SXSWedu summit: Slow Pitch – the new way to develop innovative edtech

UPDATE: Our summit was accepted for SXSWedu 2016! Stay tuned for information on how edtech startups can apply to be one of the featured participants!

There are 85 SXSWedu 2016 proposals with the word “pitch” in their titles. Our 4-hour summit proposal, Slow Pitch: An Edtech Design ThinkTank, brings together educators with amazing ideas, edtech startups, funders, developers, students, teachers, parents, school administrators, school directors of innovation, and educational researchers to do what should be done when pursuing new ideas for education – think hard about the ideas collaboratively. SXSWedu’s icon of a head/brain perfectly fits the goals of our summit.

Best of all – our summit will be highly interactive. While we have a mentor panel, the audience will bring additional perspectives and expertise that is so worthy that you’ll have multiple ways to get your comments, questions, and ideas on the floor during the session. We also will have amply breaks!

Here’s a run-down on our summit, which includes way more details than what’s up on SXSWedu’s proposal. Please vote YES for our summit – to support the development of new edtech that supports, transforms, and penetrates into teaching and learning.

How long do you imagine the summit running?

This would be a half-day summit (4-hours). In anticipation of audience not committing to the entire summit, we have events set up in 30 minute increments (with 5 minute transitions/breaks between each) with the ability for audience feedback (i.e., voting) to occur on a rolling basis. Results will be shown and discussed after each “slowpitchedu” 30-min session but also again at the culmination of the summit.  Note that we will not have a “winner” as is typical in most pitch sessions, but instead each edtech startup will emerge with deep ideas and generative feedback from their 30-minute slowpitchedu thinktank session. The outcome for all involved is to learn from the experience, not to select a winner.  

What does the timeline within your summit look like?

Workshop in Session

    • Introduction (5 minutes)
      • to panel mentors and companies
      • announce optional tech that will be used during session: twitter, polleverywhere
      • clarify the design thinktank summit is intended to bridge across edtech to help emerging edtech advance and innovate.
    • Slow Pitch Exhibits (20 minutes)Transition back to tables/seats (allowing 5 minutes)
      • Each edtech startup has an exhibit area to share information about their company / ideas/product(s)
      • Participants in the session get to talk with them / browse
      • Participants in the session can talk with mentors
    • Edtech SlowPitchEdu (this is repeated 5 times; once for each participating edtech startup, 30 minutes each)
      • Fast pitch 90-second pitch. (2 minutes) [This is mostly to get everyone grounded again; remind everyone in room of the focal company under discussion.]
      • Q&A alternating b/w mentors, audience tweet, and audience open mic (25 minutes)
        • Mentors ask questions.
        • Audience may tweet questions (We will have a graduate student monitor these to pull ones to be asked.) (questions posed by grad student)
        • Audience open mic (line can form)
      • Final feedback to edtech startup (2 minutes): Startup Response – Response to feedback. (1 minute)
        • GoogleForm for audience: final analysis on criteria related to: innovative concept, transforming learning, transforming teaching, potential to penetrate K-12 market
        • GoogleForm for mentors only: final analysis innovative concept, transforming learning, transforming teaching, potential to penetrate K-12 market
  • Breaks (5 minutes between each edtech startup slowpitchedu, total of 20 minutes)
  • Closing: What did the slowpitch edtech design thinktank make you think more about? (30 minutes)
    • Mentor comments (1 minute each, allow 13 minutes)
    • Startups – comments (1 minute each, 2 min in actuality – allow 7 minutes)
    • Audience comments – open mic (1 minute max, 10 minutes)

How many more speakers should we expect?

We are planning to have about 10 panelists, who include student, parent, teacher, school administrator, VC/funder, developer, entrepreneur, researcher.

Mentors: (confirmed)

  • Ms. Rafranz Davis, Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning, Lufkin ISD, Texas
  • Dr. Joan Hughes, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Learning Technologies, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Dr. Janice Trinidad, Ph.D., Veteran Science Teacher & Instructional Coach, Manor New Tech HS and ThinkForward PBL Institute
  • Mr. Marc Wright, 12th grade student, Round Rock High School
  • Mr. Eric Silva, Undergraduate Student, Computer Science, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • Dr. Gloria Gonzales Dholakia, Ph.D., Parent and Executive Director at Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation
  • Ms. Carolyn Foote, Librarian, Westlake High School, Austin Texas  
  • Mr. Lincoln Turner, EdTech Entrepreneur at Wizzimo
  • Ms. Angela Lee, Assistant Dean, Columbia Business School, & Founder,37 Angels

EdTech Startups Selection:

We will have an open call for applications for the edtech startup participation in SlowPitch. Criteria for inclusion will require:

  • an innovation idea or product for the PK-12 market
  • an innovation that targets processes involved in learning or teaching in schools subjects

We will group applicants into three categories of (a) emerging idea, (b) beta product, or (c) tested product. Emerging edtech startups have an idea but have not produced demos or mock-ups. Beta products have functioning products but have not been tested with users. Tested products are functioning and have some user testing completed or perhaps pilot tests conducted. We will randomly choose the edtech startups to invite – ensuring that we have at least one edtech startup in each of the three categories, with the two other selections to be from any of the three categories.

4 Questions & Answers about Technology Integration (from a journalist to me)

A journalist, Emily S., is writing a piece about 1:1 technology initiatives for the Highland Lakes Newspapers (The Highlander, Burnet Bulletin, Llano County Journal, Lake Country Life) and requested to ask me some questions. I share the questions and my answers here.

