Reshan Richards, Explain Everything and the Edtech Frontier

Recently, I asked Reshan Richards if he would be open to doing an interview with June Labs for this blog.  He happily agreed. Not only was he interested in an interview, he also invited the Explain Everything team into the conversation, eventually sending over 6 pages of insights to us.  Get ready to learn from someone who has spent the last 13 years walking the frontier where education and technology meet.  Here we go:

1) Reshan, Bartosz, and Piotr – first, tell us a little bit about you and your experiences with the world of education and edtech.

Reshan: My first job right out of college was 5th Grade Math Teacher and “Technology Assistant.” That latter title is a bit vague (both when I was hired and still today!) but basically I was in charge of unjamming printers, changing copier toner, connecting network cables, plugging thing in, and turning them off and on again. It was actually a great experience because I had no qualifications to do that kind of work (same with the teaching) but I learned so much by just jumping in and trying to figure things out. It was a nice organization with terrific mentors. Eventually, I went back to school and completed my Ed.M in Teaching and Learning at Harvard and started to focus on the intersection of technology and teaching — less IT and more ed tech. When I went back to working at a school, my job was centered around technology integration and leading ed tech-focused professional development.

Bartosz: I was lucky to be the son of a teacher so I was connected to educational experiences from the very beginning. These experiences resulted in a lifelong interest in understanding and achieving self-motivation and self-development. When I was seventeen, I blended my interest in technology with teaching and started translating books about computers from English to Polish (my main language) and then when I was nineteen, I started to publish my own books. Since then I have always found it fascinating to convey complex ideas or issues and make them understandable.

Piotr: My mother was an English teacher and I have experienced a blend of Polish, American and British education. I was a foreign exchange student in the US (Longview, WA for 12th grade) and my first computer was a BBC Model B — an educational 8-bit micro produced in the UK. I have been a business software consultant for more than 15 years, but this seems boring when compared to working in education. Thanks to Explain Everything, I feel like a meta-teacher, providing tools that are used by teachers around the world.

2) Explain Everything, the interactive whiteboard and screencasting app that you created for the iPad recently celebrated its 3 year anniversary.  Can you tell us about your journey from idea to app to today? What obstacles did you encounter? We love details.

Piotr:  For a number of years, Bart and I had a hobby of making funny (sometimes absurd) MP3 podcasts and we thought about filming them as well. The budget to make real movies with our ideas (space, aliens, large explosions, monsters destroying whole city quarters, destruction of Jupiter and other planets) would have been totally prohibitive so the only plausible way to capture our ideas was simple cartoons, similar to Terry Gilliam’s cut scenes between Monty Python sketches.

The concept of the app appeared in my head in June, 2008 when a colleague from my corporate job showed me a cartoon that he had made. The cartoon was 2 minutes long — it was a funny political satire. He told me that it took him 4 days to make the video. This was the spark that inspired me to finally try filming our podcasts as cartoons!  I downloaded a number of animation apps for the Mac and PC. But they were very difficult to use and everything took a long time to do.

So I decided to build my own animation app, one that could record movement as a “puppet show.” I did this on the Mac because I liked the Mac development studio Xcode very much. It was elegant and usable.  After a week I had a working proof of concept. It was a simple app that displayed a funny face that you could move around a checkered window and record its movement. It was quite cool, but a lot of work was needed to make a real working app out of this. Several months later, the project was barely progressing. Having a full time job. I did not have much time to work on it.

In September, 2009, Bart and I were driving to a concert and we talked about my animation app project. Bart said, “If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, hire a Computer Science student and let him finish the project for you.” This was a good idea! I hired a programmer and together worked long nights, establishing what needs to be done and how to do it. We were meeting every week in person and working every day, communicating on Skype. They were fantastic long hours and we regularly stayed up until 2 am.

Bart was always saying that our ideas — and we had many — lacked a business component. At that time, we formed a small company, a virtual assistant startup, together with his high school friend. I joined partially, so we were only meeting every now now and then and I was showing Bart the progress of the app.

At the end of 2009, there were rumors about Apple reinventing the tablet. It seemed like an ideal device for an animation app so we took the risk and ported the Mac app to iOS. We developed it further, testing it out only on an iPod Touch and waited for the iPad to appear.

The iPad appeared in April of 2010 and it was then that Bart increased his involvement with the app. The virtual assistant idea has not been progressing well but he saw another opportunity with the animation app. Bart designed the front screen and had a lot of creative ideas about the frame editor and the graphic design of the app. It took us another 5 months to polish up the app and prepare it for the submission to the App Store.

