Tie And Jeans

#dcedu Pivot and Fumble

“Who would ever look at all that crap?”

Once our team formed, this become the central question. From a startup’s perspective, the real question is “who would ever PAY to look at all that crap?” That distinction drove most of our work through the rest of the weekend, and I think directly contributed to the damp fizzle of our eventual product.

The core concept of Show Your Work was to streamline the process of teachers gathering and sorting digital records of what happens in class. For our narrow 56-hour focus, this came to mean digital images of classroom work, but that’s a narrow slice of what I walked in with. I admit being directly inspired by Shawn Cornally’s anti-grading system, Blue Harvest. (The anti-grading tag mine, not the offical company motto. But it’s pretty consistent with Shawn’s blog) Blue Harvest moves directly against the reductive nature of arbitrary letter grades and endevours to build rich conversations between students, teachers and parents around specifc artifacts of student work. But in it’s current implementation, Blue Harvest still requires teachers to digitally collect and identify student work, then upload it into the system where the conversation can take place. Show Your Work envisions a different system, where Step Zero of the collection process tags the material with student name and subject, and then throws it into the cloud for storage and later retrieval. The hypothetical integration between Show YourWork and BlueHarvest would have the teacher taking pictures and video clips of classroom interactions all day, then at the end of the day loggin into a populated system to find that great conversation between Tamika and Yousef ready for her comments.

But who would pay for it? So we moved our focus higher up the adminsitration ladder. Maybe principals and heads would pay for the service and encourage teachers to gather more of what happens in their class, so they could have a more balanced classroom observation. Instead of dreading that your observation will fall on the day of your rootcanal, you can stack the record with all the amazing things that happen in your class everyday.

But, really, administrators are looking for how students are meeting mastery targets for Common Core Standards. And they don’t have time to watch videos of kids talking, they just need to see high level records of who’s succeeding and who’s failing. So lets gather that, putting success and failure ribbons over every peice of student work, slicing it up into context-free chunks of 3 O.A 2

This process of sliding the focus of the service to meet the imagined needs of who would pay for a large-scale installation happened throughout the weekend. The great tech fixes, notably abandoning the QR-code as the primary data tool and moving towards an Android/IOS app with easy shortcuts for tag-groups, only drove us further up that path. The app should come loaded with Common Core standards as tags. Every photo snap should have a consistent Developing Mastery slider overlaid on it.

In looking for users who would pay for a service, we lost what would have made the tool useful to teachers.


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3 thoughts on “#dcedu Pivot and Fumble

  1. This is a really, really interesting post, and something I’ve been thinking a lot with the Startup Weekend model coming to education. Is the emphasis on the business plan — on building a startup, after all — the wrong fit for what we need to be building?

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Audrey –

      Startup Weekend’s emphasis on the business plan, and on building scalable profitable organizations in general, makes all kinds of sense. As Farb said in response to some questions about CodeNow, the SWEDU focus is NOT just K-12 classroom ed. As such, it makes more sense to look for organizations that can exist and thrive without direct institutional support.

      What I saw at #dcedu reflected a few dominant targets for ed startups. There were several marketplace systems, designed to facilitate connections between independent content generators (teachers, tutors, physical trainers, curriculum writers, whatever) and a paying audience. There were some that focused on generating curriculum or teaching experiences internally, like CodeNow or the Hire Me training game. And then there were startups that tried to address a “pain point” of the existing institutional infrastructure, which ranged from the winners(?) and the crowd-sourced calendar data from syllabus project to FourEyesOnMe, including ShowYourWork.

      What’s missing from that list, and what I had hoped to see more of, is anything tools that you could hand to a current classroom teacher and put into immediate use. The closest was the language-learning browser plug-in, which I would love to see developed as an open standard that teachers could modify, rather than a managed curriculum.

      My experience at #dcedu was overwhelmingly positive, but it did leave me wondering whether there’s space for some more FOSS culture in events like this.

      One of the main tech challenges that schools deal with is that applying a broad, hyperflexible solution (say, Moodle) to your particular need is itself an engineering and implementation challenge. I’d love to see a collection of smaller, more focused tools emerge from this culture, rather than a handful of disjointed marketplaces, empty curriculum vaults and deserted social networks.

      Thanks for reading! It was your post after the Seattle event that drew my attention to #dcedu in the first place.

  2. Pingback: Living Whistestop « Tie And Jeans

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