This week’s Ed Startup 101 class examines “the ed-tech startup space.” That phrase — that particular way to describe education technology, not overtly as an "industry" or "market" but increasingly meaning just that — prompted me to revisit a blog post written almost a year ago by Australian media historian and professor Kate Bowles:
“The education space” is an imprecise sort of street address that’s beginning to bother me. It seems to mean something more than itself: not the precise space within which teaching or learning actually occurs, but the larger territory of business operations that brings together all those with an eye on the profits to be had from the future of education as a peculiar hybrid of market and service.
Her post is an interesting, albeit painful one for me to revisit, because it chronicles a bit of a back-and-forth between myself and an ed-tech entrepreneur who’d penned a really vitriolic piece blasting teachers when his startup failed. I took him to task; he responded angrily in turn.
And so it goes in this “space,” where there’s still today a lot of hostility and assumptions and misfires among entrepreneurs, engineers and educators. Some of those misunderstandings are about education markets, some about education systems, and many about education theories, research, and practices.
And that’s to Bowles’ point, I think, that this “education space” isn’t (necessarily) a space for teaching and learning. Heck, it’s not (necessarily) a space for all teachers or all learners. It is, however, a “space” with blossoming investment and market opportunities. These are opportunities I hear many entrepreneurs talk about gleefully, without much recognition that while private dollars flow in, public funding for education is being slashed.
So where is this “ed-tech space”? In Silicon Valley? Online? If so, what about all the elsewheres, on- and offline? And who does this “space” belong to? If the conversations therein end up being about individual consumers and private capital, how does this shape the future of learning and the future of learning communities? What happens to the polis? What happens to public education, and what happens to public spaces?
Image credits: Christian Frei