I remember my trembling hands when at the end of September 2010, I was uploading the first PhotoPuppet to the App Store. I could barely sleep the night it finally got accepted. I knew that it was impossible, but still dreamed about waking up a millionaire – or at least having thousands of downloads the first day.

This was really naïve. We flopped. We flopped miserably. We got about 50 downloads throughout the entire month of October. The app was too expensive ($7.99), too difficult to use, and looked too odd. We did not target it at any particular audience.

Bart was working three separate jobs to keep up with the company’s expenses and I was moonlighting for months, trying to promote Photopuppet while spending my savings. I was looking all over the Internet — Google, Yahoo, Bing, Twitter — for anyone who was interested in the app or was using it.

On one particular day, I found a single Tweet leading to a post by Reshan who had just downloaded PhotoPuppet and was musing about its many features. I immediately emailed Bart and noted, “This guy will kick ass, let’s give it some time.” This time I was right.

At that time, we started working on an improved version of PhotoPuppet. We wanted to get it right this time! We assembled a better team and hired a graphic designer to make cool graphics for us. We created a unique “paperlike” interface. We added new features (e.g., you could cut out a part of your mouth on a photo and make it move in a Southpark-like fashion).

We released PhotoPuppet HD in March 2011 and it was selling better as the original one, but nowhere near our expectations. At that time we’ve had spent most of our own money and we were really close to zero on our bank accounts. We tried to sell a third of MorrisCooke to our friends for $10K, but no-one was willing to buy. Everyone looked at us like we were crazy.

While all of this was going on, we were having conversations with Reshan. We talked over email and Skype. Reshan wanted to make a screencasting app whose animation and action-logic was just like PhotoPuppet, but redesigned for education with a different user interface, added tools like drawings and shapes, and a slide structure.

The three of us were working on similar concepts simultaneously but from different points of view. Initially, we considered creating a special version of PhotoPuppet for Reshan as subcontractors, but our innovative animation engine behind it had been very expensive to make, and Reshan could not afford to license it so Bart had a different idea. He proposed to form a partnership, as he figured out that in order to succeed, we have to set a shared goal. Reshan would be able to make the app he envisioned and we could further work on our unique animation engine, sharing expenses and revenues with him.

It was quite straightforward to partner with Reshan as we immediately understood each other.

He would also complete our team’s skillset by adding his abilities and background. Looking back, this turned out to be the perfect blend of hobbyist enthusiasm, technology and education.

We made a chart of features showing how many functions for the screencasting app we’d had already and how many still needed to be developed. Not a lot, it seemed. We thought that preparing a modified version of PhotoPuppet would take 3 months. And it did take about 3 months.

On August 19th, 2011, Explain Everything got approved by Apple. Reshan started sharing it out and got several influential educators and bloggers to tweet and write about it.

The app had a very good reception. We passed 10K downloads in 4 months. The we passed 100K downloads in a year. We have seen an increasing download pace ever since and currently the download rate is about 100K per month. At the time of writing, Explain Everything has been downloaded by almost 1.5 million people around the world.

We have been constantly updating and improving the app since the very beginning (and occasionally bringing back features from PhotoPuppet, such as the timeline), so this is also one of the reasons that iPad users have been choosing Explain Everything and using it daily.

3) What advice do you have for educators who have a great idea for an app or other tech tool for teaching and learning?

Bart: Always remember that the killer idea you have is not necessarily unique. It almost never is. Consider the invention of the light bulb or quasar research — there is always one or two individuals or teams who had similar concepts and are currently working on it. So, if you have a good idea the key is in the execution. Focus on bringing the right team together. In today’s complicated world, inventions and discoveries are never done by a single person. And also think economically — what value will the app or tool bring versus the costs to create a complete product out of your idea. If it is worth it, loosen your brakes and go for it!

Reshan: Do some research on what is already out there first. It might be possible to find something that is close to or almost like your idea but just needs some adjustments or pivots. The person or people who made that app or tool usually deeply care about it, if for no reason but the time and effort it took to make it available. Reach out to them and if there is a spark of interest, create some sort of mutual Non-Disclosure agreement so that both sides can have a more open dialogue.

I have had informal conversations with people who are very nervous about sharing their ideas out of fear of someone stealing the concept. Even if it is a good idea, it still takes a lot of work and time to do it well. And then even if it is done well it takes a lot of work and time (and luck) for it to catch on.

