What Makes a "Revolutionary" Ed-Tech Startup?

EdReformer recently reprinted a blog post from The Teaching Master: "Top 25 Web Startups Revolutionizing Teaching."

Well, I'm all about that (that ed-tech startup thing), and so I read with interest. (Ed-tech startups both on that list and not on that list: we should talk.)

But the Teaching Master gives no metrics, no indication of what makes a "top" startup or what constitutes "revolutionizing" teaching. Is it based on profitability? Scale? Test scores? Overthrowing old theory and pedagogy? Overthrowing established companies in the industry? (And of course, I must add: how do you define "startup"? The organization on that list that was founded in 1997, yeah, I'm looking at you.)

Who do we see as being the established and dare I say outmoded organizations in education technology? How are upstart ed-tech startups challenging them? What are the ways in which startups are helping to upset not only conventional ideas of teaching, but of learning as well? Are established tech companies doing this too? If so, how?

With a move to a cloud-based future, how is the entire ed-tech industry, along with the IT infrastructure of the school system shifting?

Vicki Davis recently wrote about disappearing brands (in education) and identified several factors that she argues will lead to the extinction of some educational organizations:
  • Barrier Schools: Schools that create barriers between students and Internet technologies (between students and the world).
  • Barrier Funding Mechanisms: Davis is addressing school funding here, but I think the business models for ed-tech companies is another big consideration here (Ning, anyone?)
  • Barrier Thinking: "I'm not one who thinks that we destroy everything we have," writes Davis, "but it is time for policy makers and leaders to realize that if a barrier has been built, it can also be dismantled. To remove walls, the first stone is always taken away in the mind of one person." Barrier thinking operates in a lot of ways. We often point fingers at educators as having traditional mindsets; I think there are plenty of folks in the (ed)tech world who may have their own archaic views of what happens in a classroom.

As Davis argues, we're at a key juncture for education (and ed-tech) because of tools for collaboration, because of challenges to traditional ideas of IP, because of virtual schools, because of massive student-centered partnerships.

I realize I've filled this post with questions; I haven't really offered answers.

As the industry and the institution changes, I am very curious to watch which tech companies will really offer answers to the problems education is facing, which startups will disrupt education and ed-tech. I'm eager to see who really will be the top revolutionary ed-tech startups.

Photo credits: Flickr user Jay Galvin


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