Streaming TV’s Existential Crisis

We have more access to Olympics content than ever before. Between the NBC app’s 4,500 no-commentary hours of obscure sports and the robot authors churning out recaps for the Washington Post, we can watch and read about every moment of Rio. The restrictions imposed by narrated, curated, and delayed coverage we’ve known for decades are gone. And people can’t stop complaining.

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I feel this pain every time I tune to my Apple TV.

For most of the 20th century, media consumers were at the mercy of curators. Someone else was deciding what we should watch. You did what NBC, ABC, or CBS told you to do. They were our parents, developing our tastes and making decisions for us. How simple! (How pleasant…) Eventually, cable and satellite offered way more options – sort of an adolescence – but still within will-defined confines. Consuming TV was mostly passive.

10 years ago, Netflix streaming and Hulu blew our minds. Freedom! It was like getting to college and realizing you could eat ice cream for all three meals a day. Once streaming came along, suddenly we were in charge. We got to choose from near-infinite possibilities and play it whenever we wanted. At first, this freedom was exciting.

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But now we have graduated college and have to find a job. We have to make decisions and suffer their consequences. Choosing from every option sucks. Should we search Hulu, Netflix, the FX app, iTunes, Amazon Prime? We could watch anything at any time. It’s paralyzing.

Yet, watching a network broadcast, full of unskippable ads and delayed commentary, is painful too. “WHY WON’T THIS FAST FORWARD?!” “I THINK I SAW THE RESULT ALREADY ON TWITTER! WTF” We can’t go live in our parents’ basement after experiencing true independence.

And here we are in a characteristically millennial dilemma of wishing someone would just tell us what we want and give it to us when we want it.

(Satisfyingly, anyone with an internet connection and a Netflix password is in the dilemma too, so it’s not just us 20-somethings embarrassing the developed world this time.)

These Olympics make clear that we still haven’t figured out the next generation of TV. Apps and streaming alone are not the answer. Perhaps it’s curation through a next generation TV guide, or curated channels like Medium is doing with written content. Most likely, it’s something some awesome company will figure out and make billions. Until then, I’m gonna sit in my parents’ basement and let NBC tell me what to do.

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Bots suck

Why?

First of all, they truly don’t know anything at all. They have to look information up. And I could do that myself. Typing to a bot is rarely faster than opening a purpose-specific app or searching something. Google Now would fix this if it ever surfaced information I actually wanted, and did so within 24 hours of me wanting it.

Second, bots don’t even understand specific commands very often. Even Alexa, the best bot in the world, won’t play music from Spotify unless I include “from Spotify” in my “play Kanye West” command. But Spotify is the only music source I have. Why can’t she infer that?

Third, most bots are currently text-based. They’re just a UI that requires really step by step instructions. They’re a command line. And the command line sucks for most people. Memorizing syntax is annoying.

Fourth, people don’t even like to type anymore, since most of their interactions will be on mobile. Snapchat is great because it allows people to share their nonsense without having to deal with an on-screen keyboard. It’s this innovation, not expiring content alone (though that made it comfortable to share video content), that led to their massive growth. Twitter’s brevity requirements are similarly beneficial to a mobile-first user base. Until the corpse of RIM rises from the crypt, we are stuck in this new reality of terrible typing experiences.

To date, voice-based bots like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now tantalized sci-fi fans but frustrated regular users. Alexa changed everything. It does less, but does it more delightfully. Interacting with Alexa kind of sort of feels like dealing with AI… And it’s awesome. Hence, the bot gold rush of 2016. The beneficiaries of all this cash should be working to fix the four things that make most bots suck:

1) anticipate what I want to know, 

2) communicate it to me clearly and when I want to know it, 

3) truly understand natural language, 

4) and don’t force me to type on a crappy on-screen keyboard.

The first bot that solves these four problems will change how people interact with technology forever. And that won’t suck at all. 

Meeting Dikembe

My brother asked me to describe a celebrity encounter for a project he’s working on. Here’s my favorite experience.

Mediocre cheesesteaks abound in West Philly. In high school, we would go to the confusingly named Boston Style Pizza for a steak every Friday.

Often, we were joined by our heroes.

Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers practice facility was down the road a bit. This Sixers team had just come off an inspired NBA Finals trip the previous year. A hired gun on that team, signed to a short contract mostly to stop Shaq in the Finals, was Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo, it turns out, also loves bad cheesesteaks.

While sitting and waiting for our orders one day, a huge conversion van parked outside. This van contained an even huger man (how did he fit?). Donning practice gear and an appetite for some whiz, the finger-waggin’ man himself emerged.

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Mutombo walked into Boston Style, placed his order, and sat in the back room, alone. Our jaws hit the floor. We were in Dikembe. Mutombo’s. presence. (Could he even see us from up there in the sky?) This played in the Finals, spoke 14 languages, was elected to multiple all star games, does a ton of charity, and is famous for getting drunk at a party and asking, inspirationally, “Who wants to sex Mutombo?”

At that moment, we wanted to sex Mutombo.

We begged the waitress to ask the big man whether we could join him. She did, and he approved.

We joined him at his table — his legs akimbo, taking up six people’s worth of space. He asked us questions, laughed at ours, and just shot the shit. We discussed nothing of substance. I’m not sure we even talked about basketball.

And I’ll never forget it.

What I Learned From My Dog About Startups

Nothing. My dog taught me nothing about startups.

But the effectiveness of clickbait headlines did.

The pull of a good, juicy headline overcomes any good judgment I have. And after skimming over the next 250 words, I feel dumber and unsatisfied. Until I see another headline, I’m not coming back. I’ll probably think twice before clicking.

The same is true for bubbly startups.

As the sky may or may not be falling in startupland, we’re seeing a separation of the superficial companies from substantive ones.

Ignore the late stage investor re-valuations; they’re just adjustments. Instead, think about the companies whose only hook is catering to your worst instincts, rather solving a real problem — e.g., playing on your celebrity-obsession by sharing Rob Lowe’s favorite smells, or playing on your laziness by doing your grocery shopping for you and buying all the wrong stuff.

The problem is not that these companies are inherently bad. The problem is, users don’t stick around when they feel bad about using your product.

There are two paths for these companies: double down on superficiality and die accordingly, or go the BuzzFeed route and leverage this initial hook to deliver more substance.

Companies that delight users can survive any economic downturn. Just ask my dog:

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The Paris Attacks, Twitter, and the Future of News

Twitter can replace the news media.

Twitter’s value is never clearer than during breaking news events. I discovered the attacks on Paris via my Twitter feed. I don’t know who was the first to mention them, but it doesn’t matter. Someone mentioned a shooting at the instant I happened to open up my app, and the nightmare came alive. Passive browsing of my feed transitioned into very active digging through the deep tunnels of raw Twitter. 

From that point, the most impactful content came from Twitter search, still the most powerful tool in the world to find what people are thinking anywhere in the world. The native translate feature opened the world up to me, revealing expressions of horror and sympathy in dozens of languages. 

At the same time, the most informative updates – the actual news in a more traditional sense – came via friends, who discovered information from a variety of news outlets and citizen journalists. We shared new sources and corroborating evidence as it broke. This news was shared via Whatsapp with tweets acting as citations. (Some of it was true, some not. Misinformation seems to spread faster than truth. Real journalism still has an important role in the future of news.)

Moments have the potential to be a third piece to this puzzle, but the news that was pouring out of France moved too fast for a Moment to capture. The morning after, however, as news broke more slowly and most content was retrospective, Moments brought the emotion of the event to life. It was masterfully curated. To achieve their full potential, Moments need to serve up what my friends and I surfaced through search – i.e., curate breaking news. 

Nonetheless, few technologies have such an objectively good impact on how we connect to the world. Particularly in situations like this, Twitter augments our humanness: it makes real feelings and experiences from anywhere accessible to anyone. 

Regardless of what Wall Street thinks, Twitter clearly has plenty of time to figure out Moments and the rest of its product and business. The way people use Twitter is its competitive advantage, and no one can replicate it. 

Twitter is still hard to navigate, ads are easy to ignore and are poorly contextualized, and most people consume Twitter without logging in. But when it is at its best, the future of the product becomes clear: 

Curation: Twitter has the best content in the world. Curate it!

