Feds Launch Inaugural Teacher and School Leader Grant Competition

The United States Department of Education yesterday announced a new grant competition to train teachers that serve low-income and minority children.

The Teacher and School Leader (TSL) program is designed to assist states, local educational agencies and nonprofit organizations in developing, implementing, improving and expanding “comprehensive performance-based competition systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals and other school leaders,” according to the program website.

The TSL grants are especially geared to help educators in high-need schools where there is a need to “raise student academic achievement and close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students.” Approximately $250 million has been requested for the program for FY 2017, but funding is contingent future appointments to Congress.

The grants will:

  • Allow educators to identify opportunities to improve their schools;
  • Create professional development and support systems that are tailored to educators’ individual needs; and
  • Help districts and schools attract “a diverse, effective workforce,” according to the TSL program site.

Authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the TSL program replaces the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) program that provided $2 billion to fund similar efforts to increase student achievement over the last 10 years, particularly for math and science.

Applications for the grant competition opened today. The deadline to submit applications is March 24, 2017. Apply are available on the ED site here

Report: Digital Natives ‘Easily Duped’ by Information Online

Many students are having a hard time judging the credibility of online news, according to a new study from Stanford University. Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education assessed middle, high school and college students on the their civic online reasoning skills, or “the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets and computers.”

The Stanford History Education Group recently released a report that analyzes 7,804 responses collected from students across 12 states and varying economic lines, including well-resourced, under-resourced and inner-city schools. To test news literacy, the researchers administered 56 tasks that involved open web searches. They found that when it comes to evaluating information that flows on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, students “are easily duped” and have trouble discerning advertisements from news articles.

Native advertising, for example, “proved vexing for the majority of students,” according to the report. For one task, 203 middle school students were asked to evaluate the homepage of Slate magazine’s website. More than 80 percent of students believed that an advertisement with the words “sponsored content” was a news story. Several even responded that it was sponsored content, yet identified it as a credible news story.

Many people assume that today’s students – growing up as “digital natives” – are intuitively perceptive online. The Stanford researchers found the opposite to be true and urge teachers to create curricula focused on developing students’ civil reasoning skills. They plan to produce “a series of high-quality web videos to showcase the depth of the problem” that will “demonstrate the link between digital literacy and citizenship,” according to the report.

The report, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” can be found here.

Facebook, Apple, Google Executives Push STEM at Trump’s Tech Meeting

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, alongside a dozen other executives of major tech companies, met with Republican president-elect Donald Trump Wednesday to discuss jobs and the economy.

What ever happened after this meeting? Has any of these companies actually changed what they are/were doing?

Image Credit: Quartz.

Trump was relatively quiet about his plans for education while campaigning, but during the sit-down meeting at Trump Tower in New York City, a conversation about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education unfolded.

According to various reports, invitations were also extended to:

  • Jeff Bezoz, Amazon CEO;
  • Safra Katz, Oracle CEO;
  • Alex Karp, Palantir CEO;
  • Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and product architect;
  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO;
  • Larry Page, Alphabet CEO and Google co-founder;
  • Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman and former Google CEO;
  • Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO; and
  • Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO.

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and other companies and a member of Trump’s transition team, was also in attendance and sat next to the president-elect. Notably, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was not at the meeting.

Recode reported that meeting attendees talked about developing fairer trade deals and creating jobs, emphasizing the importance of innovative technologies, like automation and advanced manufacturing. Cook brought up President Obama’s work to advance STEM education in K–12, including national computer science initiatives, stressing STEM’s impact on the U.S. economy. Additionally, Sandberg pushed the importance of STEM education for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech industry.

 

President-Elect Advised to Scale Personalized Learning

KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit that works with federal, state and district leaders to expand competency-based and personalized learning, has issued four recommendations on how Donald Trump and his  secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, can “scale personalized learning.”

The advice focuses on streamlining the path between K—12 and higher ed for increased college enrollment; removing barriers to innovation within states; adding flexibility to the federal financial aid system; and prioritizing personalized learning initiatives for discretionary grant programs.

