The last couple of weeks have not only been busy in terms of product development. But we also set out to spread the word about iversity around the globe and to learn about the (higher) education reform discussions and the needs of faculty and students outside of Germany. To this end we embarked on a global education tour that took us to several destinations in Europe and the United States.
UNESCO VIII seminar – Barcelona
A while ago my mentor Yehuda Elkana was invited to give a keynote lecture to the VIII International Seminar "Teacher Training: Reconsidering Teachers' Roles” that is organised by the UNESCO Chair in e-Learning of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).
Unfortunately, he fell sick shortly before the seminar, so I ended up going in his stead to deliver a lecture on curriculum reform and the future role of teachers. If you want to read what I had to say, you may download a pdf-version here:
Or watch me talking here:
Notable speakers at the seminar included Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Plymouth (UK) and Douglas Thomas, whose book 'A new culture of learning' came out earlier this year. Both seemed very much interested in what it is that we are doing at iversity. They both agreed that the digital infrastructures currently in use are an embarrassment and agreed that features such as 'social reading' are finally filling the buzzwords of social, interactive and collaborative learning with life. Getting this kind of feedback is what keeps an entrepreneur running :)
EDUCAUSE 2011, Philadelphia
The next highlight was the Educause conference in Philadelphia: a former train-station converted into a convention center buzzing with 4,000 curious conference participants interested in learning everything about the latest in higher ed tech. iversity was part of what was called 'Start-Up Alley' – a small space reserved for 18 hand-picked edutech start-ups. Put together by Michael Staton from Inigral – thanks Michael! – Start-Up Alley brought together an amazing crowd of entrepreneurs that radiated energy, dedication and bleeding-edge expertise. These upstarts did not only get the chance to demonstrate that they know what they are talking about in conversation with visitors that dropped by at their tables. Aneesh Chopra invited us to a roundtable discussion with top level administrators and executives. In this we got the chance to voice our demands for open access to data held by institutions of higher education so that we may build useful applications on top of that data.
Our friends from OneSchool announced their Open Initiative and Aneesh promised to help us get our voices heard. We are very curious to see what he will be able to do. Another interesting idea that came up in that meeting was an 'SME-share spending requirement' for institutions of higher education. The urgency of the matter became clear when Aneesh pointed out that none of the education start-ups he had come across was pursuing a revenue model based on good ol' sales. The idea that public colleges and universities would have to spend parts of their IT-budgets on products built by small and medium sized vendors sounded like it might be suitable to introduce some dynamic into a market that – until now – is cemented by administrative concerns and vendor lock-in.
After reading about the supposed Google/Pearson OpenClass the week before going to Educause, we were very interested to learn at the conference that it was in fact “not a shared product.” At night we finished off a busy conference day with a party at the Science Museum that featured illuminated dinosaurs and free massage therapy at the courtesy of Google. Sweet start-up life.
Final destination: New York
Leaving the nitty-gritty of business models and policy behind, I was happy to end our tour in New York on a somewhat more visionary note. High up in the sky in a building overlooking Central Park I met with Jon Copper, one of the founders of Futurlogic. The working title Futurlogic stands for what will soon become an education start-up incubator that seeks to enable those who have seen the light to have an impact in the real world. The idea thus is very much in keeping with the spirit of pragmatism (the philosophy of higher education).
Say someone graduates from a liberal arts college with the conviction that she would like to devote the next few years toward improving access to education. Drawing on the expertise and the networks of top executives from the corporate as well as the non-profit world, Futurlogic will enable her to leverage “Technology Curation + Branding Expertise + Cultural Insight + A Global Network of Leading Thinkers” in order to get her own project off the ground. I'm pretty sure that the guys who are working on making sure that your Groupon newsletter or your Amazon landing page features stuff you're interested in, could help us build some kick-ass digital learning materials! Therefore I think that this is an idea worth spreading, because it will help us to bring the insights of the “Academia in Exile” back to the academy.
Now I am back and we were preparing the next steps with iversity. Talking about education my friend Thieu Besselink likes to point out a Kierkegaard-quotation: “Life is forwardly lived, backwardly understood.” I'm very curious to see, how I will look back on the past few weeks and months in about a year's time. Watch this space.