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EdTech Thoughts 10/3 - 10/9
I hope you enjoyed this week’s guest post on Learning Pods. I’m planning to run one more guest essay either this Friday or next, then it will be round-ups only until my 2023 predictions in mid-December.
Two other things for early-stage founders/investors:
Penn GSE is streaming the finals of their annual business plan competition on Wednesday, 10/12 at 12pm ET. This is my favorite early-stage event of the year because the winners get straight (non-dilutive) cash!
Finally, happy long weekend to those who have tomorrow off. On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Fizz raises $4.5M: Palo Alto-based Fizz is a social network exclusively for college students. The story of how Fizz ended up with a 60 year-old CEO is sort of cringey, but the app sounds neat and it is helpful to keep an eye on social networking mechanisms that will eventually find their way to EdTech
Halp raises $4M: Toronto-based Halp provides *free-to-students*, text-based college admissions counseling for international students. How Halp makes this work operationally fascinates the business model wonk in me, but the company is focused on a large and growing market. If you’re skeptical of Halp’s projection of 4X growth in the market, consider Kaplan’s acquisition of BridgeU, EAB’s acquisition of Concourse, And ETS’ investment in Upgrad + acquisition of Kira Talent
Duolingo acquires Gunner: Detroit-based Gunner is an animation studio that worked with clients as varied as Herman Miller, Fender, Dropbox, Etsy, and, of course, Duolingo. This acquisition aligns with Duolingo’s increasingly interactive product strategy, but it is hard to tell whether the acquisition was strategic or opportunistic without knowing more about Gunner’s business metrics. However, I do expect to see more opportunistic acquisitions from bigger EdTech companies over the next 6-12 months as the frosty fundraising environment continues
ASCD to merge with ISTE: Two of the biggest names in education-focused professional development will merge, with ISTE taking on management of financially-struggling ASCD
The New York Times wrote an article about an introductory organic chemistry class at NYU taught by eighty-four year-old former-superstar professor Maitland Jones in which many of the students failed. Eighty-two students of the 350 students in the class filed a petition against the professor, who was not asked to return to the classroom the following semester.
The key quote from the article, which comes from the student’s petition, is:
“We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class.”
This quote felt apt because it shows both the students’ and article’s focus on seat time rather than mastery.
NYU gave Professor Jones a specific task for the semester in question: to train his students to mastery of organic chemistry. Unfortunately, that is a difficult task for many college students to accomplish in one semester, regardless of the professor’s personality or teaching ability (both were attacked and defended in the article). This is the core issue for all college “weed out” classes, not just Professor Jones’ Organic Chemistry.
One way to address this is to make course content easier. Professor Jones even acknowledges lowering his standards of what mastery is over the past ten years. Another way to address this is to fire the “hard” teachers. Some of them may really stink!
However, organic chemistry content is important - there is a reason every person licensed to prescribe medicine is required to pass the course. I’d prefer not to compromise on the content knowledge here.
Instead, I wish the variable in questions would shift to time. When I take a prescription medicine, I don’t care how much time the prescriber spent studying for their credential, I just care that they are right. To visualize this:
For those waiting for the punch line, this is, of course, me advocating for competency-based education. There are a million reasons NYU could not implement a competency-based system anytime soon, but it feels important to bring up as more members of the Higher Ed community consider new models for accreditors, institutions, and ways to handle a cohort of students that is in a different place socially and academically than we’ve seen before.
One Interesting Job
Mentor Collective facilitates student mentorship programs for colleges and universities. 75%+ of students and 60% of alumni (which Mentor Collective often incorporates into its programs) want to participate in mentorship programs, yet only 21% of students meet their mentors through a formal program. Mentor Collective wants to bridge this gap.
Reasons to believe in Mentor Collective:
Impact: Solves a problem you, or someone you care about, had in college. Has the efficacy data to prove it in their job description
Capital: Raised $21M to accelerate growth < 12 months ago
If you are a qualified sales leader and Mentor Collective sounds like the right kind of company for you, I encourage you to apply for the role!
This section is NOT sponsored, but it could be in the future. Interested in being a part of the EdTech Thoughts jobs network? Reply to this email to let me know!
FutureLearn on the brink: FutureLearn, which developed during the same MOOC era as Coursera and edX, is searching for a buyer for the 50% of the company owned by The Open University, which no longer wants it. The company currently reaches 18M learners globally, but lost £13.2M (~$14.5M) in so doing last year. If FutureLearn continues to unravel, it would seem to support the blitzscaling theory of company-building, where spending big to win the majority of a market (as Coursera did to accumulate 100M+ learners) ends up being more sustainable than spending conservatively to come in third
Paper takes on PBS: Paper, the K12-focused tutoring marketplace known for the 24/7 availability of its services, is launching a streaming service that is free to its customers. This is a brilliant use of Paper’s $270M war chest. It is effectively free to offer Paper’s tutoring services, but margins decrease every time a student uses the service. Streaming is the opposite - it costs a lot up front, but effectively nothing for each incremental user. Combined, the two provide some balance to Paper’s business model without needing to change sales strategy. By offering streaming in a bundle with tutoring, Paper can offer more value to its clients and box out its competitors, who are unlikely to invest in a capital-intensive project like this
LAUSD data breach: Data security has to be the worst part of being a school administrator right now. You are a sitting duck for hackers and every dollar you spend on security/data ransoms is a dollar that could have been spent helping a student learn. I respect LAUSD Superintendent Carvalho’s firm stance on the issue, “Los Angeles Unified believes public dollars are better spent on our students rather than capitulating to a nefarious and illicit crime syndicate”
Dyslexia awareness: Small Talks, a newsletter focused on early-childhood education, did a feature on Dyslexia. A stat to pique your interest in reading the whole piece: over 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic!
ED finds $280M for student mental health programs: Just last week we talked about how important it is to get mental health services into schools, I am excited to see how these grants accelerate that trend
University of Hawaii graduates happy they attended University of Hawaii: This is a helpful survey that measures both qualitative and quantitative outcomes of graduates, which more colleges should do - see here for detailed results. If any universities in Puerto Rico, San Diego, Boseman, Jackson Hole or any other skiing/surfing destination would like to replicate the study this winter, I would be delighted to run point on it
Question of the Week
Results of last week’s poll: I tried an open-ended question last week, but failed to explain how to submit a response…I’m going to stick with polls for a while, until I can come up with a better UX for open-ended questions
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( ~ 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
If I missed something, or there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I encourage you to submit a story! Submissions can be named or anonymous