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Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the classroom

You remember Mary Poppins? How many teachers dream to have her magical powers when they face a sleepy classroom on a gloomy Monday morning!

One of teacher’s main challenge is to propose learning experiences that allow genuine student engagement.

In a classroom, the learning process is usually driven by the teacher. The teacher designs the lesson, defines the learning objectives, is in charge of student assessment. Often the result is a top down process that leaves a number of students “off the road”.

There is no magical solution to raise student engagement. Alternative school models haven’t proved significantly more efficient than “traditional” ones. A democratic school for instance where students have an equal say than teachers is no guarantee of student engagement.

The success depends on the degree of ownership that can be gained at the student level, i.e. if they are fully part of the learning process. Participation is a critical point in the classroom daily routine.

It doesn’t necessarily imply adopting new learning models such as project-based learning, cooperative or collaborative learning.  These models are often presented as a solution to student lack of engagement and participation. But we underestimate the complexity of implementing these new models. Neither the teachers, nor the schools are prepared while simple tools can help teachers achieve their engagement goals.

Technology in the classroom must be a facilitator of participation that teachers should use more (and not be afraid of) in their day to day teaching in the classroom.

If every student is using a digital device in the classroom, this is how it should work:

- the teacher creates a well structured lesson that enable every student to move forward at his/her own pace; the lesson has to be simply designed. Often a single picture with an insightful question makes the job!

- students must only require teacher’s attention if they really need it to move forward;

- teacher must know who needs attention at all time simply by having a look at their screen;

- teacher must be able to share a student’s contribution with the whole class anytime;

This super simple technology should have two key features:

- a powerful and easy to use editorial tool to create lessons in minutes and enable teacher and students to annotate them live;

- a shared screen functionality that give the teacher the possibility to interact live with all students’ screens.

No need to call Mary Poppins!

Unio by Harness does it!

 You can find out more about Unio here.




Monopsony in Blue: Is there a market for Edtech?

Is there a market for Edtech?

Education is one of the favoured market for a new generation of entrepreneurs. Edtech’s ambition is to rhyme with Fintech, Healthtech, Cleantech… and Edtech funds ambition to transform into billions the Edtech magic.

Counting by the number of startups or application apps, this new eldorado is already there.

But a paradox remains: “why is it so hard for Edtech startups to sell to schools?”. In a recent article, there was an attempt to give some explanations:

  • It is not easy to reach the people who make the decisions.
  • There is fear of change and new things.
  • There are many stakeholders.
  • The market is overcrowded.
  • Products lack validation.

In fact, they are all part of the same story: all innovations target the same decision makers. When it comes to innovation in the classroom, nothing can be done without the teacher’s asentment (even if the intention would be to substitute him or her!) and the head master’s agreement.

The Edtech market has therefore a unique characteristic: it is a one-buyer market or better said, a monopsony. Only one buyer (the school) interacts with many potential sellers (the Edtech entrepreneurs) and has therefore almost absolute market power.

In this monopsony, there is no other alternative than to convince, seduce, attract the teacher. New strategies could be designed and joining forces may be desirable: why should entrepreneurs struggle desperately and separately to capture teachers’ attention. Joint offers could be made. New forms of distribution could be envisaged.

Monopsony in Blue

Monopsony in Blue


But to start with, there is a core issue to take into consideration: teacher’s risk preference. In other words, are teachers ready to take risks to change their practices and innovate in the classroom?

Intuition often says no and research evidences seem to confirm it.  Bowen analyses Teacher Risk Preferences  and by comparing preferences of new teachers with those entering other professions, he finds that individuals choosing to teach are significantly more risk averse.

He also suggests that new policies introducing for instance performance incentives for teachers (performance pay programs) could attract less risk-averse individuals into the teaching profession. In the meanwhile the Edtech entrepreneurs should invest time and money to train a new generation of teachers into innovation.

Does edtech work?

Why do you think your solution works?

This question was asked by Rose Luckin to some of the world brightest edtech entrepreneurs gathered in London for the GESA – Global Edtech Startups Awards – final event last January, 23.

Sometimes seemingly innocent questions happen to be very tricky. This is the case with edtech innovators. This is THE question they don’t like to hear!

Why does it work? No clear answers emerged:

- because we know it

- because our sales are growing

- because our users tell us so

- because all our learners found a job

- because you can read it in the press…


Rose – and many of us – wanted strong evidences that demonstrate the impact of an edtech solution on learning.

