Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sales Matters in EdTech: Re-Orientation Class

There is some convergence with a topic within the various communities that I am involved with at the moment as there is a lot of discussion around the issue of Professional Development (PD). 
  • #EdTechChat highlighted that this was the most active discussion they had since the chat was established 12 months ago.
  • EdSurge have just published a PD guide for educators 
  • #EdTechBridge is exploring some ideas to see what they can do to develop PD beyond this evenings' discussion via their Action Speaks Louder than Words campaign
  • FE is looking for ways to engage educators more with EdTech with FELTAG
  • I am always looking for ways to develop my own skills. At the moment this includes exploring the work of Community Managers... which involves producing good content 
What can Sales do for PD?
I want to help out with these PD initiatives, but I'm not an educator. I'm involved with EdTech, which is fine, EdSurge and EdTechBridge are aimed at EdTech as well as educators... and the #EdTechChat and #ukfechat communities seem keen to hear about my various ramblings. BUT... my experience and the roles I've had within the sector isn't exactly what you'd call a popular or welcome topic.

I'm always keen to point out the similarities that exist between all stakeholders and a, rather unfortunate, area where there is common ground is with attitudes about roles I've held in the past... It would appear that sales is universally loathed;
  • Educators are sick and tired of being misled and mis-sold by a group of people who, collectively, they can tend to view as unscrupulous and greedy.
  • CEO's and Managers are dependent on salespeople, but fear their power, which seems uncontrollable at times. The world of sales may overwhelm those who prefer the neater world of spreadsheets and financial plans. But need the sales in order to fill their spreadsheets!
  • Whether within education or their own organisation techies seem to view salespeople with suspicion... at best! At worse they just downright despise them. Perhaps hardly surprising given introvert Vs extrovert & meticulous Vs "winging it" personality types.

Never put an Introvert in a Sale Job?

There is a dichotomy here for me personally. I have experience in sales, but don't think that I fit the stereotype (at least I hope not!), I certainly don't agree with any of "typical sales people" that I've met. I'm an introvert with a passion for Education and Technology, so don't disagree with some of the observations above. While the findings from "Teachers Know Best" do not surprise me, they are extremely concerning. And sales people must have played a role, right? 

Sure, they might have. After all they are the people who sold the service. However, I have also had to deal with situations where all stakeholders have rounded on the sales team... even when this has been more than a little unwarranted. Sometimes they have been extremely unfair and entirely inaccurate! 

Maybe an unscrupulous CEO (who is responsible for hiring & training his/her staff) blames the sales team when there are problems with their product. Or perhaps the Educator feels the sales person sold a "rubbish" or "complicated" product, but the educator did not have the right kind of PD and/or did not commit the recommended amount of time exploring the product? 

The dislike for sales people seems to allow for a multiple of sins to be brushed over with a chorus of "It must have been the greedy, unethical sales person saying 'whatever he needed to' in order to close the deal and get commission" 

Learning from Experience
Like it or not, sales is the area I have experience in. I am also keen to contribute to both EdSurge and EdTechBridge PD projects. I used to try to disguise the fact that I was in sales, and I'm not alone. 

The next time you are at an education conference which is supported by exhibitors take a look at the delegate list, and have a look at how many job titles have the word "sales" in it Vs "Business Development Manager," "Education Specialist" or  "Partnerships Manager" etc.

Today not only am I less bothered about being involved with sales, I am reasonably pleased with my experience and skill set. The reason? Because today I use whatever ability I have to support good ideas. I've helped drum up interest for some EdChats, I've supported EdTech companies that I have no association at all with. I have supported things simply because they were "good ideas" and what they offered seemed to fulfill a need.

So I am going to discuss an issue that I have experience with, even if no one likes this area of experience. Something that I hope to achieve is to demonstrate the knock on effect the current mindset and attitudes have on EdTech development;

1) People don't like sales, so
2) It gets treated separately from the EdTech ecosystem (by both Edu & EdTech), therefore
3) We tend not to discuss it... except to apportion blame when no one wants to admit to buying/producing bad EdTech. So "blaming sales" is the toxic dumping ground to mask bad decisions.

I think this is a mistake. Even taking the worst possible case scenario and we accept that the 50% of EdTech that is ineffective is the result of unethical sales people... At the very least, surely we need to ask "What on earth is the HR and training department doing?" I hope to shine a light on this and (attempt to) demonstrate how and why this is. I intend to write a few posts on the topic of "Sales Matters" starting with Sales Matters 101:

Sales Re-Orientation Class
Most courses have orientation classes... not this one. This is re-orientation! You see, everyone has a view on sales. When Philip Delves Broughton told friends that he was working on a book on sales half of his friends said "salespeople? Ugh" the other half said "Selling... It makes the world go round"

So today's class I'm going to do my best to disorientate you by questioning your views, opinions and perceptions, and ask you to consider questions like;

  • Isn't education just a sales job... of sorts? 
  • Is education to blame for any unprofessional sales practices that exist?
  • Why does Education ignore some sales organisations? Esp when;
i) The programs are extremely popular with the corporate world
ii) Some of these organisations  are filling in the inadequacies of education
  • A mixed message from Education... Love entrepreneurs; dislike sales people?
Selling Education
The divisive nature of sales and education can perhaps be demonstrated if you were to make the following comment in a busy staff room/staff meeting;

"The job of educator is really just a sales job... After all we need to "sell" the value of our subject to a (sometimes skeptical/disinterested) group of people and then present the subject in a convincing and memorable way? Discuss"
If you get anything like the reaction that I've had, you'll get some people "saying yeah, I suppose your right" and others disagreeing vehemently. "I spent years studying to be a teacher, and you're comparing my job to someone with no training and [insert any other expletive you like here]?!" I make the same point about training myself... although from a slightly different perspective. 