Piotr: You have to be patient and find someone that you feel a natural connection with. Don’t settle for a generic developer that would treat your app as “just another app”. This can prove difficult!

Do not treat the concept of “apps” as generic objects – all of them are original ideas, although it has been changing and somewhat degrading through the last 6-8 years. There is a belief that an app is something small and easy to make when in reality this could not be farther from the truth.

Just a few years ago, what we call an “app” today was called a “program” and cost $40 or more. Today, apps are sold for $0.99 but the amount of time and money needed to make them have not magically shrunk by a factor of 40. And there is another problem: there are a large number of “spam” (or just really low quality) apps on the market that make it difficult to discover the really valuable or well-designed ones in the app stores. This perpetuates the status degradation of the “app.”

An app that can thrive in this landscape must be innovative, and in education it must have features that students and educators need while being easy to use. It has to be so easy that it could be used everyday, just like a toothbrush!

4) Reshan, in your years as an educator and researcher, what changes have you seen in educational technology? What are you hopeful or excited about in the field? What are you skeptical about?

Reshan: One promising shift I am starting to see is the way that some school leaders are making the distinction between educational technology (tech in the day-to-day classrooms), information technology (technology infrastructure and support), and computer science (its own academic discipline). For a long time “technologists” in schools have been a kind of catch-all. They help other teachers use tech in their classrooms, they do technology support for hardware and systems, and they might teach a programming or robotics class. Today these strands still have a lot of synergy and interdependence, but there is now also a role for someone who has talents and interests in just one of the strand, even if he or she might have done the other two things in a past life.

I’m always skeptical about measuring the success of a learning intervention by only counting one variable: the technology. I think it is a broad statement to say that any technology by itself helps students learn better. Learn what? Learn how?

Sure, it is possible to say that without the technology being present the learning intervention would have been less successful, but that does not make it the only factor. I think its much more important to think about the contexts — people, relationships, institutional culture, resources, etc. — but it’s just hard to visualize and measure those things.

5) It seems that many apps and websites are merely digital versions of analog teaching tools. A game in which students destroy meteors to complete addition problems isn’t much different than flipping through math facts written on index cards.  Sure there is the engagement component but pedagogically, it’s really just rote memorization.  What are your thoughts on this? In your role as Director of Educational Technology, how do you evaluate educational technology to ensure that it is a valuable for classrooms? What criteria do you consider?

Bart: Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t cut it. The evaluation of educational technology should examine the pros and cons in the process of learning. What is enriched with technology? What is taken away by it? There are many factors to be considered if you think of learning or understanding by using the notion of a hermeneutic circle. One’s understanding of a concept as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts, and one’s understanding of each individual part is established by reference to the whole.

I would want to see classroom technology help people improve their understanding of individual parts of what is to be learned and stimulating cross-referencing. This is drastically different from the foundational idea of computers — they were meant to reduce workload!  This is not something you necessarily want to do in education. Interactive Whiteboards are a good example —  it’s like digital paper. But paper itself does not allow you to capture process so you can spot the moment of error in one’s thinking. You cannot add a video to a paper — no glue or paper clip does it. With an interactive whiteboard you can. You can use it to “write an essay” explaining physical motion but using a time lapse video instead of just words.

Reshan: I think every learning activity (including math facts index cards and meteors) have to be examined in the context of the learning goal. If the memorization of the facts is the learning goal, then I am concerned. But maybe the memorization is part of a bigger goal to build short term recall in order to access a different and more meaningful cognitive channel that will turn those short term facts into long-term, transferable understanding. Please don’t confuse this for a pro-memorization argument; it’s just an example of how I try to understand what I observe.

In my role at my school we try to make all of our decisions that guide our leadership with the teachers and students with a similar mentality to what I describe above. Trace the choices back to the school’s mission or to the learning goals. Consider the value added. Weight the value added against the cost — and not just initial monetary costs. There are human costs, time costs, replacement and maintenance costs. Basically you have to balance the theoretical with the practical, all while factoring the contexts that I talked about before.

6) Reshan, on your website you describe one of your goals as: “uncovering how emerging technologies can be used to capture and mediate discourse that data-driven approaches are not capable of measuring.” Have you seen any shifts in the educational landscape that indicate a movement away from a strong emphasis on standardized testing and, a focus on numerical data for assessment?  What can educators do to counteract this trend and still evaluate students in meaningful ways?