The emphasis is placed especially on flexibility, a concept of great importance to DeVos, a strong advocate for the use of school vouchers, which would support parents using federal dollars to send their children to private schools, among other choices. In a speech at last year’s South by Southwest Education Forum, the education reformer called for revolutionizing the “education delivery system” by opening it up and allowing “for choice, innovation and freedom.”

In a five-page “memo,” KnowledgeWorks suggested:

  • Finding ways to promote the “effective transitions” of students between their secondary education and college. One idea would be the creation of a “postsecondary transition innovation fund,” that could be used, for example, to support the transition to competency-based pathways in education and re-engagement of students who have dropped out.
  • Helping states and districts scale their personalized learning systems. The components needed would address many of the stipulations covered in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — assessment, accountability, school improvement and the education workforce — and also suggests expansion of learning opportunities outside of school and support for research and development tied to personalized learning.
  • Supporting individual pathways toward postsecondary credentials by making federal financial aid more flexible. This would require a move away from basing financial aid on the number of hours a student attends college or the number of credit hours he or she is pursuing — shifting the emphasis to other areas, such as competency education and dual enrollment.
  • Giving a priority score to grants that focus on personalized learning. The characteristics of that include alignment with standards students need to be successful in college, individualized learning experiences and varied pacing of instruction based on student need.

“We look forward to working with the new administration to create a policy platform that makes it easier for learners to access high-quality, customized pathways to college and career success,” wrote Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy, in an article on the organization’s website. “In a time of uncertainty, there is no better strategy than to build on our strengths. By empowering our local innovators, we can turn their energy and dedication into a system that works for all.”

The full memo is available on the KnowledgeWorks website here.

K12 and other Virtual Companies REJECT ACCOUNTABILITY/TRANSPARENCY Proposal

Virtual charter school company K12 Inc. rejected a transparency proposal Thursday that would have required the company’s board of directors to create a new report detailing K12’s lobbying efforts.

The proposal came from a group of shareholders, represented by Arjuna Capital, who said the company spends millions on state lobbying, even as its stock has been dropping and revenues have decreased.

K12 Inc. has spent at least $10.5 million to hire lobbyists in 21 states, according to more than a decade of state lobbying disclosure forms examined by Education Week as part of a recent investigation into the lobbying efforts of for-profit virtual charter school operators.

The shareholders called on the company’s board to prepare an annual report detailing spending on “direct or indirect lobbying or … grassroots lobbying communications.” They also wanted the company to report K12’s membership in, and payments to, any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The K12 shareholder effort to push for more transparency was headed by Bertis Downs, the legal counsel for the rock group R.E.M. as well as a traditional public school parent and advocate in Athens, GA.

Downs also sits on the board of the Network for Public Education, the group co-founded by education historian and traditional public schools advocate Diane Ravitch.

K12’s board of directors opposed the proposal. In a proxy statement put out ahead of the annual shareholder’s meeting, the board said the requirements outlined in the proposal are not necessary and could hurt the company.

“The expanded disclosure requested by this proposal could place the company at a competitive disadvantage by revealing strategies and priorities designed to protect the economic future of the company, its stockholders and employees,” the statement said.

K12 has faced major challenges in recent years. Revenues are down by $75 million from last year, according to an Education Week report. Investors sued the company in 2014, claiming it had misled them before its stock prices fell in 2013. A federal judge dismissed the suit last year.

And California Attorney General Kamala Harris launched an investigation into the company for alleged false advertising and unfair business practices. In July, K12 Inc. agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle the state’s claims and provide $160 million in balanced budget credits to the nonprofit schools it manages, including California Virtual Academies.

Despite those setbacks, the company continues to open new schools in states such as Alabama, Maine and North Carolina.

 

by Richard Chang

Could a robot be grading your homework?

