Dot Com 2.0: The Revenge

Interesting article:

A Boom Time for Education Start-Ups

The dollar amounts mentioned in this article are impressive. The growth even more so. But what is particularly interesting is the formula.

  1. Start with a large bowl of fresh Internet
  2. Add 10 years of Moore’s Law seasoned hardware advances (broadband, wifi, “stuff in the cloud”)
  3. Add millions of dollars
  4. Mix thoroughly
  5. Pour mixture into LMS-that-doesn’t-look-like-Blackboard-but-has-social-media-stuff-bolted-on cake pan
  6. Sprinkle with digital textbooks that are nonetheless textbooks
  7. Half bake and serve immediately

Given this is an article from the “Chronicle of Higher Education”, it isn’t surprising that the focus is on traditional university and public education transformation. In my view, this isn’t where the substantive innovations are going to manifest. This article reflects that position in that entrepreneurs face steep resistance from educrats.

Furthermore, when I read quotes like this:

But recently, Mr. Staton said, “something in the zeitgeist” is giving education entrepreneurs access to money, advice, and talent that was once reserved for other sectors.

Or this:

The company (OneSchool), whose mobile application was inspired by a cellphone photo of a homework problem, pulls in publicly available data to connect students with real-time bus maps, faculty directories, and local eateries near their campuses. It has raised $750,000 in seed money so far.

I’m reminded of much that I saw during the dotcom boom and bust. Zeitgeist, eh? That must be some sort of one word business plan. And maybe its a cool app OneSchool has coded, but take the student/campus context out and all it appears to be is …well, another cool app. It may help with personal organization or whatever, but how is it advancing a transformation in education? Yesterday’s killer web site is today’s killer mobile app, apparently.

“There would be a lot more investment in companies that are figuring out how to serve schools if schools simply streamlined the process of making decisions about whether or not to adopt technology.” Colleges have students’ best interests in mind, but “in a world full of good intentions, our biggest competition is indecision,” Mr. Staton said.

Well then, fasten your tuition seat belts, brush aside the school’s good intentions, and roll out Mr. Staton’s good intentioned solutions filled with all that zeitgeist goodness. On the plus side, those who paid attention the first time around will know when to cash in and leave the party.

Fifteen years ago, the perception was that whatever your problem, technology was the answer. In particular, one needed web-based technology. Today, the perceived solution to what ails education is again technology. Its like saying the solution to homelessness is tools when in fact the solution to homelessness is homes. Tools are needed to create that solution, but we have to understand the problem before we can design the solution and then choose the most effective and appropriate tools to build the solution.