Reshan: I tend to see evidence of this shift at the ground level in the work and projects made with apps like Explain Everything that are shared online. Working at an independent school I am shielded from the direct pressure of these external factors, but I sometimes worry that students and teachers are doing amazing things in spite of the top-down decision making that they are beholden to and not because of good leadership.

I think that the more people share what they are doing and how they are assessing learning in less quantitative ways — whether it’s online or at conferences or in publications or even at faculty meetings — the more likely there can a large-scale definition (or understanding) of assessment and evaluation. Sometimes it is difficult to explain things in (just) words, which is why I think Explain Everything has had such a positive reception since its launch.

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Three Easy Routines to Boost Your Creativity

We recently reached out to a number of educators in the June Labs cohort and asked them about creativity routines.  We wanted to share three great examples.

1) Creativity Circles

Here is an easy one that you can complete within a few minutes when you wake up or any time of day.  Jump to 9:50 in the following TED talk below to hear Tim Brown of IDEO describe the circle exercise.  We found a simple printable template that will help you get started.

If you struggle to come up with ideas for drawing in the circles, consider adding some constraints or variations.  Try printing different size circles or working with a specific challenge like:

  • redesign the alphabet
  • invent a new number system
  • use only three lines per circle
  • change the time limit
  • draw inside and outside of the circles

2) Morning Pages

A stream of conscious writing exercise recommended by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.  Three pages every day.  It is a simple act with the power to slowly chip away at those thoughts that say, “I am not creative.”.

More about Morning Pages

3) Sketch a Haiku

Haiku poetry, known for its beauty and simplicity, is the springboard for this exercise.  Find a book of haiku or grab a list from the internet, add some scrap paper and try to sketch a poem a day.  Consider applying constraints just like with the circles above. Haikus are limited by syllables, how can you limit your sketches and still communicate the essence?

 

 

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Rework by Jason Fried

Rework by Jason Fried. A collection of essays, perhaps better described as a manifesto about building a business that you believe in and doing the best work possible.  These short yet powerful missives chip away at our ineffective habits, constrained thought patterns and often ill-conceived notions about work, business, productivity, and life.

Here are some of our favorite quotes:

“Give up on the guesswork. Decide what you are going to do this week, not this year. Figure out the next most important thing and do that. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance.”

 

“Ideas are cheap and plentiful…the real question is how well you execute.”

 

“Great businesses have a point of view not just a product or service.  You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you’re willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world.”

 

“Whenever you can, swap “let’s think about it” for “let’s decide on it.” Don’t wait for a perfect solution. Decide and move forward.”

 

“Embrace the idea of having less mass. The more massive an object, the more energy is needed to change its direction. Mass is increased by: long-term contracts, excess staff, permanent decisions, meetings, thick process, inventory (physical or mental), hardware, software or tech lock-ins, long term road maps and office politics.”

 

“Culture is the by-product of of consistent behavior. If you encourage people to share, then sharing will be built into you culture.”

Further reading and viewing:

Signals vs Noise (official blog of 37 Signals aka Basecamp)

 

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Julie Lindsay, Connectivism and Flat Classrooms

Does Julie Lindsay sleep?  I am skeptical. My bet is after you read this interview with her, you’ll be skeptical too.  Julie’s incredible collection of roles include educator, innovator, leader, conference organizer, consultant, speaker, lecturer, and more. Following her work around the globe with a map of push pins and string would result in a complicated multidirectional weave of many destinations and connection both in person and virtual: Beijing, Melbourne, Washington DC, Dhaka, among others. Weeks away from the Flat Connections Conference, June Labs sat down to talk with Julie to talk about her awesome work.

1) As you meet people around the world, what inspires you most about education and its future?  If you can share a specific story, perhaps from your recent travels in India or elsewhere.

What is inspiring about the future of education is the willingness of teachers and schools to use digital technologies to connect and collaborate. Uptake in the past 8 or so years has been slow generally, but now that more schools have access through mobile devices and wireless Internet learning ubiquitously with others beyond the immediate school environment is growing.

Of the many examples I could share is a school in India, Choithram International School, who have taken on global learning this year and embedded global collaborative projects across the curriculum. All teachers are designing new learning experiences and joining global projects to provide experiential learning for global competence.

2) Similarly, what worries you about education? What obstacles are most seriously preventing innovation to occur?  Are there barriers that seem common to education regardless of location or monetary resources?

