Zap! Some #EdTech goes the way of Zaption

I really liked Zaption. I blogged about it. I used it to help guide learning with students and teachers. I recommended it to others.

Now it’s gone. Well, almost. Officially, it’s still going to hang around until Sept 30, according to their website.

Our desire to have an even greater impact on how the world learns is one of the many reasons we’re excited to join Workday. Workday serves some of the world’s largest organizations and educational institutions that are eager to have better, more engaging learning experiences. We are excited to expand our reach by rebuilding our technology as part of the fabric of Workday’s applications, including the highly anticipated Workday Learning. We can’t wait to show you what the future has in store.

“highly anticipated Workday Learning“… Highly anticipated, I’m sure by some. But not by me. I actually not anticipating it at all. I was quite happy with Zaption. But they did what small start-ups do. As a colleague said over lunch yesterday, “Isn’t that the dream? Build a small business and keep building until you can sell it off?”

I suppose it is the dream. I am not at all saying that Zaption has done anything wrong. They have done something that is inconvenient, but last I checked, my comfort isn’t their priority. Quite frankly, given the situation that the Zaption team was in, I have no evidence that I wouldn’t have made the exact same choices.

Besides that, this isn’t the first time this has happened. There’s been a variety of EdTech groups that have come and gone. Others have started free and switched to a variety of different paying models. (If Desmos ever does this, ug… the sorrow-filled blog post I will have to write then…)

There’s a basic conflict to this. Sustainability requires money. And if money isn’t going to come from the users, then it has to come from somewhere. These independent EdTech groups will need to get paid. They will either go under, get bought/sponsored by a large money source, or start charging their users. And it’s tough to say which. As Yogi Berra said, “Making predictions is always hard, especially when they’re about the future.”

This is why Google, Apple, and Microsoft are still the big dogs on the block. They aren’t getting purchased. It’s why when my local districts needed to revamp their math curricula, their final decision was between HMH, Pearson, and Holt. Pearson doesn’t get purchased. HMH isn’t going under. It’s what has kept Texas Instruments as the standard tech offering in so many math classrooms. They are safe. As enthusiastic as schools can sometimes talk about innovation, the risk tolerance is still pretty low in most cases.

And there’s safety in building your class materials on a platform that you are confident will be there when school starts in the fall.

But what can we learn from this? Well, Zaption was a particular application, yes. But they represented a type of learning, a type of engagement. There’s a vision for how students can interact with a certain bit of content. The vision isn’t broken and other things (EdPuzzle, for example) will provide what Zaption did. The value isn’t completely lost because the value wasn’t completely in the tools. It was in the lesson. It was in the learning. It was in the interactions the students had with you and with each other because of it. Tools come and go. Nothing lasts forever.

Zaption just reminded us of that.


Morning reading – The Loudest Sound in the World

From the physics department, I started my morning with a fascinating bit of reading from FiveThirtyEight.

They hooked me with the intro line:

The questions kids ask about science aren’t always easy to answer. Sometimes, their little brains can lead to big places adults forget to explore. With that in mind, we’ve started a series called Science Question From a Toddler, which will use kids’ curiosity as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about.

You want to capture my attention? That’s a pretty good way to do it.

What follows is a really approachable discussion of sound energy that is designed to be understandable but doesn’t skimp on all the science-y goodies to do it. It also doesn’t shirk on the drama.

A sound is a shove — just a little one, a tap on the tightly stretched membrane of your ear drum. The louder the sound, the heavier the knock. If a sound is loud enough, it can rip a hole in your ear drum. If a sound is loud enough, it can plow into you like a linebacker and knock you flat on your butt. When the shock wave from a bomb levels a house, that’s sound tearing apart bricks and splintering glass. Sound can kill you.

Go ahead and give it a read. I’d consider using it in a high school physics course. Although, full disclosure: I can’t universally recommend FiveThirtyEight since I know they also write about a lot of other topics and not all of their writers stick to basic school-appropriate rules, like no swears.

It also mixes in a bit of history (some nice story-telling on the eruption of Krakatoa) and some nice unit discussions (hertz, decibels, some prefixes get in the mix, too.)

All in all, definitely an article worth checking out.

Reflections from #ISTE2016

You have to be careful with expecations. I heard a Deacon say in a sermon once “expecations are just opportunites to be disappointed.” And I suspect that in instances like your first ISTE Conference, it’s best to go into expecting that you’ll have no clue what to expect. Sorry… (ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education… they have a massive conference each year.) And when you reflect on time spent there, it’s important to compare it to it’s own goals and not my expectations. The planners didn’t know my expectations. So, it’s unfair to say, “I wanted it to be this… and it’s wasn’t.” That isn’t their job.

There are people who are really high on this conference and there are folks who were very unimpressed including Adam Rozenweig (who in the comments admitted that his rather dramatic analysis, while not entirely false, was probably sold short some of the value) and Audrey Waters (who asserts that it’s time to give up on computers in education).