I am not an educator, so I'll side step this debate and focus on my experiences as a parent. We continually reinforce the value of education to our kids, we encourage them to read and the house is full of books, I am rarely caught without having a book (or two) within arms reach. However, despite highlighting the benefits, leading by example and having some sales experience, it is still a huge struggle to "sell" reading... especially when my argument and pitch is up against XBox and Minecraft etc. 

Sales People? Yuck! "I blame the... Educators?"
A quick question for any teacher who reacted negatively to the thought of Education being a sales job, I presume part of this negative reaction was because of some poor experiences with sales people? In that case... follow up question;

Who do you blame for the sales persons' behaviour? Is it nurture Vs nature? Was it genetics? Do you blame the parents? Or was it the CEO of the company and/or the sales training industry? What about the role education played? Or, to be more accurate, the role education didn't play!  

How many university courses do you get on marketing, accounting, strategy, economics? Lots right? How many courses focus on sales? 

Not only are there few stand alone courses on the topic, but it is absent from even the most prestigious MBA programs. When Philip Delves Broughton, the author of "Life's a Pitch," did his MBA at Harvard he said that sales was totally absent from the curriculum. Are there any consequences with such an omission? If so, what impact does it have? 

It means that there is a void which is filled in the same way it has been since the 1900s "How to" books and biographies. 
Would you employ an accountant who's entire experience was "The Little Red Book of Accounting?" No? Of course you wouldn't! Yet the profession of sales can be entered into without even picking up a book on the subject. Positions are advertised as "No experience required" and that "Training will be provided" 

We know what educators think of not having qualified teachers in the classroom, we also know that educators have concerns about how much influence employers can have with the development of some courses... Yet sales is a profession that you can walk in off the street with no qualifications of experience and get trained using the company's in-house methods.

How on earth are you supposed to get a consistently professional experience with this kind of model?!

Elite Sales Experience
I have never had any formal sales training of any description. Any philosophy I have is "a bit of a hodgepodge" through a process of trial and error, self-discovery and through reading about people and organisations that I admire.

If a student came to a careers advisor and said "I want to be the best sales person in XYZ industry" what would the advisor suggest they study, and where? Would the advice be to go on a course that the corporate world is a big fan of, but which academics tend to ignore... despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they have successfully addressed some of the inefficiencies within our education system. 

"Dale Carnegie is not a company taken seriously by academic students of business. But corporations and eminent business leaders seem to adore it." Life's a Pitch

I experienced this when I posted the Tweets that feature in this post. I got little or no interaction or engagement from educators... However, some extremely experienced and influential entrepreneurs & business leaders started following me.  

The Art of the Sale... Entrepreneurs Selling themselves in Education 
I am a huge fan of innovation in education and ethical and welcome engagement with educators. This approach has led to career in sales not doing too well at the moment (more on this in future "Sales Matters" posts). I'm considering getting in touch with some successful entrepreneurs to get some tips and advice.

I know that entrepreneurs are all the rage in education, with new programs springing up on a regular basis with various "celebrity entrepreneurs" support and endorsements. I find a number of things regarding this, how shall I put it... erm "curious" but, for the purposes of this post, will remain focused on the dichotomy here with sales and education.

There is something of a love affair for all things entrepreneur in education, but a disdain for what they do for a living. After all what is a successful entrepreneur, if not the consummate sales person? There may be much admiration for entrepreneurs even those "Lovable rouges" whose philosophy is "just get the sale done... never mind the customer" mentality when it features on The Apprentice and other shows. I think educators would be extremely intolerant of such behaviour if reps like this came calling in this way... Talk about a mixed message!

But if you can't beat 'em... I think I'll check the EdSurge archives to see if they have ever featured any Viglen products... if they have, I think I'll apply to Lord Sugar's company for some sales training and see if it helps me engage with educators any better... Oh hang on a minute... what's this? Lord Sugar offloads faded PC builder Viglen to XMA, Erm maybe not!

Based on this article, if successful business people like Lord Sugar can't make EdTech work, maybe I should just leave education too... but what to do?

Maybe I'll see if Guillermo "Memo" Ramirez has any jobs, because this Baltimore Building contractor knows all about exceptional sales practices! Perhaps Memo can build "The Institute of Sales" and I can apply for a job in the EdTech department. After all if teaching is a sales job... surely a tired old salesperson can try his hand a teaching. Surely it can't be any more demanding or confusing than this?  


Monday, 28 April 2014

ClassDojo: EdTech that's Top of the Class

My recent posts have focused on the kind of culture that EdTech companies should develop in order to create great products that have the potential to deliver a significant improvement on current practices in education. In my "What Comes First the Culture or the EdTech" post I highlight that MIT suggest that new models should have a X10 improvement, as people don't like change. 

Ineffective EdTech
However research by the Gates Foundation and Gallup highlights that EdTech may have a bit of work to do. The Gates Foundation "Teachers Know Best" report highlights that;

"When asked to list the top five products they direct their students to use frequently, teachers named only 53 percent of the 964 products captured in the survey. And even the products that are used frequently are not widely perceived to be effective: Only 54 percent of teachers perceive the digital products their students use frequently to be effective."