Oh yes! Similarities across the world with barriers include two main obstacles: mandatory testing, and Internet filtering – both of which I believe are not needed or perhaps only in very small amounts. These imposed restrictions are stifling creativity and preventing true digital citizenship skills to develop. At younger age levels it may be more necessary to filter learning resources, but what we are seeing is blatant blocking of tools such as Skype or Google e.g. YouTube and therefore preventing rich resources from being used in the classroom.

3) Do you see technology as a levelling tool for those in the developing world? Or is there a widening gap between those with access and those without?

Well in many respects technology is a levelling tool and developing countries have the opportunity to leap-frog over what many of us in schools have been through in the past 20 years. Mobile technologies and access to resources through different ways of connecting have and will continue to broaden opportunities for learning. Focus must be on teacher education however – and the importance of this has been highlighted in the #TeacherTuesday blog posts I have written recently as part of a UNESCO initiative to highlight education needs in different countries and situations.

In many respects the developing world are so focused on basic literacy that technology does not come into the picture. Poverty is cruel, and too many young people are living in politically unstable situations across the world. I do not see the digital divide widening between developing and non-developing world as I see it widening between different systems across the world. For example, schools in Australia have spent much money on Smartboard installations without giving enough thought to how technology can support connected and collaborative learning that leads to co-creation with others at a distance. Maybe a modern classroom needs a SmartBoard….I am not convinced of course…..pedagogically money is wasted and therefore other technologies are not afforded, such as iPads and access to good Internet speeds.

4) At June Labs, our mission is to develop structures which allow educators and students to participate in the creation of tools that they will use in their classrooms.  We are building a bridge between the companies that develop the technologies and the people in schools. How can educators work to build more bridges across the many rivers that separate people?

What you are doing is admirable and forward thinking in many respects. Actually asking students what they think about learning, how they want to learn and with what tools is not common in my experience. Too many meetings and conferences around the world focus on what we all think the students need – without actually asking them – or in fact asking the teachers what they really need for learning. Building bridges is a major focus of the Flat Connections Conference (http://flatconnections.com) that brings together both students and teachers at the same live event. A challenge-based process sees student teams and teacher teams develop action plans for future learning, while bouncing ideas off each other for feedback and improvement. Our Flat Connections global projects are also building bridges between classrooms by providing the support and infrastructure for students and teachers to work and learn together. This is beyond the casual global Skype call, learning how to contribute to an online community in a meaningful way is a skill everyone needs to learn – students especially will need this for future vocation.

Educators need to, what we call, ‘flatten’ the classroom walls and bring opportunities into the everyday learning of their classroom. Learning cannot be in isolation now – there are many great programs and initiatives that teachers can hook into that use connection technologies to support collaborative learning, and that give students a voice in their own pathway of learning. This is very important. We call teachers who are open to these new learning experiences ‘teacherpreneurs’. Each school must have at least one – and then build capacity within the rest of the staff.

5) Can you give us a top ten list of action items that educators could do to push our organizations towards the future?

1. Become connected –  this is the top of the list! Connect your self to the world as an educator and explore connectivism as a learning paradigm (George Siemens) and use digital technologies to share and curate resources.
2. Be open to alternatives – work within your system, but push the boundaries  -and NEVER take NO for an answer. There is always a way, even if websites are blocked etc, there are always alternative ways to reach the same goal.
3. Develop better leadership models – most are outdated within schools – develop a more distributed leadership model where teachers have some autonomy with curriculum and other choices for learning – promote the ‘teacherpreneur’.
4. Work with the technology you have – great things can be achieved with one computer in a class, so don’t put off connecting with the world because of a perceived lack of resources. Keep working on improved resources while leading the way in global learning – it just takes planning and determination.
5. Build communities – use your new-found connectedness and join and build communities that will support you, your school and your students. Professional development is often online now – we are flattening the learning by including alternative conferences where opportunities take place anywhere, anytime. It is through joining and participating in communities that new experiences build capacity as a teacher.

Learn more about Julie and her projects:

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Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley

Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley.  A guidebook for for building your creative skills with useful anecdotes and examples from various companies from two of the most important people in the field of design and design thinking.  It includes plans for action including: an outline for approaching innovation, ideas on how to cultivate a creative spark and instructions on gaining empathy to understand customers better.  The books speaks to those who doubt their creativity and acts as a refresher course for people with more experience in creative enterprises, applicable for educators, entrepreneurs and dozens of other fields.