Q: What are some ways technology has changed the typical classroom? What do you think is the biggest change (for teachers, for students)?

Technology does not inherently change classrooms. But some uses of technology can change the approach to instruction shifting it from teacher-centric, teacher-controlled to instruction and learning that is more student-centered. This is more likely to occur when the technology is put in the hands of the students, as opposed to technologies that are teacher-centric, such as projectors, teacher computers, grading and attendance software. Putting technology in the hands of the students can give the learners more agency in their learning, in which they might be able to choose the best way to engage in a task. Or student might even design an inquiry learning task.

Given that, though, 1:1 implementations do not always create such a student-centered learning environment. My research and others in the field also show school classroom environments in which students who all have computing devices simply take notes of teacher lectures or creating presentations that summarize textbook chapters. In these settings, the technology is having no impact toward changing pedagogy or learning.

The biggest change is vastness of information on the Internet and available apps. Schools think that they’ll eliminate textbooks in order to buy laptops or tablets. But this shifts the curricular development onto the shoulders of teachers who are not only trying to learn a new technology but now also have to curate an entire year’s curriculum using open educational resources (educational resources that are available on the internet for free) that are seemingly endless. While the idea of having teachers create their own curriculum and choose resources is amazing, this responsibility cannot just be dropped onto teachers’ shoulders with no notice, support, or resources for development.

Q: How can teachers avoid side-effects of technology, such as decreases in attention spans, being easily distracted?

The best way to avoid students from being distracted (daydreaming, shopping on the internet, ordering take-out for lunch, playing off-task games) is to create vibrant, interesting, motivating lessons that involve students in interactive ways that lead students to developing new knowledge (that solve real problems – even better if the problems are community-based!).

Q: Do you think students are apt to give up more quickly when the answers don’t come easily? (Students might get used to instant answers, in other words…)

Motivational theory puts forth that learners maintain motivation when given series of short, attainable goals that have importance. Designing instructional activities, then, would lead a teacher not to create assessments that have short, instant answers, but instead are complex problems that require inquiry. The answers are unique and are not necessarily known already by the teacher or the students. Through the inquiry, the teacher would work with students in developing small goals that, as each are completed, help the students move farther towards solving the larger problem.

Overall, students are not motivated by worksheets that ask for one answer, which reflects information easily found in textbooks or on the Internet.

Q: Do you think using technology in the classroom makes students less sociable? How can teachers avoid this pitfall?

For the most part, I do not think that technology in the classroom makes students less sociable. But it all depends on how the teacher organizes the use of technology.

If the teacher implements a “personalized” tutoring software in which students put on earphones and listen to problems on a computer screen and answer multiple choice questions individually, then YES this approach to the use of technology makes students less sociable.
If the teacher implements an inquiry-based lesson in which students (in groups) are using tablets to collect data about our social world, pull the data into data analysis software (such as spreadsheet or visualization tools) and find answers to the inquiry, then NO, technology IS supporting social learning, which is optimal for learning to occur.

Most contemporary technologies are social and interactive technologies. Educational apps that do not have features that allow collaboration, sharing, and publication are not supportive of optimal pedagogy and learning.
The general public can simply reflect on what technologies motivate them to engage? They will most likely realize the technologies they are excited to be involved in involve small doable challenges (video games with levels), social interaction with other people (Facebook, twitter), interest-based social groups (the biking club, the knitting club), creating or sharing (e.g., a writers group, photography site).

New Book Chapter: iTeach and iLearn with iPads in secondary English language arts

I co-authored a book chapter with Ph.D. student, Gregory Russell, that is due out in Spring 2013. The chapter emerges from my research study iTeach and iLearn with iPads and reflects a year of data collection in a high school that created a ubiquitous environment for iPad-supported teaching and learning. The article is set within what I think will be a superb collection of  chapters in Charles Miller and Aaron Doering’s The new landscape of mobile learning: Re-designing education in an app-based world.

Scholarly Reference to the Book Chapter:

Russell, G. S. & Hughes, J.E. (In Press/Pub Date: Spring 2013.) iTeach and iLearn with iPads in secondary English language arts. In C. Miller & A. Doering (Eds.) The new landscape of mobile learning: Re-designing education in an app-based world. New York: Routledge.

 Following is the abstract of the chapter: 

Tablet computers like the iPad seem to be well-suited for educational purposes, but no empirical research yet exists that examines its potential. This chapter shares the stories of Brett and Julie, two veteran high school English teachers who are integrating iPads into their classrooms for the first time as a part of a 1:1 iPad initiative at Hilly High School. We share an analysis of their practices, developed over the past year via weekly classroom observations, formal interviews and numerous informal discussions. From these risk-taking practitioners, we identify and discuss issues related to pedagogy, assessment, new media literacies, efficiencies, student behavior, engagement, distractability, and academic integrity. Results indicate that the iPad improves the efficiencies of learning activities but also introduces new classroom management issues. Many teaching and learning activities with the iPad can be both engaging or distracting. Our findings may prove useful to districts, schools, and practitioners who venture to establish similar ubiquitous tablet-supported educational innovations.

We welcome questions and feedback regarding our work with this project. We are currently working on a manuscript focused on school leaders’ perspectives on the iPads and support mechanisms or iPad technology integration.

If you are unable to obtain a copy of this work, please email me [joanh at austin dot utexas dot edu], and I will gladly share a copy with you.