Simplicity: Tweets are great to share. Make it easier for me to share something valuable for non-Twitter power users to follow once they’ve been alerted to an event. 

Access: Include more controversial and raw content in Moments, not just celebrity and old journalism tweets. Embrace citizen journalism.

While most people sat horrified in front of the TV with the same goals of consuming any and all news coming out of Paris, I got 10x the information in 1/10th the time… But it took some work and expertise. If Twitter can unlock itself for everyone and surface the best content to anyone who wants it, they’ll truly become “the news.”

An Education in Startups

I was an educator for five years. I taught history and then computer science to middle schoolers, as well as technology integration to fellow teachers. With administrators and other teachers, we introduced new learning standards and objectives, built new curriculum, and learned on the fly how to translate old ways of doing things to the 21st century.

In and out of the classroom, much of what we tried failed. Each time, we reassessed and tried again.

In the classroom, my colleagues and I tried to deliver well-planned lessons to students. We asked thought-provoking questions and fielded challenging objections from students. We did all this with a view to convincing the kids that we had the content and skills that will benefit them.

Outside of class we considered the best practices of colleagues who had been in education for decades, emulating much of it and adapting the rest to a new, student-empowered style of educating. I was also fortunate to collaborate directly with leadership to chart the course of this change. We didn’t know anything more than anyone else; we just got the ball rolling and tried to maintain its pace.

Since I left schools, I’ve worked at three startups. Things haven’t really changed.

Like before, new strategies often fail. Once again, we keep what worked and then revise what didn’t. Failure isn’t virtuous, but it’s useful, so long as it leads to learning.

Instead of lesson plans, my colleagues and I deliver well-planned pitches to potential customers. We ask leading questions, fostering dialogue. We handle considered objections from clients. All of this is done with a view toward our product being most beneficial to the client. Our job is to work with clients to arrive at the best solution for them; the “sage on the stage” model works no better in business than it does in the classroom. In fact, good teaching and good sales look a lot alike.

Also similar: everyone is learning on the fly. There are no experts (be skeptical of those who say they are.) At each of these companies, everyone is trying to learn what digital tools and experiences people want and need, and how to build a company that can ship these products now and forever. Silver bullets don’t exist in teaching or business.

So, like we did in faculty meetings and PD, we share what’s worked for us. We learn from colleagues’ backgrounds who have been in business for decades, and try to discern what new lessons this week has taught us.

Schools that are evolving to meet 21st century demands are approaching their pivots in much the same way as startups handle business every day. I was very lucky to get the training I did in schools: I learned good sales by learning to teach; I learned how to manage and support change by collaborating with colleagues across an organization; and I learned to never stop learning.

I do miss teaching. Fortunately, I feel like I never left the classroom.

Apple Watch: My Favorite Thing I Don’t Need

Everyone’s first question is, “How do you like it?”
My answer: I’ve now had the Apple Watch Sport for a week now, and I really like it. I also don’t need it at all.

Once I got the shipping info (3–4 weeks ?!?!), I looked around for app recommendations and reflections from normal people on being a Watch owner — that is, reflections from someone besides tech bloggers looking to make a big statement on the device category, or on Apple, or on Tim Cook, or whatever. I especially liked Evgenia Grinblo’s piece, “How the Apple Watch Cured My iPhone Addiction.” Everything she said is right.

And, to pay it forward, I’ll add my two cents.

“Should I get one?”

It’s not a purchase I can justify any better now than I could two weeks ago, but it’s a nice gadget that has some cool uses. I had been wavering on purchasing one for a few weeks, and my fiancee went ahead and ordered it as a surprise. The Watch is going to do really well during the holiday season, without a doubt.

The apps

Apple Watch apps have a ways to go. I’ve slowly removed apps most of the ones I installed initially. The apps that remain have the following qualities:

Immediate benefits related to my physical location

Foursquare — Answering both “where should I eat/drink?” and “what should I get” serendipitously

Dark Sky — Telling me to run to the subway because it’s about to pour!