Artificial intelligence has become an increasingly big issue for education – not least because many tech companies and publishers are circling around the huge commercial opportunities. Especially with the possibility of the new chief at the USDOE coming on board soon.

One of those companies is Vantage Learning the industry leader in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing Technologies. They were the first company to reach human level accuracy in their scoring engine and have patents on the world’s best artificial intelligent engine (Intellimetric) that automatically scores essays and provides prescriptive feedback to students globally.

To date the engine has scored more than 125,000,000 essays including many large-scale essays such as the GMAT, MCAT, SAT and ACT to name a few.

When thinking about the bigger picture in education though, could students really get their answers from a robot rather than a teacher? They are already receiving prescriptive feedback, and having their papers scored more efficiently than teachers can currently score. This leaves more time for intervention, content acquisition and remediation.

Donald Clark said it was a mistake to think jobs in education would not be automated, and I agree although, if technology can replace the teacher, then it should as that teacher is not doing their job, because teaching is more than technology and scores. It is about passion, choice and shaping our future as a country. You can decide for yourself and read this article. (http://www.edudemic.com/education-technology-pros-cons/)

Dr Tarek Besold, speaking at an educational technology conference in Berlin, said a joke-writing computer showed how robots could be creative as well as carrying out repetitive, factory-floor tasks.

And he highlighted experiments already taking place in using artificial intelligence in teaching.

Digital teacher

This summer, Georgia Tech, a university in Atlanta in the US, deployed a teaching assistant called Jill Watson for one of its postgraduate courses.

Except that Jill Watson was really a robot, which helped students and answered their questions in an online forum, without revealing her cyber-identity.

The only thing that students noticed was that Jill Watson answered questions and provided feedback much more quickly than other teaching assistants.

Dr Besold, from Bremen University, said such robotic teachers were becoming increasingly sophisticated and had advantages over human teachers. I am still wary of this as a model, being a teacher I know the reality of what it takes to be a teacher and a pseudo-parent at times.

They were always ready to respond, they were never bored, tired or distracted.

But such clever computers could also be stupid.

While they could be trained to operate for a particular task or set of questions, they couldn’t easily adapt that knowledge to a different setting.

For example; Peter Murphy, the CEO of Vantage Labs said “a human who was good at chess would be likely to be able to play other games that required a complex thought process; while a chess computer would struggle, unless it had been specifically programmed. This also holds true for the computer that beat the Japanese strategy game “Go” as well”.

Will robotics and automation take more professional jobs?

There are also more subtle questions about online help from a robot. Would you feel the same about positive feedback if it came from a machine rather than a person?

What about the pastoral side of teaching? Could a robot offer empathy as well as factual insights?

And academic instruction is often not about “right” or “wrong” answers, but teaching how to think and investigate. It is about teaching critical thinking and empathy. Can a robot or cognitive computing engine actually perform these tasks of teaching or leading students to critically think and problem solve?

Destroying jobs

Donald Clark, a professor at Derby University and an education technology entrepreneur, said it was a mistake for anyone to think that education would be exempt from the impact of automation.

“Are we really saying that accountants, lawyers and managers can all be replaced by artificial intelligence – but not teachers?”

Can a robot truly appreciate a creative student’s answers?

Clark argued that artificial intelligence would change office jobs and professions in the way that automation had already transformed production lines.

“Artificial intelligence will destroy jobs – so why not use it for a social good such as learning?” he asked.

The acceleration of big data and more powerful computer systems meant that more and more sophisticated tasks could be automated, said Prof Clark.

It is already ebbing around the edges of education.

Online tutors

The name of Georgia Tech’s robot teacher – Jill Watson – is a reference to the underlying Watson computer system, developed by IBM to answer questions in ordinary language.

The Watson system is also being used in an experimental project from education companies. There has been AI used in education by Vantage Learning for the past 15 years and they developed the first automated scoring engine to reach human level accuracy. (http://www.vantagelearning.com)

The use of artificial intelligence is growing in the workplace.