Here are some of our favorite quotes:

“The combination of thought and action defines creative confidence: The ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them.”

“Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do.”

“Let go of comparison. If you are concerned about conforming or about how you measure up to other’s successes, you won’t perform the risk taking and trailblazing inherent in creative endeavors.”

“Empathy means challenging your preconceived ideas and setting aside your sense of what you think is true in order to learn what is actually true.”

Cultivate the creative spark:

  1. Choose creativity. , decide to make it happen.
  2. Think like a traveler with fresh eyes. Expose yourself to new ideas and experiences.
  3. Engage in relaxed attention.
  4. Empathize with your end user. Innovative ideas come when you better understand the needs and context of the people you are creating solutions for.
  5. Do observations in the field.
  6. Ask why questions.
  7. Reframe questions, start from a different point of view.
  8. Build a creative support network. Find collaborators and others to share ideas, suggestions, and criticism.

Further reading and viewing:

Tools for Design Thinking from the Kelley brothers

d. School methods

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Bridge over the River Edtech

There is a river. On one side there are educators and on the other side there are companies building educational technology.

The river is fast-flowing, its currents are frigid.  It has carved its way through stone for many years separating the two distinct lands.

On one side of this river stands a citadel, a city surrounded by tall gray stone walls. Inside these walls thrives a community of skilled craftspeople, toiling to create new tools and technologies for others to use.

On the other side, is a camp of artisans, diligently working to grow and nurture their community and ensure its future success.

Motivated at times by the potential for profit and at other times by altruism, the craftspeople of the citadel peer out from their perches, high in the towers and watch the enterprising artisans, pondering what types of tools they might need, what they could sell them, what they could share.  There are times when they approach the water and yell across the river to a few nearby artisans but the roar of the rapids dulls or confuses the answers to the craftspeople’s questions.  The craftspeople return to their workshops and build new objects with little knowledge of the artisan side.

Regularly, the craftspeople wrap their newest inventions in cloth and take them outside the castle walls.  The packages might be covered in gold leaf or wrapped with eloquent proclamations.  Regardless of its decoration, a trumpet always announces the new inventions, flags are raised and ripple in the wind.  The craftspeople crank back the heavy wooden arm of a catapult and aim it towards the other side of the river.

The first trumpet blast provokes a variety of reactions on the artisan’s side.  Some scramble about trying to predict how the next package might help them, where it may land.  Others worry about the trajectory of the new delivery, worrying about the damage it could incur or the struggles that may ensue.  Others are skeptical and remain stationary, doubting this new invention. They remember days when the trumpet would sound and nothing came. They peer cynically towards the mountainous pile of objects, previously launched from the castle, now discarded and neglected.

The trumpet sounds again and the package is launched into the air. It lands with a thud, the depth of the sound when it makes contact with the ground reveals its weight before any artisan sees the contents.  The artisans find bricks and horseshoes within the gilded cloth.  Some immediately pick up the objects and test their use.  Some watch and slowly follow.  Others sit outside their tents, merely watching the clouds move across the sky.

Soon the artisans realize the bricks do not match their architecture, the shapes are incongruent to their own  They go about hacking at the bricks and bending the horseshoes to make them work as best as possible. They use the horseshoes to hammer the corners off of bricks that do not fit.  They use other items from around the village, sticky resin from trees to ensure the misshapen bricks stay in place. They go about patching, combining, and mending.

Soon, however, the artisans arrive at the futility of these actions.  In response to this disappointment, they yell across the river, but the rushing water swallows their comments.  They send doves with messages tied to their ankles.  Some don’t return perhaps plucked from the air by falcons. The artisans craft calligraphic notes, roll them into hopeful bottles and toss them from the river banks. Numerous bottles are swept away downstream, dancing in the current until they disappear out of view.

One day an enterprising artisan turns back aways from the river and stares at the pile of detritus from past packages. She decides, “We should build a bridge.”

June Labs is building a bridge that connects the designers and developers of the tech industry with teachers and administrators. We are crossing the moat and knocking on the front gate.  We are creating a phrasebook so that the artisans and craftspeople may converse for the benefit of both sides.

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How to Succeed in Ed-Tech (Wikispaces)

How to Succeed in Edtech, written by the founders of Wikipaces is an exploration and a guide outlining their experiences in building a quality product for the education sphere.  This work acts as a compass for June Labs, we return to it regularly for direction, comfort, and reality checks.