Uber — Picking me up when I’m too lazy to run to the subway

Preventing e-mail, text, and phone call FOMO

I have trouble ignoring my phone when it’s vibrating; with the Watch, I can very quickly dismiss notifications as they come through, without getting buried in my phone.

Getting information that I absolutely want to have as soon as possible

NY Times and ESPN breaking news alerts — Using specific functions of apps that I’d rather not have my phone out for

Wunderlist — Checking off the grocery list as I’m pushing the cart down an aisle

Overcast — Skipping “and on the next episode…” with one tap

There are also a fair number of useless apps

Mail — I use Mailbox for email, and my Gmail accounts push to it immediately; iOS Mail doesn’t. Since Mailbox doesn’t have an Apple Watch app, I’m getting email notifications from Mailbox up to 15 minutes before I can look at the full message on my phone in the Mail app. I set up CloudMagic to solve this, and now I get my Gmail messages immediately on my Watch.

Apple Pay — Rarely accepted and awkward to use in stores.

The look

I get a lot of compliments about how not dorky it looks! The Spot is really sleek looking. It also doesn’t look like a typical workout watch.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, I’ve seen the Apple Watch (non-Sport) out in the wild, and it looks much better with the non-Sport bands. The Apple Watch Sport, however, looks great with the Sport band.

The feel

It feels good, both for daily use and during workouts. I hope our monochromatic uniforms of the future are made of similar materials.

Force touch and the digital crown are great ways to interact with the device. I use the crown even when I don’t really need to.

The activity tracker

Gamifying fitness works; that’s no surprise. I had a Jawbone and hated it, though. Gamification only works if I can see the results without trying. Makes sense… if I cared enough to check my fitness results regularly by going into my phone, I’d be thinking about fitness frequently enough that I wouldn’t need some device to motivate me in the first place.

Wish list

  • I wish I could have different notification settings for third party apps between my phone and watch.
  • I wish third party apps could serve as complications in watch faces. (Coming in WatchOS2)
  • I wish glances were more useful. I really see no purpose for them whatsoever.
  • I wish the Watch was a little faster, more responsive. There is a lag when opening apps that defeats the purpose of them at times.
  • I wish it came with a charging dock. It’s pretty awkward to have it sit on the charger flat on a surface.
  • I wish there were apps for Dropbox, Mailbox, Google Maps, Venmo, and Flixter.

Building a Nation: 5 Startup Lessons Learned When I Was 15

Originally posted on Medium

I was 15, and all I knew was that the lacrosse media sucked.

With that insight as motivation, we built Lax Nation. In so doing, our team built a media company with a devoted community from 2003–2005. Our dev team (a 16 year old who I never met in person) built a CMS from scratch. We were bootstrapped and profitable. We blogged before it was cool. We were totally on to something.

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The Problem

Lax Nation’s story begins like so many others: I had a passion and identified a problem associated with it. My passion at the age of 15 was lacrosse, and my problem was that the lacrosse media acted as fans rather than journalists. Their interest in advancing the sport (shortsightedly) informed their work more than any sense of journalistic integrity.

The Solution

The most interesting analysis of the sport and the economy of manufacturers and retailers growing around it lived in forums. Lacrosse fans congregated on specific forums to review products, debate controversies in the NCAA, and analyze the fledgling Major League Lacrosse (MLL). I hoped to synthesize, elevate, and sharpen the voice of this community in the form of a scrappy, honest, fearless media outlet.

It worked. We did it.

I picked members of the forums with a sharp wit, a clear perspective, and a knack for pithy writing. These men and women, my writers (I had writers! wtf?!), came from all over. Some of them coached NCAA teams, others played for their college or high school teams, and others had corporate jobs and a fond memories of athletic glory. They all enjoyed writing, agreed with the vision, had time to spare, and liked getting free lacrosse equipment.

Lessons Learned

Fast forward 13 years: I’m 28, work at a startup, and dream of doing my own. In my free time, I learn from the masters and read the startup canon (most recently consuming the works of Eric Ries, Paul Graham, Noam Wasserman, Steve Blank, Peter Thiel, and Fred Wilson). Much of what I learn from these readings and from my work confirms that we were on to something with Lax Nation; it’s also a bittersweet wake-up call that if we had just done a few things differently, we could have become something much bigger.