Gallops' Director of Education, Brandon Busteed, suggested in an Inside Higher Ed interview that;

"At a national level, there is no evidence that educational technology has reduced the cost of education yet or improved the efficacy of education... Maybe there will be some day, but that's the question: How much longer do we think it will take before we can detect movement on the national needle?"

So it would appear that it can be problematic for people to find EdTech that is in any way effective, never mind any that have a X10 improvements... so when I find a promising idea I want to help out in any way I can.

As an Imagine K12 supported startup I've known about ClassDojo for a while but started to really take notice 12 months ago because, any time I participated in an EdChat where the topic of discussion was "Great EdTech," Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don's company tends to come up an awful lot.

Keep IT Simple
One of the reasons that I believe that educators like this technology, is because of that age old advice to keep it simple - 
EdTech Startups with big impact tend to be rather simpleThis article and the companies with simple (but effective) EdTech ideas remind me of Steve Jobs discussion about the Apple 2 user manual, a colleague suggested that;

 "Our manual should be written in a way that a 12th Grader can understand it" Jobs interjected "No. A 3rd Grader... maybe we should get 3rd Graders to write it for us"

I think Apple products are a great example of this... look at how toddlers and pre-schoolers know how to switch Ipads, Iphones and Ipods on and find their favourite apps with ease!

Class Behaviour 
ClassDojo is a classroom tool that helps teachers improve behaviour in class quickly and easily. It also captures and generates data on behaviour that teachers can share with parents and administrators.
Better learning behaviour, smoother lessons, hassle free data & it's free
Class Message
A few weeks ago ClassDojo released a messaging service and when I checked this service out I was impressed. 
    • I was impressed as parent
    • I was impressed as I know what some of the frustrations are regarding school communications that some parent governors have.
    • I was impressed because of the communication opportunities that I could see that could replicate, to some extent, some of the practices that private education and schools like KIPP use.   

      I thought this service could have a lot of potential in UK Further Education colleges, but 
      ClassDojo is a service that focuses on K12 education. 
    Class Culture
    I am intrigued by organisational culture in education, and in general. 

    I know that there are other services on the market that may promise to do something similar to this service, but... the culture of an EdTech company matters as much as the product and I know that ClassDojo;

    1) Obsessively collaborates with educators, and 
    2) Knows the importance of keeping things simple (As well as secure and quantifiable). 

    With regard to this messaging service there are a number of ways that I feel that ClassDojo's messaging service could, to some extent, replicate some of the success from a number of effective campaigns, some of which are highlighted in my "Culture in FE Report" here are some examples;

    Private Education
    In my culture report I highlight how children from more affluent backgrounds have a cultural advantage, which is significant. I highlight the work of the creator of the IQ test, Lewis Terman, and his longitudinal study which started in 1914 involving over 1,400 gifted children. Terman followed these children into adulthood and found they fell into 3 groups - 

    A) The success stories who fulfilled their potential
    B) Were deemed as "satisfactory" based on their early promise, and
    C) College dropouts - 150 promising, bright and gifted kids at the age of 7, but as adults had 8 degrees between them. 

    What was the differentiating factor with the 3 groups? Family background. (See the "Class Behaviour" section on P10 for more details).   

    But this study was 100 years ago, surely a lot has changed since then. Right? You may want to check out Michael Moe's Keynote Speech from the Education Summit

    According to OECD and Sutton Trust reports it would appear that some 93% of state educated students are not "gifted" at maths.

     Are students in private education more intelligent than other kids? Or does this "cultural advantage" mean that these kids have been conditioned to BELIEVE they are more intelligent.

    "My Teacher said so... Therefore I am!"
    Do educators teach all their students in the same way? What if you had never met a student before but were told by a colleague that XYZ student was "Gifted," would you treat them differently? What if at the end of the year you agreed with this assessment because the students' grades were amongst the highest in the class?

    Now what would you do if the colleague who told you that these students were gifted said he knew nothing about these students, but had picked the "gifted" children randomly from the class register? 

    What if it was the teacher's attitude towards the student that had made them gifted? 

    That's exactly what Rosenthan and Jacobsen found in their 
    Pygmalion Effect experiment

    Out Culture report highlights other case studies that highlight the impact that positive and negative messages that educators convey can have on students, for examples see;
    • Priming (Page 33-37)  Through research that psychologists John Bargh, Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson conducted, we see how effective positive messages can be... to such an extent that some commentators ask Are affluent Students cleverer…Or are they simply "Primed" to believe that they are? Is it a case of I think therefore I am? 
    • All the Good Things (Page 5)
      ow much students valued praise and encouragement from their fellow students - they were messages that lasted a lifetime.
    • Lessons that Stick - Discrimination and Inferiority Complexes (Page 6 & 33)Just as believing that a student is talented can be a self fulfilling prophecy, so can instilling a belief that students are not... and in a surprisingly short period of time. I use the example of Jane Elliott's experiment that impacted on results and friendships almost immediately. More details of this on page 6 and in the video below;  
    Student Feedback that Sticks - Positive and Negative Messages 
    • Kipp - In "Word Hard. Be Nice" which chronicles the trials and tribulations of establishing the first KIPP school the founders got parents on side at their first school by making home visits in the evening "Just to say hello" and/or to compliment a student on their behaviour in class.