It’s not going to replace a conventional teacher, but it’s an indication of how online courses and revision tutorials could develop, with testing and feedback all wrapped up together.

But there are skeptics who see this as another wave of technology over-promising.

“We’ve been here before – with radio, television, computers, the internet,” said Stavros Yiannouka, chief executive of the Wise project, run by the Qatar Foundation.

“Technology in itself doesn’t revolutionize anything,” he said. Change in education is driven by public policy decisions, he said, not computer software.

There are also questions about whether automation will create a social divide – with stripped down, low cost, semi-automated courses, for those who cannot afford a traditional taught course.

Entrepreneur Nell Watson said that despite describing herself as a “happy clappy evangelist” for artificial intelligence, the role of teacher would not be replicated by a robot.

Cultivating the whole person and helping them to “blossom” was not something that was going to be achieved by an algorithm, she said.

And she doubted whether a computer could appreciate the work of an innovative student who thought outside the conventional questions and answers.

But automation is advancing.

The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said this month that 15 million jobs in the UK could be automated, including middle-class professions.

Changes in technology would “mercilessly” destroy jobs, he said.

So could it be “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and “Hello Mr. Silicon Chips”?

For more information on Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Computing or Natural Language Understanding reach out to me, I am always looking to discuss the future of the world we live, play and work in.

Ka’Ching! 2016 US Edtech Funding Totals $1 Billion

This is a repost of an article that appeared on EdSurge

Santa proved a little more parsimonious to U.S. edtech companies, which altogether raised an estimated $1.03 billion across 138 venture deals in 2016. Those tallies dipped from 2015, which saw 198 deals that totalled $1.45 billion. (Or, from a different perspective, U.S. edtech companies raised roughly 57 percent of what Snapchat did in its $1.8 billion Series F round.)

In this annual analysis, EdSurge counts all investments in technology companies whose primary purpose is to improve learning outcomes for all learners, regardless of age. This year startups that serve primarily the K-12 market raised $434 million; those targeting the postsecondary and corporate learning sector raised $593 million.

Since 2010, venture funding dollars for U.S. edtech startups have increased every consecutive year. It’s worth noting that even though 2016 marked the end of this trend, the dollar total still surpasses the years before 2015.

The downturn isn’t specific to the education industry but rather reflects a broader slowdown across all technology sectors, says Tory Patterson, managing partner at Owl Ventures. “There’s a broader shift in venture capital where there’s less exuberance companies that haven’t really nailed the business model,” he tells EdSurge.

Dealflow dips has also been felt in the health, real estate, construction and financial technology sectors. Across the globe, venture deals returned to 2014 levels, according to CB Insights. The market uncertainty has led some high-profile companies to hit pause on bigger plans. SoFi, which offers loans and other student services, pushed back plans for its initial public offering this year. Pluralsight, an online learning company that was also expected to IPO, is also on hold.

Venture-backed startups tend to swing between two spectrums, says Amit Patel, a partner at Owl Ventures. On one end are businesses “that grow aggressively but have no revenue associated. The other are those laser focused on business model and revenue. The mood is swinging towards the latter.”

Commitments to “impact” or “mission” aside, all investors—even in education—want to see returns. Often that means converting users into dollars.

“We’ve noticed VCs becoming more selective about their education investments, asking more questions about revenue growth and the leading indicators of product adoption, implementation timelines and ultimately usage,” says Jason Palmer, a general partner at New Markets Venture Partners. Unlike Instagrams and other “5-year consumer internet hits,” more investors, according to Palmer, now realize “it can take 10 or 15 years to build a sustainable education business.”

Breaking Down the Numbers

As in previous years, companies offering tools in the postsecondary and “other” categories out-raised other products. (“Other” includes a mix of products that help business professionals develop skills, are aimed at parents, or are not used in K-12 or higher-ed institutions.)

