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Notes from Ed-Tech

February 28, 2012

Last Thursday, I attended an Ed-Tech meetup in San Francisco. A number of tech startups demonstrated their products, all of which have some kind of application for the education sector. Below you can find the names and projects of these startups (Go Go Mongo, which I mentioned on Saturday, also presented at this meetup).

Teaching Channel

Teaching Channel is a website dedicated to helping teaching professionals by giving them access to videos of real teachers demonstrating best practices, technology use, and curriculum. According to their website, Teaching Channel “believe what makes teachers inspiring is how they became experts—the hours and years they’ve dedicated to improving their craft to benefit their students. We’re working everyday to capture their techniques on video so that all teachers—new or seasoned—have a place to find inspiration.” Here is a video from the website. Watch how the teacher in the video, Ms. Hochgrebe, uses technology (a technology called “clickers”) to aid student learning.


In their own words: “The company was established and funded in 2011 to solve a complex and persistent problem:  the military to civilian career transition is harder than it should be.  As of this writing, veteran unemployment stood at 20% for vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, underemployment for that group stood at 50% and approximately 75% of veterans who begin some kind of post secondary education don’t graduate.”

Buried in their core beliefs is this great line: “Technology is not the sole solution to improving education, it’s a means to an end.” Practical words to live by for any would-be educational startup. So often we fall into this trap that all of our education problems can be solved by the latest technologies (most recently, tablets). It’s a convenient way for us to ignore the real problems facing our schools and focus instead on a miracle solution to our problems; we want technology to help take the sweat and hard work out of education reform.

This is an absolutely necessary organization doing vital work that deserves the support of every American. That resources as helpful and comprehensive as Fidelis didn’t exist before is completely shameful. Regardless of what one may think of America’s military involvement abroad, soldiers are government employees risking their lives every day; the least that the government can do is help them transition back to civilian life. As Fidelis shows, our government has done a pretty lousy job.


From their website: “JobScout is an online learning platform that will teach you the basic digital literacy skills to find a job.” This is not a job search engine like Indeed or Monster, but rather a resource to help workers without a resume or without the skills to build a resume to begin their job search.


Hapara is a resource that helps teachers utilize Google apps to manage their classes, particularly assignments. From their website: “Hapara is an innovative cloud applications company with a portfolio of cloud products and services that provide enhanced functionality for education and enterprise deployments of Google Apps.” In essence, they help make Google apps more productive and useful for teachers.


“Gooru is a search engine for learning that allows you to explore and study over 2,600 standards-aligned and personalized study guides. Study guides cover 5th-12th grade math and science topics, and resources include digital textbooks, animations, instructor videos and more. All resources are vetted and organized by teachers or Gooru’s content experts, so you don’t have to sort through the mess of subpar educational resources available online yourself.”

Gooru is looking to expand their content to the language arts and social sciences.


I met the CEO and Founder of Sokikom, Snehal Patel. Patel explained Sokikom as a social learning game. Unlike a gaming platform like Zynga, Sokikom immerses whole classrooms in interactive, competitive educational games.  The games emphasize cooperation and collaboration between teams of students to learn math. Patel showed me a video of students playing the games in a classroom. Watching the way they responded to the competition of the game reminded me of my own students’ reactions to simple learning games. It was beautiful to watch.


Quizlet is already a well-known learning site on the web. It was the brainchild of a precocious fifteen year-old (currently taking time off from his studies at MIT to run the company). Essentially, it’s a platform for users to build and share flashcards and other learning materials. It’s a great resource for students. Currently, they’re designing a multi-player vocabulary game (you can read about the design of the game here). Players will receive a word and then, in real time, write a sentence using that word. The other players will vote on the sentence and how correctly the vocabulary word was used.

Quizlet presents their new interactive multi-player vocabulary game. The man who wrote the winning sentece? He's a venture capitalist.


Techcrunch described OpenStudy best: “Education-focused startup OpenStudy is a platform for ‘massively multi-player study groups.’” To put it another way, students can use OpenStudy to pose questions to a community of users. Those users in turn will respond to the question and try to coach the student through the correct answer. This sounds like it could be easily abused, and it probably could (some students try to use it that way). However, most of the replies tackle the question like a teacher would. That is, they go step-by-step through the problem until they get to the answer. What’s more, many of the students asking questions want understanding and not just the right answer. Check out this dialogue for an example of how it works.


Seeing this app in action is much cooler than reading about it (“Educreations is a global community where anyone can teach what they know and learn what they don’t. We’re on a mission to democratize learning by extending the reach of great teaching”). What educreations does is allow its users to utilize their tablet like a white board. For example, a user may want to try and solve a complex equation. As they progress through the problem and notice that their work isn’t right, they can erase. When they solve the problem they can then save all of their work (like a smart board). Chris Streeter told me that the program is being used by contractors to sketch over blueprints. They take the existing blueprint, make changes, and then send the new work to their partners.


Udemy is an online resource for students and would-be students. Users (professionals and non-professionals alike) can create courses (for free or pay) that other users then can subscribe to.  The company’s goal is “to disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online.” This is very similar to what Sebastian Thrun is doing with Udacity.

I sampled a few of the courses and, while the quality does vary, the potential is almost limitless. Udemy sums up the beauty of its product very nicely: “…anyone, anywhere with an internet connection can learn from the world’s experts. Most courses are taught on demand, meaning you can take them at your own pace, and every course includes a discussion board where you can interact with the instructor and your fellow students.”


LearnBoost describes itself as a free gradebook for Teachers. It’s a product that allows teachers to easily and effectively organize student information (grading, attendance, etc.) into a simple format. Most importantly, it can help teachers track overall student performance from week-to-week, assignment-by-assignment. Below is a video from the LearnBoost website explaining the product.


Schoolbinder is a metrics tool that can be used by teachers, students, and administrators. Administrators may want to use their evaluation tools, while students and teachers can use Schoolbinder’s more organizational functions.


CEO Andrea Lo told me that the idea for Piggybackr came when her eleven year-old sister had to fundraise for a school project: “Piggybackr started with a simple story.  [My] 11-year-old sister Chelsea (now age 12) wanted to raise money to save the rainforest by selling bracelets for $1 each. [I] challenged Chelsea to think bigger. As a result, Chelsea brought her fundraiser online and was able to raise $370. The best part, however, was not the money, but that Chelsea learned that she could make a difference.” It got Andrea thinking if there were a better way for students, teachers, and parents to fundraise. Piggybackr allows parents or teachers to set up an account, organize student fundraisers, and set goals. Students can then see how much money each is raising and how close they are to reaching their fundraising target. It’s a nice, simple design and a great way for students to become more involved in the fundraising process.

Global Lives

The Global Lives Project makes day-in-the-life videos of people from around the world. Their goal is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.”

Look at all those branches!


This is an awesome website that allows users to store and share their favorite web content in a totally intuitive, supportive structure. For example, you start with a simple “pearl”. From there, you can create other branches (“trees”) that match your interests. For example, I can begin with some simple pearltrees that match my interests: education, technology, history, etc. In turn, I can break these broader trees into other trees. In the case of technology, I might have trees like Social Media, The Internet, E-Books, etc.

What do you do with your pearltrees? Pearltrees has an app that places a button to the right of your sidebar. When you see a website or article that you really liked or want to save, you can click on the button. A menu will appear which will allow you to organize the link in the right tree.

The resulting pearltree might be as complex as the one on the left, or as simple as a few pearls centrally organized. It’s up to the user. You use Pearltrees in the way most intuitive to you. It’s about organizing your data for you.

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