      This was in neighbourhoods where previously the only contact they had with the school was when they had "been summoned to the school during work hours any time there was bad news." The impact? It got parents on side with the teachers. K
      eeping parents onside and positive messages continues at Kipp today... 
    We promise we'll do whatever it takes to get your kid to college
    We can tend to think that we need grand plans for some of our big problems, when sometimes the solution can be a lot simpler. There is a great book called "Switch - How to change things when change is hard" and is full of simple but effective solutions, including;

    Solution Focused Interventions
    A 9th grade student had a chaotic home life and his behaviour was so disruptive that he is about to get expelled, when school psychologist, Dr John Murphy, arrived the situation appeared hopeless;
    • Murphy was almost powerless given the situation
    • He had no way to improve Bobby's situation at home 
    • Time was against him, he'd see Bobby for an hour here, an hour there. 
    • Murphy couldn't reward Bobby if he behaved well or punish him if he behaved poorly. 
    But... 3 months later, the number of days Bobby was sent to the principal's office had declined by 80 percent, which was enough to keep social services from having to transfer him to the school for troubled kids. A chronic offender had become an occasional offender, all because of a few hours of talking with a counselor. So what exactly happened in those sessions, I hear you cry (Unless of course you've already read Switch).

    What Murphy did was to find the "bright spot" ...find the times where Bobby's behaviour was at its best, identify why the factors that resulted in the improved behaviour and then ask other teachers to try to do the same things to see if they had an impact.

    Social Norms Interventions
    Social Norms is an intervention that encourages students to question any mis-perceptions they may have about the prevalence of various behaviour amongst their peers, and have impressive case studies and huge potential.

    As you can see from the research to date most of the evidence focuses on risk taking behaviour but this method could positively impact on a whole range of topics. Here's a video of Dr Wesley Perkins discussing Social Norms

    Social norms is a very simple idea but can be a challenge to implement. In addition to this behaviour change can be less effective when students are exposed to the risk taking behaviour at home. 

    So having messages displayed around campus that says "80% of our students do not smoke" will have more of an impact in delaying/preventing young people in non-smoking households, but less so when the students parents smoke. 

    ClassDojo in UK Further Education
    The introduction to my Culture report highlights how complex the issues are in post 16 education in the UK today, how so much damage has already been done if a student has been "lost in the ghetto" for the previous 10 years of education and/or if living in poverty has meant that they were too traumatised to learn

    Like John Murphy with his troubled student where he had to "Work with what he had" with his troubled student, the resources that the more affluent have simply is not available the more marginalised students, so we work with what we've got. And a kind word costs nothing, but can pack a heck of a punch. With the right kind of input and guidance I have no doubt that ClassDojo messaging could replicate some of the case studies above and play an impact with improving;
    • Class behaviour
    • Student confidence
    • Parental Engagement
    • Learner Voice
    • Diversity
    • Student retention and overall attainment
    Multi-million pound school budgets or Ivy League campuses would be nice, as would everyone to come from homes with wealthy parents who know the value of a good education but that's not the reality... But, as the poem "One" highlights "One Candle can wipe out darkness, One word can frame the goal"

    When Henry Ford was contemplating working on his car full time he was encouraged to give up on his ideas with cars and focus on progressing his career. He worked at Edison's company and his manager said he'd promote him if he would give up on the car. When Ford met Edison at a conference Edison's comment was a little different 

    "Keep up with your idea, I can see a place for it." 

    Would Ford have given up if Edison had said "That's a rubbish idea?" We'll never know... just as many teachers may never know how much of an impact a kind word might touch a student and inspire them to realise their potential.

    ClassDojo estimate that 50% of class time is lost due to behavioural issues and, based on my conversations with FE I'm sure many would agree with this. 

    I think that this service is a great idea, it's simple, effective, take educators feedback on board, has a track record in other areas of education. Sam and Liam, it's not every day that you find EdTech like this... I'm standing by ready to help in any way I can. 

    Friday, 25 April 2014

    EdTech Vs Edu: Why I'm Sitting on the Fence

    In my last post I highlighted that one of my faviourite conferences is the Education Innovation Summit which took place this week. My "Land of the EdTech and the Home of Unity" post also highlighted a major issue that saw me stop following the conference on the last day: the division and lack of unity amongst various stakeholders.

    What position do I take when the discussion spills into this kind of disagreement? I most definitely, and purposely, stop and take a seat on the fence! Why? Is it because I'm indecisive? Nope. Perhaps because I want to keep the peace with everyone? Nope. The reason for sitting on the fence here is because I can get the best view, I can also hear the discussions on both sides of the fence. 

    I find that that I can tend to get a bit more perspective from this vantage point.

    NetFlix: Tuning in... Then Tuning Out!
    I saw that Reed Hastings from Netflix was presenting and thought "I'm looking forward to this!" I highlight Netfilx as a great example of an organisation that constantly disrupts itself in my "Massively Creatively Disrupt... Or Someone Else Will" post. After watching Reed's presentation I was not disappointed!

    Hastings spoke of so many of the principles that I have discovered from reading the research and findings of Jim Collins, Dave Logan, MIT as well as from the practices that many successful companies use... Namely that It's all about the culture and the people.

    Then it happened, negativity from members of one of the other tribes that make up the education ecosystem. The comment was "This is the same guy who wants to eradicate local school boards" with a link to an article called "Netflix Reed Hastings has a big idea: Kill elected school boards"

    I opened the link and saw the headline, as the conference was in full swing, I bookmarked the link to read later. However my immediate reaction to the headline was "Now that's a good idea!" I don't say this to annoy educators, I say this because of one of my favourite videos of Steve Jobs is when he highlights the number of committees he has. Find out the answer on this link: Steve Jobs and Managing People

    I know there are educators who get frustrated at the fact that Chater Schools can be seen as "the darlings of education" and the saviours of the attainment gap. I am a fan of programs like Kipp (and am aware of some of the criticisms), but I truly believe that a part of their success is the lack of scrutiny/bureaucracy that state education gets subjected to.   

