Eleven startups or newcomers to education have been chosen from a field of more than 40 companies as “emerging partners” by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) for the 2018-19 school year, and eight more established companies are returning for the opportunity.
The program introduces companies to state-level digital education leaders, where they can gain insights into the K-12 market. For ed-tech directors, the focus is on locating companies that are “innovative and creative in solving problems that exist in the market,” said Melissa Greene, the director of strategic partnerships for SETDA, in an interview.[See the table below.]
Among the newly selected emerging partners are Wonder Workshop, a company that built a national consumer brand, and is now looking to make inroads in K-8 coding instruction; a startup called Loose Canon launched by an author and former English teacher who wants to encourage educators to offer students free choice in the books they read for credit in classes, and Ask School Data, founded by a 35-year district technologist who wants teachers to be able to access student data by speaking to a device driven by artificial intelligence.
This is the sixth year that the collaboration has spotlighted new technologies for ed-tech leaders. “It opens the door to important relationships and conversations while providing valuable opportunities for these growing companies to get in front of nearly all 50 states at the same time,” said Tracy Weeks, SETDA’s executive director, in a statement that was part of the official announcement.
At the same time, the national organization benefits when the emerging partners “help teach us about what’s up and coming, what’s new,” said Greene. More companies are returning for year 2 of the program than ever before, she said.
Of the newcomers that applied, Greene said there were more niche ed-tech solutions this year than ever before. Where learning management systems and video education programs predominated in the past, this group of applicants represented providers aimed at more specific needs.
Companies Making State Connections
Returning for the third year of partnering with SETDA are Classcraft, LeaRn and MIDAS Education. Second-year returnees will be CatchOn, Cignition Inc., Readorium, Streamable Learning, and Vital Insight.
Here’s a look at the first-year cohort:
- Ask School Data, based on Amazon’s Alexa platform, retrieves student data on voice command and recites it aloud to an educator;
- Blending Education advances the idea of “microlearning” as a way of delivering content in small, manageable units, as an avenue to personalized learning;
- GreyEd Solutions markets FilterED, an adaptive, cloud-based tool for school leaders to view the current technology landscape with the evidence, data, and context needed to prioritize, implement, measure, and monitor ongoing technology initiatives;
- GoEnnounce offers a platform where students can build a positive digital image in their own learning e-portfolios;
- Kiddom provides assessment, curriculum development, messaging, and analytics in one collaborative learning platform;
- Leaderally is a learning platform that provides professional development;
- Loose Canon is a web service designed to encourage English teachers to allow students to freely choose what they will read for credit;
- RFPMatch.com is a source for locating and filtering RFP opportunities;
- Tresit Group specializes in active threat response and risk management for schools and other organizations;
- WISEDash Local is a Wisconsin nonprofit consortium connecting districts to data dashboards;
- Wonder Workshop offers curriculum and professional development to teach coding in K-8 with its robots.
Company Leaders’ Views on Partnership
Participants in the “emerging partners” pay a fee of $5,000 a year to be included in the program, and are introduced to state digital education directors at a meeting just before the ISTE national conference opens later this month. They also receive services designed to help them navigate the marketplace throughout the year.
Jeff Mao has served in both the K-12 school district and education industry worlds, and now is an executive for the SETDA emerging partner, Wonder Workshop. Mao was a board chair of SETDA about a decade ago when he was Maine’s policy director and team leader of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Now, he is the senior strategic education outreach manager at Wonder Workshop.
“Having been on both sides of the system, this made sense to me,” said Mao in an interview.
Founded in 2012, Wonder Workshop is relatively new to the education space. “There are a lot of parents out there who might know Dot and Dash, because they bought one for their child,” he said, referring to the bots that are used to help code. But the product might be unknown to district and state leaders.
In their second year of selling into the school market, Wonder Workshop should benefit from the program by learning how different states are planning to introduce computer science concepts in the lower grades, Mao said.
Julia Franks, the founder of Loose Canon, sees the SETDA connection as a way the former high school English teacher can address an important goal. The state ed-tech directors are “trying to curate technology,” she said, “not just throwing tech at a problem. They’re trying to improve instruction through technology. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Also an award-winning novelist, Franks decided to launch her company because nothing like it existed. When she wanted to create a culture of excitement around reading in her classes, Franks found a way to incorporate books students love and recommended to one another. “When you’ve been teaching for decades, you get almost greedy. You know you can reach the kids in your classroom, but you want to reach kids in other classrooms,” she said.
To Rich Contartesi, co-founder and CEO of Ask School Data, the opportunity to introduce his product to the SETDA group will dramatically increase his exposure to the school audience. Right now, Ask School Data—which provides teachers with immediate access to student information using the Amazon Alexa voice commands—is used in only one school district.
After what he called a “pretty rigorous” selection process for the emerging partner program, he said he is looking forward to the mentoring that will come with the program, and “helping us understand the nuances of this particular market.”