Friday, 31 July 2015

Beta Startup, ISTE & EdChats: Opportunities and Challenges

I had planned on writing a few posts where I reflected on various aspects of being online, but this will have to wait. This is because of some interesting developments that have been going on as a result of some news about a technology company co-collaborating and co-creating with their users.

Since ISTE I have spent a lot of time pottering about on Declara, which is a startup I heard about prior to the launch of their beta version of thei site which promised to "Spark Social Learning." 

The founders outreach and description prior to launch saw me do something that I've never done before, I became an early users... complete with glitches and bugs. These issues have created some challenges and new opportunities.    

I've written a few posts about my experiences as an early user of Declara now and would like to stress that I am not affiliated with, nor have been compensated by Declara in any way.

My motivation here is based on the potential that I can see with this in education and re-visiting some older projects.

What's My Motivation
Through exploring the roll out of effective technology, I realise how difficult it can be to engage educators, and I have been exploring a few ideas around what the issues are and the reasons for this.
Part of my enthusiasm with this particular startup is because there are some older projects that I started, but had to shelf for various reasons. I feel this new platform could help with this, here are two examples;
1) I mentioned in yesterday's post how I have had patience with cuarting ISTE data, and my attempts at curating all the great links that get shared during periods of information overload like ISTE and during EdChats.

2) I had to completely abandon my 2014 New Year's Resolution... To work on a project that gets 100% roll out in UK Further Education Colleges, I think Declara could help with this project.

I am so confident that Declara can help with these goals that I'm putting a significant amount of time into testing some ideas to explore the possibilities. 

These things may be a long way off, will need a lot more time to develop... and may not pan out as expected. But one thing is for sure, if these projects have any chance at all they will require input from educators and other education stakeholders. Declara being in their beta phase would be a good time to provide some input, here's why...

Beta Tests
Some things that will eventually be automated are manual at the moment and take a bit of time.

For example, with the idea of curating conference and EdChat data, I curated 7,000 unique links from ISTE2015 (many of these will be duplicates due to the various link shorteners). I have manually imported over 800 articles into this collection.

When you click on the link it may only show 2 posts in this ISTE2015 Collection... but I can assure you there are 800+ articles on this link! It's just that the page is very slow to load.

This is the beta version so there will be minor glitches that need to be ironed out, as well as finding out how subscribers will be using the site. Then there is the question of what value is there for me, other users or for Declara to encourage a collection with anywhere from 2,000-7,000 articles? Honestly, I don't know.

However, I do get value from exploring these ideas. There were 200,000 Tweets from 20,000 delegates and lots of other people following from #NotAtISTE. 

I did not curate all ISTE related posts across all social media channels, but one thing that this has brought into sharp focus is that I can most definitely see how social media is an echo chamber. This has it's advantages when it comes to sharing best practice, but this also has it's flaws and limitations too. 

Having seen enough from manually importing lots of links, I hit the feedback button on Declara to ask if they will be able to upload the rest of the links en masse at their end. I assumed they would be able to do this.

I was informed that they can't at the moment, and that I'd need to continue to upload the links manually. I wanted to have a completed collection to get input from people to discuss how we might use the collection. 

As this ISTE2015 collection (And data from 2013) will now take longer than expected to upload the links, I started to do the same with EdCampLDR in the hope of seeing what people think of the idea and if new methods of collaborating can be found, or will it be duplication with existing tools? There are still 300 posts to sort through with this collection but it can be found on this link EdCampLdr Collection

A RSSponsive Startup!
When Declara replied to my feedback request I was told they were not able to automatically import these links, but the developers had added an RSS function which may help to automate collections like this in the future. They shared what they were doing with space and science topics so they have a STEM library. Check out some of the collections from

Declara Space Bot
Declara Physics Bot
Declara Nano Bot
Declara Biology Bot

As can be the case, startups is a messy business! For example, any challenges open up new opportunities... and then new challenges again. Lol. The joys of startupland!

Opportunity: Perhaps we can explore ways that links which are shared in EdChats could be curated into collections? Using tools like Queyfeed could be used to turn links from the chat into RSS feeds and import the links into Declara. The value of doing this this? It would only include any link that was used once AND could act as a back up for some resources with archives (More on the importance of this in a future post).

Challenge: The collections that have been curated via RSS feed have grown rapidly and may need some crowd sourcing to sort out which posts are suitable for certain subjects and age groups, as well as to highlight relevant insights.

All of my exploration as an early user has been in the hope that I will find ways of demonstrating enough value to potential to educators so they will join Declara and explore what is possible with this platform in the classroom.

For example, a real time news feed on science topics where an educator add their insights with other educators, students and scientists where they can message one another sure looks promising to me.

Effective EdTech
I have developed various ideas over the last few years because of my exploration of how effective EdTech gets developed like the importance of network effects, positive feedback loops, the life cycle of community and other community management issues. More than anything else

I know how important it is to co-create with potential users so projects achieve "Product Market Fit" 

This means that the product will be fit for purpose will get rolled out via word of mouth referrals... and I know
 how quickly educators can roll services out if they like it.

However, I also know how difficult it is to engage educators with early ideas. So I'll continue curating these collections and discuss my experiences as a user of this beta startup.

More to follow soon... I can't wait to tell you about some of the new connections I've made there, I think that educators will be especially interested to hear about Max.

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