As with most things, my reflections are going to be somewhere in the middle and far less dramatic.

This was my first experience with ISTE of any kind. There isn’t much talk of their standards around our parts and with our own growing #EdTech group right in our backyard (MACUL), ISTE simply doesn’t make it to the classroom level very often. So, all of these impressions that were made on me were first impressions. And, as Lemony Snicket reminds us, sometimes first impressions are hasty and made in error. Other times, they are perfectly accurate. Admittedly, I simply don’t know which at this point. And what’s more, I’m not sure it’s all that important that I figure it out.

That having been said, here are my chief takeaways from my 4 days in Denver.

Takeaway #1 – ISTE is really, really big.

And I’m not entirely convinced that the growth of the educator-attendees was the primary goal. (This is Mr. Rozenweig’s chief complaint, by the way.) The signage wasn’t great, the session schedule was awkward, the BYOD/hands-on sessions had spotty networks to work on (one session I was in had bandwidth for only about half of the attendees). The keynotes were held in an auditorium that seemed to be chosen for it’s beauty… neverminding the fact that there was only enough seats for about 2/3 of the attendees. This seems indicative of a conference that invited educators for something OTHER than reflective growth. This isn’t a knock against them. I think a goal of reflective growth is awful challenging to meet with 15,000 folks in attendance. (And we’re not even talking about money… goodness. My calculations suggest that attendee registration fees alone add up to over $7 million.) So, what was the goal?

Takeaway #2 – The goal appeared to be educator-exploration.

While there were learning sessions available, many were pre-registered hands-on regarding particular technologies, sponsored sessions (like the Google room that seemed to have a Cedar-Pointe-esque line outside of it all the time) and panel-sessions. These were largely a complement to the enormous amount of exploration that was available. The BreakoutEDU bus was a low-cost (zero dollars and about half-hour of your time) exploration of a particular type of project-based learning. The poster sessions had some pretty cool stuff to show off, many of which were applications from local schools and classrooms, some with the students onsite. The playgrounds would have been cooler if they weren’t so doggone crowded, but still allowed for some exploration of things you’ve heard of but maybe haven’t seen before (Google Cardboard, for example). Then there was the expo hall…

The Expo Hall was sort of like walking through a massive (MASSIVE) #EdTech farmers market, except instead of trading cash for produce, hanging flower baskets and homemade venison jerky, your trading in e-mail addresses, business cards, and photo-ops. Just like farmer’s markets, every last person standing at a booth is a salesman. Just like a farmer’s market, many of them are offering free samples. Just like farmer’s markets, your primary value to any of those folks is your organization’s budget. Just like a farmer’s market it is very easy to get lost, over-stimulated and exhausted, or kill about 2 hours without either A) batting an eye, or B) accomplishing anything.

And just like a farmer’s market, the people who love it best are the folks who know how to get what they need in that environment. Not everyone does. And among those who do, there are those who simply do not enjoy it. Personally, I don’t mind it. And Lego let’s you play with stuff.

It just seemed like the who goal was to give educators 4 days to explore new things, ask questions, get ideas and products pitched to them by excited people and network. It was going to be difficult to build in the reflection, team brain-storming, and problem-solving in that venue.

Takeaway #3 – Despite some of the grumblers, there were good non-sponsored, educator-led sessions.

Really. There were. Michelle McCloud and Marcy Faust out of Baton Rouge, LA did a great talk on transforming unused media center space into a “Learning Commons” by approaching the science department and offering to lend a hand. Super down-to-earth. The current status is quite excited and productive, but the process to getting there was the topic of the session. It was in this session that I relearned a really valuable lesson: Awesome things become awesome through careful and reflective step-by-step planning. Thinking of the details and being clear about the goals. Spontaneous awesome is either pure luck or not nearly as spontaneous as it seems.

Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff), Jessica Raleigh (@tyrnad) and Brandon Petersen (@den_petersen) from Denver had a nice talk about ways to support the use of video in the classroom as a reflective tool for students, teachers, and coaches. Format was excellent and bringing three people helped to make the hands-on nature efficient.

James Kapptie out of Wyoming did something that no other session I had ever been in (at ANY conference… ever) did. He led us, like a band of sight-seers in a new city, through 16th Street in Downtown Denver and used that to model his learning targets which were primarily that we have to get students up and moving and the tech (in this case, augmented reality) needs to support that.

Finally, I rather enjoyed the candid panel discussion regarding improving teacher PD by Julie Keane, Liz Radzicki, and Margaret Conway out of Chicago. I’m on a team right now that kicks off a different plan with similar goals this fall, so I was very interested to hear how they did, what worked, what didn’t and they were very candid and took many questions from the group.

In the end, ISTE 2016 probably did for me what it was supposed to. I networked with some educators, I learned about some new stuff (products, services, teacher moves, etc.) and took really good notes so that if I forget anything, I’ll have something look back on. I look forward to moving forward to seeing how these experiences show their value in the weeks, and months ahead.