This week my wife and I went to the NY EDTech 2017 conference held at my alma mater NYU. Below are some of my notes from the opening morning show.
If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, EDTech has been a booming billion dollar industry for about a decade now. I’m happy to say that New York University, and New York City in general, have been at the forefront of this innovation.
But there are problems.
Most of the companies in EDTech focus on the use of technology to replace the human element in teaching with computers and apps interfacing with students. While this can create a personalized learning experience and provide valuable, measurable data, it’s a big difference from working with a teacher with whom you have a great rapport with and who really knows you.
The morning program featured a keynote from Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of New York City, who touted some great figures about my hometown.
“New York City has the largest public school system in the world with over two million students, 300,000 teachers and over 2700 schools, so it’s a fantastic place to try out these new systems. It has also led the venture financing with over $1 billion committed to EDtech since 2008!”
In the 1990’s, both were teaching at prestigious Universities and noticed that their best students were not the local Americans, but rather international students. They began to realize that it wasn’t a genetic or cultural factor, but rather a better curriculum. They designed a curriculum that could take a child from kindergarten to high school that would allow them to compete at a global level.
The secret to their success?
A great curriculum and great teachers.
And yet, it’s surprising how many teachers, both in school and in private practice, do not follow a curriculum. The curriculum is what makes for a successful transfer of knowledge.
They use technology to make their school scalable and reproducible. The core of this is a centralized course catalog, a sort of intranet for all the teachers. The software shows what needs to be taught and when, with lesson plans and materials. But it’s also flexible. Each teacher takes the lesson plan and can modify or adapt it. If the results are better than the original, the new lesson plan becomes the standard.
In my own music school, Park Slope Music Lessons, we use the Musicolor Method curriculum, but it’s not dogma. It’s a flexible spine. Teachers are free to modify, adapt and change things as long as they cover the content.
Great teachers know when to go faster or slower. And if in doubt, we have provide a seven step framework to help the teacher evaluate themselves and their lesson plans to improve the learning experience.
But I found her to be compelling and agreed with many of her points.
“I do not believe that most of the current EDtech will give us excellence and equality. Education is fundamentally a human endeavor as inspiring a passion for learning. Teachers will always have the most important role to play.”
She also mentioned how the education industry is far behind other areas.
“The education space is way behind every other sector in thinking how to make things faster, better and cheaper.
There is a whole host of infrastructure that needs to be automated and digitized.”
And I concur. If the overall educational industry is behind, music education is even further – especially classical music education! It’s as if many teachers in the classical realm should still be wearing powdered wigs!
Moskowitz lists her three areas of focus as:
- content and curriculum
- parental involvement
- rigor as an overall mindset
She goes on to say that at Success Academies they are using technology tools to support the teachers. Here’s two examples:
- “What we like about Google classroom is that we can improve the quality of teacher feedback to students. ‘Good job’ is not very helpful or instructive.”
- “Books on tape. We use Audible. Incredibly efficient and helpful logistically. Listening to books it can help hear the voices of the characters in the books. Consumption of books and quality of reading improves dramatically.”
I,too, am a big fan of Audible! I have read so many more books in the past year because of the use of audio books while doing other chores like walking, driving etc.
And yes, even though I am an early adopter of technology, I see it as enabling, only replacing human functions that are repetitive, droll and boring. In other words, replacing tasks no one wants to do anyway.
Right now in my private lessons, I often use a “flipped classroom” model where I will send home materials as videos or pdfs before or after the lesson to support the student at home. This has never been easier with just a smartphone and file sharing.
I am grateful that there is positive momentum in the world of education and that there are others who believe that it’s not just technology replacing people, but technology empowering people.
Have a fantastic holiday and new year! I hope you spend some quality time with people you love and turn off your devices…at least for a little while.