    Faced with rapid changes, who would you want on your Board?

    Board Schools

    My views on school boards is not without any examples within education. I know a truly inspiring leader in education who would love to bring in some changes that they feel is vital to their students. However, implementing these changes brings the biggest headache imaginable... unions, governors, local authorities, Ofsted and many others wade in with every reason why it can't, or shouldn't, be done. 

    How much of this resistance is a result or the make up of the boards themselves? Any time there is talk about improving social mobility and the attainment gap how many people are in the room who have come from poverty and truly know what the issues are? 

    Or what about the motivations of Board Members? Hastings suggested that;

    "Rapid school board turnover is a fundamental root cause of many district struggles" 

    Why is this? Is it because members get frustrated at the challenges with implementing changes and the slow progress? Is it because they are more interested in looking good within the community, rather than having an commitment to education? Or maybe they are only interested for as long as their own kids attend the school?

    So on the topic of education committees... I'm sitting on the fence! 
    Apple was able to collaborate and do great work without them... education seems to be surprisingly hindered with making necessary changes with them.

    EdSurge Contributors: Bursting Bubbles...
    Next up were two articles from EdSurge contributors. The first was from Katrina Stevens, who also moderates #EdTechChat, which will be celebrating its 1st Birthday this week, join the celebrations on Monday at 8pm EST.

    Katrina interviewed Mark Cuban who had some interesting views on EdTech incubators, he was;

    "Bearish on the proliferation of accelerators and incubators: “Entrepreneurs shouldn’t participate. These programs focus entrepreneurs on raising money and not on building a business. Incubators can become an easy crutch that get in the way of the entrepreneur,” he adds, arguing that every entrepreneur has to find his or her own way rather than following templates that worked for other companies in the past"

    "Whoa! Hang on a minute!" I thought! I am a big fan of EdTech Incubators, a lot of Educators faviourite Tech appears to come from "EdTech Incubator Alumni" companies. It is my view that they get a lot of things right.

    But then again, you don't disregard advice from people with this kind of experience without assessing it. You have to at least try to assimilate this new advice with whatever other information you have... This is especially true when other investors like Mitch Kapor told the conference earlier in the week that they have only found 3-4 EdTech companies that were worth investing in because they were "scalable."

    On the issue of EdTech Incubators...I'm sitting on the fence!
    I think that the EdTech incubator companies do great work. But, at the same time things change. As these early incubators demonstrate how successful they have been, perhaps they attract different founders and investors. In the early days maybe it was only those that had a true passion to make a difference in education that would consider EdTech. Maybe their success today is attracting different types of founders and investors.

     ...And Predicting the Future
    Frank Catalano posted an insightful piece from 2012 on the #EdInnovation hashtag "Here comes another Tech Bubble - In Education." He posted this as he felt his predictions were coming true. I agree with this article, and can see the benefits and drawbacks to it. 

    Benefits: There are some fantastic people who have been true innovators in Technology and who are now providing their expertise in EdTech. If you are an educator and want to test this, take a look at the founders LinkedIn profiles for your fav 4-5 Tech tools... some of these founders worked at major Tech companies at one point. 

    I need to give a special shout out to the founder of Wanderful Books @wanderfulbooks, go check out the founders' profile and see what kind of Tech legends are in education today.

    Drawbacks: As education becomes a more attractive "potential sector" and more fashionable it may attract people with various ability levels and, possibly, people with quite different motives.

    We see educators saying I think I'll leave edu and develop XYZ product instead. While this is not a drawback for EdTech, I think it is a tragedy that people from one of the noblest professions feel they can make more of a difference outside the classroom, rather than in it?! 

    Then we have the fly-by-night guys, whether the ones that have a great idea and the best intentions... but no experience in bringing good ideas to market; or those who just want to "find a Market" for their product, scale and try to sell for a fortune, with little interest in education.

    What's the outcome here? We get a real mixed bag. We get companies that know what they are doing and truly are making a difference (as early Google employees etc who had share options, surely it isn't about the money!); then we get products that just frustrate educators in every possible way.

    Then there are the unintended consequences, like startups who have little budget but are keen to get educators feedback. Startups wanting customer feedback to ensure they are doing good work is a positive thing... but the volume of enquiries from so many well meaning companies can start to frustrate already over worked, time poor, educators. All from an industry that promises to make their customers lives' easier and/or save time?

    So on the topic of an EdTech Bubble... I'm sitting on the fence! 
    I think that people coming from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Pixar is fantastic for EdTech... the proliferation and attitudes of other groups is perhaps less of a good thing. 

    Class Divide and Listening to Stu_Voices
    I'm used to the "Us" and "Them" discussions in education but something was brought to my attention through a Twitter discussion with Zak Malamed and Eric Kennedy. The discussion started with;

    As a fan of this conference I thought "Oh great more disagreement from another group... and a comment that is really quite unfair." Unfair because the previous day The Gates Foundation launched their "Teachers Know Best" report which highlighted what educators views were about EdTech. This was hardly pro-Tech perspective... nor was it full advice on how to attract VC funding. 

    However Zak and Eric's Twitter discussion soon included the question;

    "Where is the student voice in this debate and at the conference?" 

    This made me realise that the voice of students did appear to be missing from many of the discussions... not only that, what got me most about their Tweets was that none of their comments were being addressed by the organisers. 