Expect this trend to continue, says Palmer, as investors come to “a greater recognition that higher education institutions adopt and implement more rapidly than K-12 [schools].” Tuition dollars may be one reason why they have adopted technologies such as student retention and predictive analytics platform. “Colleges and universities are facing financial pressures to keep students who contribute to their revenues. In K-12, you don’t have the same urgency of students as revenue drivers,” he suspects.

This year saw no mega-rounds for startups in the postsecondary sector—unlike 2015, which saw HotChalk, Udacity, Udemy, Coursera and Civitas Learning account for more than $520 million of funding. (Udemy did lead this pack in 2016 with a $60 million round.)

In fact, the biggest funding round of 2016 for a U.S.-based startup went to Age of Learning, which raised $150 million and accounts for 55 percent of the funding total for K-12 curriculum products. The Glendale, Calif.-based company is the developer of ABCmouse, a collection of online learning activities aimed for young children. First developed for the consumer and parent market, the tool is attempting to make headway into schools and classrooms.

Choosier Angels

Angel and seed level funding rounds, which signal investors’ interest in promising but unproven ideas, saw a small decline as well. The 66 deals at this stage are the lowest since 2011, although they totaled $62.5 million—roughly on par with 2014 levels.

Over the past five years, the average value of seed rounds has been increasing, from around $600K in the early years of this decade to roughly $1 million in 2015 and 2016. Discounting edtech accelerators, which typically invest $20K to $150K in startups, the 2016 seed round average actually surpasses $2 million. (We counted 28 such publicly disclosed seed rounds totaling $60.2 million)

Fewer but bigger seed deals are “a sign of maturation in the industry,” says Shauntel Poulson, a general partner at Reach Capital. Unlike previous years, where upstarts and ideas popped up the market, she believes the market is currently in a “stage of consolidation where leaders and proven ideas are emerging.”

Aspiring entrepreneurs ought to pay heed. What this means is that “the bar for seed rounds is getting higher,” Poulson adds. “Before it was about a promising idea and a great team. Now you need to show more traction and even some revenue.” Over the past few years investors have learned that “it’s best to focus on business model sooner rather than later.”

Palmer believes the days where startups could raise money before making some may be over. Expect to get grilled over “revenue growth, product adoption, implementation timelines and ultimately usage,” he says. To round out the questions, “VCs are also starting to ask about product efficacy.”

Looking Ahead

Unsurprisingly, investors held a cheery outlook for 2017, expecting funding totals to hold steady or even increase. More companies will be able to demonstrate sustainable revenue, predicts Owl Ventures’ Tory Patterson, and in turn woo investors’ appetite. “We think a lot of companies will be able to hit the $10 million revenue milestone.”

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality could drive further investments as their applications to help improve learning outcomes become clearer. Also expect to see Chinese investors paying closer attention, says Poulson. “There’s a big after-school market [in China] and an opportunity to leverage a lot of the content that’s being developed in the U.S.”

There’s also word on the street that several education-focused venture firms have re-upped their coffers with new funds to support proven, maturing startups. Stay tuned for more details.

Disclosure: Owl Ventures and Reach Capital are investors in EdSurge

The mind of a student today

December 26, 2014 Below is an interesting visual I cam across through a tweet from We Are Teachers. The visual maps out some really intriguing facts about students today. These facts are based on different studies and surveys conducted mainly on US students. I went through this resource and devised this brief synopsis: Minority students attending US schools will make up a majority of all students…

The Best of the Consumer Electronics Show 2016

Panasonic's transparent microLED display at CES 2016.

