Friday, 2 October 2015

EdTech is Tough: Welcome to Scotland

It's been a busy two weeks for me and, as I've been engaging with Scottish stakeholders, it's been a pleasant change of scenery too. I go past the Scottish Education offices every day. I don't go in and they have not invited me in.

I don't know why they have not asked for my views, although it's not surprising as I'm just a random sales guy. From my perspective, the reason I have not camped outside their door can be found in this post.

Following the Scottish Learning Festival I'd be a lot more receptive to popping in for a coffee. Indeed I've had a lot of engagement from people over the last two weeks, including policy makers and government officials.

Even more exciting though is the fact that co-ordinators from San Francisco's Circle to Schools got in touch this week saying they'd be interested in collaborating... How cool is that!! We'll be having an initial conversation later this evening and I cannot wait!!

This post details why I have not focused on Scottish education and highlights why I have over the last two weeks. I also hope that the next few posts will see me get more involved in the future.

NB For any Scottish educators who are not aware of my work elsewhere, I am an advocate of word of mouth referrals. I feel there are better models that we could be exploring when it comes to new ideas products and services being adopted in education than pointless random sales calls.But this requires a culture shift involving all stakeholders

When detailing my experiences, any frustrations expressed are in no way aimed at educators... but the situations that create them, regardless of whether it's poorly thought out policy, a lack of budgets, educators being asked to do more with less or that there is way too much ineffective technology out there.

Why Startups Fail
The next few posts that I write have the potential to be the most significant things that I have ever done (or will ever do) in education... but the ideas may go passed by unnoticed, why? The answer can be found in the comment below:

Product market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market" Marc Andreessen

In "Why Startups Fail" Dave Feinleib highlights that some sectors can be a challenging target market for start-ups as there are two painful truths about them;

1) They are very hard to reach, and
2) They have no money.

The product may be compelling and users need the solution, but the supplier is not able to reach their customers effectively!

This is the reason I have not focused on Scottish education previously. I felt that the ideas were good. Cost wasn't an issue because it was £0... I couldn't reach the audience.

This is by no means meant as a criticism, getting adoption of new ideas in education is a challenge everywhere. I am simply re-counting my experiences here, I know what the issues are and feel that some of my ideas can help remove them.

Neither are the challenges specific only to education, Feinleib highlights that this is the case in many industries.

The reason for focusing on this today is because there seems to be some enthusiasm to explore these concepts following Chris van der Kuyl's Scottish Learning Festival keynote presentation.

Circle the Schools
I have pitched in and got behind Chris' call to action from the Scottish Learning Festival because I have been thinking about ways to replicate the Circle the Schools initiative for quite some time... Ever since MIT's Bill Aulet told me that he encourages his students to avoid EdTech because "EdTech is Tough"

We have hundreds of innovative companies who are finding EdTech tough... what would happen if things were easier in Scotland?

I have a reasonably detailed plan, which is pretty much ready to go. I've been working on this for the last 2-3 years. More on these ideas in my next post. In the mean time here's a post from June 2012

Culture in Education: A house Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

This was one of the first posts I ever wrote and, while its a bit of a mini novel, I am still working on ways to implement ideas around this kind of collaboration today.

July 2014: Further Education and #SaveEdShelf
From 2012-2014 I had tried to make the ideas I will be sharing to work in UK Further Education. This was an extremely frustrating experience.

In July 2014, through helping a competitor, I realised there was a possibility that my ideas were valid... Maybe it wasn't me, maybe it was them? So I went looking for new areas of education to test the ideas.
Is Scotland a viable Community for Technology Innovation in Education?
Aug 2014: Engaging Scottish Educators
In August 2014 I went on the website of every Scottish school, got the schools email address and sent the following email

Subject: Assistance with Social Media & Tech Integration 

Dear Colleague,

Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is William Jenkins and, according to some Social Media sites in am an “Influencer” with regard to Technology in Education.

For the past 13 years I have been working with Universities & Colleges and I am currently looking to explore the value of replicating some of the projects and work that I have done in Colleges and Universities in Scottish Schools. Some of the projects that I have worked on include;

I have also been advising a Principal with their roll out strategy of social media and technology, a summary of some of the advice provided can be found in this blog post “The Problem with EdTech Integration.” 

I am keen to explore the value of some of these projects and others within Scottish schools, and am looking to liaise with some Tech savvy “Early Adopters” to assess the merit of some of these ideas. 

I would be grateful if you would share this email with any colleagues who might fit the profile of an early adopter and ask them to get in touch if they might be interested in exploring some ideas with me. Please feel free to ask anyone to contact me directly or they would be welcome complete this Early Adopter Network Survey

None of these projects will have any costs associated with them and could even generate some additional revenue for the school.

I hope that you have found this letter of introduction useful and I would welcome any queries that you may have.