    What would it have taken for the organisers to Tweet "Hey we'd love to give @Stu_Voice a slot next year." This was especially ironic as these Tweets were going out while Reed Hastings was talking about the importance of giving detractors a voice and listening to their concerns.

    I do enjoy this conference but you'd struggle to argue against some of Zak and Eric's comments... and to ignore them was just plain silly.

    So on the topic of @Stu_Voice comments... I'm sitting on the fence!
    I think that the "Teachers Know Best" was one of the highlights of the event, and was in no way about money or the wonders of Tech. However the lack of student involvement or the organisers listening to and replying to these (and other) negative comments about the conference could have been handled better. 

    I had a few late nights from following the event live in the UK over the previous 2 days, so I let Zak and Eric know that Steve Isaacs and Katya Hott were keen to involve all stakeholders, especially students, on their EdTechBridge chat. Then I called it a day with this event, mostly as a result of the divisive conversations that appeared to be starting to take place.

    From Sitting on the Fence... to Building Bridges

    All in all I'm going to sit on the fence with this event. I did enjoy it, there were some great speakers. Not only are there some diverse voices but we get to hear the views of successful people in other sectors and, given what they have achieved in their field, it would be silly to ignore their advice.

    Could the organisers have done things a little differently? Perhaps, but I have found that keeping all stakeholders happy in education is something that a lot of people struggle with. Whether administrators and principals within their own school, or organisers of major Education Conferences. 

    Look for the Bright Spots

    When sitting on the fence I like to look out for any "bright spots" rather than focus on the negatives and, whether you're a fan or detractor of #EdInnovation, I hope you have found some of the bright spots that I take away from the event useful. 

    The search for these bright spots is also why I am such a big fan of two groups: EdSurge & #EdTechBridge.

    EdSurge seem to have succeeded where few others have done with bringing Educators together in a fantastic environment with their summits. While nothing can beat face-to-face interaction (whether teaching students or developers creating EdTech), EdSurgeUK doesn't exist yet.   

    The reason I'm an advocate of Steve Isaacs and Katya Hott's online community is because I don't have to perch on the fence any longer, #EdTechBridge provides me with a comfier view, I can discuss the issues at either end of the spectrum... and there is great company to discuss the issues as well as to get an understanding of each groups views in an open and collaborative manner.

    Tuesday, 22 April 2014

    The Land of the EdTech... and the Home of Unity?

    One of my faviourite conferences started yesterday which is the Education Innovation Summit. I stayed up into the wee small hours to tune in to the event live. The theme of the event this year is on "The American Dream." 

    After Michael Moe's keynote I thought I'd call it a day, but then Betsy Corcoran from EdSurge came on... It would have been plain rude not to remain tuned in (Although there were mixed reviews about Don Grahams "Dreamer" program).

    Next up was Jeb Bush, definitely time to say good night all, I thought.

    I ended up listening to it, in part because I wanted to compare what US and UK politicians views on education were. There was also the fact that the Twitter stream had a good mix of insightful and humorous commentary. I found Katrina Stevens and Jaime Casap's Tweets particularly interesting.

    Something that surprised me was how pro-EdTech Bush's speech was, how "Entrepreneurship is not a threat to public education and that the government's role in education is 'to serve as an honest broker'"

    There was even a shout out for some of the EdTech innovators.

    I work in EdTech and know that Education was not always ran or funded by the Nation State, but found this free enterprise speech highly unusual, not you're usual political rhetoric... I also found myself taking a slightly cynical viewpoint and thinking "Is this speech designed just to appeal to the audience" and "Wow! Is the economy in such a bad state that politicians are so desperate, that they've taken to pitching EdTech?"  

    Part of what makes this conference great is that it brings a diverse group of education stakeholders together. I wonder if anyone will come away from this years' event with an anecdote that starts out with "an Educator, a politician, and a EdTech founder walk into a bar during the #EdInnovation summit..." I doubt the punchline of the story would have anything to do with unity. If you were to throw in a parent or two, a few students and the various socio-economic factors I think this would only confuse matters, as opposed to clarify anything.

    Education: Same Old Story 
    This is one of the reasons why I'm a little fearful about education. Different stakeholders can tend to read into the actions of other groups. I wonder how much this disconnect and these mis-perceptions play in the fact that economic background still determines people's life chances today. Have things really remained unchanged since World War 1? All tools, education methodology, additional teachers, technology... and the same outcomes? 

    Lewis Terman's longitudinal study in 1914 highlighted that economic background was the determining factor in whether or not 1,400 kids with high IQs would reach their potential. At the Education Innovation summit Michael Moe highlighted the synergy with high SAT scores and kids who have wealthy parents.

    I'm reading a book that few educators would probably pick up, it's called "Life's a Pitch - What the World's Best Sales People can Teach Us All" (And in line with people's misperceptions, yes the reason I got this book was to see how to fleece hard working educators for every penny ;) Lol).

    I found a real nugget of wisdom in this book regarding organisational culture and leadership;

    Steve Wynn, a billionaire hotel and casino owner was speaking at a conference and began his speech with the following statement "I'm going to discuss something publicly that I've never discussed in my career...A few years ago I had dropped my wife and daughter off at a Four Seasons Hotel. My daughter ordered a croissant. It was delicious and rich, and she could eat only half of it. She wrapped the rest in plastic and left it in the refrigerator so she could eat it when she returned.

    When they returned to their room, the croissant was gone. Ah well, they thought. Fair enough. Housekeeping must have assumed it was left to be thrown away. Then they noticed the message light was flashing on their phone. They called reception and housekeeping wanted to have a word. "Thank you for calling" the housekeeper said "We wanted to know when you got back so we could bring you a fresh croissant. The one you left would have gone dry by now." So  impressed was my wife that she called me on the other side of the world. I was so impressed that I called my friend Issy Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons.