Lesson 1: Never underestimate the power of a shared vision.

Our writers’ satisfaction with free equipment as compensation speaks to a broader principle: dedication to a compelling vision is the best intrinsic motivator a company can foster. I knew nothing of equity and couldn’t pay any salaries. Free equipment was my only tangible currency, but I offered the intangible promise of fundamentally altering the community dedicated to the sport we loved.

It required a great deal of work to maintain focus on this vision and its credibility. We had to demonstrate meaningful progress toward it. Whether in appearing at conferences and having our name recognized, getting angry calls from the subjects of a negative review, to stoking the flames of debate through aggressively opinionated content and active participation in comments, it was important that writers always felt that they had a stake in, and indeed were responsible for, moving the needle of lacrosse-related discourse. It has to be lived, not just imagined.

Lesson 2: Assume everyone will help you, and many will.

The writers did the yeoman’s work of building the site, but we got a nice boost from some big names. Surprisingly, professional lacrosse players were eager to contribute to the site from its very inception. We had major (in our world) celebrities writing op-eds and reviews, doing interviews and helping us out. They asked for nothing. We gained instant credibility. Some charm, the offer of a platform, and a nod towards our mutual interest in bettering the sport was all they needed.

Lesson 3: It’s easiest to stray from values early in a company’s life; don’t!

We gained a sizable audience, bringing in thousands of visitors a month (no Google Analytics made tracking these metrics a bit tricky), and started to land our first advertising contracts. Our biggest advertiser was Brine, one of the biggest equipment manufacturers and the focus of many of our reviews.

A few months after their ads went up, we posted a scathing (and well-earned) critique of their first helmet (the reviewer had his nose broken during testing… not a good sign). I received a call from Brine’s Director of Marketing insisting that we take the article or the ads down, our choice.

Knowing what this meant for our bottom line, we took the ads down. Instead of compromising our integrity, we posted a followup to the review detailing Brine’s demands and our commitment to our values. The article circulated widely, traffic spiked, and our credibility was cemented. It was our proudest moment, and one I still reflect upon often.

Lesson 4: Anyone can start a company.

When I tell people the story of Lax Nation now, their favorite part is always that no one knew how old I was. I remember going to the U.S. Lacrosse Convention in Philadelphia (to which I had to take the train because I wasn’t a licensed driver yet), and standing with my best writer. He was 28 or 29. Speaking to an exec at one of the major lacrosse manufacturers, he asked, “Do you want to meet Ben Stern?” The exec said, “Oh, yeah, is he here?!” The writer told him to look around, see if he could pick me out. After four failed tries, he pointed to me, and said, “it’s this kid here.” It took some effort to convince him that I was actually the guy behind Lax Nation.

Whether in press booths, conventions, or advertising meetings, my age was always the first topic of conversation. But once we got past it, everyone was all business. Once people know you’re serious, it doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, or where you come from. Good work speaks for itself.

Lesson 5: Missed opportunities are everywhere; education can fix that.

When I started college, I passed Lax Nation on to my two longest-tenured writers for a nominal sum, who used it as a launch pad for their writing careers. One of them is now among the best writers in the whole sport of lacrosse. I’m glad it served this purpose.

However, had I known what I know now, Lax Nation would have been incorporated, I would have postponed college to double-down on its growth, and I would have built upon our very strong foundation with a view toward a viable business. We did so much of the hard work of building a community, establishing a firm foundation of values and vision, and reating a sustainable business model. We were also forward thinking in the what internet-based media outlets would look like.

I started the whole project with $350. To think, how many kids are out there with similar drive, thinking about real problems in their world that they can fix? How many of these kids have the resources and the expertise to just go do it? With a little push and a tiny bit of capital, as well as some guidance from those who know the ropes, there might be thousands of world-changing businesses lurking just beneath the surface.

I had the benefit of an old Mac G4 tower, a dial up internet connection, and the naïveté to just go build Lax Nation. I just needed some mentorship, someone to challenge me, and someone to show me the ropes.

I would love to see this built, not just in the way of a Thiel Fellowship but as a fundamental part of American education. Entrepreneurship is the backbone of this country; shouldn’t American education reflect that?

