,” we will be covered so long as students are notified and allowed to “opt-out.”  If enrollment data is not treated as “directory information,” the students should be asked for their consent by an “opt-in” email.

FERPA is in place to make sure that institutions are careful with and respectful of a students right to privacy, but it was not intended to hold back education in the 1990s before there were things like APIs and the Social Web.  No school has ever lost Federal funds because of FERPA, which is the only punishment that can occur for being in violation (besides being tied up in a lawsuit).  Privacy, Security, and personal Control over information is more than a valid concern, but lets not let it be a brick wall of anxiety in the face of the march towards user-friendly, interoperable, and multitudious educational solutions!

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