    After speaking of this exceptional customer service Wynn said to the audience "If I could have one professional wish come true, it would be this;

    "That my employees would relate to people not as customer with employee, but as two human beings talking to one another... if somehow we could harness that energy, we could change the history of the enterprise and achieve total market dominance in any service business in the world"   

    Wynn achieved this dream through story telling. The lowest ranks in the firm meets with their supervisors who begin meetings with "Anything happen yesterday that's interesting?" Slowly, the hands go up. Good news stories about exceeding customers expectations which are published on the Wynn intranet and posted on the walls of service areas and staff rooms. Now every member of staff wants their story on the wall. Everyone goes to work looking for a story. It is pristine, it is simple, it is profoundly effective, and it has changed the history of my enterprise"

    Doesn't sound so difficult does it? I know that this unity and these great stories happen elsewhere. Elite Universities tell their stories of "Having a proud Tradition of alumni who work in Fortune 500 and/or IPO Startup" The best Tech and EdTech companies call it "culture and core values," but its the same thing, using stories to say "This is who we are... this is what's important to us... this is how we roll"  

    This is also the reason that I fear many of the issues that are "creating an aristocracy in education" might perpetuate in the US and anywhere else, because I'm not sure if all stakeholders are able to put aside their differences (and stop the blame game) and to come together to look for, encourage and share these great stories. 

    Empirical Data
    The UK has always had its aristocracy, it's old boys networks, elitism and divide and conquer as a strategy to rule it's Empire. It's a shame to hear that the US might be heading the same way, and because the very thing that first generation immigrants used to help provide their kids with a better life is becoming less and less of an option to them.

    The patriotism, land of opportunity, the "can do attitude" & pioneering spirit... the American Dream has been a breath of fresh air... but it looks like the winds are changing.

    However, while I'm a realist, I am also an optimist. I wonder if the reason the US is become an aristocracy if it's a survival mechanism because they know to heed Andrew Carnagie's advice;

    "It is not the rich man’s son that the young struggler for advancement has to fear in the race of life. Let him look out for the “dark horse” in the boy who begins by sweeping out the office" Andrew Carnegie

    Maybe first generation wealthy people know this and have played their part in "The big sort," and do what they can to give their kids a "leg up" to provide the "cultural advantage" that comes with their hard work: confidence and contacts... Miles Corak highlights how some 75% of children with wealthy parents work for the same employer as their parents (this goes up to 90% for the richest 1%). Of course, this is only natural.

    However there are other environmental factors that would appear to be at play at the other end of the spectrum. Oliver James suggests that there are conditions that are strongly associated with high achievement... like having a family that is in some way socially marginal, for example an immigrant family.

    Michael Moe suggested that "perhaps universal education was perhaps the greatest American invention" So when the doors of education are closed to the most margialised groups... I'm not sure what the policy makers, teachers, parents or students will do.

    If they can't come together to create and tell some great stories, I know what I will do... I'll put my money on the dark horse who's fresh off the boat and has a brush in hand and his sleeves rolled up, and is ready to bring in some sweeping changes. When you look at the people who have went from poor to rich, who would bet against them... 

    From Poor to Rich

    Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    What Comes first the Culture... or the EdTech?

    I read an article this week by Bill Aulet called "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast" where Aulet highlights that;

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, and soon thereafter everything else too.” Why? Because company culture... guides employee decisions about both technical business decisions and how they interact with others. Good culture creates an internal coherence in actions taken by a very diverse group of employees. 

    You get an idea of how important this is in Aulets' closing comments; 

    "When I talk to entrepreneurs now, before I get too carried away with the idea, I want to probe them about their vision, mission and values. Ideas are cheap – and tasty too. Culture eats them even before its pre-breakfast morning run"

    After reading this article I recalled the first time I met Bill Aulet. I attended an "Entrepreneurial Product Marketing" workshop ran by MIT in January 2011, thus began my journey into the future of engaging with educators. 

    After reading this article I reflected how much I had learnt, how much of the course material that I could recall... and how far I had come in my professional development (for more details about this journey see One Small Click for a Digital Immigrant).

    SensAble Due Diligence

    It was also on this course that I discovered just how hard it is to get everything right when you're trying to create great technology! This was exemplified by studying the progress of an MIT startup called SensAble Technologies. I highlight the level of due diligence that the company went through to identify their initial target market in my EdTech report (See Page 33). 

    The company wanted to find the best initial target market for them to focus all their energies on. They had identified 9 potential sectors and during the process of whittling this down to one niche area, the startup was looking to get answers to questions like;

    1) Is the "target customer" well funded. Are they readily accessible to our sales force?
    2) Do customers have a compelling reason to buy?
    3) Can we deliver a "whole product" today to fulfil that reason to buy?
    4) Is there no entrenched competition that could prevent us from getting a fair shot at this business?
    5) If we win this segment, can we leverage it to enter additional sectors?
    6) Can we show results in a one to two year time frame? 

    Stop for a minute and compare this criteria with Education as a target market. In my experience, I have found that points 1 & 6 have been particularly troublesome... and I'm not alone. Indeed some serial entrepreneurs have even asked me "Why do you work in Education? Don't you know how tough EdTech is?"  