“Dewey Didn’t Disrupt Education…and Neither Are We”: An Interview with Ben Stern

Reposted from MOUSE.org

We welcome Ben Stern (Manager of Educational Partnerships at TeachBoost) as our guest on the MOUSE Blog. His comments below are his own, i.e., they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either TeachBoost or MOUSE; TeachBoost and MOUSE have no relationship.

 

 

Daniel: Ben, in your Sept. 11th EdSurge post “Software Will Not Eat Education” you assert: “…many issues in K-12 […] are not software problems. They are human issues, political issues.”

If so, how do educators, entrepreneurs and investors differentiate which issues are most appropriately addressed with software and which with other means? And, to the extent that software is a human construct, how do we truly separate the dancer from the dance?

Ben: Daniel, first of all, thanks for following up on the article with these great questions. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you and MOUSE.

Great question here. Let me take a stab.

All important problems are human problems. A computer can’t tell me how I should be living my life. Similarly, if I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird with a group of students, a computer cannot effectively lead a discussion that draws on students’ interests, personalities, and our relationship cultivated over a whole year to get every student to grapple with central themes in their own way. Software can help me better understand their interests, or allow me to surface trends across their work, or allow me to connect with them outside of my 45-minute class period. But it cannot replace me, the teacher, in the most important part of the whole teaching process. Good teaching relies on non-rational, non-computational, distinctly human elements like relationships, personality, and instincts that cannot possibly be digitized. How to teach well is an important, difficult, yet partially unresolved problem.

I argued that political problems are also beyond the scope of software. The access to education provided by technology may play a role in closing the achievement gap, but learning is more than listening to lectures and typing up answers to questions. MOOCs will continue to have no real impact on K12 education. Software on its own, without legislative and infrastructural changes, isn’t about to resolve the disparate quality of education among all American schools entirely. Education reform will happen through policy and legislation first and foremost — would you trust a law written by IBM’s Watson? Would you trust Watson to teach your kids?

Daniel: You also state that companies should focus on narrow sets of problems and recognize that they operate under constraints. Isn’t that a bit of a straw man, i.e., don’t ed tech (indeed, most) companies understand the need to focus, focus, focus and know quite well the confines against which they collide?

Ben: Well, hopefully! My thinking here was that I see a lot of software that overreaches, that fails to address most teachers where they are today. There are some amazing, innovative teachers who speak at conferences and have huge Twitter followings. But these teachers are outliers. Just like we see a lot of startups coming out of Silicon Valley whose product only gains traction with the technology elite but never with the general public (and die accordingly), we see plenty of edtech built for the Twitter community, not for the more typical American classroom. Yet, the latter is exactly where edtech is needed and can help the most.

Daniel: Aren’t you being overly cautious in suggesting that ed tech companies seek iterative, not disruptive, change? After all, those who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries created the foundations of today’s American K-12 structure were hardly shy about proclaiming a revolution. For instance, Dewey said that “every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”

Ben: Sure, but did Dewey disrupt education? Reading him today is a lot like reading Edutopia or BIE’s publications. It’s great stuff, and I agree with it. But the fundamentals of teaching and schools, the actual act and its relevant institutions (as opposed to the content), really haven’t changed all that much for thousands of years, much less these past two centuries. They’ve evolved, but they haven’t been disrupted. I’ll double down on my claim from my article that iterative, software-driven change in education is ambitious.

Perhaps in dispute is what we mean by change. When I hear Marc Andreesson say software will eat education, I believe he means a fundamental rethinking of schools and teaching, with software becoming essential to and even replacing both. He’s talking about the end of school buildings, of class periods, of 20:1 teacher-to-student ratios, of grades, etc. That would be disruption. Besides the clear obstacles to such fundamental change – there’s a lot of money, legislation, infrastructure, institutions, expectations, other industries, etc. tied up in this current model – it’s not evidently good to replace it. Education is a different industry than, for example, transportation. Disrupting the taxi industry makes my life considerably better; Uber is disruptive and for the good. Would a software-based, teacherless K-12 education improve our lives?