Above: Panasonic’s transparent microLED display at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
I’ve returned from the biggest battleground of tech, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
My Intel Basis Peak smartwatch told me that, over four days at CES, I walked 73,376 steps, or 18,344 steps per day. Those steps felt heavier this year because I carried a shoulder bag instead of using a roller bag, per the new security rules at the event. On the plus side, I managed to come back without the nerd flu and without a blister like last year.
I did my best, but that means I still only covered a very small percentage of the 3,000-plus companies spread across 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space at CES. My eyes began to glaze over as I saw the enormous numbers of drones, augmented reality glasses, virtual reality headsets, robots, smart cars, fitness wearables, 3D printers, and smart appliance that were part of the Internet of Things (making everyday objects smart and connected). I have published 63 stories about CES products and events. (I should say, I’ll continue to publish stories from CES over the next couple of weeks). I think this was my 20th CES, though I have lost count.
Inside the bubble of CES, which was attended by an estimated 150,000 people, I didn’t even know the stock market was melting down. CES is the place to look if we want to find the things that are going to save us from economic gloom, although we may have to really look. The global technology industry is expected to generate $950 billion in 2016, down 2 percent from a year ago, with the decline due in no small part to weakness in China. This year, I didn’t see much that was going to save the world economy and overcome the skepticism of natural-born cynics. You could certainly find partisans who will say that virtual reality or the Internet of Things will do that, as both movements have spread well beyond just one or two companies. But it’s a reach to say that these categories have already given us their killer apps.
Sill, I had a lot of fun finding things that I liked, and there was no shortage of these. Without further ado, here’s my favorite technology from CES 2016:
Panasonic Transparent Display
The idea of a transparent display isn’t that new. Big tech companies have been targeting them at retailers for a while. But this week Panasonic showed off a 55-inch television for the living room. The display is embedded in a bookcase, where it can transparently show a kind of trophy case behind the glass. But then it turns to black and shows home portraits. The image swivels to reveal a personalized screen with a weather report or a screen displaying a liquid-like aquarium. And it can even show a television show. The display has micro light-emitting diodes. While the screen is limited, as it isn’t completely transparent, it can display at a resolution of 1080p. This was a glimpse of the future, much like Panasonic’s Magic Mirror from a year ago. And I thought it was a wonderful example of how to make technology blend into the environment of the home.
Eyefluence
Jim Margraff, CEO of Eyefluence, wears an Oculus Rift headset.
Above: Jim Marggraff, CEO of Eyefluence, wears an Oculus Rift headset.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
Eyefluence was the shortest demo I did at CES, but it was enough to show me the future of using your eyes to control things. The tiny Eyefluence sensors are attached to the inside of an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and detect the smallest movements in your eyes. I blinked, turned my head, and moved my eyes around, but Eyefluence could still track when and how I wanted to control something. I could navigate through a menu without using my hands, a keyboard, or a mouse. It was fast. It only takes about a minute to learn how to follow Eyefluence’s instructions, after which you can start controlling things that are before your eyeballs. This could very well supply a major ingredient missing from virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses.
Vayyar’s 3D sensing
Israeli startup Vayyar uses 3D imaging with radio waves to see through solid surfaces. It can be used to show a 3D model of a cancerous growth in a woman’s breast. It can be used to detect the heartbeat of a person, such as a sleeping baby, in another room. Or it can be used to find studs or pipes that are hidden in a wall. It can see through materials, objects, and liquids. Vayyar can also detect motion and track multiple people in large areas. It works by shooting a radio wave into a solid object and measuring all of the ways that the wave bounces around as it hits various objects. Vayyar collects the reflections and analyzes them, putting them back together as a 3D image in real time. While it is powerful, the amazing technology doesn’t use a lot of power. It comes from seasoned technologists Raviv Melamed, Miri Ratner, and Naftali Chayat, who were inspired by military technology. Melamed, formerly of Intel, told us that the technology is inexpensive. And yes, if you have the ability to see through things, you’re Superman.
ODG’s ultra-wide wide-angle augmented reality glasses
Dean Takahashi demos ODG's augmented reality glasses.
Above: Dean Takahashi demos ODG’s augmented reality glasses.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
The Osterhout Design Group has taken its technology for night-vision goggles and turned it into augmented reality headsets for government and enterprises. The newest R-7 headset is like looking at a 65-inch TV screen that’s right in front of your eyeballs. The company demoed a future-generation technology with ultra wide-angle viewing. The R-7 has a 30-degree field of view, but the future product has a 50-degree field of view with a 22:9 aspect ratio. It’s more like sitting in the best seat in an IMAX theater, said Nima Shams, vice president at ODG. I was able to look at it and see a wide Martian landscape. The glasses are packed with technology, from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios to gyroscopes and altitude sensors. The R-7 costs $2,750, but there’s no telling how much the wide-angle display will be. At some point in the future, I fully expect that his experience is going to be better than going to an IMAX theater.
