Category Archives: Teacherpreneurship

Ongoing Transitions in the New Educational Ecosystem

One day you’re a sage on the stage; and the next, you’re struggling for more hits on YouTube, more followers on Twitter, or more +1s on Google+. Or maybe, as an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recounts, you spent two years creating an online course, and the administration decides to assign it to someone else to teach. Whether you are a teacher in K-12 or a university professor, the demands on your time and the challenges to your skillset have risen yet again.

That roles are changing, or evolving, is clear. How can we support the necessary, ongoing, transition in roles while maintaining the quality and dignity of the players?

Flip Your Classroom or Flip Out

It should be clear by now that your students need you. How they need you has shifted, but we still need talented PEOPLE to facilitate the learning experience across the educational continuum. As information becomes more ubiquitous, teaching requires more in the way of curating and guiding students through the information rather than being the source of it.

Leading students to independence

In high school and in the years building up to it, we should be supporting kids in developing critical thinking skills by allowing for more experimentation, failure and hands-on mentoring within the classroom setting. Let students come to the class with questions of their own and provide the guidance necessary for them to work through problems alongside their peers.

Building up to deeper and slower thinking

By the time kids get to college, they should be ready for deeply immersive learning experiences. These classes should be led by instructors who not only have subject-matter expertise to share but who are also ready to guide students through the highly analytical discovery processes required at this step in the educational process.

Define Roles for Course Authors, Developers, and Facilitators

As institutions of higher learning provide more online offerings, there needs to be further clarification of roles within the process of creating and delivering the courses.

Course Creation

The process of deconstructing an existing course and developing it for online delivery is complicated, if done in such a way that provides for maximum interactivity and engagement. The upside, of course, is you have content to work with.

The process is also complex if starting from scratch, but there is the added effort of locating and developing new content.

In either case, you have complex process of parsing out instruction into cognitively digestible morsels, a process that requires expertise that is frequently outside of the skillset of most instructors used to delivering content via traditional means of lecture.

Many universities are building out their own instructional design departments to help support this process, while others are engaging the services of outside development teams. In either case, the instructor working as a subject matter expert on the development of a new online course will have to devote many hours to the process. The entire effort is streamlined if the instructor is paired with a trained instructional designer to support the process.

Course Delivery

Should the course author automatically be assigned the role of course facilitator? We know that more institutions, both corporate and higher ed, are looking for more of a human touch in their online offerings these days. These synchronous or asynchronous online courses require then, skilled teachers to engage with students in online discussions and provide feedback on assignments.

The challenge for many institutions is how to make the best use of their resources. An instructor may need to devote up to six months working as part of a team to develop an online course. The case of Jennifer Ebbeler at the University of Texas at Austin, where it is reported she spent nearly two years developing the course should be an anomaly these days. It’s not clear whether she was working alone, as part of a team, or what guidelines were in place to ensure an efficient development process.

So, between the required effort for development and the goal on the part of many to insert facilitation back into online learning puts an extra demand on school administrators to assign the appropriate resource for this task. If it can’t be the course author, it needs to be someone trained effectively for the task, someone familiar with the content, and someone willing to work within the compensation limits placed on such roles.

If scheduling and finances permit course authors to be course facilitators, that may be ideal for those who desire to and have the skills to play that role. If not, a course author can also play a role in managing a team of graduate students, for example. Decisions around who does what need to be made early on in the process so that expectations are clear.

Unbundling of the Teaching Profession?

As education evolves, we are seeing “a la carte” offerings beginning to disrupt all sorts of institutions, with certificate offerings and alternative, professional educational services on the rise. In College Disrupted: The Unbundling of Higher Education, Ryan Craig says that this unbundling is possible in higher education because, unlike K-12, “there is no countervailing force to stop it.” But I wonder if the change in K-12 is coming from within. Teacherpreneurs who may have previously stayed and fought for the profession are leaving K-12 to work for or found their own companies to offer technology-enabled teaching resources. They may not be “teachers” according to the old definition, but they do still “teach.”

Teaching is changing from K-12 through university, and we need to be creative about how to best continue to train, recruit and motivate those who will continue to play a vital role in the classrooms of tomorrow, whether they are face-to-face or virtual, whether they are part of an institutional “package” or not.

What Drives Teacherpreneurship? The Need to Get It Done!

Who are your learning heroes? Is it a former teacher from elementary school? Someone you’ve read about making a difference in today’s embattled world of K-12? Or maybe a MOOC innovator within higher ed? Think no further. I have some nominees for you:

  • Maya Gat
  • Kara Carpenter
  • Mike Zamansky

Who are they, and how did they get on this list? Let me set it up for you. Then I’ll get into the details.