    You don't ignore advice when it comes from people like this! But, at the same time, this is something I am passionate about and was reluctant to move on... So I decided to look at some of the reasons why "EdTech is tough." What I found was that products fail to live up to expectations for a number of reasons, but can usually be traced to having the wrong kind of culture in one way or another. Here are some of the things that I learned as a result of being on this workshop.

    Poor Products... Poor Planning
    The first question to ask is: how much "bad EdTech" is out there? I have asked a few educators "what percentage of EdTech products/services that they would you recommended to colleagues in other departments/colleges?" The answer? 20-30%.

    With stats this low is it any wonder that there is skepticism when "the next big thing" in EdTech comes along? If I was an educator and would only recommend 30% of the technology I used, I sure would be wary! So what can be done, if anything?

    I have found that more often than not, products that don't quite live up to expectation, comes down to poor planning... the company might not do as much due diligence in the early stages as it could have. In his book "Disciplined Entrepreneurship" Aulet asks startups to consider questions like;

    Identifying with your customer
    I was introduced to a number of great books on this course. One of these was Geoffrey Moore's classic Tech book "Crossing the Chasm". Moore suggests that startups who don't have any customers yet should build a profile of what their potential customers would look like. "Target-customer characterization" is a formal process of keeping the customer in mind when developing products and your strategy. Once you have this image in mind, you will be better able to use this as a guide to developing a truly responsive approach to their needs. 

    1) What Job title do they have?
    2) What course did they study?
    3) What do they read?
    4) What do they wear?
    5) Where do they go?
    6) What are their hobbies?
    7) What is their career path?
    8) Who influences them?
    9) How do they view the world?

    A Day in the Life of... 
    Part of identifying the customer profile is to consider "A day in the life of..." the group you are trying to help. Moore provides some great proforma's including on how to paint a "before and after" picture of how much easier people's lives will be when using your product, as this is a great way of focusing the mind. This is also a good way of drawing out the benefits of your product, which is essential when your product/solution is nothing more than a vision... and a rough sketch on a napkin/whiteboard. 

    Moore uses the example of an airline mechanic and how they would benefit from making the switch from paper copies of the aircraft's manual to ebooks, and the impact the new method would have i.e. More planes will get fixed quicker, thereby saving money and having happier customers.

    "A day in the life of our customers" also helps to differentiate between a products features, functions and benefits

    It can be surprising how often tech enthusiasts (and salespeople) can get the 3 mixed up. While it's great to consider a day in the life of your customer, there is also a challenge with new idea... Most people don't like change, we can be creatures of habit and like our routine. It's for this reason that some investors/entrepreneurs suggest that a new method/solution needs to be TEN TIMES BETTER than the existing way of doing things. Ouch! 

    Reading the situation
    After attending Bill Aulet's course I read most of the books on the "Recommended Reading" section of his website.

    I have noticed a curious thing about some of these books... any time I have been to any UK based Tech or EdTech networking events and ask "Have you read Crossing the Chasm?" or other books that have had a big influence on me, there have been blank looks "No I haven't, what's it about?" In other EdTech circles I understand these books are on most people's bookshelves. I know they are at MIT... And maybe that has made all the difference. 
    These books have been crucial, I don't know where I would be without them. If you read them and then look at any company that is experiencing rapid growth and/or are doing great work, you will start to see a trend... which is you end up thinking "They must have read the books the guys at MIT recommend."

    This is part of the reason that I am such a big advocate for Steven Isaacs (@Mr_Isaacs) and Katya Hott (@Katyamuses) #EdTechBridge community, as it aims to bring together people with an interest in creating great EdTech to come together and share the things that they have found to work.This includes understanding what educators what and how they would like to be engaged with.

    Sales Matters
    Something that really surprised me about both Aulet and Moore's advice was their attitude and views on sales. In most companies one of the first roles that they fill is for sales people... after all "Nothing moves in here until someone sells something" right? 

    But is this also the reason that sales has the highest levels of staff turnover in startups? Can good sales people get blamed for poor uptake, when the root cause is actually a product that has some flaws? (See Pages 37 & 42).

    Compare this with the discipline and focus that MIT recommends. SensAble Technologies did not employ any sales people until AFTER they had identified that their focus would be on the CAD industry. Then they employed people who were already working in the sector, who were known and trusted within the industry.

    So much changed after I attended this course. I learned all I could about Inbound Marketing, especially as I realised that my sales experience was rapidly becoming out-dated, obsolete... and unwelcome. I needed to re-skill! And fast!
    I discovered early on in my exploration with Inbound Marketing that this was time well spent. I received an email saying something along the lines of;

    "Please can I unsubscribe from your corporate emails, but keep me updated with the stuff you send via LinkedIn and social media" 

    Unfortunately my boss at the time "Didn't get" any of this work and insisted that I continue with the cold calling. 

    But I continually see the benefits of taking the time to attempt to re-skill with content marketing, and this week is no different;
    • Watch "The Call Center" for 5 minutes and you get a sense of how people feel about cold calls
    • Content Marketing is attracting more and more interest from various groups
    • I have had a number of people who can only be described as "Influencers" in education engage with me
    • Some of these people recalled and praised me for some of my ramblings in my reports and blogs, even content that I had produced 2 years ago. 
    It's for all the reasons above that I believe that a team with the right culture but the wrong product is better than a team with a great product but the wrong culture. 

    Tonight #EdTechBridge will be discussing "Strategies for nurturing relationships between Educators and EdTech Developers & Entrepreneurs" and I will be very surprised if the advice for educators is not mirrored in the advice that MIT would offer.

    So if you're in EdTech and have not already read some of these books, then go check them out: Bill Aulet: Recommended Reading