Cypress’s energy-harvesting solar beacon
This solar-based Bluetooth energy beacon doesn't need a battery.
Above: This solar-based Bluetooth energy beacon doesn’t need a battery.
Image Credit: Cypress
Beacons are devices that can connect to your smartphone using a local Bluetooth network. Retailers like to use them to send special offers to your smartphone. That technique can target people walking by a specific store and get them to come inside. But Beacons often run out of battery. By combining technology from Spansion (which Cypress Semiconductor has acquired) and Cypress, the product designers can create a Beacon with a solar energy array. Using that technology, the device can generate its own electricity and doesn’t need a battery. You can embed this kind of technology in any device that is part of the Internet of Things (smart and connected everyday objects). You could put a Beacon in a cemetery and use it to send a story about the life of someone buried there. “We want the Internet of Things, but nobody wants to change 20 billion batteries,” said Eran Sandhaus, vice president at Cypress Semiconductor. Hundreds of potential advertisers are looking at it. We’ll definitely need new sources of power, whether kinetic or otherwise. This is how the Internet of Things is going to become practical, with billions of smart, connected objects that operate on the slimmest amount of power.
Netatmo’s Presence smart outdoor security camera
Netatmo has a smart security camera.
Above: Netatmo has a smart security camera.
Image Credit: Netatmo
Presence is a smart outdoor security camera that sends an alert based on an analysis of a scene. If someone is loitering around your house, Netatmo’s Presence will detect that person and send a message to your smartphone. It can detect the movements of your pet, or it can tell you if someone is dropping a delivery at your door. You can train the camera to stay in a particular zone and, using deep learning technology, analyze only certain types of motion. It also comes with a floodlight. Presence doesn’t dump a ton of video on you. You don’t have to take an online storage subscription out. When it identifies significant events, it saves the video so that you can view it, preventing you having to view long, unedited footage. Presence will be available in the third quarter.
LG Rollable Display
LG's rollable display
Above: LG’s rollable display
Image Credit: LG
Rollable and flexible displays seem like either science fiction or a waste of time. But the LG rollable OLED screen is real. We can roll up the screen like a newspaper, and, in fact, that might be a good use of the technology. LG is showing a prototype now that is as thin as paper and has a resolution of 810 x 1200, or almost 1 million pixels. I’m not sure how we’ll end up using it. But I suspect the roller display will find many usages over time. This makes me feel like technology is becoming as disposable and flexible as a poster. You can go somewhere, put up a rollable screen, and then turn your surroundings into a movie theater or living room.
AtmosFlare 3D drawing
3D drawing is pretty cool. Adrian Amjadi of AtmosFlare showed me how to draw physical images in 3D, using the 3D drawing pen. The system uses ultraviolet light to cure a resin. You can pull on it and deform it any way you wish, essentially making something like the jellyfish in the video here. The resin sticks on porous things, but not on metal. The longer you leave the UV light on, the harder it becomes. The $30 system is on sale at Toys ‘R Us. The company says this will “forever change the way you do art.” I don’t know if it’s going to do that, but it did give me a small moment when I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.”
Medium painting and sculpting in Oculus Rift
Oculus VR came up with its “paint app” in September, but I finally got some hands-on time with it at CES. I was amazed at how easy it was to sculpt objects using two virtual hands (via the Oculus Touch hand controls and Oculus Rift headset). Expressing yourself with sculpting tools isn’t easy. But sculpting in the virtual space gave me a feeling of instant gratification. I started with a blank slate. Then I selected a tool for adding clay with one of my hands. I was able to change the way that the clay shot out of the Oculus Touch wand by rotating my hand. Then I was able to smooth out the edges, spray paint it, replicate it, and delete whole sections of it using my hands in the virtual world. It really makes you feel like you are sculpting something that is real. I can imagine it will be very easy to use a 3D printer to print out the 3D creations you build. You could certainly do something like this in a video game, like Media Molecule’s upcoming Dreams game on the PlayStation 4. But in VR, you feel like you are also inside the thing you are creating. You can turn the image to view it from new angles. This is one of those experiences that could make your head explode with creativity if you’re a 3D artist or sculptor.
Parrot Disco
Parrot Disco
Above: Parrot Disco
Image Credit: Parrot
Parrot has created a unique drone that can fly for 45 minutes on a single charge and reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. The Parrot Disco is the Swiss company’s latest entry into one of tech’s fastest-growing markets. The Disco is a flying wing that has a motor. It can fly itself or follow instructions you give it via an app. The drone can also take off and land by itself, using its own autopilot. If you use the Parrot Skycontroller, you can get a first-person view on a tablet screen of everything the drone is seeing. You don’t need any training to fly the drone, which has a range of two kilometers, and can navigate its way back to you.