Kind regards


The number of replies received? Three. One person requesting more information and two schools asking to be unsubscribed so they didn't receive any further information from me.

For any Scottish educators who are not aware of my work and who may see this as a criticism, it is not. I have been a big advocate of suppliers doing things differently, and my view is that sales people should not be required today.

For my #EdTechBridge and #EdTechChat friends who dislike receiving sales calls as much as I refuse to make them (mentioning no names @S_Bearden @Mr_Isaacs) my question to you is:
  • What could and should I have done differently with this introduction?
I had just spent 2 years in FE on plans that I had to abandon because "EdTech is Tough," so I wasn't too keen to even explore in any great detail. Whether it was my approach or some of the things that affects educators elsewhere that are beyond their control (No time or budget and always being asked to do more with less), I explored other options.

I found that US education was better placed to consider my ideas and I have had a few projects work well within the last 12-18 months.

Sept 2015: Indyref Reflection
Two weeks ago I was reflecting on the independence referendum, this led to engagement with Scottish MPs and eventually to many General Election candidates.

People engaged with what I had to say, so I developed the ideas further. My motivation for this was to raise the profile of social media in education and to highlight the value of community management to policy makers.

Sept 2015: Scottish Learning Festival
Chris van der Kuyl's speech was spot on! In my opinion everything that he mentioned is what's needed... and everything that he mentioned I have been working on for the last 2-3 years.

Given Chris' experience in the gaming industry he used examples from the world of tech and gaming and terms like Moores Law etc.

I have done likewise and can see how network effects, positive feedback loops, social proof, optimal distinctiveness and a rage of other things that tech companies use could help with EdTech integration.

To stay with an example from the world of gaming, the challenges with innovation in education is perhaps not too dissimilar to what the startups in the fantastic film Indie Game experience.

This film follows a group of game developers who try to make it as a struggling startup in the gaming world.

If your game is available on Microsoft, you have the distribution channel all sorted with the console and pay points. gamers can purchases with a click of a button and the customer acquisition cost is £0.

If your game is not available for the main consoles... If your game is not available on Xbox or Sony consoles or accepted in the Apple/Android store, your going to struggle. (Erm, unless the game is called Minecraft. Lol).

EdTech is Tough... Because of Distribution
In education distribution is a big problem. People are starting to realise this and this is why we are seeing big education companies who do have distribution starting EdTech incubators (Pearsons, Adobe etc).

This is also something that investors understand. How else do you explain all the tech products which are free of charge, but get millions of investment by Silicon Valley VCs?

Are they building distribution now so they can turn a profit later? Or have VC's all of a sudden got in touch with their social responsible sensibilities?

Oh and, by the way, if you're the kind of person who disagrees with this assessment about distribution because there is some government central procurement nonsense then, being brutally honest and in my humble opinion... you haven't got a clue about what the issues are or what's required.

I had FE people disagreeing with me that FE was tough 2 years ago, they felt that because they had all these procurement quangos they were easy to deal with. If this is such a fantastic model, how come FELTAG is still struggling? How come the nicest guy in the world left FE a few weeks ago despite working on a truly fantastic product?

Oct 2015: Social Media & Social Proof
When I wrote to Scottish educators 12 months ago, if I received more than 1 reply and 2 unsubscribes, what I would have done with my social media experience is the same as what I did yesterday, which can be found below (Except that it's 12 months later).

Scottish Schools: Twitter Accounts and Statistics
(NB This list is by no means complete. These accounts and stats were pulled together so I has data for my next post. If you are aware of any other Schools schools on Twitter let me know and I'll add them to the list.)

My next post will focus on how compiling this list will put social proof to work and I will analyse the data to make some observations and recommendations ie what would be needed in the first instance to put these distribution channels in place that would enable Scotland to be at the centre of innovation in education

As you will see these observations are based on concrete examples of how and where they have worked in the past.

Oct 2015: Circle the Schools: Welcome to Scotland
Watch this Space... After analysing this twitter data I will write a post that will have everything that is needed for people to implement an initiative immediately after reading the post.

There will be no need for strategising or committees, no need for funding from MPs, you won't even need approval from SMT. If you want to innovate you'll be able to start exploring a range of "Yes, if..." options and it will take less than 5 mins of your time to get the ball rolling.

I am more excited about this than any other project I've ever been involved with...and that's saying a lot! I've worked on a some projects that I am extremely pleased with.

I think the ideas and suggestions will have the potential to be big, but I am also a realist... So, at the same time, I also fear the suggestions will end up like the email that I sent to Scottish educations a year ago.

Or that, like those other opportunities I have been excited about in the past, momentum will be lost and bad decisions will be made because of a lack of collaboration and due diligence.

Only time will tell which will be the case but, for the moment though I am extremely excited about the potential.

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