Democratizing Education Technology

Today, we’re announcing an investment in Schoology, a next generation collaborative learning platform that combines the elements of a learning management system, a social networking platform, and enterprise resource system all in one hyper-intuitive interface.

I’ve known the Schoology team for some time, having spent the last year getting to know them.  It’s a testament to the power of building enduring relationships.  We’ve had a clear set of mutual expectations of what we were driving towards and it all finally came together.  It is a fantastic team and I am amazed at the power and complexity of the system they have built in the short while they have been around.  The uptake has been tremendous for good reason.

Teachers can sign up for the platform in under a minute and have the best in modern technologies available to them, for free!  Teachers can easily invite students into the system using a unique access code.  From there, the sky is the limit.  Teachers can build a curriculum, create lesson plans, build tests and quizzes, have students submit homework into a dropbox, grade assignments, see classroom analytics, encourage students groups formation for peer learning, and much more.  In addition, teachers can collaborate with one another and share content.  Pushes us one step further towards the notion of Open Educational Resources.  Teachers can also add apps, such as plagiarism checks, directly into their workflow.  All this with a Facebook like interface that requires no training.

The best part of the system is that technology selection has been completely democratized to the actual users.  Schoology does not spend months and years convincing heads of a system as to whether the technology suits their needs.  Users simply adopt it.  Upon seeing users within a system grow naturally, Schoology has the privilege of notifying districts or universities about additional capabilities available to them with a few clicks of a button.  Schoology can also enable powerful integrations with existing legacy systems.  No more promises of what can be, no vaporware, no millions of dollars spent on configuration and changes.

The platform also has transformational capabilities.  Because it is social at its core, it benefits from powerful network effects.  With nearly 1 million users already on the platform across 18,000 K-20 and higher education schools, you can bring the power of a developer community to build on the platform.  Content can be built, shared and purchased directly from within.  Teachers can be given micro-credits to personalize the system for their needs.  Parents can be invited to participate in the educational process.  It is truly a radical shift.

And it’s not just schools that can leverage the technology.  Any institution that views training and learning critical is a potential customer.  In addition to schools, corporations have signed up to use it internally.  One of the largest corporate users is Groupon, which uses the platform for field sales training.  They have their proprietary materials that need to be mastered and tested and revisted regularly to ensure a well trained team.

The next generation of education will bring stark changes: transition to digital textbooks and content, movement towards adaptive learning, advancement of the flipped classroom.  But most powerful of all is potentially the technology platform that connects it and us all together.  Schoology represents just that.  We’re thrilled to be involved with the team.

NYC: The Media Capital in 2020?

Today, I attended the kick-off dinner to the NYC Economic Development Center’s efforts to shape and support NYC’s position as the media capital of the world for the next decade.  The event was held at Gracie Mansion, and included 40-50 of the media industry’s most notable names.  It was a great cross-section – from traditional media to the largest ad agencies to the newest digital media properties to deans of the leading NY universities to various NYC venture capitalists – all assembled to discuss the changes affecting the industry, and specifically how the city can create long term initiatives to ensure NYC remains the media capital in 2020. 

The city seems to take this project quite seriously.  It’s hired Oliver Wyman as lead consultants, it is setting up a website that will leverage the latest technologies to facilitate the dialogue, and has set up a rigorous program by which to have regular discourse and detailed action items.   

The session was kicked off by Mayor Bloomberg, who spent much of his time talking about the need for hope and the belief that the bad times would eventually yield a strong recovery.  He made a number of interesting points, including highlighting an article by Fareed Zakariya that talked about how Canada has had zero bank failures, managed consistent government budget surpluses, has home ownership at the same rate as America without the tax deductibility of mortgage interest payments, and has been growing as a country largely on the backs of sound fiscal policy, common sense and an open immigration policy.   He mentioned a number of interesting statistics about NYC, including that it had more fashion houses than Paris, and took the occasional shot at the folks in Albany.  He also pointed out NYC’s fiscal discipline in cutting expenses in the budget by $3 billion.  It felt like he was beginning his campaign.

After the Mayor spoke, members of the NYC EDC set the stage about the media industry in NYC.  Some relevant facts:

·         Media is the second largest industry in NYC, behind financial services;

·         Media employs over 300,000 people, representing 10% of the total, and over $30 billion in revenues;

·         The 305 large and very large media businesses accounted for only 50% of the media jobs in the city, the remaining 50% came from the 15,000 small and medium sized businesses in the city (driving the point home that supporting innovation and small businesses are high on the agenda).

We then transitioned to a plenary session discussing the positives and negatives of doing business in NYC, and the key issues we would need to deal with to ensure the “Media NYC 2020” vision.  The highlights included:

·         NYC is still “the place” young people want to be, for its energy, arts, culture, and unique mix of people, and that is an important characteristic to maintain and support;

·         The lines between media and technology are blurring, and there is a strong need to improve the quality of the engineering and development talent to face this growing trend, lest Silicon Valley keep all the technology spoils to itself;

o   Many examples of how media firms have simply put their technology development in different geographies because they could not find the needed talent in NYC;

o   A universal sentiment that NYC needed to establish a “Media Center” that brought together academia, industry, and the bleeding media technology issues in a similar manner that MIT has done for Boston/Cambridge or Stanford for the Valley;

o   Discussions about creating engineering scholarship programs to attract the best and smartest students from around the globe to the city;

o   Discussions about tax incentives and credits for startups to combat both the higher cost of living and the more lucrative salaries that financial services firms had paid techies.  One radical idea of creating tax free zones as some other foreign countries have done to foster community and innovation;

·         In the debate about whether the city should support “traditional media” or “new media”, an acknowledgement by several that “big media” could not lead the charge, as it is facing a fundamental shift in market forces and will be permanently in a cost optimization mode for its legacy products.  The key is not who should be protected, but that the industry of content creation, aggregation, distribution, and monetization be supported without regard to old or new so that NYC maintains its status as media capital.

It was an interesting night filled with plenty of good conversation.  What other suggestions would you have for the folks at the NYC EDC?  Please post them here, and I’ll be sure to pass them along!