The institution of a school and its practices has worked in varying degrees for many centuries. Of course, the content of what students learn has, will, and should change, but that sort of change isn’t really the sort of disruption that Andreesson or we are talking about. Rather, the edifice of education as we know it, everything besides the content of what we teach, will probably not change completely. In my view, it shouldn’t. We can use software to improve it, to iron out inefficiencies, but not to replace it. I’m advocating for iterative change, like we already have seen over the centuries in education.

I’ve received some really strong responses to my article, particularly on this point. While most have been positive, some argue either that I’m not dreaming big enough, or that the irresolvable nature of these problems by software indicates that the whole model needs be blown up, to be disrupted.

To the former point, I’ve just responded that I never said innovation is impossible in education. It’s possible — it’s already happening. I deeply believe that the company I work for, TeachBoost, is making a meaningful impact on schools using software. Streamlining educator effectiveness programs and taking something painful and unproductive (teacher evaluations) and turning them into opportunities for professional growth is innovative. But we’re not replacing instructional leaders; we’re empowering them. That’s innovation, not disruption.

Innovation is different from disruption, and disruption is what I wanted to critique in my article. The dogma of disruption – faith in the inevitability and inherent good of disruption in any and all industries – is a bit dangerous. 90% of startups fail for a reason. And the VC bubble that’s formed around this dogma makes it harder for truly innovative – but not disruptive – companies to compete. I do think software will continue to fundamentally change a great deal about our lives in good ways, and for the most part believe the rise in entrepreneurship and innovation generally is a good thing. But we need to maintain reasoned, cautious optimism. “Disruption” and “software eating the world” make for great rhetoric, just as Dewey’s call for a “revolution” continues to inspire. But those of us in the trenches fighting for our companies need to be mindful of certain realities that our rhetoricians don’t.

Daniel: Thank you for your insights, Ben.

Daniel Rabuzzi is Executive Director at MOUSE.

 

Teacher Mentorship Programs Work!

Reposted from TeachBoost’s LaunchPad

Last week, the NY Times featured a lengthy piece on teacher mentorship programs, entitled, “As Apprentices in Classroom, Teachers Learn What Works.”

What are mentorship programs?

The idea is that teachers, like doctors in medical residencies, need to practice repeatedly with experienced supervisors before they can be responsible for classes on their own. At Aspire, mentors believe that the most important thing that novice teachers need to master is the seemingly unexciting—but actually quite complex—task of managing a classroom full of children. Once internalized, the thinking goes, such skills make all the difference between calm and bedlam, and can free teachers to focus on student learning.

Aspire Public Schools‘ program serves as the main focal point of the piece, which ultimately takes a stand in favor of these programs. Frankly, I have trouble understanding why they’re controversial at all.

Having attended an elite graduate teaching program and spent five years in the classroom, I can say, unequivocally, that I learned the vast majority of what I know about teaching while teaching. And I didn’t even have the benefit of a mentor! Teaching is too complex, too instinctual, and too relationship-driven to be learned exclusively (or even primarily) through study. It is through practice, rather, that teachers really learn to teach.

As evidence, consider the wisdom of Aspire’s program, which starts with classroom management: something with which all new teachers struggle, no matter how many books they read on the subject. Good classroom management manifests in a culture of learning—built on rules, routines, and trust—and requires constant maintenance throughout a school year. It is not a simple bag of tricks. It can’t be taught; it must be learned.

Classroom management is also fundamental to good teaching. No matter how masterfully crafted a lesson plan may be, how charismatic the lecturer is, or how wonderful the reading for class was, an undisciplined and disorderly class will not learn. Classroom management doesn’t make for a great class, but without it, there’s no chance for one. Appropriately, then, it is also the foundation of Aspire’s mentorship program. Teachers are introduced to the most important element of their practice as it becomes relevant, and master it through practice.

Extrapolating from this example, I would argue that all teachers, regardless of experience, should learn this way. Mentorship, targeted support, and active PD is more effective than one-size-fits-all, passive, trend-driven presentations. That also is our philosophy atTeachBoost: eval and PD should combine to give teachers what they need, when they need it. Give the platform a try; like educators, it’s how we learn.