As a Tech Director, vendors and edtech companies drove me crazy. I’m not going to lie. The 50 emails I received a day for mailing lists that I never signed up for that began with, “I’ve left you several messages…” would nearly put me over the edge. As if I wasn’t trying to keep an entire technology ecosystem going, help raise students digitally, and be a good boss and only had time to satisfy their cold call or sales quota. Drove me crazy and forced me to turn my name tag around to hide my Director of Innovation and Technology title at any conference while walking through the expo hall. Can I scan you? No. No you may not.
Compounding this issue was the fact that so many edtech companies are started by people who never worked in education. Most people in EDU can pick out these people in less than a five minute conversation. It’s not to say these companies can’t be successful, but when they screw their face up into confusion and tell me that pedagogy sounds like a made up word it concerns me getting involved with people who have taken such little time to get to know their consumer base. If not for the business side then just because they should also care about kids.
Today I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was invited to a media session with the CEO of Instructure, the company who developed the Canvas LMS. I have been a huge fan of the platform for many years and have steered educators in that direction whenever they are looking for a more robust system than Google Classroom as I believe their software is second to none. Although I respect the platform they’ve built, because of my past history with edtech companies I was beyond skeptical about going into this meeting. I had not previously met Dan and I had my haunches up immediately expecting him to speak to investing and data and how they can drive revenue and oh yea, support learning, too. While the media asked him questions about investors and data, he consistently brought the conversation back around to learning…using words like competencies and standards and engagement and pedagogy in the correct context. He answered the business questions, but what lit him up was when he spoke about students and their learning. He smiled when he was asked a question that made him think through how their platform supported student learning in this way or that, and visibly became more excited discussing personalization and individualization. I was floored. And in the past where I had loved the tech, I realized that at InstructureCon this year, I adored the people behind the product. They ooze passion for education and both the CEO Dan and the rest of the crew has absolutely challenged every assumption I’ve been making about edtech companies. The Instructure people…they are our people. And I realized that there are so many more people standing just on the outside of education who are just as passionate as we are. There are more of us and we don’t need to navigate this alone.
I speak so often about assumptions and bias and how to overcome the ones you make and have, but sometimes I still need to gut check myself and make sure I’m practicing what I preach. I’ve grown. I can see the potential missed opportunities I may have had in the past from shunning the partners that we may have had in education. Partners like Instructure.
Althought this post was directly related to attending and participating in InstructureCon, I cannot mention educationally engaged companies without mentioning Classlink.
The CEO of Classlink, Berj Akian, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. His employees will tell you, as I’ve been told by them multiple times, that the level of his philanthropy and giving back to his own employees is second to none. I have been told by an employee, “I would follow him anywhere”. Classlink’s product is amazing, but I believe what makes it one of the fastest growing edtech companies is the founder’s principals and commitment to students and their learning, and the same belief system is passed down, no expected, to be the foundation for the employees as well. Not only is the company an example of fantastic customer service and support, but the goals are clear: how can we do better for students and teachers.