Why Teacherpreneurship?

There’s a lot of new terminology that has come out of the influx of technology into education in the past few years. Most of us know about the edupreneurs who have entered the education market to provide tools, services and dollars to implementing technology solutions into the field. More and more, we are hearing about teachers who are taking on the mantle of business ownership in order to parlay their expertise into providing educationally sound technical solutions to educational problems.

I was fortunate enough to spend the other evening at a great event called “Real Teachers of Silicon Alley: Teacherpreneurs’ Impact on EdTech” organized by NY EdTech Meetup, co-organized by Michelle Dervan and Kathy Benemann. I was blown away by the dedication, business savvy and technical expertise of the panel.

Classroom Challenges to Integrating New Technology

The discussion started with a provocative question addressing concern around the products and the bad rap that edtech is getting in educational circles these days. The biggest two challenges, as we have written about before in this space, were summarized as:

  • Teachers are in danger of spending more time dealing with new technology than with actual teaching.
  • Much of the technology being introduced can be classified as “substitution products,” or “digital replicas” of existing, and perhaps sub-par teaching practices. Think test prep on steroids.

Each of the three teacherpreneurs is certified classroom teachers. Two have left teaching to focus on running their companies, one is still teaching. The fourth panelist is serving as the iZone Director of Special Projects for the NYC Department of Education.

The panelists shared various anecdotes and perspectives on gaps in the current offerings and processes for integrating technology into the classroom:

  • Trading existing best practices in the classroom for time spent working with new software programs
  • Not enough release time or time to actually learn the systems
  • Lack of appropriate content or toolset

The Basic Business Challenges to Teacherpreneurship

As our small sampling illustrates, the major challenge to teacherpreneurship is that it often takes people who truly love being in the classroom out of the classroom. Therefore, if a teacherpreneur does leave the classroom to start up a business, maintaining a team of teacher content experts, developers and consultants is a large requirement for developing the right kind of product.

Additionally, while teachers may have their fingers on the pulse of what kids need, they may not have the business acumen required to start and operate a business in today’s dynamic market. Some teacherpreneurs take on a co-founder or partner to fill this role.

More on our learning heroes

So let me present today’s learning heroes, three teachers who have taken technology into their own hands in order to improve learning.

Maya Gat, CEO and Co-Founder of Branching Minds

Prior to starting Branching Minds, Gat taught both locally and overseas. Through her own experience trying to understand why certain students struggle in the classroom, and through the principals of activism that were inherent to her teaching, Gat started Branching Minds to help identify appropriate strategies for individual students. Part of the solution lies in Gat’s understanding of neurodiversity and the role that plays in how people learn.

A series of questions answered on the Branching Minds site, much like those you may input into a “Web MD type application,” provides users with the learning strategies tailored to their particular learning style.

The platform enables you to:

  • Identify students’ learning challenges
  • Find research-back support
  • Track and report on student progress

Branching Minds just won the Netexplo Digital Innovation Award for 2015. Off to a good start (up)!

Kara Carpenter, Co-Founder of Teachley

Carpenter started up Teachley in 2011 while finishing her Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has over 10 years of classroom teaching experience from kids to adults, and has also taught overseas. Teachley’s program is a research-driven, game-based product that recognizes the distinct thinking processes different learners apply to solving math problems. Knowing how that child approaches these problems, a pathway to learning appropriate to that child can be developed.

The platform provides:

  • Personalized learning
  • Progress monitoring
  • RTI and intervention support
  • Professional development

Teachley has been recognized by the Breteau Foundation as a 2015 Prize Finalist and was awarded a Research@Work Honorable Mention in 2014 by Digital Promise. Their work has been cited by Scholastic, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets.

Mike Zamansky, Teacher and Founder of CSTUY

Mike Zamansky was a software engineer who left his job at Goldman Saks to teach. He and a group of fellow master teachers built developed the series of computer science courses taught at Stuyvesant and out of that developed the non-profit organization CSTUY (Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth) to bring computer science to an audience that may not otherwise have access to the type of teaching and learning that CSTUY provides. Through afterschool and summer school programs, they bring best-in-class CS learning to a much wider audience.

One strong component of the CSTUY program has been bringing together the hundreds of Stuyvesant alumni and creating a network of advisors and connections to those just coming up.

Zamansky is passionate about teaching and learning, about providing quality computer science offerings to students within his school and beyond it.

The Need to Get It Done

The other day I wrote about the need to disrupt education if we want to change it. It was great to hear how these powerful innovators are using technology and business modeling in a way that is truly disruptive in order to improve education. When asked why they would take on teacherpreneurship despite the challenges, the consensus was that “it needed to be done.” These are the reasons I’ve added them to my list of learning heroes.

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