By: Tom Glover

In the same week that we were given the details of my four-year old daughter’s first school, I headed to Scottsdale in Arizona for a peak into her schooling future. And while it might be hard to reconcile life in a rural village school in England with the high-octane VC and start up scene at the ASU + GSV Education Innovation Summit, there have undoubtedly been some globally relevant edtech lessons and challenges to ponder. Here are some talking points that caught the eye of the Pearson Labs team:

1) Challenging the use of data in education. As reported by Education Week, the big news on the first day of the conference was the announcement that InBloom will be winding down over the coming months and the organization’s CEO, on a student privacy panel, had the opportunity to respond to the news. He defended its privacy and security standards and argued that the losers would ultimately be the parents and students. Fellow panelist Richard Culatta, argued that private companies need to do a better job of explaining their privacy policies in plain English. Without good data we won’t be able to realize the recognized benefits of personalized learning and technology in education so the education community, including parents, needs to find an acceptable solution together.

2) The teaching of code is important, but let’s not forget the bigger picture. Hadi Partovi from Code.org gave a lunchtime talk about the importance of teaching kids computer science. They have been able to reach real scale in a very short period of time. In fact more girls participated in “Hour of Code” in one week than tried computer science in the last 70 years. He concluded that “not everyone needs to learn a coding language, but everyone needs to understand how technology works.” And we often forget that before we get to coding there are some more basic digital literacy needs that still need to be addressed.

3) The need for greater diversity in the VC community. In a lunchtime panel on the role of the VC community and opportunities in the sector, Mitch Kapor argued that great solutions will come from different and more diverse groups than the ones being funded right now and that we need to be able to identify talent wherever it comes from. Paul Maeder from Highland Capital said that it was a simple truth that VCs fund people that look like them and that although it is one of the most diversity challenged industries, the good news is that patterns are changing with the emergence of the next generation of talent in the industry.

4) The jury is still out on whether technology can improve learning outcomes on a national and global scale. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, there was an ‘onus on vendors and start-ups to show they can produce not only profits, but also improved outcomes.’ Brandon Busteed from Gallup Education claimed that ‘at a national level, there is no evidence that educational technology has reduced the cost of education yet or improved the efficacy of education.’ Fighting the corner of the optimists Daniel Greenstein, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that digital learning has already proved its potential through small-scale pilots and experiments, but now needs to scale. There was of course discussion around what those learning outcomes should be – with ideas as broad as engagement and hope.

5) Student’s use of personal technology in the classroom is changing quickly and we all need to keep up. Michael Horn from the Clayton Christensen Institute hosted a lively discussion and feedback session for educators at the event. Discussion covered the most useful data, new assessment methods, the hacks that teachers use to make technology work for them in the classroom, the dramatic shift to BYOD in the last 18 months, the fact that kids don’t need keyboards and are now far more comfortable working with their cell phones or mobiles. Integration of different vendor technologies was considered to be the Holy Grail.

6) Both students and teachers are clearly bought into the value technology in the classroom. The Gates Foundation released their new survey, Teachers Know Best, which asked over 3,000 educators about what digital instructional tools are essential to helping their students be prepared for college and careers in the 21st century. Good news for the ASU+GSV audience: both teachers and the 1200+ students surveyed “see technology as useful in instruction.” Alignment with college- and career-ready standards and/or teachers’ lessons plans was the most-cited benefit the teachers looked for.

7) Technology is an enabler – not the silver bullet. Google’s Education Evangelist Jaime Casap spoke to a packed room about the need to create digital leaders who are not just consumers, but people who take ownership of their digital footprint and develop the skills to solve the biggest issues rather than to do specific jobs. He sees technology as an important enabler for doing that, but also something that can make bad education faster and more efficient if other problems are not fixed first and new models of learning adopted.

8) The entire education ecosystem has a responsibility to help close the gap. Mitch Kapor led a session that explored the work of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and efforts to encourage technology entrepreneurship in diverse and low-income groups in the US. He argued that all of the players in the education ecosystem have a responsibility to narrow, rather than widen the equality gap. This includes government, foundations (where staff should better reflect the demographics of the nation to mitigate bias), investors focusing on social impact as well as economic, and educators and their role in helping steer and develop edtech products that close the gap by focusing on student outcomes.

9) Don’t forget about the global opportunity and challenges. This was a North American summit, but there was still very little discussion about the global education challenges and the opportunities presented by a growing middle class who prioritize spending on education. Pearson sponsored sessions on Latin America, international development and global higher education did highlight these themes and Chris Hoehn-Saric from Sterling Partners argued that global market trends will fuel growth in the sector and that it was a growth relatively untapped by the audience present at the summit.

10) Are we in an EdTech bubble? A group of EdTech ‘legends’ including Jonathan Harber, Jonathan Grayer and Chris Hoehn-Saric confirmed that we were, but that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They argued that a bubble brings talent into the sector; that we are in the midst of positive cycle, underpinned by the critical position of education in the economy. They concluded that a recognition of the issues that need to be fixed, the innovation to tackle those issues and untapped global markets meant there were reasons to be optimistic. The bubble is just bad news if you are caught at the end of it…

Were you at the ASU+GSV Education Innovation Summit? What caught your eye this year?

Tom Glover is the Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications at Pearson and part of the team behind the Pearson Labs Blog.

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