Her latest book – Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology – raises three main questions:

- how and why learning happens and how different technologies can enhance it
- how engage a variety of learners through technology and helping them benefit from it
- how technology can support teaching.

book rose

Edtech entrepreneurs should depart from complacency, take their impact analysis one step further and investigate their real impact on learning.

There are many ways to do it:

-       Embed impact analysis in the whole learning process

-       Run randomized controlled trial directly with their users

-       Partner with independent evaluators to coordinate the process

But more importantly, edtech entrepreneurs should take into account the results of the impact analysis to adapt their solutions to users’ needs.

Edtech magic requires evidence to succeed. Olli Vallo from Kokoa in Finland will agree. His agency just does this: test and validate edtech solutions to help schools and teachers make the right choices.

One advice then for all edtech lovers: look at the evidence!


Edtech vs. Medtech vs. Fintech

The three European finalists for the GESA Awards are now known. The Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA) co-organized by MIndCET and PAU Education have seen this year more than 600 startups applying from 70 countries and among them more than 150 Europeans.

The three winners reflect the diversity of the edtech sector.

SocialTalent is a SaaS company that changes how people work through learning, whilst enabling companies to measure their Return on Learning (ROL).

Serious Factory  has developed its own authoring tool to democratise 3D simulations and Serious Games.

Unió by Harness  gives teachers a range of powerful tools to increase student engagement, monitor progress in real-time and personalise learning.

GESA Logos-blue

Edtech is experiencing a key evolution towards a major democratization, major users’ autonomy and major personalization.

Edtech should increasingly respond to three major questions:

-        Does it work? What is the return on learning?

-        How does it work? How easy is it to create our own learning scenario?

-        For who does it work? Can we enable anyone to learn better?

But there is another trend I would like to highlight following the analysis of the GESA applications: Edtech, Fintech and Medtech are getting increasingly connected. Several of the GESA applicants are mixing these concepts to produce innovative proposals.

Financial education for instance appears to be directly connected to better learning at the university level Blackbullion helps students focus on their studies while managing their finances, one of the most stressful aspect of university life for most students.

More impressive is the move towards medtech done by several edtech startups.

Dromnibus is based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to support the therapy of children with Autism. 3asyr helps dyslexics with reading difficulties to have an easier and better online reading experience. Noisolation tackles social isolation and loneliness of children and young adults with long-term illness.

Most of the fintech and medtech innovations are based on professional expertise and a clear promise of financial and social return.

A more intuitive approach was missing. This is what edtech provides: the importance of better learning experiences to improve our quality of life in all its dimensions.

Why Edtech Matters to the Rights of the Child?

The anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) helps us question the role of innovation in education to make reality CRC article 28: “Every child has the right to an education.”

Susan Hopgood of Education International reminds us how important education is for all of us. According to the My World UN survey we are 63% to believe that education is what most matters on top of any other social issues. The UN makes clear that a good education requires that governments and the private sector should work together to provide opportunities for lifelong learning. Public-private partnership is also central to the SDGs achievements(SDG #17) and obviously to SDG #4 to ensure “inclusive and quality education for all”.

unicef right education

How could innovators in education contribute to this goal? Gabrielle Thomas has no doubt that edtech startups can make a significant contribution. She mentions “user experience improvements, design thinking tools and Lean methodologies”. Can we be more specific? Which are the key challenges that edtech entrepreneurs can help address?

Let’s list some of them: lack of local educative resources, textbook scarcity (and cost), learning hubs with online resources to substitute jammed classrooms, Artificial Intelligence to offer new mentoring/tutoring facilities, new type of learning spaces adapted to local participatory cultures. We see the importance of innovation to ensure that education responds to local culture and isn’t diluted into a “one size fits all” approach based on universal LMS or adaptive learning solutions.

Solutions should first come from emerging countries themselves. They know best local cultures specificities. Kytabu, a Kenyan startup and winner of the 2nd Global EdTech Startup Awards, a competition co-organized by Israeli startup accelerator, MindCET and PAU Education and its Open Education Challenge, offers an app capable of delivering digital textbooks, and assessments to students. Asafeer, a Dubai based startup and winner of the Transforming Education Prize at the Seedstars Summit provides an Arabic-language app for children.

But on top of all edtech magic, teachers remain the key to resolve the education challenge.  They are the “graphite inside the pencil” that most matters to education improvements. Have a look at how Rania Ezzat initiative use technology to teach SDG to her students in Egypt. This is at the end what education is about: a global approach to solve all problems – including in her case desertification – and not only specific education issues.

This is why innovators in education must endorse a global commitment for social change to make a real difference for children’s future.

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