Here are some of our favorite quotes:

“We define success in ed-tech as building a sustainable company that improves student outcomes, empowers teachers, and increases the reach and efficiency of educational institutions.”

 

“Build products that will survive the test of time. Build companies that will be around to support students and educators beyond the next fad, the next wave of technology change, the next economic downturn.”

 

“Helping students must be at the heart of any successful education startup.”

 

“Teachers are the lynchpin of the educational process and key to ed-tech startup success…”

 

“Successful ed-tech products will draw a clear line between product adoption and improved student outcomes *and* empower teachers to succeed with the product before it is adopted by their institutions.”

Further reading

2010-2011 Ed-Tech Startup: Where are they now? & (How) Should Startups Compensate Schools and Teachers for their Feedback? by Audrey Watters at Hack Education

Edshelf Shutting Down and The Kickstarter to Save It

 

 

 

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June Labs Enters the Blogosphere

It is May 2011.

It is early on a Saturday morning in Philadelphia.

I am skipping across Walnut Street.

Well, I am not entirely skipping.  I admit, there is an added bounce to my step, a hint of hopscotch. My gait has been lightened.  There is the youthful energy of inspiration and joy, yet there is the hesitancy and reservation of adulthood.

Instead of the numbered boxes written in chalk, I am moving towards an arrow on the ground.  The words EdcampPhilly propel me forward.

The Way to Edcamp Philly (photo by Scot J. Wittman)

I pause to look for the designated entrance and realize that I am a 35 year old man, skipping, on the way to an event unrecognized by spell check.

I have driven an hour on a Saturday to attend an unconference.

This is professional development not required by my school.

This is an event where they ask you to turn on your devices not shut them down.

This is an event where they encourage you to leave a session if you don’t like it.  Leave right in the middle, walk past the presenter, and out the door.

This is an event where none of the workshops are decided upon in advance and where anyone can lead a session about anything.  A 10 year old wants to show teachers how Minecraft could be used in the classroom? Done.

I smile.

I think I have found my tribe.

But who are the Edcampers, the connected educators, the edu-makers and the teacherpreneurs?

We build workarounds.
We attend hackathons.
In the faculty lunch room, we admit to missing the previous night’s episode of American Idol.
We don’t admit that we have never seen a single show but would prefer to build a website, teach ourselves Python, or attend a Meet Up for entrepreneurs.
We know the difference between a Maker Bot and a Makey Makey.
We continue to start sentences with the words, “I’ve got an idea…” despite the eye rolling of friends, colleagues, and significant others.

We teach tomorrow.
We aren’t afraid to fail.
We teach respect.
We inspire kids to always want to try their hardest no matter what.

-Caren MacConnell

 

We focus on possibilities and not problems.
We are #bettertogether.
We flip classrooms.
We find something brilliant in EVERY student.
We invite parents as partners in learning.

-John Fritzky

 

We know that learning is endless.
We know that humility is important.
Our most critical responsibility is to care for our students.

-Mike Thayer

 

We take small steps every day that add up to giant wins.

-Kristin Swanson

 

We attend Edcamps.
We know the value of school librarians.
We use Twitter & social media to build  our PLN.

-Elissa Malespina

 

We connect people AND things.
We have to trust our students – who else is gonna teach us this stuff??

-Dave Zirkle

 

We recognize failure as the road to success.
We act rather than acquiesce.

-Mike Ritzius

 

We trust our students.
We empower our students.

-Laura Blankenship

 

We wonder “what if” in the face of “impossible.”

-Mary Beth Hertz

 

What does June Labs do and how does it connect with these ideas?  

Teachers have always developed tools and materials for their classrooms.  The list is long: bulletin boards, anchor charts, graphic organizers, but for a number of years, unless they were gifted with significant technology training, educators were left out of the creator role in the digital realm.  Now due to increased access to creation tools, teachers can take a more active role in the invention process for their field. This empowerment, combined with partnerships with companies and organizations, will allow teachers to become designers and collaborators, not just passive consumers.

June Labs will disrupt the way education tools are made by creating greater digital channels for exceptional teachers, EDU Gurus, and students to collaborate together with developers and product designers from around the world.

We want innovators, like the ones listed above, the ones on the other side of Walnut Street, to collaboratively develop disruptive learning tools for the future.

What can you dream up?

What will we help you build?

 

 

 

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