Notes from the SF October EduTech Meetup


Betsy Corcoran of EdSurge moderated a panel discussion at this month’s EduTech Innovators Meetup in San Francisco. The topic was a Beta Bill of Rights for teachers and entrepreneurs to guide relationships that allow edtech companies to test their products in real education settings.┬áBetsy plans to summarize our discussion in a forthcoming issue of EdSurge.

As is the custom at these Meetups, the latter half of the evening is open for networking. This is a bit like speed dating. Entrepreneurs, VC’s, and teachers mingle, sharing ideas and swapping cards.

The teachers, though they have no cards to swap, are sometimes the stars of the gathering. Founders, some at the conceptualization stage of development of a product, are trying to find out if their ideas have merit. The teachers, coming off a day of grading papers, apply that same skill to the ideas of the entrepreneurs and offer important feedback that could steer a development team away from a cliff. You might want to personalize your automated teacher evaluation robot with ninety-nine terabytes of video memory that uses an evolutionary algorithm to suggest teacher merit pay for resource-poor urban school districts – but I like that it automatically posts updates on Google +.

I love hearing the elevator pitches, and will usually kick the tires of some of the more interesting betas when I get home. This week the winner of the pitch contest was Nolan from plickers. Having used clickers for nearly a decade myself, and having been frequently frustrated by software glitches, hardware malfunctions, and receiver interference problems with fluorescent lights, I am well acquainted with their limitations.

Plickers may not have solved all of those problems, but Nolan has patented a method that allows clicker-like formative assessment using bar-code technology, a webcam, and pieces of paper. He showed me a video of the plickers in action on his smartphone. In brief, kids respond to a multiple choice question by holding up a two-dimensional bar-code printed on a regular piece of paper. A webcam at the front of the room takes a snapshot of the images, and using the orientation of the paper to code the choice, records student answers correctly.

This TFA alum has creatively solved a problem that lots of other people are trying to solve with the, as yet, still not ubiquitous smart mobile devices that will likely replace clickers in many settings. My school bought our first clicker system for $4k ten years ago. Plickers, though not nearly as robust as the mobile solution, will probably drive the cost under $100. Bravo.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the SF October EduTech Meetup

  1. Bravo is right! Nolan, as a classroom practitioner I am thrilled to use plickers and get it in the hands of each of my department members. The amazing work done by Jack in collaboration with Stanford around misconception based teaching is now made realistic in all classrooms! Jack, as always, thanks for the post, I rely on them!

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