Bullish on Blended Learning Clusters

Michael Horn
CONTRIBUTOR
An increasing number of regions are trying to create concentrated groups of blended-learning schools alongside education technology companies, which may be key to advancing the blended-learning field and increasing its odds of personalizing learning at scale to allow every child to be successful.

There is a theoretical underpinning for being bullish on the value these clusters could lend to the sector. These early attempts at building regional clusters mirror in many ways the clusters that Harvard professor Michael Porter has written about as having a powerful impact on the success of certain industries in certain geographies. Porter defines a cluster as a geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field.

“Clusters promote both competition and cooperation,” Porter wrote in his classic Harvard Business Review article on the topic, “Clusters and the New Economics of Competition.” He goes on to note that vigorous competition is critical for a cluster to succeed, but that there must be lots of cooperation as well—“much of it vertical, involving companies in related industries and local institutions.”

The benefit of being geographically based, he writes, is that the proximity of the players and the repeated exchanges among them “fosters better coordination and trust.” The strength comes from the knowledge, relationships, and motivation that build up, which are local in nature. Indeed, new suppliers are likely to emerge within a cluster, he writes, because the “concentrated customer base” makes it easier for them to spot new market opportunities or challenges that players need help solving.

From wine and technology in California to the leather fashion industry in Italy and pharmaceuticals in New Jersey and Philadelphia, clusters have endured and been instrumental in advancing sectors even in a world where technology has reduced the importance of geography.

As Clayton Christensen has observed, clusters may be particularly important in more nascent fields—like blended learning—in which the ecosystem is still immature, performance has yet to overshoot its users’ performance demands, and how the different parts of the ecosystem fit together are still not well understood, and thus the ecosystem is highly interdependent, even as proprietary, vertically integrated firms do not—or in the case of education, often cannot—stretch across the entire value network. In this circumstance, having a cluster with organizations so close together competing and working together may be critical.

 

Perhaps the most promising blended-learning cluster is blossoming somewhat organically in Silicon Valley, where Silicon Schools Fund (where I’m a board member), the Rogers Family Foundation, and Startup Education are helping fund the creation of a critical mass of blended-learning schools and traditional venture capitalists alongside funders like Reach Capital, Owl Ventures, GSV, and Learn Capital and accelerators like ImagineK12 are helping seed an equally critical mass of education technology companies.

The NGLC Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools, one of the supporters of the Rogers Family Foundation’s efforts in California, has funded similar regional efforts in New Orleans with New Schools for New Orleans; Washington, DC, with CityBridge Foundation; Colorado with the Colorado Education Initiative; Chicago with Leap Innovations; and New England with the New England Secondary School Consortium.